In the name of front office accountability, I’ve been very open with the fact that I’m not a fan of the Trent Richardson trade. I’ve learned quite a bit about criticism and sports over the last five years with our Cleveland franchises and Mike Holmgren helped ensure that I already finished drinking my last bottle of “Benefit of the Doubt” cola,1 let alone a sugary glass of Kool-Aid. That doesn’t mean that I am just a skeptic for the sake of being a skeptic. I think it’s important to look at the things that this Browns front office has gotten right, or that are showing decent early returns.2 Without those positive facts on the table, criticisms don’t mean very much. So whether it be Joe Banner, Michael Lombardi, Ray Farmer, Alec Scheiner or some combination of all of them, here’s what I’m encouraged by so far.
1. Chud – I tried really hard not to get sucked into the “local boy” story with the Browns’ selection of head coach Rob Chudzinski. The local angle has been beaten to death in Cleveland and it hasn’t yielded much since 1999 other than one really great year watching Joe Jurevicius catch passes. So far, so good for Rob Chudzinski. Of course it’s far too early to say conclusively, but right not I give the front office credit for ending up with Rob Chudzinski and his decorated crew of assistants led by Norv Turner and Ray Horton. At least for this early moment in time, it appears that however it all went down, the Browns ended up doing just fine missing out on Chip Kelly. But comparisons are really unfair at this point, so I’ll just compliment Chud on his own merits.
Just this week alone, I was really impressed the way Chud tried to rev up the crowd when the Browns were on defense and simultaneously admitted a mistake and apologized when asked about not going for two on what turned out to be the final score of the win against Buffalo. As we all know from Pat Shurmur, meek defenses and arrogant attitudes don’t help anyone. It’s nice to see Chud handle his position with confidence and humility so far, while also staring down cries of “tanking” to win three games in a row.
2. Buster Skrine and Chris Owens – I absolutely crushed the Browns about the fact that they came into the season having only spent free agent money on Chris Owens at corner. Buster Skrine – I assumed wrongly – could never be anything more than a slot cover man. So far this season, Buster Skrine has looked like a legitimate candidate for most improved player on the Browns and maybe in the league. He’s shown superior athleticism and closing speed defending passes. Even when he was flagged for interference on a flea flicker play, I was more impressed that he recovered and got there to make the play than I was angry at the ticky-tack flag. And Chris Owens – once healthy – has been solid, aggressive and seems to play with a bit of a nasty streak that I like.
3. Brian Hoyer – I originally thought of Brian Hoyer as an eventual punchline for inevitable Michael Lombardi jokes. Boy was I wrong about that. Hoyer only played a bit over two games for the Browns before tearing his ACL, but I was legitimately excited to watch him play quarterback for the Browns. It’s been a long time since I could say that. If you want to go read some of the comments about Hoyer when the signing occurred, it’ll make you laugh in hindsight.
The Browns got Hoyer so right, that even while I still expect them to be hunting quarterbacks in this year’s draft, I would have no problem letting whoever that ends up being start second on the quarterback depth chart behind Brian Hoyer.3
4. Communications and P.R. – Yes, it is still a bit odd that Michael Lombardi almost never talks to the press as the Browns’ General Manager. That being said – and even as I really disliked the Trent Richardson trade –4 it took almost no time at all for the Browns to call their press conference and Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski sat before the media to answer all questions. And even when Joe Banner defers a question to his head coach, he doesn’t come off like a guy avoiding the question because he’s uncomfortable or scared. It always comes off like a legitimate plan to keep organizational decisions in their proper departments.
Even when I don’t like the answers that Joe Banner gives, I respect the forthright manner in which he faces questions and doesn’t hide from anyone. I’ve always said that communications and P.R. should be easy and this new front office mostly makes it look easy. Extra kudos for Alec Scheiner making weekly appearances on radio and the expanded Twitter presence across the organization. The Browns are actually trying, rather than attempting to give the appearance that they are trying. There’s a difference.
5. Barkevious Mingo – Look. I think I remember liking the pick, but even I have been blown away at how quickly Mingo has made an impact. Yes, he was forced into more substantial duty because of the Jabaal Sheard injury, and he pretty much gave up the edge on the 54-yard TD against Buffalo, but it’s hard not to get excited about the plays this rookie does make. He’s even beat back the fears of millions of Browns fans when he overcame a mysterious injury that most assumed was going to produce the next Courtney Brown. Dee Milliner was really popular and the Browns seemingly had corner as a position of need, but so far the Mingo pick looks great.
That’s all I’ve got on my list for now, but I’m sure the WFNY commenters have a few as well, so have at it in the comments.