Latest in the Fast Lane
TheOBR's Lane Adkins issues his latest behind-the-scenes findings.
By Lane Adkins
OBR Browns Analyst
The philosophy of the new regime in Cleveland differs greatly from the prior group in the Browns front office and coaching staff.
During offseason evaluations, the front office — led by general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine — identified that the team lacked winning, experienced and quality talent.
The thought process behind deliberate free agent acquisitions matching the criteria noted is to provide an influx of such qualities into a young, growing and determined roster. The Cleveland front office does not believe the team is far from contention, with many of the building blocks in place.
This column remains cautiously optimistic. While I believe the additions of safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, running back Ben Tate, wide receiver Nate Burleson and tight end Jim Dray will provide this team with quality play, in some cases will provide instant impact.
I see offensive lineman Paul McQuistan as an experienced addition that could help stabilize the line, but he has not performed at a high level in Seattle.
Cornerback Isaiah Trufant is a depth, role player, nothing more, nothing less. Ultimately, Trufant will be a dime-type cornerback and special teams performer.
The inability to land a quality offensive guard, while recently passing on above average interior lineman Will Montgomery is puzzling. Montgomery is experienced in the zone blocking scheme and commanded a one-year deal for potentially $2.25 million from the Denver Broncos.
Much can be said regarding the Browns and their inside linebacker spot next to Dansby. While Dansby is a clear upgrade based on production, the gaping hole next to him in the Browns defensive scheme is in question.
The Browns played the waiting game too long on lienbacker Arthur Moats, and he bolted to Pittsburgh. Available talent in free agency is a crapshoot and to fill the void the Browns may look to the youth within the roster, as well as a player in the draft.
Adding quality and depth at wide receiver and tight end were necessary moves. Hawkins and Burleson can change the complexion of the Browns offense, whereas Dray came into his own during the 2013 season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Both positions within the Browns roster were riddled with questions, the moves Farmer made eases the immediacy aspect the Browns face in having to draft for specific positional upgrade.
Let's get the ball rolling by talking specifics about three of the Browns free agent acquisitions…
- The Browns targeted Cleveland native Whitner very early in the free agency process. The Browns want to establish a consistent physical presence and display toughness, which the new regime in Cleveland believes has not been the case.
With Whitner, the Browns believe they have added a plus player at the position, as well as a natural, vocal leader in the defensive backfield. The Browns view the addition of Whitner as simply not adding a player, but adding a leader that has been successful. The belief is because of his personality and experience he can show the youth how to be the guy and not just one of the guys.
- Adding Dansby may prove to be a significant move and upgrade to the Browns linebacking corps. Dansby has been a consistent presence throughout his career and his 2013 season was worthy of being the best inside linebacker play throughout the league.
The Browns interest in Dansby made him an immediate target in free agency. Interestingly, the Browns looked to add Dansby whether departed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson remained with the Browns.
Again, the signing of Dansby signifies the Browns approach of wanting to get stronger and more physical in the middle of the defense.
- In offensive coordinator's Kyle Shanahan's offense, you need a very capable slot type receiver if the offense is going to have a chance to evolve into his vision.
Free agent wide receiver acquisition Hawkins is a fast, shifty, quick and sure-handed receiver that fits the criteria. Seeking those characteristics, the Browns identified Hawkins, as well as the well-established Julian Edelman of New England as potential targets.
Upon extensive evaluation as well as experience playing against such a type receiver, the Browns were successful in their targeted, pointed approach in securing the restricted free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals.
Shanahan's offense historically targets the slot receiver as the number-two option from the wide receiver position, often identifying mismatches.
About those QB's in the 2014 NFL Draft. We'll start with Manziel, Bridgewater, Bortles and Carr…
The college quarterback that generates the most buzz amongst fans is Johnny Manziel. Let's start there.
- Manziel has only helped himself throughout the offseason by displaying personal maturity, as well as showing well in his circus-atmosphere pro-day workout.
Manziel threw the ball well at his pro-day workout, spoke with personnel from various teams and was enlightening with teams and media alike.
The Browns are interested in Manziel and will hold a private workout and interview session with the Texas A&M quarterback within the next two weeks, which will likely determine whether the Browns will be in on him.
Presently, the Browns have some reservations that the workout can eliminate or highlight.
- Teddy Bridgewater, despite having a mediocre pro-day workout, remains solidly in the sights of the Browns. Interest coming from the Browns stems from the body of work the Louisville quarterback established throughout his collegiate career.
Bridgewater doesn't possess a large physical stature, nor does he display a cannon for an arm. What Bridgewater has done has shown the maturity, leadership, decision-making and ability to play at a high level on a consistent basis.
Bridgewater's private workout with the Browns will be used to reaffirm what they have viewed when scouting the quarterback. The question remains whether the Browns like Bridgewater enough to select him with the fourth selection in the draft.
This column continues to hear the Browns are not committed at this time, but is one of two quarterbacks the Browns could select No. 4.
- Central Florida's Blake Bortles has the size, strength and mindset you like in a young quarterback. He's tough, he can run, he has shown to be elusive and he can make plays outside the pocket.
Teams such as the Browns note Bortles needs refinement and his mechanics need some work (footwork, arm slot) to enable him to drive the ball on a consistent basis.
His personal workout was said to have gone well, though the soon-to-be early first round draft selection continues to reaffirm what shows on tape
– he does not look off a defender.
Following his private workout with the Browns, the organization is in on Bortles as a long-shot candidate for the fourth overall selection in the draft.
Carr made all the throws, displayed better footwork and throwing mechanics and was quick and decisive in his reactions to the Browns staff barking out situations.
The Browns relate some of Carr's film issues (bailing, throwing off back foot and short throws) as team talent and scheme related perceived deficiencies.
Carr is definitely on the Browns' short-list, though the organization was unhappy with his openness to discuss the workout with the media in the days following. Carr is the other quarterback, along with Bridgewater that the Browns could select with the fourth pick.
- The Browns continue to await a contract offer to center Alex Mack. The Browns remain solid in their belief Mack will be at center heading into the 2014 season, but may be open to options. Browns are also hearing Jacksonville is apprehensive to put in language enabling Mack to become a free agent in 2015 without the team having the ability to use the Franchise or Transition tag on him.
- Continue to hear the Browns have identified their top front-seven player on the defensive side of the ball, which has not been discounted with the fourth overall selection.
- Pettine loves linebacker Khalil Mack. Also believes defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will be a force in the league.
- Many around the league do not believe the Browns will select an offensive tackle with the fourth pick in the draft. I am told the Browns continue to have Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Greg Robinson of Oregon rated highly and not off their board No. 4.
- The Browns remain open to quarterbacks at No. 4, but won't select a quarterback in that spot due to a need. The organization trusts their evaluation and scouting process and will reaffirm those thoughts during private workouts. It is very possible the Browns go quarterback at No. 4, but at this time they do not have a quarterback rated as their fourth best prospect.
General Draft Tidbits
- Hearing teams like Bradley Roby, Justin Gilbert, Jason Verett and Kyle Fuller more -- and Darqueze Dennard less that what is being reported by draft guys.
- A lot of noise pointing to Jadeveon Clowney and the Houston Texans.
- Believe the St. Louis Rams are leaning toward LT Jake Matthews.
- Hearing Khalil Mack or Johnny Manziel in Jacksonville.
For more of Lane Adkins' takes, insights and scoops visit The Fast Lane forum.