Q: Being an old-timer, I still believe in the philosophy that offense wins regular season games, but defense wins championships. In looking at the playoff teams of 2011, most were defensive based type teams. With that, wouldn't the Browns be wise to strongly consider selecting CB Morris Claiborne with the fourth selection in the draft and solidify the defensive backfield?
LA: I agree, and I believe regardless of what the stats say, games are still won and lost in the trenches more often than not.
In today's NFL, a team must muster up enough offense to be capable of competing in a high-scoring affair from time to time. The rules have changed to the point where the offense is definitely at an advantage, especially in pass coverage.
Teaming with Joe Haden, Claiborne would provide an interesting look to this Browns defense and one which shouldn't be discounted, especially with questions surrounding the play of the safeties.
Veteran CB Sheldon Brown isn't getting any younger and while his play hasn't been detrimental, sliding him into a safety spot would enhance the middle of the field type defense with an inexperienced DB that won't be confused or late in recognition.
Due to the state of the offense, in need of difference-makers, the Browns would be hard pressed to pass on an offensive talent, if two players are rated similarly.
Q: If the season were to begin tomorrow, what deficiencies do you see within the talent base and how would you rank each based on importance?
LA:This Browns roster needs help at various spots, some more pressing than others. With this belief, I see the issues for the Browns as such:
The Browns lack difference-makers on the offensive side of the ball. Through free agency and/or the college player draft, this organization must secure no less than one top-level talent at the wide receiver position.
With RB Peyton Hills appearing unlikely to return, I see the RB position as questionable. Sure, Brandon Jackson returns from a foot injury, but he has never been a feature back at the professional level.
Montario Hardesty was selected by GM Tom Heckert, and he has battled injury issues throughout his young career and can't be counted on to pencil in as a starter.
Chris Ogbonnaya was signed off the Houston Texans practice squad and provided the Browns with some quickness and desire at the position when Hillis and Hardesty were injured. If anything, Ogbonnaya showed he deserves an off-season training program in the system to evaluate whether he can take on a greater role.
With these questions at RB, the Browns must look toward free agency and the draft to secure the services of a potential feature back.
- The right-side of the Browns offensive line is questionable, at best. Starting RT Tony Pashos has struggled with injury issues for the past few seasons which have robbed him of agility. Second-year RG Shawn Lauvao was inconsistent a season ago and developing a young lineman such as he is next to a struggling veteran tackle isn't the best recipe for success.
However it plays out, the Browns should be in the market for a starting caliber RT, and there have been discussions about Jason Pinkston moving to RT.
- Last but not least, the never-ending situation at the QB spot for this team must come to an end. The Browns organization has played musical QB's since their return in the 1999 season and the position remains a troubling area.
Colt McCoy displayed some solid ability late in the 2010 season, only to have a new offensive scheme added for the 2011 season. McCoy may have the ability to become an above average QB with improved talent surrounding him, but the ultimate question is, "Is that good enough?" I don't believe it is and I anticipate the Browns looking in free agency and the draft for a QB with the skill-set or potential to lead this Browns team into the future.
There has been plenty of speculation that the Browns have already fallen in love with Robert Griffin III from Baylor. You'll certainly not find a better athlete at the QB position, but remember this; GM Tom Heckert was not believed to have been a backer of securing the services of QB Michael Vick in Philadelphia. Maybe Vick's background was an issue for Heckert, but nonetheless, Griffin and Vick could ultimately be the same player.
Q: Plenty has been written by Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. Wouldn't a team like the Browns be better off selecting him, if he evaluates out to be a legitimate NFL starter later in the first or second round and use the fourth pick in the draft on Blackmon, thus filling two areas of need quickly?
LA: I certainly like the idea of the Browns getting a WR and QB, this team could use both, but there may be a couple other ways to fill the void.
The Browns could be sitting in position to select Griffin III early in the first and potentially land a Michael Floyd later in the first. I'll say potentially, as Floyd I believe is every bit as good as Blackmon without all the fanfare, and I believe he will rise leading up to the draft.
Same applies at the RB spot. The Browns definitely are engaged in an area of uncertainty at RB and Trent Richardson could be sitting there. You can go RB, and then go QB or WR later in the first.
There is plenty of time to evaluate these young men and determine which route would best serve the Browns, today and into the future. Regardless of the exact manner of securing the talent, the Browns have obvious needs and the draft is the manner which they want to build this roster.
Personally, I have never liked WR's or RB's this early in the draft, as history shows quality talent at those positions can and has been secured later in the draft and into the undrafted rookie market.
Q: Throughout Pat Shurmur's first season as head coach we had the privilege to watch one of the worst offenses in football, without much change from game one to game sixteen. We get to hear the team president talk about improvement, staying the course and hiring an offensive coordinator. Weeks have passed and the Browns have yet to hire an offensive coordinator, while other teams are firing and hiring head coaches and coaching staffs. Is Cleveland that poorly received by those outside of the area, leading them away from Cleveland, or is the Browns that slow in moving ahead and getting a legitimate offensive coordinator?
LA: All indications are the Browns have a very small group of veteran coaches they are interested in first, which happen to be under consideration for head coaching opportunities elsewhere.
The key to the Browns OC woes at the present reside in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have interviewed numerous candidates, a couple such as Sherman and Childress. Sherman is getting plenty of play as the top candidate in Tampa, unless the Buccaneers pull out another mystery candidate.
Waiting on Sherman could be a mistake, as he is very close to newly hired HC in Miami (Philbin) and may sway toward teaming up with a personal friend rather that the Cleveland situation.
With Philbin leaving Green Bay, the Packers offensive coordinator position is open. The Packers are likely to keep their hire in-house, which leads to QB Tom Clements or TE's coach Ben McAdoo.
The Browns haven't displayed an interest in Clements, but this column has learned McAdoo is a coach the Browns could discuss the OC vacancy with.
What we have learned since Mike Holmgren's hire is the organization is methodical in making such moves of greater importance.
Q: It's been painfully obvious to compete in the AFC North division, teams must play solid, physical defense, run the football and display the ability to get the ball down-field to be successful. Each trait is the polar opposite of this Browns team as it's presently constructed. Do you see the Browns heading into this direction, or is the philosophy of this regime in Cleveland missing the boat on what has proven to work within this division?
LA: There is little doubt the AFC North is a physical division on each side of the ball displaying a vertical presence offense and an ability to ground it out when necessary.
This ground it out philosophy is something the Steelers missed at times in the 2011 season. Their dependency to throw the ball vertically really evolved into what the offense was becoming and less of the dominance along each line and wears the opposition down.
Cincinnati and Baltimore play the game similarly on each side of the ball, despite the Bengals running a variance of the WCO and the Ravens in more of a pro-set with WCO similarities.
Defensively though, the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals are an attacking style of defense, while the Browns under the direction of DC Dick Jauron are in the infancy stages – and this unit performed admirably.
Nearly every team the Browns faced in the 2011 season attacked the offense relentlessly. Without the threat of difference-makers at WR and at RB to some degree, teams were not concerned with the Browns passing game.
Thus, these already tough defensive units gained an advantage and performed accordingly.
When the Browns add a difference-maker at WR, a RB that can take it to the house at any time and improved play from the QB and right-side of the line, the ability to execute greatly improves.
I believe they are headed in the right direction on the defensive side of the ball. Jauron recognizes the necessity to add a DE opposite Jabaal Sheard and LB quality and depth.
Offensively, the necessities are evident. The necessities were evident a year ago.
Now, the Browns have a true off-season to secure talent in free agency and the draft.
The ball is in their court and they have the firepower both salary cap wise in free agency and numerous quality picks in the draft to improve this team significantly in one off-season.