WILL WE LIKE THESE GUYS?
A year ago, the Browns were supposed to be a playoff team… at the very least.
The off-season exchanges for Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon created a sizzle for a team that obtained a record of 5-3 during the last half of the 2018 season.
Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett and Beckham were national stars of the sports media.
Fans know what happened. The team finished 6-10. Rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens was overtaken. Veteran general manager John Dorsey was fired, in part because he chose Kitchens as head coach.
The Browns appeared arrogant and unruly.
Paul DePodesta, Browns’ chief strategy officer, opposed hiring kitchens. Andrew Berry (GM assistant in Philadelphia) and Kevin Stefanski (offensive coordinator in Minnesota) were also attentive from a distance.
None of these men will say it, but the 2019 Browns were exactly the kind of team they didn’t want this year.
This is why they seem serious about their motto “tough, smart and responsible” for the players. The guys they recruited and signed as free agents fit this character profile.
There were several individual exceptions on the 2019 Browns, but as a team, they weren’t close to the goal of “tough, smart and responsible.”
They opened the season with 18 penalties in a 43-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans. They led the NFL on penalties for much of the season and finished fourth in this category.
They were No. 2 in false starts, a major indication of a team that was not paying attention to details such as the number of shots or how to line up.
Perhaps their biggest victory was a 21-7 verdict against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 14. But it ended with Myles Garrett’s fight. This led to a six-game suspension for the Browns star. The Browns were 2-4 with Garrett retired.
Too often, the team was a side show, with players tugging on coaches on the sidelines and discussions about Odell Beckham Jr. not seeing the ball often enough. As for trying to score a touchdown from inside the 5-meter line, you thought the Browns were trying to climb Mount Everest barefoot and in a swimsuit.
The 2018 Browns (in the past eight games) have been one of the favorite teams to watch since the franchise returned in 1999. They had discipline, played with heart and had a goal.
They went from almost nine penalties per game under former coach Hue Jackson to just over six when Gregg Williams became interim head coach. These statistics are important.
In 2019, the Browns were the worst looking team since returning from 1999 due to all the painful penalties, agendas and training. I have a headache when I think of them.
SOME BASIC EXPECTATIONS
Cleveland.com recently published an article on three ESPN “experts” not buying the 2020 Browns as a playoff team.
It’s okay with me.
I also think the front office and coaching prefer it that way … keep the hype low.
For much of the 2019 season, Kitchens said the Browns were a “group”, not “a team”.
It’s one thing that the kitchens were right.
And that’s one of the main goals of Stefanski and his coaching staff.
They may not quite say it in these words, but Browns fans know the difference between solid and shoddy football. What they had to endure last season (even in some victories) was scary to watch because of the insane football on the pitch.
We will see if Stefanski can change it. He is a rookie head coach. No matter how many virtual mini-camps he has, they are close to having real players on the field to learn the new attack and defense.
Will Stefanski, 37, have the respect of the players to transform them into a more disciplined team. We have no record of him as head coach, but that’s the goal.
Kitchens’ credibility was shattered last season because there was a feeling within the team and elsewhere that he had obtained the job because of his relationship with Baker Mayfield. It gave the impression that a QB in its second professional season had far too much influence on the organization.
Stefanski has a different role. He doesn’t owe his work to Mayfield. Rather, it’s his job to set the QB in terms of throwing techniques, footwork and mental approach to the game.
Mayfield should have been humiliated by what happened last season, when he was among the lowest ranked QBs in the NFL in almost every major category.
So what should we look for? More discipline and organization on the part of the team, and improvement of Mayfield.
OLD FOOTBALL APPROACH
While Andrew Berry’s front office is focused on analysis in some respects, the moves they have made show appreciation for what has always won games.
I’m talking about the offensive line.
Profootballfocus.com (PFF) has classified the Browns as having “the most improved line of attack of the NFL”. PFF said the 2019 tackle combination Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard ranked 30th out of 32 teams for these positions.
You can challenge some of the PFF data, but common sense and watching the games revealed the major problems the Browns faced.
Robinson was suspended for a game when he kicked an opponent in the head. After the season, he was arrested in Texas with 157 pounds of marijuana in his SUV. One bag had 23 Mason jars sealed with marijuana.
The Browns are counting on rookie Jedrick Wills of Alabama to take over from the left tackle. They signed Jack Conklin for a $ 42 million, three-year contract to play the right tackle. They hired veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan to put the line in order.
We’ll see if it works, but these are the moves a team makes when it comes to fixing the offensive line.
1. I hear the Browns believe that Wyatt Teller has a chance to be a respectable right-hand goalkeeper. This is particularly true as he will be playing between veteran center JC Tretter and right tackle Conklin.
2. Another candidate is Drew Forbes, the sixth round pick of 2019 in southeastern Missouri. He went up the depth chart when he injured his knee in the last pre-season game. He played briefly in special teams towards the end of the season. Between Forbes and Teller, the Browns should be able to plug in the right guard spot with a player who can grow in position.
3. I was intrigued by the two undrafted backs signed by the Browns. The first is Brian Herrien from Georgia. The Bulldogs continue to send runners to the NFL. Herrien was mainly a substitute, but played behind great starters.
4. The other is Benny LeMay, a 5 foot 8 inch 220 pound from UNC-Charlotte. It’s Larry Ogunjobi’s school. LeMay has a low center of gravity and the strong legs and balance that I love. The backups of beginners Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are D’Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard. Either (or both) could lose their jobs to a promising newcomer.
5. Lance Zierlein from NFL.com on LeMay: “Short but robust with a frame and a behavior to manage the physical nature of the position. LeMay tends to get bogged down when a clear entry point is not right in front of him, but as a runner, he has the acceleration, the balance of contacts and the tenacity desired by the teams… seventh round or priority free agent. ”
6. The Browns have been blessed because they have not had many injuries to the ball carrier in recent years. But the back hurts. Because the ball carrier can be found low in the draft (or not drafted), it’s fun to watch someone like LeMay and think, “He’s interesting.”
7. In the past two seasons, LeMay has averaged 5.2 yards per rushing, gaining 2,325 yards and rushing for 20 touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes during this period.
8. The undrafted free agents do not receive much guaranteed money. For example, Princeton QB Kevin Davidson received $ 17,500 from the Browns. Herrien is guaranteed $ 40,000 while LeMay received $ 30,000. These figures come from overthecap.com.
9. Oklahoma State defensive back A.J. Green received the Browns’ biggest guarantee: $ 145,000. Number 2 at $ 65,000 is receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, a 6 foot 1 inch and 195 pound Louisiana-Lafayette. He caught 60 passes (10 touchdowns), averaging 15.1 yards per catch. He was not invited to the NFL Combine.
10. This from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler: “Overall, Bradley is only of average height, speed and strength and might have a hard time finding out compared to NFL cornerbacks, but his skills reliable ball and his concentration give him a legitimate chance to make a pro list. ”