July 24, 2014

WFNY’s State of the Browns: Offensive Linemen

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The offensive line is the backbone of the offense in the NFL. They are in charge of keeping the quarterback upright and making holes in the run game. If you look at the top offenses like the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, the offensive line is a strength of the team. The Browns have two of the best linemen in the NFL in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. These two lead the group by example through their stellar play and consistent playing time, but the team was not a complete unit because of several holes primarily on the right side of the line. The Browns addressed this issue with the drafting of Joel Bitonio and the signing of Paul McQuistan as these two look to improve the guard positions with more talent and depth.

Let’s dig in to the rest of the meat up front.
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Cleveland’s Very Own

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Manziel

It was as if I had hit the ejector button. Sitting in the garage of the man who would later be the best man in my wedding, I remember watching the corner of his television and seeing that orange, logoless Cleveland Browns helmet take the place of the silver and blue star which had inhabited that very space. The 22nd pick was on the clock and the Browns, led by then general manager Phil Savage, put their steel balls on the table for the rest of the NFL to see. They sacrificed a first-round pick for the subsequent season’s draft for the rights to draft Brady Quinn, a quarterback who was in the discussion at No. 1 only to later spend the next two-plus hours with cameras in his face as 21 other men were selected before him. One of those men was named Joe Thomas, an offensive tackle from Wisconsin, who the Browns had selected with their third-overall pick just hours earlier, but all eyes were on the Notre Dame product who came equipped with the perfect marriage of a league-ready arm and a marketing team-ready face. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would read the Quinn’s name off of the notecard which had been handed to him just moments before, the Cleveland Browns had their quarterback of the future, and in a moment that could best be categorized as involuntary, my feet planted into the cement floor and my body shot out of the chair as if it had been pumped full of an electric current. The dozen or so of us who had been sitting in silence in the seconds leading up to the moment raised our hands in unison, high-fived for what felt like hours and discussed the future of a team that would undoubtedly provide greener grass and brighter sun.

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Counterpoint: Passing on Johnny Manziel in pursuit of Pro Bowl talent

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Other teams’ fans have PhotoShop too!
(Photo illustration by Kara Wahlgren)

Quarterback is a pass-fail position. Sure, there are two or three on every team, but out of those 80-90 guys, there are 60 or 70 of them who are just around because every team needs one on the field; the others are insurance in case that one guy gets hurt. Half—and probably more—of the teams in the NFL are in the perpetual pursuit of that top-flight signal caller. Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns and Thursday night when Ray Farmer and his staff may very well select a quarterback. I’m OK with that. More than OK. In fact, they MUST take one by halfway through Day 2. What I don’t want them to do, however, is sacrifice their draft board and pass up a Pro Bowl talent in the never-ending pursuit of a franchise player under center.

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Phil Savage provides insight into lessons from Browns 2007 NFL Draft

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Phil Savage was full of Browns intel on Twitter yesterday. It was pretty high level draft philosophy, but it’s interesting for Browns fans to see how he looks back on drafting QBs like Kyle Boller and Brady Quinn. In both cases, he questions the philosophy of trading back into the first round to grab a QB that had flaws enough to be passed over the first time around.

Finally, Savage had some potential scenarios for the Browns with regard to the QB position and the upcoming draft.

Obviously Phil Savage is on the outside looking in now, but it’s still fascinating to get some insight from a guy who sat in the very seat that Ray Farmer finds himself today. And it’s especially interesting in a year where the Browns could once again pass on a quarterback with a high pick just as Savage did with Joe Thomas way back when.

So, do you think Savage is right about the trade back up from the second round, or does it just depend on the situation and the player?

[Related: Joe Gilbert's top 5 quarterbacks]

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

 

Browns adding former Bengal fullback Chris Pressley?

Thomas PressleyIf Chris Pressley can return to form from a knee injury that cost him the 2013 season, he could be in for a treat in Cleveland.

This town loves them some fullbacks.

According to Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com (who by the way, does a really good job covering Browns news for the Beacon Journal) the Browns have signed the free agent fullback. Pressley was cut by the Bengals back in December. Pressley began the season on the PUP list after suffering a season ending knee injury back in 2012.

Pressley was a college teammate of Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas at Wisconsin. Thomas’ senior year was Pressley’s sophomore season. Pressley was signed by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2009.

The Browns offense under Kyle Shanahan will likely use more of a traditional fullback than the offense used last season under Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner.

[Related: Nate's room now resides in Cleveland]

Jimmy Haslam stops just short of guaranteeing Alex Mack will be back

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The Cleveland Browns are in the news today because many associated with the team were on the “orange carpet” last night for a local premier of Kevin Costner’s Draft Day movie. Mary Kay Cabot was there as well and she got some comments from Jimmy Haslam that back up much of what we’ve all been thinking recently about Alex Mack and his situation as a transition tag-ee.

“We remain optimistic that Alex Mack will be a Cleveland Brown for a long time,” Haslam said on the “orange carpet” at the local premiere of Draft Day at Cinemark Valley View theaters. “We want him to be. I think we’ve made it very clear that he’s the kind of person, the kind of player we want in our organization.’

Asked specifically if he’d match any offer the Jaguars concoct, he smiled and said, “We want Alex to be a Cleveland Brown.”

Obviously that last sentence isn’t a guarantee that he’ll match any offer, but it’s characteristically confident for Jimmy Haslam and indicates to me that he agrees with the rest of us. There’s very little possibility of Alex Mack signing an offer sheet that would be unpalatable to the Cleveland Browns. The bottom line is that Alex Mack can’t get a team to sign up for something that they wouldn’t also be prepared to live with themselves. This is the beauty of a salary-capped world. There’s no Yankees offer out there that’s 30% higher because a team can just afford more than the Browns.

And for that reduced flexibility and lack of free will, Alex Mack guarantees that he’ll get paid at least $10 million. We’re talking about a man who has made somewhere around $14.5 million over the first five years of his career. Of course he wants more guaranteed money and maybe even a chance to play somewhere else, but the trade-off isn’t that much of a hostage situation with the transition tag compensation.

[Related : Alex Mack wants to play for a passionate fan base, visits Jacksonville]

Ben Tate is a good signing, but not without risks

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Ben Tate seems intent on making friends in Cleveland. Since his deal with the Cleveland Browns got close he’s taken to social media to ingratiate himself to the Browns faithful. It’s pandering, but in Cleveland it’s much appreciated by the fans. It’s a strategy for a player that works just fine, but I hope Tate realizes that it eventually has to be backed up with actual play on the field. For the Browns, signing Ben Tate is a good move, but it isn’t without risks. No, the two-year commitment and estimated $7 million aren’t a problem at all, at least not in theory. The problems arise if Tate isn’t able to become the featured back the Browns so desperately need.

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Browns current cap space estimated to be $50.4 million

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The good folks at Dawgs by Nature have been doing the job over there when it comes to the Browns and their available cap space. It’s a difficult task with lots of factors changing constantly, but they’re on top of it. Now that the Browns are deemed to not owe Davone Bess his second year’s salary and now that the Browns have placed the transition tag on Alex Mack, the numbers have been updated yet again. And the Browns have a lot of available cap space. The Browns have about $50.4 million, to be exact.

As we’ve discussed here lately, that doesn’t mean that the Browns should go crazy in the least efficient team-building manner and pay crazy money for big-name guys who are likely past their primes. For example, while Cortland Finnegan is a good player and 30, who knows if any team wants to be in the business of paying him when he’s 34.

I still expect the Browns to start at home by following up with their commitment to Alex Mack with a long-term deal as well as a Joe Haden extension. Remember that Joe Thomas’ big extension wasn’t done until training camp had already begun, so there’s no reason to be impatient with Haden’s deal.

I’m still undecided what the Browns will do with T.J. Ward. I can’t get a read on what they think his value is and what they want to pay for his services. If for whatever reason Ward doesn’t come back with the Browns this season it won’t be because they can’t afford it.

[Related: D’Qwell Jackson follows Chud, T-Rich to Indianapolis Colts]

(Image via Candice Vlcek/WFNY)

Josh Gordon and Joe Thomas headline Browns players receiving NFL All-Pro honors

Joe ThomasThe Cleveland Browns had five Pro Bowlers nominated to make the trip to Hawaii, but that wasn’t official enough for some people who discount that honor due to fan voting. Now, the AP has selected their best players of the year using a ballot of 50 voters. The Cleveland Browns were once again well-represented.

Josh Gordon and Joe Thomas made the first team while Alex Mack, Joe Haden and T.J. Ward made the second team.

Thomas and Jason Peters were selected at tackle as Tyron Smith and Joe Staley were named second teamers. For Browns fans, Thomas’ play has been so good for so long, that this year probably felt like a down year for us. Not so for the AP voters.

At receiver, Josh Gordon shares first-team honors with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Those two are backed up by some impressive guys in A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and Antonio Brown.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal wasn’t as impressed with Josh Gordon.

Gordon led the league in receiving, but is he really the second best receiver in the league? No one would take him as a complete player compared to Gordon. I’d take Brown over Gordon this year too. This was a fantasy football pick.

Haden was beat out by Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson at the cornerback slot for the first team while Mack was beat out by Ryan Kalil at offensive line, and Ward was edged by Earl Thomas and Eric Berry at safety.

All in all a good year for the Browns in terms of recognition, especially considering the way their record turned out. Of course, the prevailing question among Browns fans is if Mack and Ward will be back to try and follow up these seasons as members of the Cleveland Browns.

[Also see: Video: Josh Gordon’s 2013 highlights are fun to watch]

(Image via Rick Grayshock/WFNY)

Scott Raab talks about Rob Chudzinski being fired and Andrew Bynum – WFNY Podcast – 2013-12-30

WFNY Podcast LogoScott Raab couldn’t be finished with the WFNY Podcast for 2013 after what happened over the weekend, so we decided to do one more in 2013. We touched on all of the obvious topics including…

  • Scott Raab talking about the Browns
  • Dumpster fire’s use in the mainstream
  • Joe Banner and the ego that goes with firing Chud
  • Jimmy Haslam’s role in the firing
  • The informational path from Mike Lombardi to the media
  • How should fans react to this today?
  • Was Rob Chudzinski the wrong guy for the job?
  • Rob Chudzinski’s own issues and how they impacted his own firing
  • Tony Grossi’s post about Chud refusing to cut Greg Little and Shawn Lauvao
  • Professional sports leagues are cartels, not pizza parlors
  • Scott: “We’re prisoners, not customers”
  • Is there anything Haslam and Banner could say for Scott?
  • Media should have an adversarial relationship with the front office
  • The Kyrie Irving situation is going to end the same way the LeBron one did
  • The Art Modell move continues to haunt coverage of the Browns
  • Andrew Bynum, the media and the Cavaliers’ future
  • Brian Windhorst continues to be one of the best Cavs beat reporters
  • The Kyrie Irving scenario and how it’s playing out [Read more...]

Cleveland Browns Game 16: Winners and Losers

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Good grief.

LOSER: Rob Chudzinski. Rob Chudzinski finished the season with a 4-12 record and was fired from the team he grew up rooting for. His dream job turned into a nightmare.

WINNER: Rob Chudzinski. Chud gets to sit back for four years and collect millions of dollars. He can choose to be an assistant coach again somewhere or perhaps go into broadcasting. Maybe he’ll just spend some time with his new baby boy and the rest of the family. I would. Enjoy your paid time off Rob. [Read more...]

NFL News: Five Browns players named to Pro Bowl

Five Cleveland Browns players were named to the Pro Bowl on Friday, the most in the AFC North this season.

Wide receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron, tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack and cornerback Joe Haden are all on their way to Hawaii. It’s the most Pro Bowl players for the Browns since receiving six nods in 2007, their last winning season.

It is the first Pro Bowl for Gordon, Cameron and Haden. Gordon currently leads all NFL receivers with 1,564 yards this season. He’s expected to become the first Cleveland Brown to lead the league in receiving since 1949. Cameron is the team’s first tight end to make the Pro Bowl since Kellen Winslow in 2008. Haden is regarded as one of the game’s top corners, but it’s surprisingly his first Pro Bowl in his fourth season.

Thomas is a Hawaii veteran, as this will be his ninth straight Pro Bowl game. He’s made the annual All-Star affair every season of his career. It’s the second trip for Mack, whose Browns future is up in the air after Week 17. John Morrow and Tom DeLeone are the only two other Browns centers to make multiple Pro Bowls.

Safety T.J. Ward also was named as an alternate for the roster. He had a campaign commercial for the Pro Bowl earlier in the year. Baltimore has four honorees while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh each have two. Denver, Carolina and New Orleans each had five as well, while San Francisco, Seattle and Kansas City had the most selections.

As announced previously, the Pro Bowl will have a fantasy draft-style selection process this year. The rosters are not composed by AFC and NFC. Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will pick their teams on Jan. 22.

[Related: Will Browns be motivated enough to dash Steelers playoff hopes?]

Scott Raab on Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, the media, the Cavs and going for two – WFNY Podcast – 2013-11-11

WFNY Podcast LogoThis week, with the Browns on the bye, Scott and I spent a lot of time talking about things that weren’t specifically related to Cleveland sports. We talked about the ongoing story of the Dolphins. We talked about the word “bullying” vs. the actual harassment. We talked about Richie Incognito and his checkered past. We talked about the culture of football and the culture of fans.

We also talked about the Cavaliers and the roster that Chris Grant has built. As it is undoubtedly early, there are still some real concerns over the roster that has been constructed by Chris Grant with the holes that are still left. Where will the roster go from here and how long will it take to find out exactly who they are?

Finally, we discussed the Bengals and their end-of-game strategy to kick an extra point to tie it at 17 rather than go for two and go home either as a one point winner or as loser on the spot. [Read more...]

Joe Thomas: Not sure running backs have a place in today’s NFL

Pat McManamon of ESPN.com published some interesting quotes from Browns pro bowl tackle  Joe Thomas in his post on Friday.

The post centered around Thomas’ comments in response to being asked about Cleveland’s struggles to run the ball thus far this season. The Browns have only averaged 81 yards on the ground through nine games this season and are getting just 2.6 yards per carry out starting running back Willis McGahee.

“I’m looking at today’s NFL, and I’m just not sure there’s a place for a running back anymore.” Thomas said.

“If you’re a defensive coordinator and you give up a 100-yard rusher, you don’t really care,  it really doesn’t translate into winning many games.”

Whether it was his intent or not, Thomas’ remarks seemed to echo the beliefs of a front office who traded running back  Trent Richardson but held on to play making receiver Josh Gordon whose name was at the center of trade rumors.

“You have to have somebody who’s a once-in-a-generation talent like Adrian Peterson to really be a difference maker in the game,” Thomas said. “But you get one Josh Gordon, you throw him a jump ball in triple coverage and he goes up and catches a touchdown, you win the game. That’s one guy, one play. He can do that three times in a game. Calvin Johnson. You can go down the list of guys like that who are game-changers. A.J. Green.

You have to change the entire defense to try to take somebody like that out of the game. And the running game is so hard. Because first of all you have to have six, sometimes seven guys blocking perfectly up front. One mistake and it’s a tackle for a loss. So you have to have seven victories. And then you have to have a running back beat a safety. Today’s safeties are pretty good.”

[Related: Cleveland Browns Film Room: Blitzing the Ravens]

Browns, Bess fail to capitalize in Kansas City

148-20130726-0350_600You really don’t want to try to blame one guy for a loss. I know that might seem comical coming from someone who has almost single-handedly blamed Brandon Weeden for the Browns’ woes the last few weeks, but really I’ve been one of many voices in that choir. Today in Kansas City it’s very difficult to look at the final results without wondering what could have been had Davone Bess not played as poorly as he did on an individual level.1 Bess had drops galore. So many, that I’m guessing he wishes he hadn’t bought Greg Little’s number. He fumbled a punt return at a time when the Browns had a chance to take the lead. On what would be the Browns’ final offensive play (with any realistic chance of winning) on 4th and 7, Bess dropped a first down pass that Jason Campbell improbably pitched left across the mouth of the defense after escaping the pocket to the right sideline. The ball dropped to the turf and the Browns dropped the game 23-17 to the Kansas City Chiefs who go an impressive 8-0.

I’m always disappointed when the Browns lose, but this Browns game didn’t make me completely miserable. There are no moral victories, but there are at least points of reference that prove useful things out. For one, Brandon Weeden has been as abysmal individually as any player in the NFL this season. That was proven once again by Jason Campbell. It also puts Brian Hoyer’s performance in perspective, which is good. The Hoyer mythology was starting to run pretty thick among Browns fans, and it’s good to know that while Hoyer was good, it was probably sheer competence in the face of the opposite that had Browns fans excited. [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. Or maybe just not played at all. []

Joe Thomas finally gets his chance to see a game at Lambeau Field, and he’s playing in it

joe-thomas-campJoe Thomas grew up in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He was a star athlete at Brookfield Central High School, lettering in football, basketball and track. Thomas was a state champion in the shot put and discuss in high school, in addition to being all everything in football.

Growing up a Green Bay Packers fan, Thomas was 12 years old when Brett Favre and Reggie White led the team to a Super Bowl title in 1996. One thing Thomas never got to do was see a game inside historic Lambeau Field, though it was only 140 miles up I-43.

So it will be a special day for Thomas on Sunday.

“I think it’s a thrill for everybody in the locker room,” Thomas said. “It’s one of the most historic, legendary places to play in the NFL. So many great players that are in the Hall of Fame have played there.”

Thomas may never play for the Packers, but he is certainly on a path to add his name to the list of Hall of Famers from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“It’s a special place,” he said. “It’s the only community owned franchise, it’s the only stadium that’s kind of right in the middle of a community, so it’s a special place to play for anybody. It’s still special for me growing up a big fan.”

Thomas has played a preseason game there, but never a regular season game. [Read more...]

Leaders emerging in Cleveland Browns locker room

“I can’t say enough about the guys and what they’ve been able to do, how focused they’ve been. You’re really seeing an identity develop of this team. It’s a lot of guys going out to do their job, playing together. They’re relentless, they don’t flinch. There’s great leadership that you’re seeing from some guys like the D’Qwells and Joe Thomases, but even the Joe Hadens and the Phil Taylors and younger guys like that, stepping up. You know, Davone Bess, who quietly goes about doing his job and sets such a good example for guys. So there’s a lot of positives. I can’t say enough about the guys in the locker room and how they feel about each other and how hard they play for each other.” – Rob Chudzinski

Joe Thomas

On second-and-nine, with the Buffalo Bills already ahead seven to nothing, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer scrambled out of the pocket and took off towards the his team’s sideline. He got a block from running back Willis McGahee and found the first down marker before he started his slide.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Hoyer was hit as he slid, and his legs buckled underneath him.

Let’s face it, we’ve seen teams fold when this kind of thing happens. You don’t have to look much further than the team across the field this very Thursday night. The Bills were not very good when quarterback E.J. Manuel went out with a knee injury of his own. [Read more...]

Joe Thomas sets the bar for offensive line with 100th consecutive start

“Part of being an offensive lineman is just toughing it out.” -Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas

This Sunday against the Bengals, Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas will start in his 100th consecutive game. It is a streak that began on September 9th, 2007 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which the Steelers beat the Browns 34-7.

Thomas started that first game as a rookie, and he has played not just every game since then, but every snap. All 6,054 of them.

It is an impressive streak, and 100 games is a very nice milestone in his career. He has a long way to go however, before the streak is record breaking.

The record for most consecutive games played by an offensive lineman is 240 by a Vikings center named Mick Tinglehoff. Bruce Mathews played in 232 straight regular season games, with some at left tackle. If you want to find the player with the longest such streak strictly at left tackle, you need only to look away from the field and up to the announcing booth.

Doug Dieken started 194 games at left tackle for the Browns from November of 1971 to December 16th, 1984. [Read more...]

Cleveland Browns Training Camp Reflections

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Training camp is officially over. Here are some thoughts on what has taken place the last four weeks in Berea.

- D’Qwell Jackson is the captain of that defense. No doubt about it. He leads the group.

Coach Chudzinski likes to pit the offense against the defense in certain situational challenges. Usually, these consist of fourth down plays at the end of practice. He will spot the ball inside the ten and announce that it is fourth and goal, with the offense needing a touchdown to win. Usually there is something riding on the competition, like peanut butter sandwiches for dinner or perhaps the right to skip evening positional meetings.

Nobody fights harder for his squad to win these challenges than Jackson. Sometimes that means arguing a point or a penalty or a spot. D’Qwell is maybe even more vocal when the second team is concerned. The guys feed off him. He is a very valuable part of the defense.

He has also earned the right to sit out plays in camp. Several practices Jackson would start out working with the first unit when the team comes together for 11-on-11 work, but eventually gave way to younger players like L.J. Fort to get reps in with the first team. Jackson is in condition. If the regular season started tomorrow, you can bet number 52 would play all the defensive snaps. [Read more...]

NFL News: Rob Chudzinski looking for progress from first preseason game

Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski talked to the media on Wednesday afternoon regarding what he would like to see from the team in their second preseason game. In a nutshell, he wants to see the team progress.

“I want to see progress,” Chudzinski said. “I want to see improvement from the first game in a number of areas. I think, ultimately, we want to have consistency. If you go and look at specifics of execution and detail, I want to continue to improve upon the identity we are creating in how we play. I want to go out and see these guys in different situations that come up and how they compete and react in those situations.”

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas expects the team to see a bit more of a challenge from the defense as opposed to last week’s contest against the St. Louis Rams. Thomas said on Wednesday that the Rams didn’t show much and didn’t do much as far as pass rushing goes. Expect the Detroit front four linemen to be more aggressive.

[Related: Browns vs Lions: What I'm watching]