The emergence of Josh Gordon


Photo source: Browns Facebook page

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future for this young Browns team, and Josh Gordon certainly has emerged as a real weapon on offense. Tony Grossi elaborates on this in his latest column, where he also takes the opportunity to repeat his opposition to the absurd notion of having Mike Lombardi replace Tom Heckert.

Grossi points out that Lombardi mocked Heckert’s selection of Gordon in the supplemental draft, and Grossi is leading the charge for those of us who believe that Heckert has done an excellent job of rebuilding the Browns roster.

It will be fascinating to see if the reactions of Grossi, other writers in Cleveland and the fans will have any impact on decisions made by Joe Banner and new owner Jimmy Haslam regarding Heckert’s future. I’m taking them at their word, and assuming they will in fact wait until the end of the season to evaluate Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.

Grossi has argued that there is little Heckert can do at this point to affect his status, and thus Banner and Haslam should have stated their intentions regarding the GM. I don’t buy that. First, they don’t want to treat Heckert any differently than Pat Shurmur in terms of deciding his future before the end of the season, so I don’t read anything into their silence. Also, Heckert is preparing for next year’s draft and free agency, so they are observing how he works in that lead role. And finally, Heckert’s resume evolves as young players like Gordon improve their performance through the season.

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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.

Jimmy Haslam approved as new Browns owner

It’s official. Jimmy Haslam has been approved by the NFL owners as the new owner of the Cleveland Browns, ending the disappointing Lerner era.

Now we can move from the silly speculation we hear every day on talk radio to hearing from Haslam himself along with Joe Banner.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on what he’ll do. I’m just going to wait and listen. Based on what Haslam has said so far, he’ll probably make more changes to the business side of the Browns operation before he makes changes to the football operations. Also, he’s expressed his philosophy of building through the draft, so we can expect him to build upon the current youth movement.

It’s been reported that he’ll wait until the end of the season to make changes to the football operations. Let’s see if he confirms that today or tomorrow. It would be the smart thing to do. Regardless of your opinions of Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren, we should wait until the end of this season before passing judgement on the rebuilding process. Just several weeks ago, some talking heads were ready to write of Josh Gordon for example, but after the past two games he looks like a real threat at the wide receiver position. And of course we had some fans calling for Brandon Weeden’s head after his awful debut, but we’ve since seen him develop nicely.

I’m excited about the new ownership. Randy Lerner was loyal to Cleveland and he spent money, but the man was clueless. Let’s hope Haslam’s business experience leads to a better era for Browns football. It can’t be much worse.

Is Josh Gordon making progress?

Josh Gordon has a ton of upside, but he’s been very inconsistent so far in the preseason. Hopefully Brandon Weeden’s assessment of him is accurate:

“Look at Josh Gordon,” he said of the rookie receiver. “Look at him a month ago to where he is today. It doesn’t even look [like the same player]. He’s finishing plays, he’s running at full speed. He’s come a long way.

“We’ve got so many weapons at our disposal but it takes time and it takes reps and it takes confidence. They have to have confidence running the routes most importantly and I have to have confidence pulling the trigger.”

Everyone seems to think the kid is very coachable, but right now he needs plenty of it, along with a lot of reps. I’ll be surprised if he starts in Game 1, but he should get plenty of reps if he keeps improving.

Image source: Cleveland Browns Official Facebook page

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.