Opinions on the upcoming draft and the new Mangini / Kokinis regime were in plentiful supply from Browns fans attending the PhotoCity Browns Backers Banquet Saturday night in Rochester, NY. The event featured Browns running back Jerome Harrison and legendary retired corner Hanford Dixon as guests.
While Harrison was understandably a bit reluctant to touch on some controversial topics such as whether Mangini has managed to alienate players in the locker room or speak to his own mystifying lack of playing time last season, he did draw huge cheers when he recalled his 72 yard TD run against the Buffalo Bills. You see, in these parts, anything bad that happens to the Bills, especially coming from a Cleveland Brown, is a good thing. The sad part about the story, however, as PhotoCity Club President Jim Lee pointed out, "IT WAS THE LAST TOUCHDOWN THE BROWNS OFFENSE SCORED IN 2008!"
Hanford Dixon and Jerome Harrison
Harrison, who revealed he is in the last year of his contract, said he is in great shape and is fully recovered from the rib injury he suffered against the Bills. When asked he did say he got a chance to meet with Mangini for a "little bit" and that the meeting went well. He is optimistic he will have an increased role this year. The former record-setting Washington State Cougar said he never did ask former Browns coach Romeo Crennel why he wasn't playing, rather he took the quiet approach and just tried to "work harder."
Harrison said most teams today are going with a two back system and the smaller shiftier backs are in vogue. He believes he can carry the load if called upon, but that he and Jamal Lewis can be a great tandem.
Whereas Harrison is feeling good about how things are going in Berea these days, some fans attending the banquet have some real concerns with their favorite team's new brain trust.
"We are tearing down, we are getting old, and old teams don't generally win," said Steve Yates, a longtime PhotoCity Browns backer. "I am not at all pleased with what we have done in free agency." As for the rumors of a possible trade involving wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Yates said Mangini's forte is supposed to be that he is a disciplinarian. "If that's the case, why doesn't he bring some discipline to Edwards. He is an excellent receiver. Lets see what our coach can do with our excellent receiver."
Bill Reifsteck, who has been a Browns fan since 1957 is optimistic about the new leadership of the Browns but he is very concerned with all the talk of trading Brady Quinn. Reifsteck believes Quinn should be pronounced the starter now "just as Anderson was last season. We have to see what Brady can do."
Reifsteck wasn't alone in his optimism.
Lee said he has confidence in Mangini and Kokinis. "I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt. They came into a bad situation. They are not spending a lot of money but they are getting some good second tier players." He added that now they must add top level talent through the draft and "I think that will happen."
As for the draft, Stephen Dwyer, who has a son named Clay Logan Dwyer (you guessed it--named after Clay Matthews and Dave Logan ), said he would like to see the Browns grab Michael Crabtree with the fifth pick and Clay Matthews Jr. with their second choice.
Not all the talk was about the Browns current state of affairs, Dixon, who was a last minute substitute for Bob Golic, who could not make the banquet due to a family illness, talked about the "glory days" of the Browns when he played.
He said it still pains him that the team just could not get past Denver and get to the Super Bowl. His rationale was that it was just not meant to be. Dixon's most special memories were the battles the Browns had with the Steelers during his tenure. "What made those games so special was the intensity in which they were played."
"Normally after a game you recover mentally and physically after two days, but it would take five days to recover from the Pittsburgh games," Dixon said.
Dixon did seem to have a strong opinion on who he would like to see the Browns take with the fifth pick. "I like that guy (Ray) Maualuga. We need that guy on defense who brings an attitude."
It remains to be seen if the 2009 version of the Browns can demonstrate that tough, nasty attitude that is needed to compete on the football field, but one thing is certain, the Cleveland Browns fans of Rochester continue to remain loyal to the brown and orange in spite of all the turmoil, regime changes and everything else that has occurred through the decades.