Jason La Canfora created quite a buzz in Cleveland last week with a column that basically ripped the personnel decisions of Tom Heckert. Here’s the most damning paragraph in the article.
So, while the previous brain trust in Cleveland — president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert — received praise (some in the local media took Heckert’s departure particularly personally), the reality is this: Aside from center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, the new regime didn’t inherit one above-average offensive talent. No one has proven he is, as training camp looms, a standout skill player.
Yes, from a personnel standpoint, it really is that bleak.
On it’s face this quote seems ridiculous. When one considers whether a player has “talent,” most interpret that as having the physical tools and skills necessary to have significant upside in the sport. With that in mind, the young Browns offense is loaded with talent, with Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, Greg Little and Josh Gordon. Now, La Canfora can rightly point out that none of these guys are proven talents, but that’s not what he said in that blurb above.
Later in the article, he does address the players I mentioned. He calls Greg Little an “inconsistent but talented receiver.” He says that “Gordon clearly has talent.” So which is it? You can’t say they have no players beyond Mack and Thomas that are above-average talent players, and then turn around and point out that Little and Gordon have talent.
As for Richardson, sure there are questions about injuries and whether he was drafted too high at #3, but many pro scouts called him the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. La Canfora may not agree with that, but his argument that Richardson isn’t even an “above-average talent” seems ridiculous.
He does lay out the challenges facing the Browns on offense, but he completely misses the mark on the nature of those challenges. The Browns have plenty of young talent. The key is developing that talent and overcoming the inconsistency issues that plague most young players. La Canfora is confusing the issues of talent and youth.
I’ve had season tickets to the Browns games since they returned to the NFL, and it’s been tough watching the product on the field. Usually we’re leaving early, and then late in the year we don’t bother going at all.
Expectations were definitely higher this year, as the rebuilding project has produced a young team with potential playmakers in Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon.
The Browns were 9.5 point underdogs, so in the grand scheme of things a close ballgame was a pleasant surprise. Frankly the stadium was rockin’ in the fourth quarter as the Browns had a chance to pull the upset. The fans were into it until the very end. Unfortunately, we ended up with another loss to open the season.
Here are some thoughts after stewing on it for several days:
- The offensive woes were very disappointing. I’m aware of all the challenges, with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back who didn’t play a down in the preseason, a rookie wide receiver who hasn’t played in several years and a rookie right tackle. Perhaps we expected too much, but the results were just dismal. The stout Philly defense didn’t make things any easier to accept.
- Many in the media who broke down the game noticed that Trent Richardson was very rusty and didn’t look that explosive despite his awesome run where he crushed a Philly defender and separated him from his helmet. I won’t get too concerned here, as Richardson had zero game reps in preseason, so we should expect him to get much better as he gets into football shape and we start facing some weaker defenses.
- The lack of a running game really hurt, as Brandon Weeden had a brutal performance. Perhaps things would have been different if Greg Little and Owen Marecic would learn how to catch a football, but the end result was just ugly. Weeden just needs to play better, along with the line and the receivers. I’m ignoring all the fools on Twitter who want to bring up Colt McCoy after Weeden’s first game as a rookie, and that includes emotional Browns fans and hacks in the “media” who are desperate for Twitter responses and traffic to their websites. It’s an idiotic topic. Let’s see how Weeden looks after 5 games and then we can have a rational discussion on that topic.
- I was encouraged by some of the play calling, and I loved the double reverse to Travis Benjamin, but Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress need to find more plays apart from slants to make Weeden’s job easier, like bubble screens and other easy throws to get him in a groove. I liked seeing Trent Richardson split wide left on a couple of plays, but we didn’t see a quick pass out to him like we saw last night with Flacco and Rice in the Ravens game. Again, it was one game against a tough defense. We’ll know more about the offense and the play calling after 5 games.
- The defense was fantastic. Perhaps things would have been worse had Andy Reid realized he was allowed to run the ball, but the young defense harassed Micheal Vick all day and forced countless errors. Let’s hope we see much more of this. The young linebackers played extremely well, so I don’t want to see slow guys like Scott Fujita getting much playing time once he gets healthy. Still, the run defense didn’t look great.
- Pat Shurmur made some glaring game-management mistakes last year. I didn’t like them, but I felt he would get better in year two. We didn’t see any huge brain farts in game one, but I think he made a mistake not going for the 2-point conversion. The Browns were having trouble scoring, and the danger of an Eagles touchdown was far greater than two field goals, so adding one point to get to 16-10 gave him very little. Frankly, the pick six was such a surprise they had little time here, so that probably explains the decision as much as anything.
I’ve avoided talk radio in Cleveland this week for the simple reason that I don’t want to listen to emotional rants from unhinged hosts and callers. I don’t care to discuss who the next coach or GM might be if this continues, and I really don’t care to debate Jimmy Haslam’s first move when he takes over. It would be nice if most of the talk actually centered on football as opposed to all the drama, but that’s apparently too much too ask these days.
Let’s see where things stand after 5 games. Of course if the offense continues to look this bad, then those issues will not be avoidable. But the offense should get better as the young kids gain experience. They have talent, and hopefully they figure out how to exploit it.
University of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (3) runs for a first down against Louisiana State University during the second quarter of their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana November 6, 2010. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Mel Kiper posted his thoughts on what the top 10 teams in the likely draft order need going into the 2012 NFL Draft.
Scenarios: Greg Little has shown flashes, but the Browns could use another threat in the passing game. Jabaal Sheard has been as good as I hoped he’d be when I talked up that pick back in April, but they could really use someone on the other side of the formation to balance the pass rush. Then it gets really interesting.
I agree with Todd McShay that the Browns could be the rare team that is willing to pick a running back high in the draft, with Alabama’s Trent Richardson the obvious name. Peyton Hillis is likely to play somewhere else in 2012, and Richardson fills that hole. But besides that, there’s a real question regarding Colt McCoy and how committed to him the Browns are. Although I wouldn’t predict it now, the Browns could be in the picture for Griffin.
I agree with everything here. It all revolves around McCoy and whether the Browns want a QB in the draft with their top pick. I can see them going with Richardson as a running threat can open up the offense and take pressure off of the quarterback. Mike Holmgren had his own stud running back from Alabama with Shaun Alexander.
I think they will naturally take a hard look at Robert Griffin III, but I think he might not be there when the Browns pick.
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.
I’m a little surprised that the Browns picked a tight end, but check out this video of Cameron Jordan featuring Blake Griffin. Jordan looks like an amazing athlete with his jumping ability, and you can see him leaping in the end zone to snag touchdown passes. While he’s listed as a tight end, he could be used as a conventional receiver as well.
He’s another raw receiving talent with leaping ability, which also describes second round pick Greg Little. Both guys can really jump, so they could be huge weapons in the red zone. Now the coaches will need to get to work on these guys.
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.
Some clueless Browns fans were upset that the Browns passed on Julio Jones and took the incredible trade offer from Atlanta. Jones may turn out to be a great receiver, but the main reason Jones was rated so highly has to do with his physical skills. He comes from a high-profile program and he wowed scouts at the combine. That said, Jones has a problem at times catching the football (like Braylon Edwards) and he didn’t exactly rack up big stats at Alabama.
With one of the extra picks the Browns received from Atlanta, they selected North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little in the second round. Take a look at the photo above. This guys looks just as imposing as Julio Jones.
Let’s compare the two. Both are big receivers. Jones is 6′ 3″ and 220 pounds, while Little is 6′ 2″ and 230 pounds. Jones has more speed according to his 40 time, though many argue that he didn’t display that speed on the football field. Meanwhile, Little is the strongest receiver in the draft. Both can excel in a West Coast offense where receivers get the chance to run after the catch. Little used to be a running back, so he’s hard to bring down. He also has an amazing vertical leap so he’ll be an asset in the red zone.
Yet when you read the scouting reports, the issue of “ball skills” runs in favor of Little.
Flashes strong hands and makes some spectacular catches. Shows the ability to contort his body and adjust to poorly thrown ball. Shows excellent awareness and body control along sidelines. Does a nice job of timing leaps when attacking the jump ball. However, he drops more ‘catchable’ balls than he should. He occasionally will allow ball into frame on occasion. Also will suffer from some focus drops. Needs to be more consistent in this area.
Possesses strong and natural mitts. Catches the ball with hands and rarely lets ball into frame. Adequate sized hands (9 1/8′) and arms (33 ¼’). Body control is above-average and can consistently pull in ball thrown outside of frame. Also flashes ability to elevate, fully extend and bring in acrobatic grab (See 1st QTR Pitt 2009). Tracks the deep ball well and flashes ability to pull in over the shoulder catch.
While Jones is more spectacular, Little is rated much higher by scouts when it comes to catching the football – something that’s quite important for a receiver!
This comparison highlights why the Browns had to make the trade with Atlanta. More picks give you more chances to strike gold.
Little fell to the second round because he took some improper benefits at North Carolina and was suspended for a season. But if you look at his skills, he has the potential to be as good or better than Jones. It will be fun to see how this plays out.