Browns bounce back

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis (40) turns upfield after a pass reception during the second quarter of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on September 18, 2011. UPI /Mark Cowan

The week one loss to the Bungles was painful, but this is a nice win against the Colts:

– Pat Shurmer used Peyton Hillis more this week and it worked, though Hillis needs to figure out his fumble problem.

– Tom Heckert is looking like a genius. Phil Taylor looks like a top 5 pick and Jabaal Sheard looks like a real pass rusher.

– Colt McCoy had a very good game. He was very accurate and again he made plays on the run. He’s like a Mini Big Ben.

– I have no sympathy for the Colts. They’ve done nothing over the years to develop a real backup for Peyton Manning, unlike other good teams like the Patriots. Several years ago Browns fans had to watch as the Colts played Sorgi in the final game and lost us a playoff spot.

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Greg Little puts on a show

Greg Little has had some struggles in training camp with some drops, but Pat Shurmer keeps pushing him and Little put on a show for the fans on Sunday in the practice at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Tony Grossi was impressed:

Little, who may have the most inapt name of all the new Browns, plays taller than his listed height of 6-2 and stronger than his listed weight of 220 pounds. An announced crowd of 11,965 may have come away a little more convinced of the team’s argument against pursuing a No. 1 receiver in free agency.

In red-zone drills on plays starting inside the 20, Little displayed the talent that attracted him to the Browns in the second round of the draft. On one Colt McCoy throw to the left corner of the end zone, Little leaped above cornerback Dimitri Patterson and safety Usama Young to snare the touchdown. A few plays later, he cradled a pass from Seneca Wallace on a skinny route to the post.

It’s very early, so let’s not jump to any conclusions. That said, the reports on Little described him as a great athlete, and it’s always encouraging to hear stories in camp that the expectations match the hype. This kid had some off-the-field issues, but many described him as having first-round talent. The Browns might have a steal with with guy. They need someone to emerge as a #1 receiver, and Little just might fit the bill.

Greg Little highlights

Here’s a great video showing some highlights of Greg Little tearing it up at North Carolina.

The NFL lockout, however, has to be a concern for the Browns. First, they’re implementing new systems on both offense and defense. They also have a young quarterback in Colt McCoy who needs practice time.

But this pick highlights the challenges. Little was out for an entire year, and he’s a converted running back. He and the other rookies need a ton of practice time. So the Browns will have their hands full if the lockout drags on.

Browns stun Patriots as McCoy stakes his claim

Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of a game against the New England Patriots on November 07, 2010 in Cleveland. UPI / David Richard Photo via Newscom

Colt McCoy has stakes his claim to the quarterback job for the Browns. The fans know, Mike Holmgren knows it, and Eric Mangini better know it. We’ll hear all kinds of BS as Miangini leaves the door open for Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme to return, but this is McCoy’s job. Period.

Despite the tortured history of Browns football over the past 10 years, we have seem some excellent performances by quarterbacks, only to see reality set in over time. So McCoy still needs to prove himself over time, but he’s certainly earned the opportunity to play out the season.

Mangini and his staff deserve a ton of credit for turning this team around. Let’s hope it continues, and I’m pretty confident they’re ready to ride this colt.

Peter King offers up some bad advice

Peter King was down on the Browns before the season started, and given the terrible start, he looks pretty smart. Now he’s revisiting the topic, and his opinion hasn’t changed much, though he focuses on some irrelevant points like the 6-3 score of the Browns victory over Buffalo and Derek Anderson’s 2-17 performance. As stated on this blog, anyone who watched the football game knows that Anderson was not the problem on offense.

To his credit, King speaks with George Kokinis and Eric Mangini to get their thoughts on where the roster is now, and King acknowledges that the Browns were smart to trade Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.

So, I asked Mangini and Kokinis in separate interviews, do the Browns have a better 53-man roster than they did at the end of the 2008 season?

Kokinis: “I think so. But it’s different. To go forward, the environment here had to change. We aren’t in this to put band-aids on the problem. We’re here to solve the problem. When you establish a system, it’s all about building a disciplined program conducive to winning, and you’re going to have people at first who fight the system. But we’ll find the true Browns who buy into what we’re doing. The one thing people need to understand is this situation wasn’t like Atlanta, where you can draft Matt Ryan and sign Michael Turner in free agency and win your division. This team was a long way away. Some free-agency periods and some drafts need to happen for the right amount of change to take place.”

Mangini: “Yeah, I think the roster’s better. I think we have a much better chance of getting where we want to be with this roster moving forward. But it’s not going to be easy. What gets lost a little bit with our draft-day trade is how much money we saved over the long term by trading down — maybe $40 million. And those resources will be spent to build a better overall football team. That’s cash we’ll spend on more players.

“For now, we’re making improvements. Some of the improvements aren’t sexy — more energy at practice and in games, more intensity, playing complimentary football. But regardless of external perception, we have guys who care. And next year, we’ll have 11 draft picks instead of the four we had this year. That’s when you can do some building.”

My take: The roster is absolutely not better because no player of the skill level of Edwards or Winslow has been added. But I would have done all three deals that ManKinis did, because Winslow and Edwards were never going to buy into any long-term rebuilding program, which this has to be. There comes a time when team and player have to divorce, and if player has great success after the trade (Roger Clemens when he left Boston), it doesn’t mean he’d have had the same success in his original place.

Mangini’s point is critical here, and it displays the winning philosophy employed in places like New England. You judge a player not just by his talent and contributions, but also by the cost of keeping him on the roster. The Browns are building the team from the bottom up, with players who don’t have big names (or big salaries) but who play within the system. We’re seeing some of that displayed on the defense and on special teams. Also, the offensive line is starting to come together. The roster is better.

Also, King ignores the biggest issue that Mangini and Kokinis had to face – the collapse of Brady Quinn as the possible franchise quarterback of the future. They inherited Quinn, and Quinn worked hard and earned the chance to start, but he was beyond terrible. He didn’t make stupid mistakes, but he was unable to move the offense. Defenses dared him to throw downfield, and that also hurt the running game. Despite that, the Browns were competitive for most of their games, despite facing teams with a combined 14-2 record in the first four weeks.

That said, it was still an informative article, until of course King decide to dispense some advice – advice that Kokinis and Mangini will hopefully ignore after having a good laugh.

Because of the startup nature of the program, Kokinis said he’s been spending time in and around the team this fall, instead of concentrating his efforts on on-campus scouting. He said he’d do that after the college season. If I were him, I’d accelerate the process. I’d be spending three days at Texas turning over every stone on Colt McCoy, and three in Norman looking at Sam Bradford — as well as extensive time looking at the other quarterbacks in the 2010 draft, like Tim Tebow and Jevan Snead. That’s more important than whatever’s happening in his building right now.

This is amateur hour coming from a writer whose been around the NFL for years. Picking a young quarterback in the draft is the kind of pie-in-the-sky magic bullet that know-nothing fans think about. This approach might make sense if there was a Peyton Manning waiting to be drafted, but the four guys King mentions are more in the Tim Couch mold. Now, Couch wasn’t terrible, and the Browns didn’t help him much as he took a beating for years, but Couch was not worth the #1 pick in the draft.

Regarding Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, I doubt either of them can even start in the NFL. McCoy reminds me of Brady Quinn, too small and below-average arm, and Tebow is a battering ram, not an NFL quarterback. He might be worth a pick as a future Wildcat quarterback, or as a project on a team that has an established starter, but he’s not the answer for a rebuilding team like the Browns.

Bradford is also another bust-in-waiting. he racked up big numbers throwing to wide open receivers in a conference that doesn’t play defense as Coach Stoops ran up the score hoping for a chance to redeem himself in the BCS championship game. When Bradford faced a real defense, he looked pretty average. he’s a second-rounder at best.

Snead is another guy getting lots of buzz, but he’s having a terrible year.

Snead has completed just 65 of 139 passes (46.8 percent) for 868 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranks 11th out of the league’s 12 starting quarterbacks (and 97th in the nation) in passing efficiency.

He’s no Eli Manning.

Based on what I’ve seen so far from Kokinis and Mangini, I don’t expect them to waste a high draft pick on any of these guys. There may be a quarterback they like in the draft, and we saw Kokinis draft Joe Flacco in Baltimore, but that team had everything but a good quarterback, so that made sense.

I expect the Browns to keep stockpiling workers like offensive linemen or impact players on defense – the kind of unsexy picks you see from teams who want to be good year after year. Another possibility would be a running back, as they can contribute right away.

So, I’m pretty confident they will ignore King’s advice.

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