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Piling on has made Johnny Manziel a sympathetic figure after one NFL start

Dec 19, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USA Today

The Morning Kickoff …

Real dude: I will say this about Johnny Manziel: That Texas boy can sure take a hit. Or a hundred.

Wallace Gilberry? Geno Atkins? Carlos Dunlap? No sweat with dem Bengals. I’m talking about Merril Hoge and Brian Billick. Geez, even Pam Oliver.

Pam Oliver?

One inauspicious game into his NFL career and it’s open season on Manziel. Anybody with a microphone, Twitter account or blog has skewered Johnny Football like Nick Saban never could at Alabama.

“Very humbling,” Manziel said.

He was speaking of the game, a 30-0 shutout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But he could have been speaking of the personal attacks that came in the wake of his first game.

Hoge, a notorious Manziel hater, saved his most vitriolic stuff for the person responsible for grading Manziel a first-round pick. He said that person should be fired.

Billick, the former Ravens coach-turned-NFL analyst wrote, “I would be happy with Manziel showing enough respect for the game -- and his teammates -- to not make the silly, self-serving ‘money’ sign with his fingers after he scores a touchdown.”

Oliver, who worked the Fox Sports’ broadcast of the game as the sideline reporter, said on a talk show that Manziel was shunned by his teammates during pre-game introductions. Apparently, Oliver mistook the 5-11 ¾-inch Manziel for Joe Thomas, because she said Manziel was the last to go through the flames of the tunnel (Thomas went last). ESPNCleveland’s Casey Kulas recorded video that showed Manziel getting routine low-fives and handshakes from teammates, contradicting Oliver’s observation.

“It just seems ridiculous,” Manziel said of the inference that his teammates shunned him before his first NFL start.

Truth is, everybody in the Browns’ locker room – far as I can tell – genuinely likes Manziel.

“Johnny is a real impressive guy,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t think everybody knows really what Johnny is about. Johnny is very humble. Johnny is a real dude.”

Picking up the pieces: One miserable debut – the worst, really, of any Browns quarterback taken in the first round of the draft – and Manziel has emerged as a sympathetic figure.

“I felt bad for him because I know he had a lot of pressure on him, and anytime someone has that pressure on them, they want to go out and perform,” Shanahan said. “He definitely didn’t play his best, but I don’t think we helped him either. I think Johnny can do better, but in order to give him an opportunity to do better, we’ve got to do better all around.”

The guy who apparently mouthed “I could make that throw” during one of Brian Hoyer’s worst misfires couldn’t hit Lake Erie from the deck of the Steamship William G. Mather. He was late with throws and wobbly with throws, which happens when you throw with one foot off the ground, as he did often.

“I think it’s just … and what I told myself throughout the week is when you see something and your eyes see it, trust it,” Manziel said. “Whenever you trust it, then go out and let it fly. That’s what I did all week in practice. I felt like I was decisive in everything I did, and I threw the ball extremely well with a lot of juice on it. Then, when it came out on Sunday, sometimes I just second-guessed myself a couple times, and that’s when I got myself in trouble.”

Shanahan said the mechanical flaws in Manziel’s throwing were partly because of his dual threat skill set.

“I think playing the position is all about balance and being in the pocket and having your base under you and being balanced so you can make throws and really twerk your body and get your base under you,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes when you’re caught in between running and throwing, you lose that balance. That happens with guys who can make plays with their legs, so it’s not just Johnny. It’s anybody who’s mobile like that.

“That’s why you try to find, as a player and as a coach, that fine line between, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a passer here, but once you become a runner, become a runner.’ It’s hard to do both. When you try to do both, usually the accuracy and the velocity of your throws are inconsistent.”

Manziel’s enthusiam to run was dashed by Cincinnati’s “wide nine” alignment on the defensive line. The Bengals made sure Manziel couldn’t scamper around the edges of the defense.

“He wasn’t discouraged from running,” Shanahan said. “I think Johnny wants to run. He enjoys that stuff. They weren’t going to let him. I think that was pretty obvious early. Johnny’s got no problem running. He wants to make plays any way he can. When it’s there he’ll take it, but people know he can run, also. It’s not always there.”

No worries?: Shanahan has two more games this season to prove to the Browns that Manziel can be the franchise quarterback that Jimmy Haslam, er, Ray Farmer thought he was when he spent first- and third-round picks on him in the 2014 draft.

“I feel the same about Johnny as I always have. Johnny is a playmaker,” Shanahan said. “He’s done that throughout his career. Nobody can argue with that at all.

“Johnny is going to have some growing pains. He’s played a type of football that he’s not going to be able to down in and down out in the NFL, but you still want him to do it at times. He did it at times. You know he’s going to have some bad plays from his lack of experience, and we hope to manage those and not put him in those situations as much. When he does have some of those bad plays you hope he comes back and makes one of his great plays that not many people can do.

“We overcompensate for it, and the more reps he gets the better. The more game experience he gets the better. That was a tough one to learn from, but I think he’ll get better from it because I do think he’s a strong guy. I think he does have confidence. He’s been locked in this week. He’s not going in the tank. He realizes he needs to continue to improve, and I think Johnny will continue to improve because that’s the type of a person he is. He won’t shut it down.”

Critics of Manziel, of which there are a zillion, wanted to see him humbled in the NFL. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s see him play a couple more games before writing him off.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns' Joe Thomas on media award: I've never been a team MVP on any level

Dec 18, 2014 -- 3:52pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points …

Better late than never: Over his seven previous seasons, Joe Thomas has earned seven Pro Bowl berths, six All-Pro designations, and numerous other honors, plus was a finalist for the prestigious NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

But he never claimed the coveted Browns Player of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Consider that oversight rectified.

Thomas was named the 2014 Browns player of the year in a vote among media. In his case, it’s almost a lifetime achievement award.

“It’s really special because I’ve never been named a team MVP on any football team I’ve ever been on because it never goes to a lineman,” Thomas said. “It’s always the quarterback or the running back or the receiver, or somebody on defense that gets a lot of stats.”

The relevant stats onThomas are these: He has started and completed all 126 games of his NFL career, never coming out for a single play. His 7,810 consecutive snaps is the longest active streak in the NFL. As a concession to age (30) and wear and tear, Thomas received numerous days off in training camp and continues on a reduced schedule during the season, usually getting Wednesday off from practice.

“From an NFL player standpoint, he’s a total package,” coach Mike Pettine said. “Very professional, high character, sometimes you have superstar players, players at top of their game and there’s a sense of entitlement (to not) practice hard. He’s the exact opposite of that. We give him a day off, but it’s to protect him from himself. You know you have a special guy when one of your best players is also one of your best examples and your best worker. It’s not a surprise to me that you guys saw that, too.”

The PFWA’s Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award went to quarterback Brian Hoyer, who, through thick and thin, was always available to media twice a week in the locker room and after every game. The award also cites the winner for the way he “carries himself in the community and with his teammates.”

Eight other players and Pettine were nominated by media for the Good Guy. Thomas has won it two times.

Slow going: In their three-game losing streak, the Browns’ running game has slowed to a crawl, averaging a Trent Richardson-like 3.22 yards per attempt. There have been worse three-game stretches this year – 2.0 in the immediate three games following the Alex Mack season-ending broken leg – but by now you’d have expected things to be corrected.

What’s different now is that rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West have leveled off after outstanding first halves of their seasons, seemingly up against the proverbial rookie wall.

A few weeks ago, Pettine talked of desiring to see some reps on offense by Glenn Winston, the third back who hasn’t yet taken a hand off in a game all year. But Winston has been inactive the past two games.

Pettine attributed Winston’s disappearance on game days to the arrival on Dec. 3 of Shaun Draughn, a three-year back who has been judged a better contributor on special teams.

“It’s not as much Glenn,” Pettine said. “He did good job on special teams. We were very impressed with Shaun Draughn when he came in here. He brought a different skill set, a different mentality, to that. We make that judgment each week of who are the three (backs) we want up, and he’s been the answer each time. Glenn is a guy who has a bright future in this league. It just hasn’t worked out for him yet.”

The non-It factor: The Browns were so flummoxed by the defense’s lax performance in the Cincinnati game, they conducted personal interviews with some players for insight on how to prevent it from happening in the future.

“Whatever it was, that attitude, that ‘it’ factor, we need to find it,” said defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. “I think Pet’s done a great job of changing the culture. We talked a lot as a defense on Monday that we are planning in the future on being in a lot of big games like this. We’ve had conversations internally with players what they thought it might have been to prevent that in the future.

“For us to be able to take the next step as an organization, We need to be playing our best football in critical games like this past Sunday was. I think that’s part of the process of becoming a good team, playoff team, championship team – knowing how to play big in big moments.”

Brownie bits: Paul Kruger’s 10 sacks are the most for a Browns player since Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006. Kruger is 4.5 off the unofficial club record of 14.5 turned in by Bill Glass in 1965 – 13 years before the NFL recognized the sack as a statistical category. Jack Gregory (1970) and Reggie Camp (1984) have 14 … Not practicing on Thursday were safety Tashaun Gipson (knee), cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder), cornerback K’Waun Williams (hamstring) and receiver Andrew Hawkins (illness) ... Alex Mack (broken leg) is now walking and moving around without the benefit of a scooter ... In Carolina, coach Ron Rivera said quarterback Cam Newton is "on track" to start Sunday against the Browns. Newton missed the last game after a back injury suffered in a two-car accident.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

It's not how you start, it's how you finish that matters in the NFL

Dec 18, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Morning Kickoff …

Behind the curve: If it’s December, the Browns must be thinking about next year. They always do. And that’s the crux of Bernie Kosar’s Angry Fan Rant.

They’re always more concerned about the future than the present.

Clearing the salary decks. Preserving cap room and rolling it into next season. (They are so great at this.) Collecting future draft choices. Angling for draft position. Seeing what the young players can do. Building for “sustained success,” which is a euphemism for not winning now but striving to do it sometime in the future.

Evaluating the next quarterback hope. In this year’s case, Johnny Manziel.

This time of year, the Browns almost never win. Almost every season ends in an inescapable losing streak, followed by an organizational blow-up.

Check out how the last five Browns seasons have concluded:

2010: 0-4. Coach fired.

2011: 0-6.

2012: 0-3. Coach and GM fired.

2013: 0-7. Coach and GM fired.

2014: 0-3 with two games left.

Here we go again: Once upon a time, the Browns were 6-3 and the talk of the NFL. They crushed the Steelers at home. They crushed the Bengals in Cincinnati. But now those teams are winning down the stretch and the Browns are again in “next year” mode.

“How we started the year, a lot of people won’t remember that,” coach Mike Pettine said. “We’ll be remembered by our last game, our last performance or our last month, or our last two months.”

These Browns seasons unravel for mostly the same reasons. The razor-thin roster is decimated by injuries. Inevitably, the starting QB is chewed up and spat out by the Cleveland Quarterback-Eating Machine and replaced with the next great hope or the last man standing.

The organization turns its attention – consciously or sub-consciously -- to next year. The locker room feels that shift of focus and offseason vacation trips are planned.

After Manziel’s awful debut against Cincinnati last week, does anybody believe even a slump-ridden, confidence-bedraggled Brian Hoyer wouldn’t give the Browns a better chance of winning against Carolina and Baltimore? Of course not. Even Pettine has adjusted his mantra, conceding now that Manziel gives the team “an opportunity to win.”

But getting a broader read on Manziel is the order of the day. It’s the prudent thing to do. Hoyer is a goner and the organization has to find out whether Manziel can be “the man.” The error in this mentality is that all those other players returning next year carry over this habit of losing.

The Browns, as usual, are in the position of favoring player evaluation over winning at the end of another season. They are out of the playoff picture. What’s the big deal?

At this point, they are starting a rookie quarterback, who is taking snaps from a rookie center who joined the team off the street, and are alternating two rookie running backs who have hit “the wall”, with a rookie fullback blocking in front of them. Do you like their chances?

I asked Manziel if he thinks the habit of ending a season on a losing note will change. Admittedly, it was an unfair question for him, for he has so much else to worry about than recent Browns history. But he fielded it like a savvy media star.

“This team seems different,” Manziel said. “Obviously, I haven’t been here, but it seems different than any team that we’ve had here in the past, just based on what you see and based on what you hear from people within the organization who have been here. Knowing the character and the way that these guys are really built, I don’t see anybody on this team going out and not giving it their all these last two weeks.

“We’re still coming out and wanting to build something for next year, obviously with our playoff hopes gone, but at the same time, we want to come out and play well because we have a sense of pride and we don’t want to end on a bad note.”

Changing the culture or déjà vu?: I asked linebacker Craig Robertson about the significance of winning the last two games.

“Means everything,” he said.

I said it would help to prove that the culture is, in fact, changing.

“I wouldn’t put everything on two games,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to show that the culture is changing around here. I wouldn’t put everything on two games. The last two games shows the character of everybody in the locker room.”

Pettine continued that theme and contended that finishing 7-9 – after peaking at 6-3 – would not reverse the gains made earlier in the season.

“I won’t say it would have been lost,” he said. “I think in the short term – and I hate dealing in hypotheticals saying that things aren’t going to go well in the next two weeks – we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ll be very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and we’re going to work our butts off to finish on a positive note. To me, it would just be human nature not to feel great about it, but I think as time went on and we look back the feelings would be different.”

As usual, the Browns are in the role of spoilers now. They can’t “wreck this league,” but they can wreck the seasons of Carolina and Baltimore. Both teams need wins against the Browns to make the playoffs.

These Browns can’t possibly argue that they’ve changed the culture of losing that preceded them if they finish the season with five losses in a row.

For three years on the job, owner Jimmy Haslam has said his definition of a successful season is one in which the team is better at the end than at the beginning. Now that would be a change in the culture.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Mike Pettine on Bernie Kosar's rant: A little dramatic

Dec 17, 2014 -- 1:32pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Browns

Updated at 4:10 p.m.

Extra Points …

Good times: Bernie Kosar’s scathing review of the Browns’ losing culture this week pretty much spared coach Mike Pettine from blame.

Kosar said the debacle of Johnny Manziel’s starting debut was “almost abuse” and was systematic of a losing culture in the front office and above that never changes despite constant turnover of names and faces.

On Wednesday, Pettine responded, “I think that’s a little dramatic.”

“Sometimes guys make comments that are over the top,” the coach continued. “I have a lot of respect for Bernie, he’s one of my favorite guys growing up, a heckuva quarterback. He’s entitled to his opinion. But being here on the inside of it and seeing what we’re building and seeing the interaction we have between (owner) Jimmy Haslam and (General Manager) Ray Farmer and (President) Alec Scheiner and myself, the commitment is all there for us to be successful and obstacles are being removed for us to be successful.

“I’m very encouraged about the future here, very encouraged. I’d be the last one to tell you that the odds are stacked against us to be successful because of management. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The Browns are 7-7 and virtually out of the playoff chase after peaking at 6-3 with a win over Cincinnati on Nov. 6.  

“We’re in a society of instant gratification,” Pettine said. “Everybody wants it to happen now. As much as we want that to happen, it is a process. When you build a house, you have to build from the foundation, build it the right way, make sure it’s rock solid. And we’re in the middle of that.

“So I get people are going to have their opinions, say what they say. A lot more of that happens when you’ve lost three in a row. I didn’t hear a lot of that when we’d gotten our seventh win. So if you want that stuff to go away, it still comes back to a bottom line business. You’ve got to win games.”

For kicks: Lost in Manziel’s debacle debut was the fact the Browns learned nothing about their new kicker, Garrett Hartley. He never got on the field except for warm-ups before the game and before the second half.

“This week we don’t feel that bad (about the uncertainty),” Pettine said. “He’s played in (Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC) more than any of our guys with his history in New Orleans.”

Punter Spencer Lanning handled the only Browns kickoff of the game against the Bengals and belted it five yards deep into the end zone. Pettine said coaches will decide after a full week of practice who will kick off in Carolina.

The Browns were forced to finally make a change on Billy Cundiff when he hurt his right knee at practice on Thursday and it stiffened up the next day. He agreed to an injury settlement and was waived.

“There’s nothing below the surface with Billy,” Pettine said.

Hartley’s only previous home stadium in the NFL was the Louisiana Superdome, but during his career with the Saints, he actually had a better kicking percentage outdoors (.883) than indoors (.739).

“One thing people always said was 'can you kick outside?'” Hartley said. “Going from high school (in Texas) to college in Oklahoma, wait five minutes and the weather’s something different. The wind blows out there. So, it’s nothing new to me. Coming out here is just gonna be a great opportunity.”

Brownie bits: In Carolina, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Derek Anderson split first-team reps. Newton missed the last game after injuring his back in a two-car accident. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that Newton looked good but he would wait another day to make a decision. “We expect him to play,” Pettine said … linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) is closer to playing … tight end Gary Barnidge (ribs) was limited … cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder) is “day to day” … safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) will most likely not be ready for Sunday.

 

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Scouting Report: Carolina Panthers

Dec 17, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

Updated at 11:17 a.m.

Browns v. Carolina Panthers

                        Sunday, 1 p.m., in Bank of America Stadium

Record:  5-8-1.

Last game: Defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 19-17, Dec. 14, in Charlotte, NC.

Coach: Ron Rivera, 30-32-1, fourth season.

Series record: Panthers lead, 3-1.

Last meeting: Browns won, 24-23, Nov. 28, 2010, in Cleveland.

League rankings: Offense is 16th overall (12th rushing, 17th passing), defense is 16th (21st rushing, 12th passing) and turnover differential is plus-1.

Offensive overview: Nobody has gotten more out of Cam Newton than did former coordinator Rob Chudzinski in the quarterback’s rookie season of 2011. Newton’s fourth NFL season has been marred by multiple injuries. The latest – two fractured transverse processes in his back – was the result of a two-car accident two weeks ago. His play status for Sunday is questionable. If he plays, few believe he will venture out of the pocket, which takes a big part of his game away. He is second on the team with 425 rushing yards and tied for the lead with three running TDs. If Newton is held out a second game in a row, ex-Brown Derek Anderson would get his third start. The rifle-armed Anderson is 2-0, beating Tampa Bay both times. Like in Cleveland, Anderson has a tall, young receiver in rookie Kelvin Benjamin to throw to. Benjamin leads the team with nine receiving TDs and is second to tight end Greg Olsen with 67 receptions for 952 yards. The foundation of coordinator Mike Shula’s offense is a zone-blocking run scheme featuring Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (when healthy).

Defensive overview: This defense led the NFL with 60 sacks last year, but the pass rush was deflated when sack artist Greg Hardy was de-activated on the commissioner’s/exempt list as a result of the adjudication of a domestic violence incident. As a result, $16 million-a-year end Charles Johnson has fought double teams and chips all year. The beneficiary has been designated rusher Mario Addison, who co-leads with Johnson with 6.5 sacks. The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where tackle machine Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are excellent disrupters. The secondary received some much-needed upgrade at speed when low-round rookie draft picks Bene Benwikere and Tre Boston were promoted to starters.  

Special teams overview: Kicker Graham Gano is 26 of 31 on field goals with a long of 53 yards and ranks fourth with 54 touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Brad Nortman is 22nd in gross average (44.5 yards) and 32nd in net (35.5). He had two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns against the Vikings. The coverage units have been awful and the return units negligible.

Players to watch:

1. Quarterback Cam Newton: Ankle, rib and back injuries have reduced him to a dropback passer, which isn’t his strength. He can wing it with the best of them, but the offense seems more satisfied with underneath throws to reduce turnovers.

2. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin: Despite Newton’s injuries and his own inconsistencies catching the ball, the 6-5, 240-pounder has put together an excellent rookie season – 67 catches for 952 yards (14.2 average) and nine TDs. He was the 28th pick of the first round.

3. Linebacker Luke Kuechly: A sideline-to-sideline impact player who leads the NFL in tackles since he entered the NFL three years ago. He also has three sacks, a fumble forced and recovered and an interception.

Injury report: QB Cam Newton (back) missed the last game. LB Thomas Davis (knee) is limited. LB A.J. Klein (knee, foot) is limited.

Small world: Quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey played for the Browns (2006-08) … Quarterback Derek Anderson played for the Browns and made 39 starts (2005-09) … Running back Fozzy Whittaker played for the Browns (2013) … Defensive back James Dockery  (2011) and linebacker Ben Jacobs (2011)  were undrafted free agents of the Browns.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Bernie Kosar rips 'uneducated front office' for Johnny Manziel debacle

Dec 16, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Notes on the pivotal week of the 2014 season …

* Bernie Kosar’s scathing comments about flawed Browns’ leadership may be dismissed as angry words from a disgruntled former player who has been marginalized by the organization. But that would be an incomplete conclusion to draw.

Kosar’s star-crossed relationship with the Browns since their rebirth in expansion in 1999 is well known. He jumped ship from one ownership group in 1998 to support the Al Lerner-Carmen Policy partnership with the understanding – promised or implied – that he would be given a prominent role in the organization. That never happened, and every management regime since then has kept Kosar at arm’s length or beyond.

The current regime removed him as analyst on pre-game telecasts, severing the relationship with the franchise’s most popular icon. Nevertheless, Kosar’s broadside delivered on WTAM-AM 1100 on Monday was a stinging, cogent commentary on the treadmill on which the Browns’ franchise runs. We refer to it as the Hundred Years War.

Kosar said the quarterback switch to Johnny Manziel was “a recipe for disaster” and systemic of an “uneducated” front office.

"They don't know how to lead and organize and set a culture for doing what you have to do to play winning NFL football," Kosar said.

Kosar cited the method by which the Browns selected Manziel with the 22nd pick in the draft -- the story of quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains forwarding texts of Manziel to influence owner Jimmy Haslam to pull the trigger on a trade to move up and take Manziel – and stated, “That’s unacceptable … that can’t happen.”

He said the franchise’s periodic quarterback controversies serve to "take heat off (the front office) and give people a glimmer of hope in the future."

In that regard, Kosar merely indicted the current regime for the same sins committed by the ones which preceded it. Kosar did not name former owner Randy Lerner, who once offered Kosar the club presidency role. Kosar did not accept it because of personal, family and business conflicts.

On Sunday, Manziel became the 21st quarterback to start a game since the franchise was reborn in 1999.

“I’m 51,” Kosar said. “At this pace, I’m going to die by 60 and for the last 25 years of my life, all I’m going to talk about is, ‘Who do you think the QB should be?’ That’s all we talk about. And you can’t fix it until you fix it above it.”

Sad, sobering, but true.

* There was no coach’s manual on how to handle the dynamics of the Browns’ unique quarterback situation involving Brian Hoyer and Manziel. The benefit of 20-20 hindsight allows us now to revisit two alternative strategies. To be sure, these are classic second guesses, but we’re all struggling to process what’s happened to this season and rethink how another meltdown could have been avoided.

1. Manziel should have been incorporated earlier into the offense in specialized situations.

Manziel’s threat as a running quarterback could have helped the Browns’ difficulties inside the red zone. As Hoyer and the offense bogged down repeatedly inside the 20-yard line, the coaches could have created a limited package of plays for Manziel to be used when needed.

A two-quarterback system has a history of not working in the NFL. But, again, this situation was unique and it could have been presented as no threat to Hoyer’s starting job but as an opportunity to complement the offense with an additional playmaker.

If it were practiced every day, Manziel would have been acclimated to the NFL game in a specialized role while contributing to the cause of winning in partnership with Hoyer. If sold to the team as a way of creatively confounding opposing defenses, this partnership would have maximized Manziel’s unique skills without undermining Hoyer’s leadership while also quenching the thirst of management to see Manziel on the field.

The Miami Dolphins won with a creative Wildcat formation using backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. The Denver Broncos won with the creative use of Tim Tebow in a desperate situation. You do what you have to do.

2. Pettine should have stayed true to his conviction and declared Hoyer the starter for the remainder of the season.

The time to do this was after the Atlanta game, when Hoyer pulled out a win in the last 40 seconds despite a tough outing. Instead, Pettine opened the possibility of a future change by talking about “competition” at every position, including quarterback.

Hoyer was in the midst of his slump, but he still had the team at 7-4. Unhinged by Pettine’s crack in confidence in him, Hoyer proceeded to regress, posting a 50.0 rating in the 26-10 loss to Buffalo and a 31.7 in the 25-24 loss to Indianapolis.

Hoyer had shown similar wobbling during the quarterback competition in training camp. But once Pettine gave him the starting job, he responded with confident play. The same could have happened if Pettine had stood in front of the team -- and management -- and said, “We’re in the playoff race because of Brian. He’s our leader and he’ll take us where we need to go.”

That would have solidified Pettine’s standing as a strong leader and squelched any seeping division in the locker room.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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