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Training Camp

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Hey Tony!

Jul 28, 2012 -- 8:33pm

By Tony Grossi


Most of the Hey Tony questions this week were submitted before the news broke that Randy Lerner was in negotiations to sell “a controlling interest” of the team to Tennessee billionaire Jimmy Haslam. We’re sure this will be a hot topic for many weeks to come.

Hey Tony: With the change in ownership, who is the coach next year?

-- Carter, Atlanta

Hey Carter: I wouldn’t count out Pat Shurmur just yet.

Hey Tony: Great article on your first training camp. That's when the Browns’ name was mentioned with pride. My question is simple: love the move at RB and WR, not sold at all on QB. Obviously, that is the most important. Which one of these guys excite you the most?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: I agree that the quarterback is the most important to the team’s hopes of becoming a contender. But I would say Trent Richardson excites me the most, with Brandon Weeden second. However, if the team returned with its receiving corps intact, I would say it was still missing that top playmaker at the position. But the late addition of Josh Gordon might be that last piece.

Hey Tony: What is Mike Holmgren’s legacy in Cleveland if he moves on as expected very soon? I think to many of us life-long fans it will be of a guy who cashed in on an owner at his wits end and depending on this year’s final record could be the worst regime ever in Browns history.

-- Michael Spitale, Galena, OH

Hey Michael: On the other hand, if this season marks a significant turnaround in the team’s fortunes, Holmgren deserves credit for building the foundation of a future playoff contender. For our sake, let’s hope that’s how it shakes out.

Hey Tony: In your WR Training Camp breakdown, you mention that "Josh Gordon must hit the ground running and be able to learn the sophisticated routes he didn’t run at Baylor." Utah ran the west coast offense under Norm Chow last season and Gordon practiced with the team all year.  He had to have learned the routes and terminology. Even though he didn't play in games, why does his year practicing in a west coast offense at Utah get dismissed?

-- Andrew, Bettendor, IA

Hey Andrew: Gordon said he practiced exclusively on the Utah scout team last year. That means he ran the pass routes of the opponents’ offenses, not of his own team’s.

Hey Tony: Regarding Josh Gordon and his recent acquisition, the critics have pegged him as a WR with a "long stride" running style. My impression is a tall and strong WR with 4.52 speed who can catch sounds great.  How might this running style effect his play at the WR position?   

-- Eric, San Jose, CA

Hey Eric: Well, the point of the West Coast offense is to throw short and run long. So if his long strides work properly, he would fit right in.

Hey Tony: No one seems to be paying much attention to the negotiations between the officials and the league. If the regular officials were to be locked out, and replacements brought in, what impact do you think this would have on the season?

-- Kevin, Chicago

Hey Kevin: There would be a lot of grumbling from players and coaches and fans and media. Ultimately, I believe the dispute will be settled at the latest on the Monday of the first week of regular-season games. More likely, it will be settled before the final slate of preseason games.

Hey Tony: I would like to hear your opinion regarding this evaluation of Browns teams past and present: I feel like this particular season, even more so than in the recent past, will hinge significantly on the performance of two groups -- down in those lineman's trenches. Generally we've been hammered in these areas since the return, but it's been mostly marginalized out because of similarly bad or worse play at other positions. What difference does it make whether the QB's haven't seen the open sky all day, if the defense is surrendering 300 yards on the ground (really that happened?!). I would like to imagine that this year can be different. We have a very good core on the offensive line (one group that has seen positive gains from each of the last 3 managements) that can keep guys off Weeden. And if true, his so-noted weak, pocket presence may be afforded at least a few years to develop. On the flip side, the d-line, though I believe more under the radar, shows upward potential as a real pressuring and controlling unit. The Phil Taylor loss hurts for the ball control and physicality side which has been most frequently exploited, especially last year when why would you have even wanted to even think of coming out and throwing. So, I need to see the run control, more than anything else I think, improve a ton before making anything remotely near a playoff prediction for this team. The offense just can't improve THAT much in one year to offset, can it?

-- Adam, Van Wert, OH

Hey Adam: To me, it’s simple to evaluate both lines. On offense, can the line pound the ball in on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with a game on the line and weather limiting the pass? And can the defense stop an opposing offense in the same situation? When the answers to both questions are “definitely, yes,” then the team is on its way. Maybe I’m over-generalizing, but I believe this to be true.

Hey Tony: You were asked on Twitter this week if the Browns would look to draft Matt Barkley if they go 1-15 this year as one national analyst predicted.  (Football gods please spare us that.  We don't deserve it). Your answer of "no" surprised me. My feeling is that if Brandon Weeden can only muster one win, he is not the answer at quarterback. The days of rookies slowly developing at the position, for whatever reason, are over.  Two examples that come to mind are Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. In their first year, they made their teams substantially better. Just looking at our own division, the Steelers were a tough team but they weren't winning any Super Bowls with the likes of Bubby Brister, Kordell Stewart, or Tommy Maddox at quarterback. Then Roethlisberger came around and they won it all in his second year and they've kept winning.  The Browns actually beat the Ravens twice, TWICE!, the year before they got Flacco, and we know what has happened since. Last year at this time, the analysts were saying how awful the Bengals were and how they had the world's biggest moron in Mike Brown running the team. Then Dalton comes around and they're in the playoffs. Now, I'm not expecting Weeden to take the Browns to the playoffs in his first year, but in the NFL today, one win means he doesn't have it and he's never going to, doesn't it?

-- John, Delaware, OH

Hey John: I agree with all your points. I guess I answered no for two reasons: 1. I just can’t fathom the Browns losing 15 games, and 2. I’m not sold on Barkley as the be-all, end-all. I want to watch him his last season before making a decision on him. My mind just can’t come to grips with the possibility of a 12th opening day starting QB in 15 Browns seasons.

Hey Tony: I've noticed that many Browns fans and media personnel are confident in the guard play of Pinkston and Lauvao. I'm not as confident as others when it comes to believing that another year of experience equals better guard play. I thought both of their play was average at best. Can you convince me to believe that their play will improve this season to the point that they are considered good rather than average?

-- Paul Wall, Raleigh, NC

Hey Paul: The guards aren’t the reason this team doesn’t score touchdowns, believe me. That’s probably the best I can do.

Hey Tony: First, let me thank you for the hours of time you put in to give us quality articles on the Browns. Who is Alex Mack's back-up this year? Even though I want to know his name, I hope I never have to see him play. Because I think only death would keep Mack off the field on Sunday. I believe Shawn Lauvao played a little center in College, and John Greco may also be able to snap. If it is indeed John Greco, has he started any games at center in the NFL?

-- Dale Galbraith, Barberton, OH

Hey Dale: Going into training camp, Greco is the top backup center, which makes his roster spot fairly secure.

Hey Tony: Our roster is full of promising young offensive players. Most have a very high ceiling and if they mature properly will be the building blocks for a very good team. I see Weeden and Gordon as high risk/high reward guys, where as TRich and Schwartz seem safer picks. Which players do you consider risky (bust factor) on offense?

-- Alex, Orlando, FL

Hey Alex: I don’t see the high risk in Weeden. Why? Because he is 28? They need a better player at that position right now – not in three years. I think Gordon definitely qualifies as high risk/high reward.

Hey Tony: Bruce Hooley just described you as giddy this morning on the RBS. Quite the contrast from your cantankerous attitude toward the prior HC. People notice Anthony. Don't be a hypocrite, be consistent.

-- Mike, Dover, OH

Hey Mike: Sigh.

Hey Tony: I heard you talking about coaches being too concerned about the last 10 guys to make the roster in preseason games. It seems to me that teams in general are too scripted in the preseason. The Browns aren't good enough to say the 1st team is only going to play 2 series, etc. My thought is to let the 1st team play until they put a drive together or score or at least look cohesive. Is there an unwritten rule among teams that preclude this?

-- Mike, Tallmadge, OH

Hey Mike: I’m constantly amazed by how coaches subscribe to preseason routines established 30 years ago while the league constantly changes. Especially now, with the changes in the labor agreement that reduce the amount of time on the practice field and the intensity of practices, I believe coaches have to adjust. I would increase the reps the starters receive in the preseason games. I also would change the archaic thinking of designating the third preseason game the so-called dress rehearsal. There is about 17 days from that third preseason game to the first game of the regular season. By the time the opener comes, the starters are out of rhythm and out of synch. I would make the fourth preseason game the final meaningful tune-up and play the starters at length in that game. That still gives the starters 10 days before the opener. I would not waste so much time determining the last 10 roster spots. The main objective of the preseason is to get ready for the first game that counts. Sharpen the starters with playing time. Let the bottom 10 take care of itself. I will be harping on this subject at a later date.

Hey Tony: I know that you for one are glad they finally made the modified OT rule apply to the regular season instead of just the playoffs.  Maybe now we won't have to wait 5 years to see it used.... but that's not my question. Everyone knows that it's not how talented the draft picks and free agents are that improves your team, but whether those draft picks and free agents are MORE talented than what they replace. That was why our defense improved last year, even with making the transition to the 4-3. This year we have players that can fill spots where we lacked talent on offense last year, and should be an upgrade. Meanwhile, BAL and PIT have lost veterans and former Pro Bowl players (through injury, free agency, and salary cap cuts), that are being replaced with various draft picks, young players, and free agents.  PIT might start two rookies on their offensive line, but the pundits are quick to say that Ben Roethlisburger should take fewer sacks because PIT "fixed" their offensive line.  We draft what some call the best RT in the draft, and our line is suspect because we have a rookie RT and two young guards.  At least they're skeptical about BAL being able to shore up their OL and defense after the losses that they had in free agency and losing Suggs to injury. So how do you see the overall difference in talent stacking up in the AFCN now?  Everyone says Cinci had the best draft, but they also filled some holes from free agent departures, so theirs may not be as high as everyone believes.  Did PIT and BAL actually gain anything or did they just maintain or even regress?

-- Jeff Miller, Columbus, OH

Hey Jeff: I will have a more detailed analysis of the AFC North at a later date. For now, consider this: The Ravens lost one of their best players, linebacker Terrell Suggs, to an Achilles tendon injury for much of the year. The Bengals just lost a first-round draft choice, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, for up to four weeks with a leg fracture. The Steelers are having a devil of a time signing No. 1 wideout Mike Wallace to a multi-year contract. My point is this: Lots of unforeseen things can happen to help close the talent gap between those teams and the Browns. We can’t predict when the Browns catch up, but I believe it is on the way to happening. As for the new modified OT rule applying to regular season, I despise the rule entirely and love the old sudden death OT rule.

Hey Tony: I really liked T.J. Ward's aggressive play and energy but it seems like ever since his rookie year when he laid that big hit on the Bengals WR, Simpson I think, he became less relevent through injuries or play on the field.  I think our secondary really need him to solidify that part of the field. What players are you concerned about that might not live up to all the hype or who might have a dip coming off a decent year? Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: Ward’s hit was on Jordan Shipley and I agree he has not been the same since. He admitted the hit and subsequent fine affected him in that rookie season of 2010, and then last year a foot injury cost him eight games. When you say “live up to all the hype,” I would say there was not much hype about Ward as a draft choice, other than from club officials. He was a surprise pick with an injury history. I agree he has to pick up his game.

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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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