When it comes to the Urgency Alarm in Berea, Ohio, I’m admittedly torn on the visual. I like to believe that it’s a full-go, all on sirens and lights show; bright orange and white, orbiting strobes that, when shining in your rear-view mirror make your stomach fall to your ankles. The blaring of the sirens could be mistaken for an air raid or, at worst, a get-to-the shelter type storm.
But then I’m forced to think back on the last 12-plus seasons of football, and I picture an old “ah-ooo-ga” horn ripped from the bowels of a 1929 Ford. The kind fit for ice cream shop auto shows and cheesy suburbial late-summer parades. They always get a laugh, those horns. You know, because they go “ah-ooo-ga” and that’s a funny sound. Fist fulls of orange and brown packs of Reese’s Pieces for added pleasure.
Even if the Cleveland Browns’ version of said alarm falls somewhere in between, that thing was all systems go on Thursday morning when the Browns selected former Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon with their second-round selection in the supplemental draft, thus forfeiting their pick of identical round in the 2013 NFL Draft. It could even be argued that the Alarm was warming up upon the completion of what was a dreadful 4-12 season, rife with coaching faux pas and alarming inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
“We are obviously really excited [to have drafted Gordon],” said Heckert on Thursday afternoon. “He is a guy we targeted and felt really good about.”
After years of trading down and essentially ignoring the free agency period, this off-season has been noticeably different. Aggression has taken the seat formerly held by an otherwise passive approach. Locking up select free agents1, trading up for Trent Richardson, using a first-round selection on Brandon Weeden and shoring up the offensive line with arguably the best right tackle in the NFL Draft are all moves that, while potentially not popular, were essential to immediate improvement. Richardson and Mitchell Schwartz play two positions which are arguably among the easiest when it comes to a transition to the NFL level of play. Weeden, despite the argument of giving Colt McCoy a chance to see if he can grow, addresses a need that has plagued this team since the end of the Tim Couch era. And the willingness to use a second-round selection on Gordon, a player who most fans were unaware of leading into this past week, screams that this team is aware that they have a gaping hole that was still not addressed despite the addition of Travis Benjamin on the third day of the recently held NFL Draft2.
There is no telling what these new additions will mean to the 2012 Browns until they step on to the playing field in roughly two months. At base leve, this is a very young core after years of shuffling out the aging veterans and being outbid for not-so-old ones in the free agent market — how will this factor in when patience is wearing thin? On paper, however, the measurables crack up and the upside and fantasies couldn’t be larger. This team just added another player, at a position of dire need, who fans can be excited about. And rather than waiting another 16 games, essentially taking another year of the much-discussed five-year plan, the Browns opted to attack their weakness at the receiving position before training camp kicks off.
Gordon is undeniably a question mark. The size, athleticism, hands and speed make scouts and general managers salivate. Having not played a game in a year, however, will lead to a bit of a learning curve for a player who the team sees as an eventual starter. Those worried about the incidents which led to Gordon’s eventual dismissal from Baylor will be forced to realize that not only were these more than one year ago, but that the player himself has remained clean since and has been the subject of rigorous analysis — both physical and mental — by general manager Tom Heckert.
“I couldn’t find anybody to say one bad thing about the kid,” said Heckert. “I drilled him pretty hard when I was with him. He didn’t back down, and he told me everything that I thought I needed to hear from him.
“When you see him, you’ll see what we were excited about. He is a big kid. He can run and he has huge hands and long arms. To me, he seemed pretty fired up about [potentially] being a Cleveland Brown. When he left [our interview], he said he hoped we were the team that picked him.”
Understandably knowing that he will have an opportunity to contribute right away, Gordon’s alleged excitement makes sense. The 6-foot-3-inch Gordon’s numbers were right on par with those of Kendall Wright, a player who the Browns sought after during this spring’s NFL Draft. His size and play is something that the team was attracted to when they were scouting defensive tackle Phil Taylor just one year earlier. Comparable to last year’s second-round selection Greg Little, Gordon, a physical receiver, was forced to sit out a season. What is different is that Gordon did practice with his team and will not face a lockout-shortened summer.
Gordon attacks the ball at its higest point, is not afraid of contact and has open-field speed that some have compared to Calvin Johnson, averaging 17 yards per reception. Even in the event that the route-running and playbook become an issue, one of his biggest attributes is something that the Browns had sorely lacked with regard to the rest of their receiving corps in run blocking3. The fact that he really wants to be in Cleveland is all an added bonus.
Heckert says that the team looked at the wide receivers who would be available next season and the team decided that selecting Gordon with a second-round pick was a prudent move, especially considering that he would get the player a year earlier than the pick they will be forced to give up would have allowed. Their eventual starting quarterback is closing in on 30-years old so time is literally of the essence; professional training, coaching and mentoring, all at least 12 months earlier than planned. Heckert assures Cleveland that the entire front office, including Randy Lerner, was on board with their decision to select Gordon.
The research was done, the interviews were conducted. There is a fine line between panic and desperation and calculated gambles. For all of their behind-the-scenes effort, while most fans were merely counting down the days to when the newest members of the Browns were take to Berea, the team’s front office was working diligently on adding one more name to that list. The 2012 schedule will not be easy. The fans are understandably getting restless after nine wins and 23 losses over the course of the last two seasons. But with the Urgency Alarm steadily increasing in volume, Tom Heckert and company made a move, an aggressive move, at making this 53-man unit incrementally better than it was just one week earlier.
(Steven Leija/Southcreek Global/ZUMAPRESS.com)