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Bewildered in Berea

The mess in Berea reached comical levels yesterday with the abrupt firing of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi by an owner who acknowledged he pretty much screwed up the first year and a half of his ownership. I’m really not sure how to react to all of this, except to say that Jimmy Haslam may have finally stumbled into a situation that has a chance of working, with competent football people coaching the team and running the front office. None of us really knows whether Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine can work well together, let alone turn the Browns into a winning franchise. But both seem to be hard working and well respected in their fields, so at least that’s a start.

As Browns fans we’re all numb to this nonsense at this point, and the Browns continue to be a laughing stock as fans and reporters chronicle the decades of futility along with the past 14 years to complete turmoil. In the end, however, all that matters is whether Haslam has finally put together an organization that has a chance to succeed.

The most troublesome part of the organization, however, is Haslam himself. It’s clear now that he and Banner were a poor fit, and adding a toxic character like Mike Lombardi to the mix only made things worse. Banner and Lombardi obviously made some smart moves, like bringing in Brian Hoyer and parlaying a disapointing Trent Richardson into a first rounder, but the coaching fisacos trumped all of that along with some very questionable personel decisions.

But we’re also hearing troubling reports about Haslam. Reportedly he listened to glowing reports from Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer about Greg Schiano and was very impressed with him after a pointless interview while Banner stewed and basically refused to participate. How could anyone want to consider Greg Schiano after his disatrous tenure in Tampa? I don’t care if Vince Lombardi’s ghost recommended him. He clearly was in over his head in the NFL, and from a PR perspective even talking to him made the Browns look like clowns. The fact that Haslam’s braintrust couldn’t stop him from seeking out Schiano drives home the point that Haslam had lost confidence in Banner and Lombardi. The main job for Ray Farmer now is controlling his owner, who seems to seek advice from everyone who has a big name in the NFL and changes his mind constantly.

Meanwhile, Banner seemed obsessed with repeating his self-proclaimed Andy Reid triumph, looking for every young coach that was building a reputation. The idea of putting so much stock in Adam Gase seemed absurd. Meanwhile, Mike Lombardi was apparently angling to bring in Josh McDaniels, someone who had a reputation of being just as toxic as him. Looking back, it shouldn’t be surprising that the coaching search looked chaotic, as the Browns had three guys with diverging agendas involved in the search.

Somehow, however, this “braintrust” settled on two solid candidates with Mike Pettine and Dan Quinn, though we now know that Haslam and Banner had different ideas on whether to wait for Quinn.

So where does this leave the Browns? On the one hand, we have an owner that looks like a poor imitation of buffoons like Daniel Snyder. On the other hand, the revolving door of people running the Browns have somehow managed to leave the franchise in a position to improve dramatically heading into this offseason. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert certainly made some mistakes, but they cleared out an old roster and started a youth movement while protecting the team’s cap situation, leaving the team with young stars like Josh Gordon, Jordon Cameron and Joe Haden. Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi spent more money but still have the Browns in a favorable cap situation with multiple picks in the first round following the Richardson trade. The team has some young stars and is poised to draft a potential franchise quarterback in a draft stacked with talent.

Now it’s up to Farmer and Pettine to take the next steps. Farmer is respected around the NFL, but he’s a first-time GM and he faces some huge decisions on resigning players and picking a quarterback. Then we’ll see if first-time head coach Pettine can take the team Farmer assembles and starts winning.

If the Browns hit on a good quarterback and Pettine turns out to be a good coach, fans will be able to laugh about the drama of the past several years. But if things don’t pan out, how can anyone have confidence that Jimmy Haslam can fix the situation? Let’s hope he’s found a GM and coach that can stay in the job for a while.

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Big Ben and the Steelers come to town

The Browns have been riding a roller coaster this season with all the changes at quarterback and the inconsistent play by the team. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this is the new norm in the NFL. Few teams are consistently good, and then there are several that are consistently terrible. With everyone else, the quality of play varies dramatically from week to week. With teams like the Browns we’ve seen mini streak where everything seemed to go well and others where everything goes wrong.

The bottom line is that you can never read too much into one or even several games. After two starts it looked like Jason Campbell might save the season for the Browns, and expectations were high heading into yesterday’s Bengals game. Unfortunately, Campbell’s miserable performance was coupled with a special teams’ meltdown, completely wasting the opportunities provided by Joe Haden and the defense and the lame performance by Andy Dalton. Everything went wrong yesterday.

Now the Steelers are coming into town. The Browns are two-point favorites, which means this is essentially a pick em’ game since the home team usually gets the benefit of three points. The Steelers were left for dead at the beginning of the season, but Big Ben is still one of the best in the NFL, and if he gets some protection he’s still very dangerous. Many of us were looking forward to a Browns beat-down of the old and declining Steelers, but all of a sudden the matchup of Jason Campbell vs a resurgent Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t look so great.

This game seems impossible to predict. Which Browns team will show up? Which Steelers team will show up? You can’t read too much into yesterday’s games as I pointed out above, so this one might not be your best bet if you’re looking to pick games against the spread this week. You can do all the research you want on this game and find a good site for your picks by checking out this site which does independent ranking based on customers and reviews. But you might be better off passing on this one in favor of another game.

Jimmy Haslam introduces Joe Banner as Browns CEO


Image source: Browns Official Facebook Page

In another impressive news conference, Jimmy Haslam introduced Joe Banner to the Cleveland media today. We heard many of things that we often hear when a new regime takes over, but for the first time the chief executive was joined by an owner who is committed to being involved in the management of the franchise. After Randy Lerner’s absentee ownership, Haslam and Banner came across as a breath of fresh air.

Many in the media are quite giddy, and for good reason. Just having a leader like Jimmy Haslam coupled with a smart and capable NFL executive should bode well for the Browns in the future. That said, nothing Joe Banner said was materially different from what Mike Holmgren said when he took over as team president. The goal was to get a team of smart people who would all be on the same page working towards a common goal. Both emphasized building through the draft. Banner seems open to strategically using free agency, but he emphasized that free agents can be counterproductive if you sign them before a team is ready to compete.

Frankly, Holmgren has started a youth movement with the Browns that should provide a nice foundation for Haslam and Banner, regardless of whether they keep Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur. On that front they seem genuine in their statements that both men will be evaluated at the end of the year. But assuming they don’t do something stupid, like bring in a GM and head coach who want to run the 3-4 over the 4-3, they should be fine as long as they can identify good coaches and GM candidates. I do hope they keep Heckert, and Shurmur should get consideration if he turns the season around, but Haslam and Banner need to get comfortable with these guys.

On offense, the system matters less, as all of these players can fit into another system. But on defense, switching to the 3-4 and in effect throwing away three productive drafts that have built the foundation of a good defensive front would be idiotic. I don’t expect that.

Many are enjoying kicking Mike Holmgren while he’s down, but his legacy is hardly set in stone. He and Heckert have gone with a dramatic youth movement. If the Browns are in the playoffs in the next couple of years with guys like Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Brandon Weeden, Phil Taylor and Joe Haden leading the way, many of us will happily credit Holmgren and Heckert for building the foundation of that success.

Weeden and Browns make their debut in Detroit

After a long and eventful offseason, the Browns finally took the field last night in Detroit for their first exhibition game. Here are some first impressions.

- Brandon Weeden came out firing and hit a couple of beautiful throws. He clearly looks like an NFL quarterback. Then he went on to make some typical rookie mistakes and finished with a pedestrian stat line. He threw one ball that should have been intercepted and another that was intercepted. The key for Weeden will be how he learns from mistakes so we have a long way to go in figuring out how successful he will be in the NFL. I love the kid’s demeanor, however. He doesn’t hang his head and he seems to thrive on the challenges in front of him. He offers a refreshing contrast to Colt McCoy who often looks like he’s sulking on the sidelines.

- Travis Benjamin and Jordan Cameron stood out as potential weapons for Weeden. Benjamin flashed his speed and quickness and had no trouble catching the ball. Many have assumed that he’ll just be a slot receiver due to his size, but Benjamin showed he can play on the outside as well as he blew past a defender to catch a long pass from Weeden up the sideline. Cameron also showed his athleticism. He’s big and fast moved easily in space. Let’s hope his back injury isn’t serious. He was smiling as he left the field so it didn’t look too bad.

- I feel terrible for Mohamed Massaquoi. I saw him in camp last week and he looked great, and most camp observers thought he was back from his injuries and could help the receiving corps. But he got hit in the head on his first play of the game and suffered another concussion. Now his career may be in jeopardy.

- There will be a steep learning curve for some of the rookies. Mitchell Schwartz had a tough night at right tackle. He’s been having trouble in camp with Jabaal Sheard and then had trouble last night with the pass rush as well. He’ll have to develop quickly for the Browns as they don’t really have a viable option behind him. Oniel Cousins had looked good in camp but he looked terrible last night playing left tackle with the second team, so the Browns have to hope that Schwartz can win the right tackle job.

- Josh Gordon also had an inauspicious debut. Bernie Kosar pointed out that Gordon needs a lot of work in running routes, which isn’t unusual for rookie receivers. But we saw Travis Benjamin look like a veteran last night, so Gordon needs to step it up. He’s been out of football however and it shows.

- Montario Hardesty looked solid subbing for Trent Richardson as did the other running backs. The Browns should be able to establish a running game this season assuming Richardson’s injury heals as expected, and Hardesty gives them a solid one-two punch.

- I like what I saw of Brad Smelley. He’s not a devastating blocker, but he’s a real receiving threat out of the backfield. Owen Marecic has to show something in order to keep is job.

- The run defense looked terrible last night, but keep in mind that Ahtyba Rubin didn’t play. I watched the d-line closely and the tackles looked much better when Billy Winn and John Hughes were in there. There’s legitimate concern with the injury to Phil Taylor, but if these two rookies develop the line has a chance to be decent.

- They weren’t in there long, but Joe Haden and T.J. Ward looked fantastic last night, which makes the rumored suspension of Haden even that much more disappointing. But from a talent level the secondary has serious upside. Unfortunately, Dimitri Patterson left the game last night with an injury. Let’s hope it’s not serious.

- Colt McCoy had a nice night as he was able to move the ball with his feet and he made some nice throws. But we also saw some of the typical dumpoffs on third down. Overall I like him as one of the backups if the Browns decide to keep him, and frankly I’d be comfortable with Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Gibson as well. Gibson looked good in garbage time as he drove the Browns to victory in the fourth quarter.

Overall, it was a sloppy game. There were plenty of hysterical reactions on Twitter, most notably from certain radio talk show hosts that were probably off their meds again. But I like the potential of this team and the young players, and I’m anxious to see what they look like when Trent Richardson rejoins the lineup.

ESPN gives Browns no respect

In one of the dumber features we’ve seen from ESPN, they decided to project out the NFL power rankings for 2015. Yeah, this seems like an idiotic exercise, but that’s ESPN these days. Everyone is desperate for content it seems.

Their panel of “experts” ranked the Browns 32 out of 32 teams. Here’s the write-up, though you’ll have to be an ESPN member to see the whole article.

Roster: RB Trent Richardson should be the best running back in the league in 2015 and young stars like LT Joe Thomas, DE Jabaal Sheard and CB Joe Haden should be in their prime. But there is still a lot of uncertainty with the Browns’ roster for the long term. — Williamson

Quarterback: Brandon Weeden has talent, but Cleveland will want to play him right away. The concern is if he struggles early. He’s older, but will they be patient with him if he takes time to adjust to the NFL game like most rookies? He doesn’t have more physical experience, just years. Bottom line: This is a totally unsettled situation headed into 2012. — Dilfer

Draft: If Weeden doesn’t pan out — and they probably feel compelled to know soon — the Browns will be set back. The draft isn’t the reason they’re this low; the Browns have made some really good picks. The problem is they’re still waiting on a good QB pick. It’s been a long time since they’ve had one. Weeden needs to be the answer, or they’re running in place. — Kiper

Front office: Color me skeptical of the Browns’ front office — and this organization isn’t exactly patient. Cleveland’s front office is now directly tied to Weeden’s future success. I can’t say that is the perfect position to be in. — Williamson

Coaching: Since rejoining the league, few teams have had turnover comparable to the Browns. So if things don’t improve in the very near future, what are the chances that this current staff retains its jobs for the next few years? Brad Childress has taken over the offensive coordinator job. With Richardson now to lean on, expect Childress to run the ball much more than the Browns did in 2011. — Williamson

So these geniuses assume that TRich will be the best back in the NFL and that the Browns have been drafting well recently. But they also realize that Weeden was just picked and they have no idea yet on how he will do. Then they assume that if things don’t improve we’ll see a change in the regime, even though Tom Heckert clearly has been doing a great job. Matt Williamson seems to be the dumbest of the bunch.

If Weeden pans out, this might end up being the dumbest ESPN article of the decade.

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