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#HeyTony: What does Ray Farmer have against Josh Cribbs?

Nov 15, 2014 -- 12:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

General Manager Ray Farmer surged to the head of the Hey Tony column after his comments about Josh Cribbs and Brian Hoyer during a rare media appearance last week.

Hey Tony: Your column earlier in the week focused on Ray Farmer's responses to your question as to why we wouldn't go after Josh Cribbs. His argument was that we would have to let someone valuable go, of course. My immediate response is to wonder how in the world Farmer can see more value in Marlon Moore? That is one roster spot that makes no sense to me. If we get Josh, or someone like him, we have someone that can return both punts and kickoffs, and is a force to be reckoned with on kick coverage. Amidst all this discussion around the failing punt return game, why are we not discussing the fact that Marlon Moore is not the answer, yet he's taking up a roster spot -- and to be just a very mediocre kickoff return guy? I would love to see the Browns sign Josh, but I'd rather have a sound answer from the Browns to that question!

-- Jeff, Durham, NC

Hey Jeff: The Browns’ stated reasons for showing no interest in Cribbs are laughable at best and insulting at worst. The only conclusion I can draw is the real reason is something they obviously don’t wish to share.

Hey Tony: When reading an article then hearing you on the radio you asked Ray Farmer directly about Cribbs and his answer was "who would you replace?" How about Rodney Smith? He has yet to see any real field time and doesn't play special teams. Cribbs would slide right in, a guy not expected to play receiver unless there is an emergency, but he plays any and all special teams, and if he does get in on offense, he may not be a #3 or #4 receiver, but as we have seen in the past he can be a devastating blocker.

-- Ken, Pinehurst, NC

Hey Ken: Farmer may feel Smith is a player whose physical talents and potential are worth developing over time. GMs who have control over the roster, as Farmer does, are more apt to stash promising developmental players on the roster than coaches.

Hey Tony: I would be OK with the Browns giving Josh Cribbs a tryout as a punt returner. But aren't you panicking just a little about Jim Leonhard’s one fumble? Wouldn't you agree that demoting him would be akin to demoting any starter for one mistake or firing a sports columnist for one over the top tweet? It just doesn't make sense to me.

-- Dave, Akron, OH

Hey Dave: Really? You’re going there? 

Hey Tony: I keep hearing people say (not you) that there is "zero chance" Brian Hoyer does not return to the Browns next season. Honestly, after listening to Ray Farmer’s press conference last week I think the opposite. I think it is more likely he will NOT be back next season. Farmer certainly has not given Hoyer any ringing endorsements has he? I just get the impression that the Browns brass are very confident that after sitting a season, Manziel will be able to make every throw that Hoyer makes now. Plus, with Manziel’s stronger arm and duel-threat play, Gordon, Mack and Cameron back, the offense will be even better with Manziel at QB. Not to sound cliché, but I think the Browns view Hoyer as a textbook "game manager" and they look forward to Manziel being the starter. It sounds to me that Farmer is simply going to let this QB dilemma solve itself (for lack of a better term) when Hoyer gets a bigger money deal from another team. Am I wrong in saying that is the impression the Browns are putting out there?  

-- Chris, Columbus, OH

Hey Chris: I think the reason the Browns have not acted on a contract offer for Hoyer is quite simple – there is division in the building about what to do. They are not positive about which quarterback they should commit to, so the best course of action right now is let the season play out. If they decide to put their faith in Manziel, a possible exit strategy is to make an offer to Hoyer that they know will be declined. That way they can say they tried and Hoyer decided to seek greener pastures. If they truly want to commit to Hoyer, it would be relatively easy to sign him long term.

Hey Tony: I believe that if the Browns re-sign Hoyer this offseason (which I think they should), they need to trade Manziel. The popular belief is that the front office won't do this, because it makes them look like they were wrong for picking Manziel in the first place. Why does that matter? Every team makes a mistake in the draft at some point, right? And can you blame the team for picking up a possible franchise quarterback, when at the time they weren't really sure how good Hoyer could be? What am I missing here Tony?

-- Brandon, Winter Haven, FL

Hey Bandon: If the Browns elect to not trade Manziel, I don’t think it would be for not wanting to admit a mistake. I think it would be because they believe he will be a winning quarterback some day.

Hey Tony: Your paragraph in Wednesday’s Ben Tate article where Tate describes the Houston locker room concerns me.  When asked about Houston, he talked about the camaraderie there in a way that implied that the same camaraderie wasn’t there in the Cleveland locker room. Did I read that wrong? That is a bad sign to me. Ben, you’re either with us or against us. What say you?

-- Paul, Green, OH

Hey Paul: I feel Tate’s comments were made out of frustration and he should be given a break. I can understand why he might miss the camaraderie of his former team. He developed relationships over four years with the Houston Texans and hasn’t seemed to develop any in his first year with the Browns. I must say there seems to be a disconnect in the running back room between Tate and the other young backs.

Hey Tony: I’m curious why we haven’t heard anything about Pierre Desir lately?  Most of us were really intrigued with his story after the draft and during training camp, and now it seems mums the word.  Is he dealing with an injury?  If not, seems like a 4th round draft choice out to be playing, or at least active. 

-- Craig, Austin, TX

Hey Craig: I have stated numerous times that the Browns considered Desir a developmental prospect and were willing to “redshirt” him – practice him, but not play him – over his rookie season. They liked his size and potential enough to use a fourth-round draft pick to get him, but realize he was making a huge jump from Lindenwood (MO) University to the NFL.

Hey Tony: We keep hearing players are in the NFL Concussion Protocol. But do we know what the official protocol is for concussions? I assume there are certain tests players must pass and maybe stages to recovery? Is there any way for us to know how close a player is to returning or how they’re really doing or is this considered private? Also, do you think the Browns are being extra cautious with Cameron to allow more time for his shoulder to get closer to 100% before he actually comes back?

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: Once a concussed player enters protocol, he must pass through certain stages before can return to the field. These are monitored by an independent neurologist. Symptoms vary with every individual depending on history of concussions and severity of injury. Symptoms can return without notice after a player passes through one of the stages. And then the process starts all over again. I don’t think the Browns are holding Cameron back. The neurologist is in charge of his protocol.

Hey Tony: I -- and I believe many other fans -- greatly appreciated your thoughtful comparison of Brian Hoyer to Bill Nelsen. I’m hopeful that Hoyer will continue as the Browns Starter taking them into the playoffs and his being resigned before becoming a free agent. Shifting over to the rookie Manziel, I was intrigued by the FOX NFL SUNDAY Team suggesting that the NY Jets seek a trade with the Browns to acquire him, which many fans would welcome. If that occurred what could the Browns get from the current Jets roster that would help them in 2015 and/or in a 2015 Jets Draft Pick?

-- Alan, Manassas, VA

Hey Alan: I don’t know what the Browns could command in a trade for Manziel. If he doesn’t play the rest of the year, I can’t imagine the Browns would attract what they spent in acquiring him (first- and third-round draft choices).

Hey Tony: Everyone seems to think that if Brian Hoyer continues to do well and remains the starter, the Browns will eventually need to trade Johnny Manziel. I’m surprised no one has made reference to the 4 seasons Steve Young was backup to Joe Montana in San Fransisco. If history serves, Steve Young had a pretty decent career even after spending multiple seasons on the SF bench. I think the Browns should take the same approach and keep things as is for as long as the team is successful. Even if that means going beyond this season. What are your thoughts?

-- Pete, Chicago, IL

Hey Pete: Your scenario certainly is possible. It just seems to me that Manziel is such a unique personality and dynamic character that it would be problematic to have him sit for another year.  

Hey Tony: What makes an elite QB? Nobody would have considered Tom Brady or Kurt Warner elite until after Super Bowl wins. Luck was anointed an elite QB before throwing an NFL pass because he was such a rare talent. RGIII, Stafford, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Rivers and Romo have the talent, but have faltered under pressure. I'll take a smart QB that thrives under pressure any day. I know there are things Hoyer can't do that Cam Newton can do physically, but there's so much more to the QB position. Don't you think the term elite gets overused before a QB proves himself on the field? Does a QB have to be a great athlete to be a great QB? I think we become enamored with the scramble and fantastic play of an athletic QB and overlook the consistent play of a guy like Hoyer that just wins.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I think there is a distinction between a quarterback with elite physical talent and an elite quarterback. I think an elite quarterback is one who consistently performs under pressure, who makes the players around him better, and who can overcome adversity and pull out a victory for his team when others might not be at their best. Using those criteria, the list of elite quarterbacks is a short one, probably including no more than a handful in the NFL today. I would put in this class Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. After that, there is a drop-off to Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck. What separates the two groups is consistency over a long period of time.

Hey Tony: When I saw Hoyer saying something to West after he was hamming it up for the cameras, I also noticed Crowell was also laughing and smiling with West. They got real serious real fast. I thought to myself about how much respect/fear the team’s rookies have for Hoyer. I love it. Been a long time since we have seen anything like it. Did you see what happened? What’s your take?

-- Vic, Allen, TX

Hey Vic: I was told of this incident when I returned from Cincinnati but never saw a video of it. When Hoyer was asked about it, he pretended it never happened and said he couldn’t recall it. When West was asked about it, he said Hoyer merely was telling him, “Good play.” When Mike Pettine was asked about it, he made a joke that Hoyer merely was the closest person to West and that’s why he was the one to speak to West. Pettine admitted sideline behavior was a topic in the meeting room following review of the incident.

Hey Tony: Through all the winning and success of the Browns, Jim Haslam has been quiet and non-existing. You don't even see the camera shots of him in his suite during the game reacting to the Browns playing on the field, not even a mention in the paper of the Flying J situation. Has he been around? What are his thoughts of the Browns’ winning. What about the fact that his draft pick, "Johnny Football" is sitting on the bench?

-- Bob, Canton, OH

Hey Bob: Haslam spends at least one day during the week at the Browns’ facility and attends every game, home and away. The last interview he gave was very early in training camp. He keeps his distance from the media. When he was more accessible to the media, I think he was taken aback at how most everything he said became a headline news story. He has said that he prefers to be in the background. He knows that whatever he says about Manziel or Hoyer will be blown out of proportion. He also is very sensitive to the perception that he was the person most responsible for the drafting of Manziel.

 

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

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Is Brian Hoyer the Browns' franchise quarterback?

Nov 08, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

As the Browns position themselves for a run at the playoffs, the debate about their quarterbacks intensifies.It never ends, does it?

Hey Tony: A couple of years ago the 49ers featured Alex Smith, a veteran QB playing well with a young Colin Kaepernick watching on the sidelines. The 49ers opted to go with Kaepernick, although his opportunity to play came at the expense of Smith being injured. Given Ray Farmer's recent comments, do you see a similar scenario unfolding in Cleveland where the franchise chooses the younger QB, despite the quality play from the veteran, or does Hoyer have a genuine opportunity to become the franchise QB?

-- Kevin, Chicago, IL

Hey Kevin: The 49ers felt Smith had taken them as far as he could. Kaepernick’s unique skill set appealed to the 49ers and they made the switch. The parallel to the Browns’ situation at quarterback is similar with two differences: Nobody knows Brian Hoyer’s “ceiling.” He has a much smaller sample size than Smith. On the other hand, Johnny Manziel’s charisma and marketability far exceeds that of Kaepernick.

Hey Tony: Brian Hoyer is the only starting Browns QB to have a winning record since their return in 1999.  In the past two seasons as a starter, he is now 9-3.  The 13 games he didn't start during this same time, the Browns are 1-12. During the span dating back to 1999, the Browns have had 20 starting QB's including Hoyer.  The best record out of all of these previous 20 not counting Hoyer was Jake Delhomme at 3-3 in his 6 starts.  We have drafted 3 of these previous 20 failures in the first round. Now, even after Hoyer's 9-3 record, when we have had failure after failure at the position, I keep hearing that Hoyer is nothing more than a game manager and we need to see what Johnny Manziel can do. Well, the odds are certainly not in Manziel's favor. Please tell me there is no chance we let Hoyer get away this offseason with the possibility of having to scrape through another 20 failures over the next 15 years, can these people be serious?

-- Josh, Galena, OH

Hey Josh: Is there a chance the Browns let Hoyer walk in free agency? Yes.

Hey Tony: There are reports indicating that some senior brass of the Browns are becoming impatient and would like to see Manziel in action. Hoyer is doing well, so far, and it will be difficult to keep him on the sidelines without causing a stir among, at least, the veterans on the team. If Pettine is forced to put Manziel on the field and Pettine refuses, are we looking at a different head coach next year?

-- Sam, New York, NY

Hey Sam: I don’t think Pettine would be forced to put Manziel on the field. On the contrary, the more a coach wins, the more power he accrues in off-season decisions. I believe Pettine is Hoyer’s greatest champion in the organization. If they win together, Pettine could emerge as the key person in Hoyer’s future with the Browns.

Hey Tony: Was the Thursday game a good enough indication of Hoyer's arm strength in Cleveland-cold conditions?

-- David, Joelton, TN

Hey David: I thought Hoyer’s arm held up well in 35 mph wind gusts – much better than Andy Dalton’s. Hoyer believes the ability to spin the ball through the wind is more important than pure arm strength. He can spin it fine.

Hey Tony: Like many, I've been impressed by Hoyer's success so far and the Brown's 5-3 record. It's even more impressive when you consider that he's had to deal with all of the Manziel distractions, a new coach and system, not having Mack, Gordon or Cameron, a non-existent running game, and his own recovery from a major ACL injury.  But this is Cleveland, so from what you've seen so far do you think Hoyer has the arm and talent to continue performing well once the weather starts to become a factor?  He usually makes good reads, but tends to float a lot of passes and I'm a little concerned that he won't be as effective once it starts to get cold, wet and windy outside. Thanks as always for your great coverage of the Browns!

-- Hòa, Los Angeles, CA

Hey Hoa: I think he’ll be fine. But nobody has really seen him perform at the NFL level in northern games in December. Let’s find out.

Hey Tony: It seems to me that the 2014 Browns wide receivers are dropping far fewer passes than the 2013 Browns wide receivers. Is this the case so far? While I like Brian Hoyer, I would think that having wide receivers who don't drop the ball would be a big positive for his stats.

-- Al, Seven Hills, OH

Hey Al: I’ve been impressed by the receivers’ pass catching ability. Generally, I believe drops v. great catches even out over time.

Hey Tony: Living in Atlanta I get a lot of the Falcons (thank goodness for the Sunday Ticket). Needless to say the fans are extremely upset with the team and front office. Real trouble is, they are more than a couple pieces away. They are lousy on both lines. That brings me to this scenario. I would offer "Johnny" (huge in the South), and one or even both our 1st rounders for Matt Ryan. I think that would immediately put us in contention. I'm not talking about sneaking into a wild card either. I mean title contention. Your thoughts?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig:I think the Browns are heading toward title contention without Matt Ryan.

Hey Tony: Usually I have a pretty good idea of how the Browns are going to fare when they take to the field. Take for instance the Browns facing the Bengals, with those receivers, running backs, the offensive line and that defense, plus all the key injuries the Browns have and don't forget the game is being played in Cincinnati, there is no way the Browns should win. But here we sit, with a winning record past the halfway point. Do you feel we might have something this year? Are the playoffs a silly dream?

-- Greg, Middletown, OH

Hey Greg: The Browns are the epitome of a team, greater than the sum of the parts. When an organization is able to manufacture that type of chemical reaction, anything is possible.

Hey Tony: When you mentioned Farmer and Pettine wanted to change the culture of losing and in doing so will not really criticize the way we are winning it all made sense. What I really took away from that though is that although we are winning now we will upgrade positions when the opportunity presents itself; when we not so much establish winning but rid ourselves of so much losing. Hoyer came to mind. Do you see the Browns going the way of the Bengals, building up a really good team around the QB, and then getting the franchise QB? It seems they are happy with Hoyer but kind of know they need better at that position in the long run. Am I looking too much into things? Thanks.

-- Eliot Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: Dalton as a franchise quarterback? I don’t think so. I think you grab the franchise quarterback whenever you have the chance. Until you do, you build other spots.

Hey Tony: WOW, what performance! I applaud the coaches and players for such a great performance at such a critical part of the season. Do you think this was the biggest win to date since the Browns have been back? The game got me so hyped up, that if I was Ray Farmer, I'd be signing ALL the free agents. Hoyer made Dalton look like a rookie and our unheralded WRs outplayed their big guns. Don't you also think it's about time to pay Skrine and realize he is the CB opposite Haden? 

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: No major contract decisions should be influenced by the emotion of a win or a loss. That’s why it’s a good idea to wait for the offseason to review players whose contracts are up.

Hey Tony: As I sit here and watch the NFL Network This Morning It's all about how Dalton Lost the Game and what goes on the Sideline of Cincinnati or Jeremy Hills crybaby rant. Even when Terrell Davis is asked about the Browns he can’t give them any credit for this season.

 -- Pat, Uniontown, OH

Hey Pat: In the NFL Network pre-game show, each of its analysts predicted a Bengals victory by double figures. So, take their opinions for what they’re worth.

 

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

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Despite a winning record, the Browns' great quarterback debate rages on among fans

Nov 01, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Brian Hoyer’s rebound win against the Oakland Raiders merely turned up the noise and the volume of questions about the Browns’ quarterback situation in this week’s HeyTony column.

Hey Tony: Thanks so much for your always fantastic hard work. It is THE lifeline to so many of us rooting for the Browns, especially when we aren’t in Cleveland. My question is -- and maybe I’m not reading the vibe correctly since I’m not there -- but why isn’t Brian Hoyer being embraced by, it almost seems, everyone but you and Pettine? Crap, since we are now in this asinine ‘by the numbers’ era, he even passes that test with flying color. His qbr is #2 in the AFCN, above Flacco and Andy both! How come the negatives, e.g. ‘game manager’ (a stupidly subjective term), are highlighted, when the Browns are 4 and 3, beat the Saints, CRUSHED the Steelers, and compiled the biggest NFL road comeback EVER … and this guy has to read his job is on the line for one crappy overthrow of Cameron vs. the Jags? To me, he is Bill Nelsen all over again, and Hoyer’s Warfield (JG) hasn’t played a down yet this year. What gives?

-- Bob, Charlottesville, VA

Hey Bob: Hoyer’s knees aren’t nearly as bad as Nelsen’s were when he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and took the Browns to the equivalent of two conference championship games. Nelsen, however, was as mentally tough as any player who played the position and therein is the better comparison with Hoyer.

Hey Tony: I saw something in the Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr that really impressed me and created concern. For the most part, Carr's short throws to receivers were in stride and to the correct shoulder. He throws an easy ball to catch. I feel that Hoyer's routine ball placement to receivers needs to improve. What do you see? And how does Johnny Manziel's accuracy (I know that this is limited to watching practice and not game conditions) and ball placement compared to Brian Hoyer?

-- Eric, Avon, OH

Hey Eric: No doubt Hoyer’s accuracy has to improve – both in overall completion percentage and placement of throws. It’s the one part of his game that has surprised me. I’d like to think that it has to do with the fact he has started only 11 games in his NFL career. But he was also less than a 60 percent career thrower at Michigan State. At Texas A&M, Manziel had a completion percentage of 68.9 in two seasons. I can’t comment on his accuracy at practice since training camp ended because the bulk of practice is closed to media. But in training camp, he was just above 50 percent in throws tabulated by ESPNCleveland’s Jason Gibbs.

Hey Tony: I am not a big fan of booting a quarterback out of the lineup that is having success so do not hear this the wrong way. However, I can guarantee that the Browns are going to face 8-9 man boxes on 1st and 2nd down with man coverage on eligible receivers. On third down, we will see corners and safeties sit on the sticks. Especially now with Cameron out, and Gordon not back for a few weeks don't you think that the coaching staff could use some help manufacturing some offense on first and second down? To me, from now until Gordon returns is the time to use a weapon like Johnny on first and second down to force teams out of man coverage on those downs -- even if it is simply to help our running game. What’s your take? Is now the best time for the Johnny package?

-- Lance, Minerva, OH

Hey Lance: I have commented that Hoyer needs to improve his accuracy for the team to win and for him, ultimately, to keep his job. He did that in the Oakland game. As long as they win, Hoyer should stay in. You are assuming that NFL defenses somehow will not be able to stop Manziel. I think that’s an unreasonable assumption.

Hey Tony: From what I remember, Johnny Manziel’s playing time in the preseason did not show a quarterback that was even close to NFL ready. Have you seen or heard any updates on his current level of play? Or is it a behind closed door secret from the press and us fans? Is the only way you, me and any other team get to see his current playing ability is if he goes in a game?

 -- John, Tampa, FL

Hey John: Yes, that’s about it. Manziel’s progression since the season started is a total secret. I think that’s partly why people are so curious to see him play. How he would do is a total mystery.

Hey Tony: I’ve been a reader for years since I’ve left the Cleveland area and lived in a few states now. Question for you:  Has Brian Hoyer’s performance been overrated by fans and, in some cases, media? I have watched every game this season and each game features 2-3 times where Brian Hoyer SHOULD have been intercepted. Typically the DB drops an easy pick and those INT’s could have drastically changed how those games could have turned out. This Sunday was no exception. Hoyer brings a great deal of character and right kind of poise to the game, but I’m not certain about his accuracy and being the long term answer. Still, it seems that several people are ready to anoint him our starter. Right now I see him as a great game manager. The numbers will say one thing, but they don’t count INT’s that should have been. What am I missing? For the record, I do like Hoyer but 2007 still serves as a reminder to be careful about the fluke season. The similarities between 2007 and 2014 are a little scary too. Both feature a 1st round QB pick set to take over for a franchise, a veteran backup QB in place to serve as QB while the ‘franchise QB’ learns the ropes whose contract is up after the year, and unexpected success on the field from the backup. Thoughts?

-- Matt, Wayne, NE

Hey Matt: I think any comparison between Hoyer and Derek Anderson ends there – the fact both prospered in the final year of his contract. While Hoyer has been fortunate to avoid numerous interceptions because of drops by defenders, I won’t characterize him as a “game manager.” I think it’s premature to fit Hoyer into any stereotype right now.

Hey Tony: Please tell me why most reports I see/hear have Hoyer being 7-3 as a Browns starter, when he played less than a quarter in last season's win over the Bills … AND he was trailing in the game when he was injured. Hell, in baseball a starting pitcher must go five full innings to get credit for a win -- and don't get credit for the win if trailing when taken out. Is the 7-3 mark a product of the Browns' PR staff? Does the league have a rule who gets the win if the starter plays less than a quarter? Nothing against Hoyer, but if he shouldn't get credit for the win, then it should be corrected. Interested to see your take on this.

-- Ray, Stow, OH

Hey Ray: There is no league rule on attributing a win or loss to a quarterback. The statistic of wins and losses for a quarterback is not an official one in the NFL record book. Having said that, the annual NFL Record and Fact Book does include a list each year of the “starting records of active NFL quarterbacks.” A minimum of 10 career starts is required to be on the list. Hoyer only had four entering the 2014 season, so he is not included. However, I notice that Brandon Weeden’s career record is listed as 5-15. That would mean Weeden was not credited with the victory against Buffalo because he did not start that game. So I looked up Hoyer’s record on profootballreference.com, which I consider the pre-eminent resource on most everything to do with the NFL. The Website does give Hoyer credit for the victory against Buffalo and lists his up-to-date career record as 7-4 (Hoyer lost game as a starter for Arizona in the 2012 season). I do agree it’s not accurate to ascribe that Buffalo win to Hoyer’s record. That’s why I generally refer to Hoyer’s record with the Browns (currently) as 6-3 “in games he started and completed.” However, I don’t move that win over to Weeden’s career mark. Hoyer left the game in the first quarter with the Browns down, 10-0. Weeden finished the game and the Browns won, 37-24. Travis Benjamin’s punt returns of 57 and 79 yards accounted for 10 points as the Browns took a 17-10 lead at halftime. So there definitely is a statistical lapse there, one that may need to be bridged with a new statistic such as “save” or “win in relief.”

Hey Tony: I just read Chris Tabor’s comment, "schematically we might go without a punt returner.” Sort of funny, but it got me to thinking. If all they’re going to do is fair catch, why not take your chances and put the block on every time?

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: I think field position would dictate whether the Browns field a punt returner or not. I felt Tabor was merely introducing the idea of just going for the block on occasion with his comment.

Hey Tony: Does being undrafted mean as much as it once did? I'm asking because now the draft is only 7 rounds I believe. Once it was many more rounds and there are players from the later rounds (past 7) in the Hall of Fame. My point is there are quality players who go undrafted now that the draft is shorter. My other question is why would the Browns ever use Terrence "Happy Feet" West in a short yardage situation or near the goal line? I would use Crowell every time in the red-zone or at least Ben Tate. 

-- Glenn, Albuquerque, NM

Hey Glenn: The current draft among 32 teams actually has the equivalent of eight rounds – seven rounds, plus 32 “compensatory” picks interspersed from the third to seventh rounds – for a total of 256 players selected. In 1984, there were 28 teams selecting over 12 rounds for a total of 336 picks. That means 80 fewer players drafted each season from 30 years ago. So, yes, your point is valid. As to your other question, I have no idea why the Browns wouldn’t save red zone carries for Tate or Crowell. They would seem the wiser choices.

Hey Tony: Why haven’t the Browns tried Taylor Gabriel on punt returns. He returned some punts in college.

-- Charlie, University Heights, OH

Hey Charlie: Great point. You’re right. Gabriel averaged 26.4 yards on five punt returns his junior season at Abilene Christian. In his first training camp with the Browns, Gabriel was limited strictly to kickoff returns. At this point, anyone would be an improvement.

Hey Tony: There's a lot being said about Jordan Cameron’s and Hoyer's contract year. Even though Cameron is hurt, don't you think this season will alter his contract the least? Some team will look past these injuries and lower production this year and offer a really good contract. A TE that can stretch the field and catch will be paid top dollar even if the Browns don't agree. Hoyer, on the other hand, will never be paid a starting QB salary unless he improves his accuracy, stays healthy and the Browns win. I'm more concerned about the many defensive free agents in 2015. (Unrestricted) Rubin, Sheard, Skrine. (Restricted) Bademosi, Gipson, Robertson, Kitchen. Does Ray Farmer wait until after the season to negotiate contracts? Do you think Skrine and Sheard will be signed?

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: Farmer has a lot of work to do in this offseason. I still think Cameron is a candidate to receive the franchise tag. Of the others, I expect Sheard, Skrine and Gipson to be priorities. I am not sure what they’re thinking on Hoyer at this point, or the others.

Hey Tony: With Gilbert and Haden looking more comfortable, do you see Mike Pettine going back to his aggressive blitz scheme?

-- Wade, Fort Myers, FL

Hey Wade: It depends on the opponent – the quarterback, really. Some quarterbacks thrive against the blitz, so defenses are better off flooding the secondary with defensive backs. This strategy worked perfectly for the Browns in the second game against Ben Roethlisberger. Pettine wants his defense to be versatile enough to employ either strategy.

Hey Tony: A lot has been made over the past couple of weeks about Hoyer's contract situation and "how will we know if Manziel can lead this team if he doesn't see the field". A guy that gets lost in the conversation is practice squad quarterback Connor Shaw. I want to know, if Hoyer isn't brought back next year, will Shaw get a fair chance to win the starting spot, or will the Browns just hand the spot to Manziel. I really liked him going into the draft, and was sad to see that he really didn't get a chance during the preseason (even though Hoyer and Manziel struggled for the most part).

-- Brandon, Winter Haven, FL

Hey Brandon: I don’t want to place any limits on Shaw, but I believe the Browns view him as a potential backup quarterback.

Hey Tony: Two-parter here. Desmond Bryant, prior to his heart thing last year, I thought he was a real force. This year he seems like just another guy. What gives? B Mingo, how much is the shoulder keeping him from getting off blocks this year? My guess is more than we know. Thoughts?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: I would point out that Bryant is being used a little differently from last year’s Ray Horton system, but, in general, I would agree with you. Mingo is having trouble getting off blocks and also from wrapping up on tackles because he is playing with a harness to protect his shoulder. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said Mingo probably will not be healthy all year.

Hey Tony: I am DELIGHTED that Colt McCoy is now doing well with the Redskins. He might not have been "the answer" at starting QB for the Browns but, hindsight being 20/20, I think he would have been a far better backup to Hoyer than Weeden or Campbell in 2013. Was he "really" traded more because of the concussion incident rather than his playing ability? Despite some of his "flaws" he has demonstrated that he "plays like a Brown" -- a calm tough kid who does deserve some credit for what he has overcome.

-- Tim, Irving, TX

Hey Tim: I thought Mike Holmgren was going to trade or even release McCoy after the drafting of Weeden expressly because of the controversy over the concussion incident. As it turned out, McCoy stayed on and was traded to San Francisco after the 2012 season by Joe Banner. By then, I believe it was strictly a football decision.

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

 

 

 

#HeyTony: One loss and questions pour in about Mike Pettine and Brian Hoyer

Oct 25, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Nothing like a Browns’ loss to raise the temperature of the #HeyTony inbox. Their loss to previously winless Jacksonville brought questions about Mike Pettine’s in-game decisions, his defensive scheme, and Brian Hoyer’s future.

Hey Tony: Mike Pettine was a rather unlikely coaching choice that was hired after the Browns considered other, more mainstream candidates. His path to the NFL began from high school roots, which seems like the equivalent of a bell boy eventually owning the hotel. Because of this, do you think Pettine has both a soft spot as well as the ability to relate to and motivate undrafted players? Also, is Pettine so candid because the Browns have had a slightly successful start? Did other coaches emit a similar warmth to the media only to turn ice cold after the losses mounted? I really enjoy your work.

-- Ben, Fairbanks, AK

Hey Ben: Well, it’s not as if Pettine went directly from coaching in high school to the head coach position with the Browns. He paid his dues as an entry-level video assistant, to coaching assistant, to position coach, to coordinator. However, Pettine has alluded many times to the fact that he carries a chip on his shoulder as a result of the coaching fraternity initially looking down on him as “a high school coach.” So, yes, I do believe he not only has a soft spot for undrafted players but also appreciates how they can overachieve when they are counted out. As far as Pettine’s candor, he is the most honest Browns coach I’ve seen since Bud Carson, and I don’t think it’s going to change depending on his record. He is who he is.

Hey Tony: You clearly hit the nail on the head when you lamented how critical the error was when Pettine elected to not kick a FG late last week in Jacksonville, well put. Curious if you agree that Buster Skrine may be an adequate coverage corner in the slot -- but simply should not be a starter on a contending team due to his lack of ability to tackle. No one can deny his effort and he usually exhibits the necessary speed to run step for step with most wide outs. But the guy is just not big enough to bring down a ball-carrier in the open field. At 5 foot 9 and a mere 185 lbs., he simply reminds me of a small school college corner who could maybe help on the practice squad. Love the guy's attitude & will always root for him while in that jersey. But do you concede his lack of tackling ability is a glaring detriment to our defense? 

-- Dan, New York City, NY

Hey Dan: I don’t share your opinion about Skrine. While his size and strength always will make tackling a challenge for him, Skrine has the one essential quality for the position – he has the “want to” to tackle. If every player on defense had his attitude, the bigger guys would be better tacklers.

Hey Tony: I went to the Jacksonville game last Sunday and witnessed that mess in person. I got a couple of questions. 1. Have you been told or identified what the gameplan was on offense? I mean the coaches had tape on those guys right? 2. After seeing the defense in person I got to ask who signed off on the scheme of the run pursuit? I saw D-linemen and linebacker blocking each other out of the play, wrong pursuit angles, very poor tackling …Whitner, Dansby and Desmond Bryant looked terrible or the defense that is being called made them look that bad. 3. I had pretty good seats down by the field which was great when the play was right in front of me, but relied on the big screen to watch plays develop. I got to ask how could either coordinator see anything from the field to properly call a game?

 -- John, Tampa, FL

Hey John: 1. The gameplan was the same as every game for them – run the ball to set up the play-action passing game. The problem was Jacksonville stopped the running game, did not respect the play-action and forced Brian Hoyer to beat them from the pocket – and he couldn’t get it done. 2. I don’t know the technical reasons, but the run defense in particular does not seem to be a well-oiled, coordinated effort at present. 3. Some coordinators want to be on the field for the benefit of talking directly with players on the sideline in between possessions. They use assistant coaches upstairs in the booth as their “eye in the sky.”

Hey Tony: I think it may be a little far-fetched but do you think the coaches made the offensive playbook vanilla against JAX to see if Hoyer could win that game like a good, effective QB should? The offense showed no life and the coaches did nothing to inject any into the game. It was as if this was Hoyer's game to win or lose with his talent and leadership alone. We can make all the excuse we want but a good QB wins that game and I think when Pettine said, "Our offense took a huge step backwards" he was referring to Hoyer particularly. I think that game exposed a lot of Hoyer's inherent flaws that his hot streaks and comeback wins over up. Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: No, I don’t believe in your conspiracy theory. Yes, I believe it was a game Hoyer could have won despite the bad day experienced by everyone, including himself. One pass could have won that game, and it never came.

Hey Tony: John Hughes played the nose tackle position coming out of the University of Cincinnati. It seems that the Browns have been getting very little out of that position this year, and the inability to collapse the pocket in a base 3-4, I assume, has contributed something to the number of big plays that have been unleashed on the Browns defense. From what I've seen in the games, Hughes has actually been one of more consistent players on the line when he is in. Hasn't made many mistakes. Is there any chance that Pettine makes Hughes the primary NT even when Rubin and Taylor are healthy? I know they prefer to use him as a DE, but it seems like it couldn't get any worse at NT, and maybe it's time to see what Hughes has got as a full-time starter at that spot.

-- Josh, Silver Spring, MD

Hey Josh: The No. 1 task of the nose tackle is not to collapse the pocket; the nose isn’t even on the field in pass situations. The Browns want their nose to occupy two blockers in the run game and free up a direct shot at the ball-carrier by a linebacker. Both Rubin and Phil Taylor were natural nose tackles in college and know this role. I agree that Hughes has been a consistent player when in, but it’s not because of his pass-rush ability, in my opinion. Putting him at backup end was the coaches solution to getting him on the field. I’m sure when all the starters are healthy, that is the role Hughes will fill.

Hey Tony: You called it! I think I remember reading something you wrote a while back about the time Gordon’s suspension was reduced where you talked about the season and upcoming schedule. After my wife talked me down off the balcony following the game last Sunday, I took another look at the schedule and remembered what you wrote. We knew IF the Browns could get a win over Pittsburgh, they had an “easy” stretch coming up with Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa. We also knew, being the Browns, they would probably lose one of those “easy” games. But if they can rebound and win the next 2 at home they’ll be 5-3. Worst case scenario: they lose to Bengals & Texans and they’re 5-5 with Gordon coming back the following week. Maybe they get on a roll and win 3 or 4 more games to end the year? Do you still feel the same way or did last Sunday change your mind?

-- Jeff, Denver, CO

Hey Jeff: No, I agree if the Browns can get to 5-3, they will be in as good a position at the halfway point as anyone could have reasonably expected.

Hey Tony: Why didn't the Browns have adequate OL replacements? It's nice to carry extra DBs, but our OL needs depth. Heaven forbid Joe Thomas goes down. For that matter, any other injury would be devastating. McQuistan, Painter and the rehabbing McDonald is it? We have quality backs that can't get enough playing time, but don't have backups to block for them. One injury created two positions with new players. How about trading a back for a quality center? This offense will only go as far as the OL will take them and that will get ugly with another injury.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: The Browns knew the risk of their roster configuration, but their starting offensive line was loaded with ironmen who rarely missed practice time, much less games. Now, one injury to Alex Mack had a ripple effect. If the timing had come, say, two weeks later, Nick McDonald would have been in game shape and ready to step in. The timing was unfortunate. They have to recover quickly. Trading for a center isn’t the answer. No team is going to part with a starting center in the middle of a season.

Hey Tony: Why hasn't there been any talk by the Browns about finding a new return man? The ones on this roster are not getting it done.

-- Dale, Barberton, OH

Hey Dale: Before they seek a new return man I would like to see Travis Benjamin get a second chance. His confidence was shaken early, but he’s had a few weeks now out of the line of fire to regroup.

Hey Tony: I believe the Browns would be a better team “right now” if they had simply drafted Julio Jones (instead of what amounted to Phil Taylor, Greg Little & Brandon Weeden) and Sammy Watkins (instead of Gilbert and a future #1.) So, my question: isn't a bird in the hand worth two in the bush when it comes to potential long term elite talent?

-- Daniel, Toronto, Canada

Hey Daniel: I was instantly against the trade down in 2010. The trade this year still hinges on what the Browns do with the extra No. 1 in 2015.

Hey Tony: I just read where Aldon Smith may get an early release from his suspension for good behavior. What about John Gordon? Same scenario?

-- Vic, Allen, TX

Hey Vic: The NFL’s discipline policies remain a labyrinth of moral repugnancy, lacking consistency or logic. Gordon’s team of high-priced lawyers did not see any reason to fight his suspension. I can only conclude there is much more there than has been reported or commented on. If they’re fine with sitting out for 10 games, why should anyone else be upset with it?

Hey Tony: I have to say, I am worried about Brian Hoyer being a selfish "me first" guy and not a team guy. Just look at what you and others have reported about him this season. That he gave Manziel the cold shoulder during training camp and wanted no part of him. I have even read reports that he refused to speak to Manziel at first and that Hoyer divided the locker room. But the media, and even Coach Pettine played it off as just "competition". Look, I understand competition, but he is also your teammate and fellow QB and it benefits the team that the starter and back up QB at least communicate. Then you reported how Hoyer was "furious" when he was told that Manziel may come into the game for a special package against New Orleans. Again, wouldn’t a "team first" guy be OK with the coaches trying to confuse the defense with a wildcat type series? Then last week, all the reports about Hoyer "refusing to sign with the Browns unless he gets $10 - $12 million per year and only if Manziel is traded.” I know Hoyer denied the reports but you know where there is smoke there is fire. Everything I read and see from Hoyer is that it is all about HIM and not the Browns. Maybe he should have been more worried about Jacksonville last week instead of his contract demands.  Thoughts?

-- Chris, Columbus, OH

Hey Chris: I don’t know where your “reports” of Hoyer dividing the locker room came from. Also, I never reported Hoyer was “furious” about Manziel coming in to the New Orleans game. Further, your reference to Hoyer refusing to sign for anything less than “$10-12 million a year and only if Manziel is traded” is also a fabrication. So, your conclusion is one drawn by the assembly of rumors and fabrications.

Hey Tony: Who is more likely to return punts, Gilbert, Cribbs, or Tebow?

-- Kevin, Salem, MA

Hey Kevin: Always good to end on a funny note.

 

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

 

 

 

#HeyTony: Questions about Brian Hoyer's future flooded the inbox

Oct 18, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USAToday

Not surprisingly, questions about Brian Hoyer’s future – his contract, and the ramifications on Johnny Manziel’s future – flooded the #HeyTony inbox this week.

Hey Tony: With the recent reports that came out regarding Hoyer resigning next year I thought I'd give my two cents. I would offer Hoyer a contract in the range of 3y/30m, with team option on the 2nd year and player option on the 3rd. I think a deal structured like this would give Hoyer time prove he is the QB of the future, and he could opt out of the 3rd year and sign for elite QB contract. If not, the Browns could release him after 1 season giving him an opportunity elsewhere. Manziel still under his rookie contract will have time to prove he could be the QB of the future. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

-- Cory, Garfield Heights, OH

Hey Cory: My guess is that type of contract structure would be summarily rejected by the Hoyer camp. The whole point of his agent waiting for the season to play out is to position Hoyer as the quarterback of the present and the future. I don’t think a “prove it” contract would be acceptable if Hoyer already has done that.

Hey Tony: The debate in the national media regarding Hoyer and Manziel will only heat up as the season progresses. Hoyer reminds me a little of Kurt Warner. He came out of nowhere and just performed when given the opportunity. Warner was 27 when he first started in St. Louis and finished his career in Arizona at 38. Another reminder to Browns fans is that the Rams have been trying to find that QB since releasing Warner in 2003. If the Browns sign Hoyer to a long-term deal, do you think that they'll keep Manziel? Will Manziel be the type of player to sit on the bench next year as a backup with no QB competition? I doubt it!

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I suspect that since Manziel is signed for four years that the Browns would hope that he continues to prepare for the day tht he would ultimately be needed.

Hey Tony: As nice as some early season wins are, Brian Hoyer hasn't earned a new contract yet. The Baltimore game still looms large to me. Division games at home are crucial. How will Brian perform down the stretch? More to the point, how will he hold up physically? How will he perform in November and December? How can the answer come before December 29, 2014?

-- Michael, Blue Ash, OH

Hey Michael: All true. Which is why there is no need on either side to do anything just yet.

Hey Tony: Couple of questions. First, don't you think that it would serve the Browns better to wait until the end of the season to start contract talks with Hoyer, rather than the halfway point of the season? The second half schedule is tougher than the first half, and we get to see how Hoyer handles the Cleveland winter weather. Second, is it really that big of a deal to sign Hoyer to a long-term contract if he proves himself over a full season? I know that the Browns invested a first-round pick in Manziel but if Hoyer continues to win wouldn't it just make more sense to eat that pick and move forward with Hoyer? I know that I could overlook the Manziel pick with the Browns were winning ballgames.

-- Brandon, Winter Haven, FL

Hey Brandon: Yes, they should wait. I reported last week that Hoyer’s agent will use the halfway point of the season to evaluate in his mind the value of a contract he may seek. He doesn’t necessarily expect negotiations to take place at that point. As to your other questions, the Browns obviously invested some draft assets in Manziel (first- and third-round draft picks) for a reason. They felt he was the quarterback of the future. If their evaluation of him hasn’t changed, they could be thinking Manziel could do even better than Hoyer – when ready. And they may feel he will be ready sooner than the rest of us think.

Hey Tony: Quarterback Brian Hoyer, running back Isaiah Crowell and wide receivers Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Miles Austin have all played an important role in the Browns’ offensive success this season. Each of these players entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. Do you think this is an indictment of the NFL's über-hyped draft process?

-- Scott, London, Ontario

Hey Scott: Yes, it is. This week I pointed out in an analysis that the Browns are in position to chase a playoff berth this season without substantial impact from any of their most recent first-round draft choices – Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Barkevious Mingo, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Phil Taylor, Joe Haden and Alex Mack (now out for the year). I think the point is that you can build a credible team with undrafted players, but in order to get to the top, your No. 1 picks must be your impact players. While it’s reasonable to expect to find “diamonds in the rough” because of the sheer volume of players who do go undrafted, winning franchises are not usually the ones that miss on players taken in the first round. Of course, there is time in this season for some of their former No. 1s to make the kind of impact I am talking about.

Hey Tony: When was the last time the browns got a Sunday or Monday night game? NBC and ESPN were probably upset when the Browns drafted Manziel because they were not featured. Now that the team is doing well, what are the chances, should that continue, that they get a game flexed to prime time?

-- Wade, Fort Myers, FL

Hey Wade: The Browns’ last game on a Sunday night was Sept. 14, 2008 at home against Pittsburgh. That was before the current Sunday Night Football package on NBC. The last game on a Monday night was Nov. 16, 2009 at home against Baltimore. New rules allow a maximum of two games to be flexed to Sunday night over Weeks 5-10. There is no limit on games that can be flexed over Weeks 11-17. If the Browns keep winning, future attractive games would be: home v. Indianapolis on Dec. 7, home v. Cincinnati on Dec. 14 and at Baltimore on Dec. 28. I’m guessing the regularly scheduled game on NBC on Dec. 7 would hold up (New England at San Diego), and also on Dec. 14 (Dallas at Philadelphia). But that last date is kept open by NBC … so if the Browns at Baltimore game is for the AFC North title, it has a chance to be flexed. Other potential attractive matchups for NBC in Week 17 would be: Detroit at Green Bay, San Diego at Kansas City, Cincinnati at Pittsburgh and Arizona and San Francisco.

Hey Tony: Love your work. Look forward to Hey Tony weekly from the West Coast.  Two questions: 1. Should there be any concern about Brian Hoyer's low completion percentage (27th in the NFL). He's certainly been playing fantastic overall but this is an area you have harped on when reviewing college QB prospects as an indicator of success. Anything deeper here? 2. Watching the game rewinds, Isaiah Crowell looks more elusive and explosive than Ben Tate.  Are you seeing the same? If so, do you see more touches for the Crow?

-- Steve, San Diego, CA

Hey Steve: 1. No doubt that Hoyer’s completion percentage has to improve, and I suspect it will. I attribute the lower figure to the fact that Hoyer is still relatively inexperienced, based on actual NFL games played (eight career starts). However, in 39 games at Michigan State, Hoyer had a career completion percentage of 55.8. With the Browns, it’s about 60 – so he has shown the ability to improve. 2. I think right now that Ben Tate is the more complete back and is a perfect fit for this offensive scheme.

Hey Tony: Is the Bob Babich that is the Jaguars Defensive Coordinator the same Bob Babich that played for the Browns in the 70's?

-- Tom, Strongsville, OH

Hey Tom: Same name, different person. Babich the former Browns player, 67, was born in Youngstown. Babich the Jacksonville coach, 53, was born in Aliquippa, PA. Now, what confuses the situation even more is that the Browns’ assistant secondary coach, Bobby Babich, is the son of the Jacksonville coach – not the Browns’ player.

Hey Tony: In your article about Browns' nicknames you referenced something that I had forgotten about: the annual Thanksgiving turkey chase for the rookies.  I don't recall ever seeing coverage about it since the rebirth of the Browns. Do the players still do it?

-- Greg, Canton, GA

Hey Greg: I know that when the team restarted in 1999, the turkey chase was revived, but I think it has slowly passed on. I don’t recall the last time I wrote about a rookie falling for the practical joke.

 

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

 

 

 

#HeyTony: When in doubt, there’s always a story angle on Johnny Manziel

Oct 11, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

When in doubt, there’s always a story angle on Johnny Manziel. Last week, the rookie backup quarterback made news by having a laugh during the Browns’ nightmarish first half in Tennessee.

Hey Tony: Seeing as you are a long-standing staple in the Cleveland sports writers world, I’m hoping you can shed some light. Why is it that certain local writers there seem to have such a vendetta against Johnny Manziel? Case in point: the guy was caught inadvertently smiling on the sidelines Sunday and that little blip resulted in two (TWO) newspaper articles dedicated to the “topic”.  What’s more, these are the same writers who constantly cite the “media obsession” surrounding Manziel, which is both ironic and, I believe, pathetic. Do the sports writers in Cleveland hate the kid, or what? Sure it’s not great to be caught smiling during a loss – I get that – but it doesn’t deserve one, let alone two, newspaper articles either. If you need another example, the Las Vegas bathroom pic made local front page news as well, on the basis of nothing but pure innuendo. Sportswriters should be above that, and we real fans only appreciate real football writing, to say nothing of what it must do to a rookie player. Counter-productive and base all around, I think. Thanks for your work.

 -- Mike, Paris, France

Hey Mike: I don’t believe it has anything to do with not liking Manziel. Personally, I considered the Manziel laughing-on-the-sideline story a non-story. However, I’m slow in accepting the fact that everything Manziel says or does is a story. Why? Because highly-paid editors and network TV producers say so. Because in this world of digital media, anything containing the name Manziel attracts more user clicks. Which is the same reason we chose this question to lead off this week’s column.

Hey Tony: On several occasions I have heard you mention the need to take the football when you win the toss. I for one have always been taking the second half kick-off any chance you get and was wondering if the results in New Orleans and Titans games changed that. In the New Orleans game, NO scored right before halftime and had momentum. Had the Browns not deferred, NO would have had the ball first with the momentum. Instead the Browns got the ball and scored. In the Titans game, the Browns scored right at the end of the half and they got the ball to start the 2nd half and marched down to get a FG. That was a 10 point swing without TENN getting the ball. You could also make the case that having the ball to start the 2nd half against PITT helped in their comeback. I just feel that any chance you have to keep an offense off the field for 2 straight possessions and maintain/stop momentum with halftime is more than having the ball to start. That shows a coach has faith in their defense to make a stop to start the game (which the Browns did in TENN).

-- Dan, Minneapolis, MN

Hey Dan: I’m sure you can run a computer program and calculate all the analytics supporting your position. All I will say is give me a 7-0 lead and I will take that any day over owning the second-half kickoff. If your offense stinks and your defense is dominant, yes, I would defer every time. But I would generally rather have the ball first, march down the field with it and take a 7-0 lead.

Hey Tony: Please remind me of his limitations. Can Josh Gordon run routes in practice to allow our beleaguered secondary a chance to work out with a top-notch receiver?

-- Dave, Washington, DC

Hey Dave: Nice thought, but no. Gordon can attend meetings, lift on his own in the weight room, eat in the dining room with teammates. But he can’t even watch practice, let alone participate.

Hey Tony: Couple questions. 1. Seems like the Colts offense is much more creative this year. How much of this is due to Rob Chudzinski? 2. What is Bernie doing these days? Is he helping the Browns QBs? Talk of the verbose play calls has certainly died down as of late.

-- Mike, Vacaville, CA

Hey Mike: 1. Chudzinski might be contributing some, but the coordinator in Indianapolis is Pep Hamilton, Luck’s former coordinator at Stanford. 2. To my knowledge, Kosar has no role with the Browns – official or unofficial. When Kosar was replaced on the club’s pre-season game telecasts by Solomon Wilcots, there was talk of Kosar transitioning to roles on the team’s Website, daily radio show on 850 WKNR and its pre-season pre-game TV show. But none of that happened. Now, Kosar is a regular contributor on the WOIO Channel 19 “Tailgate 19” pre-game show on Sundays.

Hey Tony: Fans seem to be a bit excited because it looks like we actually have an offense this year. I say fool’s gold. Big reason why is I think our drafts have STUNK lately. Look at this year; Gilbert can't play, same for Manziel and the 4th round CB.  Ok the guard looks decent, big deal. Oh yea, "Kiko" may have a great attitude and hustles but c'mon, he can't play. Tell me I'm wrong, Tony.

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: Despite the slow starts from some rookies that you point out, the Browns have gotten fairly decent contributions from others, such as: running back Terrance West (third round), running back Isaiah Crowell (undrafted), receiver Taylor Gabriel (undrafted) and cornerback K’Waun Williams. By the way, “Kiko,” a.k.a. KeKe, a.k.a. Barkevious Mingo, was drafted by the previous regime.

Hey Tony: We have heard nothing about Pierre Desir. Is he hurt? Does he suck? I know you have mentioned he’s a project but come on, we have guys down. He can’t be worse than what we are seeing out there.

-- Wade, Fort Myers, FL

Hey Wade: I checked in with coach Mike Pettine about Desir this week. He said he always considered Desir a “redshirt” his rookie season because of his lack of experience playing a difficult position against higher caliber competition. Desir played at Lindenwood (MO) University. Undrafted free agents K’Waun Williams (Pittsburgh) and Robert Nelson (Arizona State) were schooled against much better competition and were better prepared to make the jump to the NFL more quickly.

Hey Tony: I understand the frustration with Benjamin after the punt fumble but what about the coaching staff? How do we expect him or the entire unit to excel with the constant changing of punt returner. He has always been one of the most dangerous players on the team in my mind. I don't blame his confidence to be shaken when he is only placed out there periodically. Why do they not just let one person return punts/kicks like with Cribbs? Also, how come you have not been on Sunday Strategy this year? Can we expect to see you soon? One of my favorite Browns shows.

-- Patrick, Charlotte, NC

Hey Patrick: Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said before the season that he did not want to rely on one returner at either kick or punt return, so he intended all along to train a few players for each position. I guess it was for the very reason that has unfolded – if Benjamin did not pick up where he left off before his knee surgery, Tabor did not want the whole return game to collapse. As far as Sunday Strategy, I was informed the week before the season opener that I would not be on the show this season. As for the reason, you would have to contact SportsTime Ohio or the Browns, who have a say-so in the makeup of the panel.

Hey Tony: To what do you attribute the overall improvement of Mitchell Schwartz this season? Is it simply having another year’s experience in the league or does the wide-zone blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan suit him better? 

-- Emery, Bay Village, OH

Hey Emery: You hit on the two major reasons. An overlooked third reason is this: Schwartz first experienced his problems last year when the Browns had a merry-go-round at right guard, due to injuries to Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston. This year, John Greco moved from left guard and has been a stalwart at right guard.

Hey Tony: After this Sunday's huge comeback victory against the Titans, I'm cautiously optimistic about the rest of the Browns' season. Sure, they played most of the game against a career backup QB on a lousy team. But honestly, I think they would have found a way to lose in years past. Now, they seem to be finding a way to win, and that kind of progress cannot be understated. Do you feel, as I do, that if the Browns beat the Steelers this week, and show up for the first half of games, the sky might be the limit? I'm not expecting them to go undefeated the rest of the way, but would a wild card berth be out of the question? Funny what a little solid QB play can do for a team. Who has been saying that for years now?

-- Ted, Longmeadow, MA

Hey Ted: I feel defeating the Steelers is essential for the Browns to maintain hopes of competing for the playoffs. They already are 0-2 in division games; 0-3 would be post-season suicide because of division tie-breakers. I have always said that quality play at the quarterback position covers a lot of warts elsewhere. Brian Hoyer proved that a year ago and is doing it again.

Hey Tony: Can you give us a feel for what full-contact practices for the Browns means? Is there an emphasis placed on tackling? I'm just wondering if the new CBA restricts the type or the amount of full contact which can impact tackling? I sense that maybe there are fewer practice injuries (knock on wood) than anytime in the near past. The Browns overall tackling is atrocious by almost everyone on the field. Yet, watching the Seahawks, they seem to look aggressive and effective at tackling, so it's not a totally lost art. It also appears worse for the Browns in the first couple of quarters of play, like they aren't ready for the contact. What gives with the Browns?

-- Don, Westerville, OH

Hey Don: There are restrictions on how many practices a team can be in full shoulder pads. It’s up to the coach as to how to use those practices. Like most, Mike Pettine does not have full tackling to the ground, as a precaution against injuries in practice. I believe the biggest reason for poor Browns tackling has been defenders being in poor position and taking bad angles to the ball-carrier. The Seahawks don’t practice tackling, but they do spend a lot of time on being in the right position. The great Ravens defenses of past years did the same.

Hey Tony: Love your work. Keeps me abreast of the Browns even from afar. My Questions: With the way the league penalties are currently structured, do you prefer having a highly ranked offense rather than a highly ranked defense if you can only have one or the other (which we seemingly have in Cleveland)? Second question: Have we seen Brian Hoyer's ceiling-- Is his play making the average receivers look better or is their play making him look better and once he has an improved complement around him will he turn into a true franchise QB? Brian the Lion or Brian the lyin'? Finally: I thought Pettine's scheme was supposed to free up a bunch of people for a ton of exotic blitzes and pressures. Seems like we rush four A LOT. Am I missing something?

-- Jason, Tucson, AZ

Hey Jason: 1. I believe to build a championship team, you need one side of the ball to be good and one side to be dominant. You can do it with a great defense/good offense or a great offense/good defense. I prefer to go the great offense route. 2. I have said since the start of the season we don’t know how good Hoyer can be. After 7 starters overall for the Browns over two years, I believe he is still getting better and we don’t know his “ceiling.” 3. I don’t understand what’s going on defense. While I thought all along the front seven was over-rated, I did not expect what we have seen in four games.

Hey Tony: I'm in a friendly debate with some friends here in southwestern Ohio concerning the state of the Browns. They feel elated that the Browns are 2 and 2, they have a win now mentality. I'm not so sure of this success. Obviously I'm happy with the two wins but I'm not so sure Brian Hoyer is the guy to lead us to the playoffs. I'm not convinced he sees all of the field. I'm also not impressed with the play of the defense, and I'm not understanding why the Browns only seem to be able to play in the second half. What's your opinion Tony? Do I have some valid concerns?

-- Greg, Middletown, OH

Hey Greg: Hoyer is the only reason I have any optimism that the Browns can be a very competitive team over the course of the season. The defense scares me, but Hoyer’s ability to lift the play of his offensive teammates is quite a feat.

Hey Tony: I've read that Kyle Shanahan's offense has success because most teams don't run a similar scheme. Thus defenses aren't going up against it in practice and are not adequately experienced. Would this explain why the Browns’ well-paid defense looks inept? They are going up against a scheme in practice they do not see on game day?

-- Bill, Alexandria, VA

Hey Bill: No, can’t buy that one. In training camp, the defense dominated the offense. I suspect the defense has had trouble adapting to the Pettine scheme and will get better over time.

 

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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