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#HeyTony: Could Johnny Manziel's elbow injury signal his demise with the Browns?

Aug 29, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



Johnny Manziel’s elbow injury the week of the third preseason game brought out conspiracy theories that rivaled those of the JFK assassination. Only thing missing was a Zapruder film.

Hey Tony: Since Johnny came back from rehab, my feeling that the Browns have given up on him has grown stronger and stronger. He was immediately designated as the 2nd string QB, given no reps with the 1st string, the coach kept saying Johnny still has things to work on when asked if he might start, and when it started to appear people were beginning to think he had a chance to start, they squelched that by shutting him down for something others (Couch) have played with. I think the whole portrayal of Johnny being developed to eventually become the started was a façade to disguise the fact they intended to draft another guy next year and get rid of Johnny. By that time they could legitimately say they had given him a chance to develop and he just hadn't done it.

-- Rich, San Diego, CA

Hey Rich: Conspiracy theories are on the rise as a result of Manziel’s mysterious sore elbow injury. To debunk yours, coach Mike Pettine said the plan was for Manziel to play with No. 1 offense in the second quarter in Tampa before his elbow injury sidelined him. In truth, Manziel was never close to challenging McCown for the starting job. That was a figment of national media companies who see only Manziel as a Browns storyline. I have consistently maintained the Browns would seek a new quarterback in the 2016. This week, it was reported the Browns were doing early research on Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who attended Walsh Jesuit High School.

Hey Tony: Believe it or not I think you are a good writer and very knowledgable. But certain things just make me laugh -- like how when you have an axe to grind on a topic, your obsession with certain players (Brian Hoyer, Lawrence Vickers) and your belief that EVERYTHING the Steelers and Raven do is brilliant. Yes, they are far better organizations than the Browns -- ridiculously better. And I think Pittsburgh signing Michael Vick is a good one, seeing that Aaron Rodgers was not available (ha ha).  But you said something like “contenders don’t wait to find insurance at QB position.” Um, this is a team that trotted Charlie Batch out as a backup QB on multiple occasions. One of which was to QB for 4 games at start of the season while Ben served a suspension. So they had the whole preseason, and the best they came up with was Charlie Batch? Not moving too quickly there.  And last year they actually had Bruce Gradkowski as their backup. They couldn’t do better than that? Oh, and they once had Brian Hoyer and then cut him. Browns are idiots for letting him go -- not the Steelers? Point is these teams do most things right -- just not EVERYTHING right. Thanks Tony.

-- Jim, Northfield, OH

Hey Jim:  In his prime, Batch was a perfect backup for Roethlisberger. There was no need to replace him. Keep in mind that when you have a franchise QB tied up with a $100 million contract, you don’t pay top dollar for a backup. Now, about Hoyer: The Steelers did cut Hoyer, who was an emergency QB for them for a couple of weeks, to add a much-needed running back in 2012. The Cardinals signed him for a few emergency starts. After the season, the Steelers wanted badly to re-sign Hoyer, but the Cardinals pulled a fast one and assigned Hoyer the second-round restricted free agent tender to block Pittsburgh’s intentions. After the Steelers signed Gradkowski, the Cardinals let Hoyer go, freeing him to sign with the Browns. I understand why Browns fans loathe the Steelers and Ravens. The fact is they are both among the top 10 organizations in the NFL.

Hey Tony: Can you envision a good year for OSU QB Cardale Jones in the Big 10 & College Playoffs and the Browns would offer a trade for T Joe Thomas or CB Joe Haden to move up into a front position in 2016 NFL to get Cardale? I would say to "mortgage the farm" for this franchise prospect? It could be a decade before another 6'5, 250 lb. QB with wheels & rifle arm could come along.

-- Kenny, Saybrook-on-the-Lake, OH

Hey Kenny: Personally, I am hoping that Urban Meyer chooses J.T. Barrett as his starting QB and Jones merely mops up in the blowout victories to come. That way, Jones may get shuffled behind Michigan State’s Connor Cook, USC’s Cody Kessler, California’s Jared Goff and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg in the draft. That would perhaps enable the Browns to select Jones without having to move up in the draft. This would be a dream scenario. Jones does not need to start or put up a big year to be the Browns’ choice, in my opinion. His skills are not going to change if he comes off the bench and plays second fiddle to Barrett.

Hey Tony:  I have a hunch. I say this offense is going to be more productive than most think.  I'm not saying 28 points per game stuff but better than we think.  I also say our defense won't be as good as people think.  Other than Gipson and Haden nobody else jumps out.  Shelton will help inside but teams will still run around the edges on us (especially Kruger's side).  I also think management knows that this is no legendary defense and with today's rules and emphasis on offense, we're not going to win much this year. Hate to say it Tony but the best I think we can hope for is 5 or 6 wins tops and also get in a position where we can grab one of the big time QB's coming out of the Big Ten next year. Your thoughts?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig:  My official prediction will come later, but I think you are on to something.

Hey Tony:  This current quarterback carousel is hysterical.  It's as if The Browns are a pitiful High School team considering forfeiting the year: It is late August and they are somehow unable to once again even field an adequate team, let alone compete in this brutal division for an entire season. McCown is a loose finger nail away from the IR and as we can all see now: sober or not, Manziel isn't a professional caliber quarterback ready to win now. Curious what you think of taking a flyer on RG3.  Despite the injury setbacks and negative attention on him currently, he finished his final game in 2014 with over 300 yds passing and 2 TDs.  Our stud O-Line could certainly keep Griffin on his feet in the pocket and he could benefit from a fresh start, away from Jay Gruden.  Staring at our current dire QB options for the 2015 campaign, should acquiring RG3 through a reasonable trade be a consideration?

-- Dan, New York, NY

Hey Dan:I would not touch RG3 with a 10-foot pole. Wrong QB, wrong physique, wrong personality for Cleveland and the AFC North.

Hey Tony: This is the first year since the Carmen Policy days that we did not have the Great Lakes Classic with the Lions!!  What gives?  Seems to me another Great Lakes team - the Bills - crashed the party!  Speaking of which, I can't recall the last time we played an AFC opponent in the preseason, can you?  GLC!

-- Mike, Boston, MA

Hey Mike:The GLC was discontinued in 2014 when the Browns-Lions preseason series came to a welcome end. In recent years, the NFL has taken over auspices of preseason schedules. Each team has one game it can schedule on its own, and in the case of the Browns it has been the preseason finale against Chicago for several years.

Hey Tony:  Ugh. Please pass the Pepto Bismol. I have a bad feeling about this season. Think about it: For the past four or five years, the Browns have followed the same predictable pattern. They survive September, then go on a win streak in October. By the first week in November, they have a winning record, which leads to national reporters writing that “now these Browns are for real.” Alas they soon “regress back to the mean” by losing out the rest of November. Let’s not even talk about December.  If the pattern holds this year, the Browns are due for their losing streak right when we have four straight AFC North games.  I repeat, ugh!  Tony, please give us some hope.

-- C, Houston, TX

Hey C: Whatever happens in the first eight games, the Browns’ season will come down to the four weeks beginning Nov. 5 and ending Dec. 6 when they play in succession: at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, home v. Baltimore and home v. Cincinnati. That is their season, right there.

Hey Tony:  Could Terrell Pryor make the Browns and be put on short term IR saving a spot for another healthy player while keeping his rights? I'm afraid our luck is he would get healthy and sign with another team and become a solid receiver - Browns luck says it's the Steelers or Ravens! I know you don't make the 53 on a stationary bike, but they gotta see his freakish ability and upside .... another team will take a chance on him when he heals. Also, I know trades in the NFL this time of year are rare, but could you see any position shuffling via trade?

-- Feraas, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Feraas:  It’s conceivable the Browns could use their one injured reserve/designated to return tag on Pryor. It’s unlikely, however, because teams would rather save that one designation for a front-line player. Pryor’s transition to receiver will be a season-long experiment and though he might provide some big plays, he figures to be only a role player.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Should the Browns devote the 2015 season to evaluating Johnny Manziel as a starting quarterback?

Aug 22, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



It only took two preseason games for some fans to build the case for Johnny Manziel to be the starting quarterback. In Cleveland, the No.2 quarterback is always the more popular player.

Hey Tony: After watching the Browns/Bills game last night it looks like we took a couple of steps backwards at the number 1 QB position compared to last year. Johnny Manziel looked like he has taken his position more seriously. He didn't look great but a lot better than last year. With that said why not start Manziel right away? We already know what we have in Josh McCown.

-- Dan, Tampa, FL

Hey Dan:  The Browns thought they knew what they had in McCown when they signed him with a $6.5 million guarantee. Mike Pettine said he was brought here to play, not to mentor. So you would think their conviction would carry McCown through one rough preseason outing. But there will always be the sentiment to see what Manziel can do. The fine line Pettine straddles is this: His locker room is ready to win. It is not interested in finding out if Manziel can play.

Hey Tony:  How does Vince Mayle make this team, other than Ray Farmer not giving up on a draft pick? Hartline, Benjamin, Bowe, Hawkins and Gabriel should make the team barring injury. That's five WRs that I would be shocked if they weren't on the final roster. Terrelle Pryor has the speed and size to warrant a possible spot. Marlon Moore, Shane Wynn, Josh Lenz and Darius Jennings have all been contributing on offense and or special teams. Where does that leave Mayle? His 40 time was 4.67, not exactly a burner. He has very questionable hands, even before the injury. He had a difficult time getting separation from the defender in college and isn't the type of receiver you can just throw the ball up for grabs and expect your man to win. I'd take a WR with good hands and speed over Mayle any day. How many WRs will they keep and who do you think makes the final roster?

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick:  Mayle has had a tough first training camp. He is running out of time to earn a roster spot. His status is going to be one of the more interesting decisions made by Farmer. Isn’t it ironic that the only receiver Farmer has selected in the past two receiver-rich drafts is on the roster bubble? The easy out would be to stash Mayle on the practice squad, but he would have to clear waivers first. If another team had a high opinion of Mayle coming out of Washington State, he could be poached. 

Hey Tony:  Love your work. Thanks for keeping us Browns fans in Western New York informed. I'm sure most questions this week will center on the Browns’ lackluster performance in the game and practices against the Bills, as well they should. I have a different question. My family loves making the drive back to Berea every year to take in training camp, but this year we took advantage of the Browns joining the Bills in nearby Rochester to watch practice there. We were blown away ... not by what we saw on the field, but by the first-class training camp operation that the Bills run. Parking was well labeled with convenient shuttle service. They had a large climate-controlled merchandise tent. The staff was beyond friendly, especially to their guests in brown and orange. Did you get any sense that the higher-ups in the Browns organization were taking notes on how the fan experience in Berea (or Columbus?) could be upgraded? Any idea of if Alec Scheiner was there at St. John Fisher?

-- Rick, Buffalo, NY

Hey Rick:  The Bills’ training camp was a learning experience for the Browns’ business and football operations, and for media, too. Strangely, Scheiner, the club president, did not accompany the team to Rochester. Owner Jimmy Haslam did, however, and I’m sure he took notes mentally on all the revenue opportunities the Bills created. As for football operations, St. John Fisher College provided better-than-adequate facilities, including two grass fields and one FieldTurf surface. The place was extremely fan- and VIP-friendly with a capacity of about 12,000 for spectators, plus numerous hospitality chalets and tents. The quaint campus of St. John Fisher College adds immense charm to the venue. It is my understanding, however, that none of the opportunities being weighed by the Browns in Columbus are affiliated with a small college campus.

Hey Tony: As a Browns season ticket holder, it seems to me that there is a fairly simple solution to shortening the NFL preseason that both the NFL and NFLPA could support. As you know, season ticket holders are currently charged the same amount per game across 10 home games (8 regular season and 2 preseason). My four tickets costs $2,400 for this season. The 2 preseason games are not worth traveling to and are nearly impossible to resell for more than a few bucks. My proposal is to charge the same amount of money for 9 home games (8 regular season and 1 preseason), as teams currently charge for 10 home games. In my situation, I would pay $2,400 for 9 home games instead of 10. Most season ticket holders would be fine with this, as we aren't getting any value for the preseason games anyway.  In fact, having only one preseason home game may create more interest/demand/value for the tickets to the game. Therefore, the revenue would to the league owners would not be negatively impacted.  Teams would also then only be playing one preseason home game and one preseason away game.  Players would support this, and the regular season could continue to remain at 16 total games. This could also allow the league and teams to potentially even look at a 3rd preseason game to be played in markets without NFL teams (i.e. Columbus, Toronto, etc.). Thoughts?

-- Larry, Delaware, OH

Hey Larry:  I covered this topic in last week’s column. An NFL source told me that most stadium leases in the NFL mandate that 10 NFL games must be held in the stadium. If that clause is enforced, the NFL is more likely to switch to a 2-and-18 format – two preseason games and 18 regular season. That would mean one preseason game and nine regular-season games per stadium.

Hey Tony: Still want to joke about my hamstring questions from last week? Is it training or the lack of workout time required by the new labor agreement?

-- Tom, Washington, IA

Hey Tom:  Most people in the NFL believe the restrictions in the labor agreement are the main cause for the rash of hamstring injuries in camps this year. Teams, players, coaches and trainers are still grappling with the adjustment to the new rules. Eventually, they will arrive at new training regimens that will work best.

Hey Tony:  Doesn't it seem that too many Browns players came to camp healthy and then took time off for hamstring pulls? Since somebody is at fault for everything that goes wrong, do these hamstring pulls fall at the lap of players or the strength and conditioning coaches?

-- Kevin, Detroit, MI

Hey Kevin:  I honestly have no opinion on this hot-button issue. I hate injuries – hate talking about them, hate writing about them – and tend to tune out in any discussion about them. Most every team in the NFL is experiencing a rash of hamstring injuries this summer, so I’m not ready to pin the blame on the Browns trainers, coaches or players.

Hey Tony:  Terrelle Pryor. What is his contract status 1 or 2 years and for how much money will he be paid for those years? And Josh Gordon, didn't he have a lawsuit against the NFL and Cleveland Browns for a years of service? He wants just to have 1 year left on his current contract and not 2 years. I have not heard any more about that.

-- Dave, North Ridgeville, OH

Hey Dave:  Pryor signed a one-year deal for the NFL minimum for his years in the league. He will earn a base salary of $660,000 – equivalent to that of linebackers Tank Carder and Scott Solomon. As for Gordon, he was grieving – not suing – the Browns because their suspension of him for the 16th game effectively cost him a year of free agency. He wanted his game check for that last game and also wanted the full year to count toward free agency, which would mean he would be an unrestricted free agent after his next year in the NFL. I have no information on the status of his grievance.

Hey Tony:  I hope that Justin Gilbert is saving all his money from his first contract, because it doesn’t look like he’ll have a second one. But before we start pointing fingers at Farmer, did any of the draft experts predict that this kid would be such a bust? At least with Mingo there were danger signs about his weight and his production drop-off in his last year in college.

-- Bill, Springfield, NH

Hey Bill:  Several draft analysts projected Gilbert as a mid- to late-first round pick, and some had him projected for the second round. The Browns picked Gilbert eighth overall in the first round in 2014. Pettine saw Gilbert with the athletic skills required to play his demanding press-man style at cornerback. It certainly appears the Browns were negligent in doing a thorough background check on Gilbert. Both Pettine and GM Ray Farmer referred to “issues” Gilbert had as a rookie being traced back to his college career at Oklahoma State.

Hey Tony:  I have always thought Travis Benjamin has been under-utilized at WR but I put it down to two reasons. 1) He would muff punts and his focus would shift solely to kick returner. 2) He would drop a big pass early in a game and then never be targeted again. This seems to happen year in and year out. Have you seen this pattern play out and do you think the coaches this year will be more patient and willing to work with Benjamin at WR this season? Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot:  From the beginning of camp, it appeared to me that Benjamin was the team’s most consistent receiver this year. In his three seasons, Benjamin’s highs are 18 catches, 314 yards and three touchdowns – so he has been under-utilized as a receiver, partially due to his gradual development as an overall NFL receiver. I believe he is at the stage now where he should be used more as an offensive weapon and not just as a returner.

Hey Tony:  The injury to Connor Shaw brings up two questions.  The first is if a player trying out for a team with a non-guaranteed contract gets injured, does the team pay for the surgery and rehab and does the player get paid while injured? Secondly, if the Browns do decide to keep a third quarterback on the roster, who does this help more -- Thad Lewis or Terrell Pryor on the team or a veteran pickup cut late from another team's roster?

-- Rich, Columbus, OH

Hey Rich:  1. Yes, the team pays for initial exam and rehab process. The player gets paid his full salary if he is put on injured reserve at the start of the season. 2. I believe the Shaw injury opens the door for Pryor to make the roster because of his ability to serve as a competent third, emergency, quarterback. My hunch at the moment is that Lewis does not make the team.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Are the Browns flying a trial balloon on public reaction to a possible signing of Ray Rice?

Aug 15, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



It didn’t take Browns fans long to point out early flaws in the 2015 team – running the ball and stopping the run.

Hey Tony: The story that the Browns are thinking of signing Ray Rice strikes me as out of the norm. Most such leaks obviously come from agents trying to drive up the signing price and/or to drum up interest from other teams. The idea of this signing, however, considering that all 31 other teams have not shown any interest given the baggage Rice carries, tells me the Browns' front office may be flying a trial balloon to gauge public reaction before moving ahead to beef up their dismal rushing outlook. Your thoughts?

-- David, Greenwich, CT

Hey David:  I don’t buy it. If Rice could still play at a high level, he would have been signed by now. He has shown remorse since his domestic violence incident and had counseling and has actually drawn praise from DV organizations for bringing awareness to the issue. Many people in the NFL believe he deserves a second chance. The problem is many also question if he has anything left as a player. The Browns think their young backs, when healthy, are better than Rice is now. As far as bringing in a veteran to mentor them, they believe they have that player in Shaun Draughn, but he also is temporarily injured. Another factor with Rice is because he is a vested veteran, his contract is guaranteed upon being on a roster at the first week of the regular season. Few teams want to take that chance. I would expect to see Rice signed by some team – not the Browns – after the start of the season.

Hey Tony:  I'm in agreement with Mike Pettine about not panicking about the running game.  It will be sufficient, but not great.  A healthy Duke Johnson will make a big difference. However, I am a bit concerned about the run defense.  The front seven, whether in a 3-4 or 4-3, must do a better job stopping the run.  The Browns keep adding players to strengthen the run defense, but they continue to allow teams to gash them for too many yards. I know it's early, but do you have concerns this will continue to be a problem?  Some NFL teams seem to have an attitude about stopping the run.  It just seems to be lacking with the Browns.  I like the Browns players, but doesn't something seem to be missing?  Great run defenses always had at least one player other teams feared. Do you think the Browns have that player in the front seven?

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I would expect Danny Shelton to be the player other teams fear, or at least focus their attention on. Shelton, of course, will have to earn that distinction on the field. But I have said and written before that the Browns’ front seven on defense does not have a single player in that vein.

Hey Tony: Just saw the first unofficial Browns depth chart and saw Dwayne Bowe was injured. Other than the injury, how has he been in camp? Any chance of being cut like they did the veteran WR they had in camp last year?

 -- Howard, Stuttgart, Germany

Hey Howard: Bowe hasn’t shown much because of a hamstring injury in training camp. The receiver from last year you’re thinking of was Nate Burleson. He missed a lot of time with an injury and didn’t show much until the end, and was cut on the final cutdown. Bowe’s situation is much different. He has a history with GM Ray Farmer from their days together with Kansas City and also has a contract that guarantees him $9 million over two years -- $6.15 million this year and $2.85 million in 2016. So …

Hey Tony:  With so many different regime changes and player turnover and constantly bedding in a new system, are the Browns in a better position than they were this time last year? I still don’t see many playmakers, probably none at all on offence. So are the Browns better and are there more playmakers than last year?

-- Gerard, Cork, Ireland

Hey Gerard:  They are better in some areas of the team, but are still lacking in the elite offensive playmakers that put teams over the top. The quarterback-running back-receiver trio is a good indicator. Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Baltimore has Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett and Steve Smith (or rookie Breshad Perriman). Cincinnati has Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill and A.J. Green. The Browns project to having Josh McCown, Isaiah Crowell or Duke Johnson, and Dwayne Bowe.

Hey Tony: After attending the Orange and Brown Scrimmage at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, I was very impressed with all of the activity inside and outside the stadium. It was a great experience and made me wonder why the Browns or any NFL teams don't take advantage of having Preseason games in neutral sites where the NFL does not currently have a team? I know money has to have a huge impact because the Browns don't have to rent First Energy Stadium and/or split concession revenue, but wouldn't hosting a Preseason game in Columbus help attract the Columbus market more than say the relocation of Training Camp in future years?

-- Lance, Columbus, OH

Hey Lance: I always thought the solution to the bad preseason product was to reduce the preseason schedule to three games. Each team would have one at home, one on the road and one on a neutral site in a virgin NFL market. When I posed this idea to an NFL team executive, he said it sounded fine, but it couldn’t happen because each NFL stadium lease currently in existence requires its team to play 10 NFL games in the stadium – eight regular season and two preseason games. (Teams that consent to play in London make up for the financial loss to its city through assistance from the NFL.)

Hey Tony:  Couple things after the 1st game.  Does anyone tell Paul Kruger to set the edge?!  It blows my mind how he consistently goes inside. Teams do run the ball and if I were an OC I would run around his end all day. Justin Gilbert still looks lost. Athletically he can do it and I think I saw good effort but I just don't think he thinks the game well. You? The uniforms wouldn't be bad if this was a new franchise but it's like watching the Yankees trying to change. It's just not the Browns. Yuck!

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: Kruger’s pass rush skills are pretty good, but the coaches were on him last year for over-committing and not playing the run. I agree that Gilbert doesn’t seem to have a mental feel for the game or his position. I was in favor of the uniform makeover. I just thought the team and franchise needed a jolt of new energy and felt the uniforms would help. I’m interested to see all nine combinations.

Hey Tony:  Two questions. First, after all the scrimmage hype for Josh Lenz, the 54 yard return for Darius Jennings, and the Terrelle Pryor buzz as well, do you think Vince Mayle just killed his chances already with two drops in the first preseason game, one leading to an interception? Sure it's early, but the knock on him at draft time was drops, and he has yet to disprove that. Personally, with that 6-2 body I wanted to see him creating the buzz more than Lenz or Jennings, but they have both done what it takes to stand out positively, and it seems Mayle has only stood out negatively. Thoughts? Second, maybe your last ever Brian Hoyer question, but when I read all the Joe Thomas quotes praising Josh McCown, all I can think is how similar the comments are to when he used to sing Hoyer's praises. I think he's a good company man and team player, so of course he is going to say positive things, but, talking to him as long as you have, which player, do you think in your humble opinion would Joe Thomas secretly rather be playing in front of, McCown or Hoyer? Of course winning is what matters, but which does Joe think, truly, would be giving the Browns a better chance to win this year? I'm just curious if reporters can get a sense for these things since the players are not likely to ever directly say it.

-- John, Willoughby, OH

Hey John: 1. Mayle fell behind when he broke his thumb at the Senior Bowl and could not receive passes during the OTA season. Now he still is knocking off the rust from that inactivity. He has fallen behind some of the free agents like Jennings and Lenz, but Mayle has time to play his way back. Teams always give their draft picks the benefit of doubt. In the case of a tie, draft choices generally trumps free agents. 2. Thomas experienced 10 wins in 16 games with Hoyer at quarterback – make it nine in 15 games if you want to subtract the Buffalo game in 2013 in which Hoyer tore his ACL. So he knows the Browns could win with Hoyer. As for McCown, Thomas genuinely likes what he sees, particularly McCown’s veteran and professional approach to the game. But he really doesn’t know if the Browns can win with him, does he?

Hey Tony:  Is it time to send a message to the fellas? Public pleas through the media only go so far. Releasing the lethargic back(s) would accomplish a number of things. Most importantly, it will help establish a winning culture that has been missing since 1999. Pettine isn't afraid to let coaches go when they fail to hold players accountable. Well, isn't it time to for coach Pettine to hold the players accountable? Regardless of who drafted who.

-- Michael, Blue Ash, OH

Hey Michael: If you’re referring to Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, whom are you going to replace them with? West was a third-round draft pick and Crowell was an undrafted free agent. So it’s not like they are being given preferential treatment. Each played well in spurts as rookies and have obvious skills. The only message sent by releasing them would be: “What were we thinking?”

Hey Tony:  Thanks for continually covering the team and furthering the ritual sadness of Browns fandom. My question is this: If Justin Gilbert can't hang with receivers starting off in a one-on-one backpedal, is it possible he could fall into a free safety spot and put his cover abilities and size to work if Tashaun Gipson leaves town?

-- Jason, Tucson, AZ

Hey Jason: If Gilbert were to make a position switch, I would move him to offense. He seems like a completely different player with the ball in his hand – energetic, totally engaged, a natural runner with the ball. He had eight touchdowns at Oklahoma State -- two on interceptions and six on kickoff returns. The Browns dropped the ball last year by not taking advantage of Gilbert’s kick return skills. It's not too late to capitalize on his running skills.

Hey Tony:  How has Rob Housler (TE) looked at camp this year? I was hoping that he could take over Jordan Cameron's athletic receiving role, but it seems like he's third on the depth chart behind Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray. Is it poor blocking or a lack of effort?

-- Mike, Chicago, IL

Hey Mike: Housler was signed as a free agent from Arizona to fill Cameron’s role as a seam-splitting tight end downfield. He has had a lot of drops in practice and needs to have good games to make the team. It appears undrafted free agent E.J. Bibbs has edged ahead of Housler in the eyes of the coaches.

Hey Tony:  All the talk about the Browns defense this year has been about either the secondary or d-line. How have the inside linebackers looked? On the first depth chart Chris Kirksey was listed as the other starter alongside Dansby unseating Craig Robertson. Kirksey showed promise in space last year at OLB in limited action. How do you project him sliding inside as his success has come on the outside? Is the coaching staff banking on the additional bulk up front eating more blockers than last year enabling Dansby and Kirksey to play in space?

-- Matt, Chesterland, OH

Hey Matt: Kirksey shared an inside linebacker position last year with Robertson and never played on the outside. I wouldn’t count out Robertson. He reminds me in a way of former Browns linebacker Eddie Johnson, who maximized his limited athletic ability by playing with a huge chip on his shoulder. Robertson is a popular player with teammates and coaches. Both and Kirksey will see playing time, I’m sure.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Could the Browns be better than anyone expects?

Aug 08, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/USA Today via ESPN

The start of preseason games is pro football’s version of spring training, where hope springs eternal. Could the Browns be better than everyone expects?

Hey Tony: Thank you for your great coverage. I know it's only Day 8 of training camp and we should wait to see preseason games, but I don't remember hearing/reading too many good things about the offense during 2014 camp and how the defense frequently dominated the offense. Specifically how both QBs, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, were mediocre at best. So far this year, sounds like not only is the offense is holding its own, but Manziel and Josh McCown have led the offense to some early and frequent success. Is my eternal hope for a good Browns season getting the better of me, or do you think that this team has a legitimate chance to be good?

-- Bill, East Hartford, CT

Hey Bill: It’s hard to get a handle on this offense because of so many integral players missing practice time, such as Dwayne Bowe, Duke Johnson, Malcolm Johnson … even Terrelle Pryor. I will say this: I have been pleased with what I’ve seen of McCown. Manziel has shown improvement, too. And Connor Shaw is under-rated. The scrimmage in Ohio Stadium was a good confidence booster for the offense, as each of the top three QBs played well. We’ll get a better read on the team after a few practice games.

Hey Tony: I keep reading the training camp posts and it would seem that there's not much separating Manziel and McCown. If this continues, Manziel needs to play. The future is not McCown. He would have a difficult time being the backup QB for most NFL teams. I would have John DeFilippo utilize an offense that suits Manziel's abilities. If a first round QB in his second season sits behind McCown, something is seriously wrong. The Browns must believe in Manziel or they would have drafted a QB in the last draft. Play him and find out what he's got! McCown was taken over Hoyer because he was willing to take a back seat to Manziel.   Hand him the clipboard now. The Browns are now trying to spin it and say McCown is this great untapped QB at 36 years old. Seriously? Since you're watching them live, which QB do you like? During the Manziel draft all of the analysts agreed that the team that selects him had to go all in and fit an offense to his style. The Browns seem to be hedging their bet by starting McCown and letting Manziel adapt. They'll end up like the Bills with no QB and some of the best talent in the NFL.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: It was obvious in the OTA season that the Browns would turn over their offense to McCown, and not Manziel. They want the QB to be a game manager, limit mistakes, hand off the ball to the backs, make a few plays when needed and let the defense do its thing. That’s probably the best formula until they find a quarterback capable of transforming the team. You have to remember that there are 53 guys in the locker room that want to win. Giving playing time to Manziel merely to gauge his future, possibly at the expense of winning now, would not be a popular thing to do.

Hey Tony: I'm nearly always a proponent of staying in your spot in the first round of the draft instead of trading down. It seems to me, when all is said and done, the team that gets the higher ranked player usually makes out better than the team that moves down for the extra picks. As of today, in regards to the 2014 1st round draft day deal with Buffalo, would you make that move and take the Browns' net trade gain of Justin Gilbert & Cam Erving or would you stand pat and pick, say, Khalil Mack, Mike Evans or even Sammy Watkins? I could ask the same question about Julio Jones and the Atlanta deal. Thanks Tony. Good wishes.

-- Daniel, Milton, Ontario, CA

Hey Daniel: I believe the NFL right now is league of playmakers. The teams that have them, win. Always choose the playmakers high. That’s what I would do. So, obviously, Mack, Evans or Watkins would be my choice over a combo of Gilbert and Erving. And I was on record the day of the deal with Atlanta that the Browns blew that one.

Hey Tony: It's the most hopeful time of the year, so... Do you think the 2015 Browns could do what the 2000 Ravens did, and go all the way? The 2000 Ravens had a second year head coach that took over a mess of a team with several high draft picks, a solid defense, and no QB to speak of. They rode a great (OK, historic) defense, strong running game, and mediocre at best passing game with a journeyman QB to a Super Bowl title. Sounds familiar, no? Why not the Browns in 2015? All they have to do is beat the Steelers & Ravens in the regular season (tall task, but that defense), and probably the Colts & Patriots in the playoffs. Even with bad teams they almost beat the Pats a couple of years ago, and nearly took down the Colts last year. Maybe a little McCown magic can get them over the hump. How amazing would a Browns vs Cardinals Super Bowl be? We can dream!

-- Ted, Longmeadow, MA

Hey Ted: I’m not going to throw cold water on your dream. Dream on.

Hey Tony: Are all these hamstring issues normal? If not, what's up?

-- Tom, Washington, IA

Hey Tom: Look on the bright side: at least they’re not torn ACLs, blown Achilles, and ruptured spleens.

Hey Tony: If it’s not one thing it’s another. What is with all of these injuries pertaining to pulled muscles? Do they stretch before practice? Has the conditioning coach been questioned over this? I just don't get it. Especially in the RB group. We know how pivotal this group is and they are decimated with non-contact injuries. Is it imprudent to point fingers over all of these injuries that seem like a little stretching could have prevented? Thank you.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: Every year I get these questions about injuries. It’s football. Big men who exert their elite physical skills and collide at high speeds are going to get injured. It happens to every team. This is not Madden football. This is the real thing. Nothing happening with the Browns is abnormal. That’s why they have 90 players in camp. The one thing I have in common with coaches is this: I hate talking about injuries, hate writing about them, hate reading about them.

Hey Tony: Thank you for your piece on Justin Gilbert this morning. I had been hopefully waiting for some good news. In 2013 we had the 6th overall pick in the draft, Barkevious Mingo, and took Leon McFadden in round 3. It looks like Mingo will play in the NFL, but at what level? Where is Leon McFadden? With draft picks put in place by prior administration, we looked forward to 4 first round picks over the 2014 and 2015 drafts, clearly a chance for new ownership team to make a huge stride toward turnaround. Normally 3 strikes and you're out: Mingo, Gilbert, Manziel. Any hope one of the strikes was a foul tip and we at least get on base with the 2015 first-rounders?

-- Mark, Branford, CT

Hey Mark: McFadden is with the San Francisco 49ers. The two first-round picks in 2015 – Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving – look like fine players. Shelton was outstanding in the team scrimmage in Columbus. Erving is the future center, though he may not start as a rookie.

Hey Tony: When the Browns defense goes to 6 DBs in these early practices, who is added to the first team? Williams and Poyer? Williams and Desir?

-- Matt, Massillon, OH

Hey Matt: From what I’ve seen, when the Browns field six DBs, the first five are: Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, K’Waun Williams, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson. The sixth DB could be Justin Gilbert or Pierre Desir or Jordan Poyer.

Hey Tony: With the HOF festivities in nearby Canton I got to thinking about former Browns in the Hall of Fame. Joe Thomas will possibly end up there but no one else since 99 comes to mind. The teams of the 80’s had some great players but I can’t recall any who are HOF caliber. When was the last player drafted by the Browns or played for them in their prime inducted into the HOF?

-- Bob, Sugarcreek, OH

Hey Bob: Ozzie Newsome, who was drafted in 1978 and played until 1990, was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Thomas will be voted in five years after he retires. Until then, the Browns’ best possibilities probably are Clay Matthews, Gary Collins, and coach Blanton Collier. New inductee Ron Wolf, former Green Bay GM and a league historian, told me that Browns 1950s-era receiver Mac Speedie deserves to be in.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony Top 5: Familiar faces throw some questions at Tony Grossi at Browns Training Camp

Aug 08, 2015 -- 9:49am

By ESPN Cleveland Staff |


As Browns Training Camp rolls on, Tony Grossi fields five pressing questions from a few familiar faces at camp:


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: What are the chances of Terrelle Pryor beating the odds and making the Browns' final roster?

Aug 01, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



Terrelle Pryor dominated the Hey Tony inbox in the first week of Browns training camp.

Hey Tony: Read your piece on Terrelle Pryor and also saw a little interview after the 1st practice. I have really done a 180 on this guy. As a Buckeye I had the feeling of good riddance when he left. After a little time, he was probably more of a scape goat there. He did a lot for the Bucks and, in my opinion, would have won a national championship his last year if not for the silly issue that occurred. The kid seems to have a good head on his shoulders now. How can you not root for him? I sure am. Go Bucks, Browns and go T. Pryor. Gut feeling, Tony. Does he make this squad?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: In just one day, Pryor became the compelling story of the entire Browns training camp. A week ago, I sneered at the whole experiment at wide receiver. I’m now at 50-50 on whether he makes the team. I’m anxious to see him against live hitting and in the practice games. It’s easy to get hooked after his first day, but there are challenges up ahead.

Hey Tony: If the Browns can use Terrelle Pryor in multiple situations as you suggest -- 2-point conversion, Wildcat, end runs, etc., really any specialty plays -- why the heck worry about whether he makes the roster as a WR? Why not invent a new roster spot and call it SB – Super Back? This would work well into the future as colleges produce these running QBs who can't make it as QBs but have extremely special athletic talent. Thanks.

-- Dan, Nova, OH

Hey Dan: Genius.If coaches can protect a roster spot for a specialist who does one thing only – long snapper – why couldn’t they find a spot for a multi-role specialist? I’m guessing on Pryor that would be the case. But the Browns certainly are trying hard to insist he is here as a receiver only and are distancing him from the quarterback position – for now.

Hey Tony: Vince Mayle had some drops the other day that were attributed to just having his cast removed by Mike Pettine. They also said that it wasn't a problem in college. However, I read that he had 19 drops last season, which were the highest by any receiver. I know he's a physical receiver, but a dropped pass will stop a drive, especially on the Browns. Do you think receivers can learn how to have better hands once they're in the NFL or is it athletic ability? I can't get Braylon Edwards off my mind when I read about Vince Mayle. The Browns have Bowe, Hartline, Hawkins, Gabriel, Benjamin and Moore on the roster. They're now playing around with Pryor. I would hate to see quality smaller receivers released for a potential big receiver with questionable hands.

-- Rick, Shreveport, OH

Hey Rick: Mayle admitted that he is still regaining the feel of catching the ball after having his hand in a cast for a few months after a broken thumb at the Senior Bowl. Mayle’s number of drops at Washington State should be put in the perspective of the inordinate number of times he was thrown the ball in Mike Leach’s offense. Pettine said he’s unconcerned. Let’s give Mayle a chance after one or two practices. You’d like to think that good coaching can correct a dropsie problem – but Edwards and Greg Little are two that come to mind who never did.

Hey Tony: What are the odds Taylor Gabriel makes the 2015 squad? I think he exemplified 'Play like a Brown', recording 36 receptions for 621 yards and one TD last season. He came out of nowhere in last year's camp and had an impressive year as a situational receiver.

-- Greg, Durango, CO

Hey Greg: I don’t even consider the possibility of Gabriel not making the team. I mean, Joe Haden said the other day he believed Gabriel is going to be “special.”

Hey Tony:Is it possible that the defensive back group is a bit overrated? Last year they had good stats, but I feel that was due to opponents being able to run at will and the relative lack of quality opposing quarterbacks.

-- Ted, Sierra Madre, CA

Hey Ted: Check out the performances against Andy Dalton (first Bengals meeting), Ben Roethlisberger (second meeting), Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. I think they’re legit and just need to be consistent.

Hey Tony: If Cam Erving is so versatile and has played tackle, why not have him compete with Mitchell Schwartz? He seemed to be the weakest link of the starters.

-- Wade, Columbus, OH

Hey Wade: Two reasons: 1.The coaches don’t agree with you and have consistently defended Schwartz as one of the five best linemen on the team, and 2. The coaches want to get a good look at Michael Bowie as a backup right tackle. Bowie was acquired after being waived/injured by the Seahawks last year.

Hey Tony: Two things, 1. with the perceived depth of the roster (and 12 picks!) could you see this being the first year in a long time that good players/high profile names get cut to get to the 53? Browns always like to scoop up a couple other teams' cut players too. Any on the roster you could see traded just to get something rather than cutting and getting nothing? 2. Pettine talks about 'rolling' the D line (substitutions). Do you see opposing offenses catching on quickly and going to a no-huddle to keep our 2nd and 3rd down group off the field? Thanks as always for your insight.

-- Feraas, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Feraas: 1. There are always some surprises at the final roster cuts and I’m sure that will continue this year. 2. The no-huddle is a good antidote to rampant defensive substitutions. Not all teams execute it well, however. Plus, D-line shifts are usually brought in after changes of possession and timeouts – not between plays.

Hey Tony: Do the Browns consider long snapper Charley Hughlett as a backup OL? Is that position so specialized that one of the reserves OL (e.g. Greco, Bowie, Painter, Seymour) couldn't take over? FG snapping is delicate, but it seems to me that anyone could learn if the effort is made. With all the tough calls on the final roster, this could open up one more spot. Disagree?

-- Bob, Toledo, OH

Hey Bob: Yes, the position has become so specialized that long snappers are groomed in college, if not sooner. I remember the days it was a part-time job and linebackers or linemen volunteered for the job as a means of earning a roster spot.

Hey Tony: First off, thank you so much as you have been my lifeline to the Browns since I moved away from Cleveland in 2001.  Like you, I’ve wished there have been more good seasons to follow them but I remain a fan undeterred. Just a question not necessarily aimed to make your column but I am curious for my viewing pleasure. Since I live out of market for the last 14 years, I’ve always enjoyed the Training Camp Daily Program that has aired on FSO/STO over the years. It’s been a tremendous show to help get the best coverage of the team as they move into each season. I have been searching for it as veterans report in a few days and can’t seem to find it on either STO or FSO. Can you confirm whether this show will be on this year and whether you will be joining the team again to share insight?

-- Pete, Charleston, SC

Hey Pete: The Browns did not renew their partnership with FSO/STO. As a result, Training Camp Daily fell by the wayside. It’s a shame. Judging from reaction over the years, it was one of the most popular Browns’ shows on cable. I understand FSO/STO does intend to produce Browns programming during the regular season. I’m sure the network will announce it when plans are finalized.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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