Back in the late 1960s, there was a TV show about a high-powered lawyer called Judd For The Defense. The Cleveland Browns now have "Chud for the Offense".
The Browns have hired Rob Chudzinski as their offensive coordinator. Chudzinski was the tight ends coach under Butch Davis when the Browns drafted Kellen Winslow. He was also Winslow's coach at the University of Miami. The Browns wanted to retain "Chud", but he left with the uncertainty over the coaching staff after Butch Davis resigned during the 2004 season.
This is an interesting hire. Chudzinski has Ohio ties, which has been a consistent theme with player selections and hires under Phil Savage. I'd love to see him succeed. But this seems like a very risky move to me given the current situation in Berea. Let me elaborate.
First, I think you have to realize that the Browns have painted themselves into a corner when it comes to the 2007 season. While the Browns are publicly saying that Romeo Crennel is their man, most observers see Crennel as being on a short leash at minimum, to perhaps being a full-blown lame duck. This limits who the Browns can go after. Many assistants, especially those with some experience, are going to shy away from a situation such as the one going on in Cleveland. If you come here, there could be a new head coach in 2008, so what is the future? That's not to mention the fact that the Browns aren't probably considered a talent-laden team on the rise in national circles.
So, when people bring up other potential names that the Browns should have considered for the offensive coordinator position, not everyone who would be seeking this sort of job would be dying to come to Cleveland. From that perspective, perhaps taking a chance on a young up-and-comer who grew up with the Browns is a good move. On the other hand, given that Crennel is on thin ice and that Savage may not be much better off, this is a risk.
Next, let's consider the impact on the existing staff. Jeff Davidson was never officially given the title of Offensive Coordinator, but he was acting in that role. The Browns didn't want to lose him last offseason, so when New England made overtures toward hiring him, the Browns gave him the title Assistant Head Coach to keep him here. Hiring Chudzinski was a vote of no confidence for Davidson, and effectively ended any chance to retain him. The Browns were saying that they wanted him to stay, but anyone who understands organizational politics knows that hiring Chudzinski was one that showed Davidson the door.
Don't get me wrong here – in my opinion, Davidson did nothing special with the offensive line, nor did he do wonders with the offense. He was somewhat better than Maurice Carthon, but that's hardly high praise. I'm OK with losing Davidson. But I do think it speaks to the stability and decision making process of the Browns organization to do a complete about face on Davidson in less than a year.
But even these issues aren't my biggest objection to this move. My problem is one of personnel.
Two years ago, the Browns hired Romeo Crennel and he decided to install a 3-4 defense. That is a huge change in philosophy, especially in regard to player selection. The Browns let go of a number of serviceable players to rebuild the defense for the 3-4. After two years, the Browns still don't have all the players they need to run it effectively. From the early reports, Chudzinski favors a more attacking style of offense. I'm more than OK with that. Since the days of Bill Belichick, the Browns have run a very conservative, don't-make-a-mistake offense. I'd be happy with a stylistic change. But, do the Browns have the personnel to run the style of offense Chudzinski wants effectively?
Let's start with the quarterback. In many ways, the Browns are still sorting out what Frye can do, but if there is one thing I believe Frye proved in 2006, he is not going to be able to run a vertical offense. I'm not arguing here as some do that Frye can't throw deep. He threw deep at times this past year, and with decent success. But when Frye had two open options, one underneath and the other deeper, he invariably chose the underneath option. His tendency is toward the horizontal, not the vertical. If Chudzinski asks Frye to be more vertical in his game, it could be a big problem.
When Derek Anderson played, he showed more of tendency to favor the vertical game. Unfortunately, Anderson is also tends to be inaccurate with his throws. In a more vertical offense, that will lead to interceptions, something that proved to be Anderson's undoing in college. We saw some of that in the Tampa Bay game this year. I don't see Anderson as the answer in this type of offense, either, though he might be a reasonable bench player.
Ken Dorsey? Please.
Then there's the offensive line. Part of the problem with the offense in 2006 was that the quarterback had to use a lot of three step drops because of the lack of protection. That led to a very horizontal passing attack. To go more vertical, you are going to have to be able to throw five and seven step drops. The 2006 line could not handle that. On the other hand, the Browns will probably at most return three starters on the line, and probably more likely only two. The line needs to be rebuilt anyway. Can that be accomplished in this one offseason, especially considering the holes on the defensive line and in the secondary? Color me skeptical.
Phil Savage said in his State of the Browns address that the offense would be built around Winslow and Braylon Edwards. Add Jurevicus and Heiden to the mix and the Browns have some nice receivers to use in more of an attacking style of offense. Good enough, but who will get them the ball? And will that person be able to remain standing long enough to deliver the ball?
I'm just a fan. I'm not privy to the closed-door machinations in Berea. But it appears to me that hiring Chudzinski and making the changes being described don't look like the kinds of decisions designed to bring the Browns immediate success in the 2007 season. These may be good moves in the long run. The problem for both Savage and Crennel is that if the bottom line results don't improve in 2007, there may not be a long run for one or both of them.
Given the restlessness of the fan base, coupled with the fact that there doesn't seem to be a lot of faith in the leadership of the organization, this move seems to be a huge gamble. As outlined above, there may not have been a lot of other options, but it seems like this move will either make the organization look like geniuses or it will blow up in their faces.
To borrow a line from the Eagles, I'm thinking to myself, this could be heaven or it could be hell. Only time will tell which.