I always thought that the biggest fake-out in sports involved the low minor leagues in baseball. Every kid who signs a contract figures that he eventually will be playing at the major league level. But the reality for most 18 and 19 year olds who wind up in A ball are only there for one reason---to give the 18 or 19 year old top prospect of the organization a place to play for a year until he can be moved up a notch. Every once in awhile a player will sneak through the cracks and make it all the way, but he'd better make an impression quickly, or he will be replaced by some other 18 year old dreamer.
The NFL has one of its own great fake-out mechanisms. It takes place when a team brings in a bunch of potential top draft choices to visit the facilities and take part in interviews and workouts. Such is the case with Vince Young, who reportedly will visit six other teams before coming to Berea on Friday, April 21, just before the draft.
Having Young dropping down to the twelfth spot in the draft could be one of the Browns' worst nightmares. With a questionable Charlie Frye scheduled to start at quarterback, along with the veteran Trent Dilfer ready to back him up, Young presents a problem for the team for a couple of reasons. First, it would be tough to pass him up. Second, they know that the rival Baltimore Ravens would probably pick him with the pick immediately after Cleveland's pick, leaving the possibility of the Browns having to defend against him twice a year for the next decade or so.
This is where the fake-out comes into play. All of the NFL teams are allowed to bring in the top prospects, whether they plan to take them or not. More importantly, in some cases, it gives the teams an opportunity to test the strengths and weaknesses of players who will be part of the opposition for years to come.
Remember David Klingler, the University of Houston QB who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992? He was so highly thought of by the Bengals that they traded up to take him in with the sixth pick in the draft. Prior to the draft, according to several sources at the time, Browns coach Bill Belichick brought Klingler to Berea, without any intention of drafting him, knowing that the Bengals were very interested in him. What did Belichick find out? According to these sources, the most important thing that Bill found out was that Klingler didn't have a very strong voice. As a result he knew that if the home crowd made a lot of noise and the defense kept shouting out confusing signals, Klingler might have trouble calling audibles to his wide-outs.
There is no guarantee that this knowledge would ever come into play, but it was just another example of how prepared Belichick was, even then, for any eventuality. Remember the time that Bill actually showed some emotion late in a game in Oakland, by running the length of the sideline when Vinny Testaverde faked into the middle of the line, and then ran for a touchdown around left end? That, according to the same sources, was a result of some tendency of the Raiders that the coaching staff discovered in April or May prior to the start of training camp.
Think about it---these official sanctioned visits are a very valuable instrument for teams, who get to go one step further than they can go at the Indianapolis Combine, whether they actually have an interest in the player for themselves or for the opportunity to scout them as a future opponent. Or to set up a smoke screen. Sometimes promises are made, even if they are not sincere. It is part of the reason Braylon Edwards and his agent were made to believe that the Miami Dolphins wanted him for their first choice last year.
The visits to the Browns facilities by potential top picks, no matter what the real purpose, are important to the Browns and the other teams in the NFL. And nobody seems to have a problem with it.
|Les Levine is the host of 'More Sports & Les Levine', which can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio, and ‘Cleveland Rants' is seen and heard after Indians games on FSN Ohio and WKNR. Les is also the lead Sunday columnist in the Lake County News-Herald and Lorain Journal. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or www.leslevine.com|