National media descends on Browns camp

I spent some time listening to Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan on the NFL Network yesterday from Browns camp, and both guys were pretty impressed with what they saw. Kirwan has an article on CBSSports.com today with a detailed analysis of what he saw at camp and what he thinks of the Browns roster.

Now that I can access Sirius NFL Radio on my computer I can take more breaks from listening to local sports talk, which should be a big help for my sanity and my blood pressure.

Meanwhile, Peter King was in town as well, and he’s not quite as high on Brandon Weeden, basically saying he doesn’t think Weeden is the answer. I like King’s reporting as he has great access, but I’m starting to question his analytic skills. Kirwan saw what many of us are expecting – that Weeden is well suited for Norv Turner’s offense. King on the other hand seems concerned about Weeden’s accuracy, but doesn’t really provide much analysis beyond that.

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Browns keep everyone guessing

Peter King talks about the Browns in his recent column about the NFL Draft:

2. The Browns are the pivot point of the first round at No. 4. You have the big quarterbacks going 1-2, and then Minnesota is praying it can stir up interest at No. 3. Not going to happen, according to the teams I’ve talked to, because there isn’t enough love for another of these five prospects — tackle Matt Kalil, running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wideout Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill to move up to three. Or four.

If the Vikings stay where they are, it’s most likely they go for the long-term protector of second-year QB Christian Ponder instead of a desperately needed cover man like Claiborne. Then, Cleveland. I heard different things over the weekend from people I trust. GM Tom Heckert loves Blackmon and that would be his pick; president Mike Holmgren is still trying to decide with finality if Tannehill is the franchise quarterback worth taking here. The safest pick? Richardson, at a need position, even though receiver is a bigger need.

The Browns are obviously keeping all their options open and I suspect that they haven’t finalized their decision. Everything King said makes sense, but any or all of it could be misinformation floated by the Browns in order to influence other teams in the draft so the Browns can get the trade they want or the player they want at #4. If they want Richardson, for example, they might be worried about Tampa Bay trading up to #3 with the Vikings to get him.

Barring a trade, I still prefer Trent Richardson at #4, then hopefully the best wide receiver at #22 and then Brandon Weeden at #37. As King notes, everything may hinge on how Mike Holmgren feels about the quarterbacks. I’m not pulling for the Browns to get Ryan Tannehill, but if Holmgren thinks he can be a franchise quarterback, then they have to consider taking him.

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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