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SOBO’s Musings: Of Cleveland Browns running backs, William Green and Hue Jackson reaction

While Hue Jackson hopes that the phone never rings, Brent Sobleski takes a look at the Browns' running back situation and a linebacker prospect to watch.

It’s officially the time of year every NFL coach loathes: When players actually get to enjoy their offseason after the final minicamp until the start of training camp. They’re free to do whatever they like, and, sometimes, trouble ensues.

For the Browns, this is less of a concern today than during the previous two off-seasons. Cleveland is now Johnny Manziel-less, and Josh Gordon’s situation is resolved until at least Aug. 1. But head coach Hue Jackson will still go home or sit in his Berea office hoping the phone call every coach dreads never comes.

At this time of the year, it’s also an opportunity to take a step back and account for where the team currently stands. The Browns just might be better off now than they have been in a long time.

Jackson’s presence continues to draw positive reviews, and we’ll start there again this week.

  1. Both the coaching staff and the front office drew praise from one well-respected team source. He said the “team is finally in good hands, and they are going to turn this around.” Obviously, this current regime is still in its infancy, but the overall positivity Jackson and new front office brings is a massive change for the entire organization.

  2. Last week in this column, the previous staff’s ill-advised approach to Browns alumni came up as an example of how not to operate. Jackson falls on the other side of the spectrum. The new head coach continues to embrace former Browns. In fact, he wants their help. If the team’s greats want to mentor current members of the team, he’s encouraging them to do so. This is why fans are seeing more active roles from Jim Brown, Earnest Byner and even Bernie Kosar’s inclusion. More will almost certainly follow.

  3. In a recent blast from the past, I had the pleasure of interviewing former running back William Green. The Boston College product turned around his life. He’s now an ordained minister and spreads his message through Mike Hagen's Strength Team. Green’s primary goal today is to reach out and find ways to help young athletes based on his experiences. He openly discussed a willingness and desire to work with the NFL. He also recalled his time in Cleveland and how it ended.

  4. “Looking back at it, there were several times the NFL tried to educate me or people tried to talk to me,” Green said. “My heart wasn’t into it then, and I wasn’t willing to accept what they tried to teach me. 

    “At some point no matter how good you are, they’re not going to trust you anymore. I can remember finally getting my life together in Cleveland. I remember sitting there talking to the coaches who thought I was talented, but they told me, ‘We just can’t trust you to make you our No. 1 guy because of things you’ve done in the past.’ I pleaded with them. I kept telling them I was different and got my life in order. I had to deal with it going through training camp knowing I was better than the other guy, but they wouldn’t play me because of the situation I put myself in.”

  1. As for the current roster, two offensive positions, running back and tight end, need to be bolstered from within. First, the Browns decided not to add another running back via the draft despite quality talent being available during the third day. Instead, Jackson continues to rave about Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. They’re certainly talented and only 23 years old this season, but the weaknesses in both of their games can’t be completely glossed over when evaluating the position. As such, Terrell Watson’s acquisition shouldn’t be overlooked.

  2. Both Crowell and Johnson displayed poor vision and became indecisive runners at points last year, particularly early in the season. Neither is a powerful runner and often go down on first contact. But each has a silver lining. Crowell ran with far more authority once the previous staff decided to use a heavier gap scheme late in the season. This lends well to Jackson’s offense. Johnson, meanwhile, is simply dynamic in space. It comes down to marrying these two strengths like the Bengals did with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, while finding a way to avoid those previously discussed weaknesses.  

  3. At tight end, Gary Barnidge should serve as a security blanket for whatever quarterback starts. As everyone learned last year, he’s a tremendous offensive weapon. But he’s also a very poor blocker. Jackson likes to employ multiple-tight end sets, yet there isn’t a legitimate second option on the roster. Barnidge, Emmanuel Bibbs and recent draftee Seth DeValve are better as H-backs or move tight ends. A solid interior Y-tight end is lacking. This is where opportunities exist for Randall Telfer or Connor Hamlett.

  4. In Cincinnati’s offense, Tyler Eifert emerged as a monster in the passing game. Fellow tight ends, Tyler Kroft and Ryan Hewitt—who is more of an H-back/lead blocker—combined to play 731 of the team’s 1,056 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Their abilities as blockers became vitally important. Kroft was only targeted 14 times despite being on the field for 353 snaps. Quarterback Andy Dalton only targeted Hewitt 12 times last season. That's 26 passing targets counted among two players who were on the field 69 percent of the time. There is plenty of room in Jackson's offense for a young player willing to block. 

  5. Another potential problem area for the Browns is inside linebacker. The organization signed DeMario Davis in free agency, but he’s coming off a down season. Christian Kirksey has yet to prove he can be a full-time starter. The depth is also questionable depending on the status of Tank Carder, Justin Tuggle and rookies  Joe Schobert and Scooby Wright. As such, this is a good position to look ahead a little bit with an early scouting report. Here’s a name to keep in mind for next year's draft: North Dakota State middle linebacker Nick DeLuca.

  6. “He’s an unbelievable player,” North Dakota State defensive coordinator Matt Entz said in a phone interview. “He’s sharp as a whip. He’s a rare kid where you can talk about something and he immediately understands it. It then translates to the field, and he does it on the very first try. He’s a once-in-a-career type of kid you get to coach.

    “A lot of people don’t realize he’s 6’3”, 245 pounds, and he’s one of the best athletes on the team. He just might have the best hands on the team. He plucks it out of the air. It’s part of the reason why he has five career interceptions."


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