IS THERE AN ALIGNMENT?
I was thinking about the recent history of the Browns, the connection and communication between the front office and the coaches.
This is especially true because I was impressed with the way new general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski worked together during free will.
The Browns have been talking about alignment for a while, and free agency was the first chance for the Berry / Stefanski combination to show it.
“AB (Berry) made a plan and followed it through,” said Stefanski. “We identified people who were really important to what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be.”
This was in response to a question I asked during the coach’s recent conference call regarding the signatures of key free agents.
“It was so important to have the right players … and the right people,” he said. “They correspond to the mentality of what we want to be. “
I asked a vague question to find out what Stefanski thought of day one, the free agent signatures of right forward Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper and QB Case Keenum.
I was told that these players are wanted by Stefanski, and they are also part of the analytical approach to sign free agents who were in their twenties and win rookie contracts for long-term agreements.
Keenum, 32, is an exception. He is QB and they tend to have a long career. He is also a replacement for Baker Mayfield, and much appreciated as he played for Stefanski (QB coach) in 2017 in Minnesota.
Stefanski said he and the front office asked, “Where do you think we can add good players who fit our pattern and match the personality of the locker room?” “
It came from a question I asked about Hooper, the former Atlanta Falcons playoff player.
“Austin immediately checked all of these boxes,” said Stefanski. “We thank Andrew and his group for identifying him and making the deal … In this system that we use, we want to use several weaknesses. “
The Browns also want to run the ball.
Conklin is a good straight tackle overall, but his strength is blocking.
Stefanski seems almost poetic extolling the virtues of Keenum as a backup QB who can also play when needed.
Linebacker Andy Janovich was also something Stefanski wanted. Just like he likes tight ends, he faints on a hard blocking physical rear.
It is very early. They have only been together for three months. They didn’t lose a game.
And maybe I just hope …
But I have a good vibe on what the Browns have done so far – and it sounds different from the recent past.
A HISTORY LESSON
1. Shotgun wedding (2014-15): It was the twinning of GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine. The two men were recruits in their work. They hardly knew each other. Add a troubled Johnny Manziel QB. There was no direction, just two guys trying to survive and not having much confidence in each other. He was doomed from the start.
2. Analytics (2016-17): The Browns have gone from being a former GM footballer (Farmer) to the new age of the front office with Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown. The problem was pairing coach Hue Jackson with the analysis. Jackson was old school. Defeat killed him. The front office and management staff spoke a different language. No chance of success.
3. Real players (2018-19): GM veteran John Dorsey has returned to the more traditional style of drafting and player acquisition. He called them “real players”. He improved talent. He has had some success with acting coach Gregg Williams (5-3, 2018). But the hiring of overwhelmed rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens in 2019 was yet another example of a mismatch.
If you want to learn more about this and other recent Browns struggles, my book Browns Blues gives a lot of bloody details.
CAN WE BE RETURNED?
Confession time: I had a sense of unease when Dorsey was bringing character / personality risks. I hated the idea of keeping goalkeeper Kevin Zeitler and was concerned that Odell Beckham Jr. would become a major distraction. But I was blinded by the success of the Browns in 2018 when they finished 5-3 (7-8-1 in total). I failed to raise some of the tough questions after these moves after the required 2018 season.
OK, back to the story now …
Although the Browns will never say it, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta emerged from Dorsey’s shot with a louder voice. He organized the research and it started with finding a trainer.
But in the background was the idea of seeing Andrew Berry return to Cleveland in a more prominent role. He was part of the front office Sashi Brown (2016-17) and worked for a year under Dorsey. Berry spent the 2019 season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Interesting night light: Sashi Brown was preparing Berry to take over GM in a few years, with Brown assuming an important role in football operations. But Brown was laid off after 23 months.
This has not diminished the affinity property and DePodesta have for Berry.
DePodesta and a few other front office workers favored the hiring of Stefanski as a coach in 2019. The property went with the kitchens, Dorsey’s choice.
When the kitchens collapsed and DePodesta grew in importance, Stefanski immediately seemed to be the main candidate for the job. Rumors quickly emerged regarding Berry’s return.
Others were interviewed for the coach and the general manager, but it ended up being almost where it started … with Stefanski and Berry.
And yes, we have heard a lot about the “alignment” of the property, and then about Berry and Stefanski.
The GM and the coach then developed their own mantra of wanting “smart, tough and responsible” players.
The Browns have also signed a lot of players (mostly on defense), most with modest one-year contracts.
I asked Stefanski about this: “It may not be the biggest names, but when you create a system, you are looking for systematic adjustments. I think that’s what we did in attack and defense. “
The project is coming. More decisions have to be made by the players. The biggest hole to fill is on the left.
But so far, the “alignment” seems to be in favor of Stefanski.
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