Some thoughts on questions hitting my in-box as the mandatory June mini-camp nears:
Q: When looking at a wide receiver prospect, what are some of the parameters a team like the Browns use to gauge the player?
LA: Mental ability, coachability (mentality), ability to catch with the hands, size, speed and separation ability. In today's NFL, the athletes playing football are naturally bigger, stronger and faster on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, many of today's young receivers lack the fundamentals of catching the ball with their hands, or lack hand strength. Others lack the mental make-up to digest coaching or the mentality to desire the opportunity. These are just a couple of attributes which separate the college player from the professional player. In the college game an athlete can succeed on physical talent, whether it has been maximized or not, as these players generally play against weaker overall competition. With the right mindset for coaching along with the physical tools, a player can elevate his game. This is often what separates those that succeed and those who do not at the professional level.
Q: Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow had questions around them, but burst onto the scene in the 2007 season. What was the basis for the sudden arrival of these two players - was it a change in commitment and enhanced talent, and what should we expect heading into the 2008 season from them?
LA: What many people fail to seriously look at is the youth, inexperience, health and overall offensive system players such as Edwards and Winslow dealt with early in their careers. Edwards and Winslow had serious injuries during their initial seasons and lost valuable playing time, which equates to experience. Along with the health issues, the Cleveland offense was not ripe for success in these early stages due to an overall lack of talent and scheme. Both Edwards and Winslow are very athletic players, and they work diligently on their physical conditioning and skill-set. Maturity has played a role in the development of each player, as their coachability and desire to win is exceptional. Heading towards the 2008 season, barring injury, each player should continue to be high-level performers and should find both team and personal success.
Q: With the emergence of an offensive line in Cleveland for the first-time since the 1980's, how much of a role did the acquisitions of Eric Steinbach, Joe Thomas and Hank Fraley really play into the equation and how does this fare for the returning LeCharles Bentley?
LA: I agree with you, the offensive line of the Browns in the 2007 season was very good and did bring back memories of the 1980's teams. To win in this league, a team must have talent up-front. We have stressed this many times over, for many years. It wasn't a coincidence that the Cleveland offense was much improved when quality talent was added to the line, and were given an offensive coordinator who is more in-tune to the game of today. Players need to be put in a position to succeed and utilized in a way that plays to their individual strengths. When this is done, it translates into a better and cohesive offense. This wasn't always the case with this organization, due both to the talent level and coaching.
Steinbach came to Cleveland in free agency. He was a mainstay in Cincinnati, and his value was evident in his first season in Cleveland. Steinbach is the type of player who makes a great teammate. He works well with his mates and is a technician at his position. Teaming him with rookie left tackle Joe Thomas helped the rookie's development considerably. The left side of the Cleveland offensive line was immediately very good and could arguably been as solid as any unit in the league. Both Steinbach and Thomas are very athletic linemen, they move well, understand responsibility, leverage exceptionally well, and are technical in their approach.
Hank Fraley is an under-appreciated player outside of the Browns locker room. He is not the most physically gifted, but what Fraley provides is exceptional leadership and quality play due to his uncanny ability to give 100 percent on every down. Every good offensive line has that one player who is the 'glue' which holds things together. On this line, that is Hank Fraley.
As good as LeCharles Bentley was prior to the devastating knee issues, it is simply improbable that he can return and be the player he once was. In his heyday, Bentley was dominant at the center and guard position... he was physically strong and could move well for an interior lineman of his size. He is dependent on agility and leg strength, and we should get a glimpse of Bentley's ability to move side-to-side and thrust in camp, if he is cleared by medical personnel.
With the increased level of talent on the Cleveland roster, I believe it will be tough for Bentley to make the impact required to solidify a role.