Going into the weekend's festivities, there were four positions that seemed to merit "must fix" characterization for the 2009 Cleveland Browns: C, SS, OLB and ILB, not necessarily in that order. While other units carried question marks, none were thought to be as essentially lacking as these four.
Though nothing related to the Browns—or any other team, for that matter—is at all about this commentator or his preferences, the voids at these respective positions seemed so blatantly obvious as to be indisputable. Anyone paying any level of attention to how the club became 4-12 last season had to have seen the deficiencies. The absence of pass-rush off the edges. The tendency for the interior of the OL to collapse, particularly on running plays. The inability, once again, to stuff the run defensively. Etc.
Yet not all of these spots were addressed by the new administration headed by GM George Kokinis and Head Coach Eric Mangini. The duo delivered on many of the principles they espoused upon and since their appointments. Smart, tough, hard-working types were emphasized both in free agency and during the draft. Genuine football players able to place team above self. Role players with minimal ego, at least of the sort that do not get in the way of collective agendas.
Also achieved were the deal-downs providing additional choices while reducing the outlay of guaranteed monies to unproven prospects.This has all been well-documented elsewhere, and deservedly so. The braintrust remained committed to and consistent in their advocated philosophies, so much so that the earliest draftees were remarkably all decorated collegiate academicians, a most extraordinary occurrence. Also accomplished was the masking of true intentions, keeping opponents and the media guessing, while they jockeyed themselves into favorable negotiating position.
Nonetheless, a center, sure enough, became their number-one draftee, with strong safety a void satisfied in the associated maneuver, one which also brought a seasoned 3-4 DE and another backup QB—each of the vets familiar to the coach and his systems. Less directly, OLB was similarly addressed as a by-product of that same transaction, since it had delivered the third second-round choice used to nab the draftee satisfying it.
So, it can also be said the men were economical with their ammunition, successful in "getting the most bang for the buck," which they'd promised to attempt doing. Whereas they'd entered their first off-season in charge with but four draft picks, they'd ultimately finished with eight—and the three veteran acquisitions.
All in all, it would, therefore, be difficult to fault the regime for its accumulative efforts. But not completely impossible, of course.
One might—as this writer is about to—protest the allocation of two second-round picks on nearly-identical WRs, particularly inasmuch as no position, save QB, has a larger bust-rate or learning curve when attempting to manage the transition from the college to pro game. More saliently, one might wonder why a second unproven wideout was thought necessary over someone possibly able to rectify the chronic deficiency at ILB.
Specifically, both USC's Rey Maualuga and UVa's Clint Sintim were taken between Cleveland's choices at 36—Chagrin Falls/OSU WR Brian Robiskie—and 50—Georgia pass-catcher Mohamed Massaquoi. That Mangini would prefer risking the loss of either/both of these potential 3-4 ILB fits rather than one of the receivers is both mystifying and worrisome.
In fact, at the time of Robiskie's selection, these seemingly-superior candidates also remained available: DE/OLBs Everette Brown (Florida State), Cody Brown (UConn), Paul Kruger (Utah), Connor Barwin (Cincinnati); CBs Darius Butler (UConn), Jarius Byrd (Oregon), Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest), DJ Moore (Vanderbilt), Sean Smith (Utah); DLs Fili Moala (USC), Ron Brace (Boston College); RB LeSean McCoy(Pitt). So apparently appealing were at least two of these that, between the two Cleveland selections, 2010 number-one picks were swapped by Denver and Carolina, respectively, for the privilege of grabbing Alphonso Smith and Everette Brown. Additionally, NE negotiated with Oakland to take Brace off the board, as well.
Simply put, it is hard to fathom Robiskie was that highly-coveted by the Browns. Adding one (much less two) rookie WRs had not seemed to be what was foremost needed to avert a repeat of ‘08.
Moala, Kruger, McCoy, Moore and both Cody Brown and Sean Smith were bypassed yet again when not only Massaquoi was taken, but also after Hawaii's David Veikune came aboard at 52. McCoy, Moala (again via trade) and Kruger became three of the next five picks, in fact. Sean Smith and Cody Brown went soon thereafter.
One has to be impressed with the conviction of the Kokinis-Mangini collaboration, as that represents some vintage Round Two talent forsaken in pursuit of less-celebrated options. Time will tell whether the new Cleveland leadership chose correctly, of course; in the meantime, these are names to file for further consideration and subsequent second-guessing.
(Regular and careful readers might remember it was accurately predicted last week in this space that both Brace and Moala would become subjects of draft-day deals to assure their services.)
That it is not mistaken to fear the uncertainty at ILB is underscored by speculation, on the part of Mangini himself, that Veikune, a 4-3 DE for the Rainbow Warriors, might be tried inside, where the club was forced to last year employ the decidedly-limited Andra Davis. (Andra has since migrated to Denver in free agency.)
It must also be reminded Eric's former club, the New York Jets, felt itself handicapped defensively at ILB until the 2007 drafting of Michigan's David Harris—this despite the then-presence of Eric Barton, the presumptive ‘09 starter inside for Cleveland aside tackle-leader D'Qwell Jackson. Mangini drafted Harris 47th overall to become the stack-and-stuff complement to the chaser-role Barton fulfilled. Were Barton able to fill the strongside role, as he'll presumably be asked to do now for the Browns, Harris' arrival would not have been so critical as Jonathan Vilma's replacement. This is a long way of saying there are serious reasons to doubt Barton can handle his assignment next to Jackson—as Mangini should know better than anyone.
All the more perplexing as to why Mangini signed-off on the decisions to ignore ILB with at least one of the second-round picks, ideally 36, where this analyst had forecast Sintim. Clint schooled under another of the Parcells-Belichick disciples, Al Groh, whose program is one of the few to run an NFL-like 3-4. Sintim is another high-character athlete with work ethic, passion and intelligence.
As for the WR position, it is certainly true uncertainties exist there. But Robiskie and Massaquoi—both of whom are celebrated for their polish, smarts and four-year major-program experiences—are still coming in as raw rookies, despite Brian's having a longtime NFL coach for a father. Neither is particularly fast, quick, physical, elusive or versatile. It is doubtful either will ever do much on ‘teams, a virtual necessity for first-year non-starters. Therefore, immediate utility is not assured. Separation has been and could again be issues for both. Incidentally, only two NFL rookie receivers topped the 700-yard mark last season.
While it is assumed they were desired for their reputed and relative NFL readiness, it can quite reasonably be argued more certain to contribute would be one or more from this list of on-the-street, seasoned and affordable veterans: Drew Bennett, Mike Furrey, Dane Looker and Shaun McDonald. Furrey, in fact, once had a 100-catch campaign and spent another year as a safety; so he could help in a number of valuable ways, not the least of which would be special teams.
Regardless, the brass has made its decisions. Just as they seem ready to move forward with and from them, so too must become the fans and critics.
Fan forums, since the draft's completion, again reflect NE Ohio's annual proclivity for self-delusion. Definitions like "solid contender" and the like are suddenly being applied to an outfit that has yet to don a single uniform pad. Final roster cuts are already materializing, at least in forecasted form. Followers are eager to learn which of the newcomers will wear which available uniform number, so they can rush out and dispense with their hard-earned dollars on updated gear. ILB probably seems to them a minor trifling. If a player's name is merely known, he must be good enough.
Only in Cleveland? Probably not; but who knows? It may be like this in 31 other markets, as well, though only about 33% of them are actually justified. At any rate, it is easy to see how unreasonable and irrational pre-season expectations can lead to inevitable and disheartening disappointments.
Rationalization can, however, be fairly effective and reassuring at times. For example, what happened for the Browns in Round Six—getting Clemson RB James Davis and sizeable CBs Don Carey and Coye Francies—helps mitigate what might've been mistaken about Round Two.
So it goes.
Albert Breer of the The Sporting News receives credit for this research arguing that the Browns' brass was perhaps overly-accommodating during its deal-down frenzy in Round One of Saturday's activities. That the Browns accepted less than the called-for additional late-One to balance the move from 5 to 17 is easily understood when the compensatory cost of so high a pick as five is factored with Mangini's regard for the vets acquired. But what must be challenged is Cleveland's willingness to take no more than a pair of sixes in the subsequent set of trades.
So as to dismiss the anticipated contention the trade chart was universally dismissed this April, recognize Baltimore was required to surrender a 5 to NE to jump from 26 to 23, both of which are undeniably less valuable selections than the 17 and 19 Cleveland exchanged with Tampa or the 19 and 21 swapped with Philadelphia. (The Eagles, in fact, should certainly have been expected to return to the Browns the 5 former GM Phil Savage sent them last spring.)
It is Breer's assessment Cleveland should've successfully demanded at least a fourth for each of the late-teens first-round deal downs.
Oakland also got a 4 and a 6 from the Pats for agreeing to part with choice 40 in favor of 47, though NE also got the Raiders' 5. Similarly, Sea got a 4 to move from 49 to 68 and Dallas paid with a 4 to leave 75 for 51. Miami got a 5 to drop from 56 to 61.
And all of this is without considering the Browns twice permitted teams access to what is hoped to become franchise QBs. It is commonly acknowledged that is a position for which a premium must be extracted. Moreover, recent releases suggest the Giants were preparing a package for Detroit to move from 29 to 20 so as to nab the Missouri WR Cleveland permitted the Eagles to have at 19. Should that be true, it is likely Kokinis did not solicit his highest-possible bid.
But that is all in the past now. Life lessons for the new guys.
Speaking of Savage and available vet free agents, CB Roderick Hood, OLB Travis LaBoy and DL Kindal Moorehead all hit the bricks this week. Each had been courted by Phil for the Browns in recent off-seasons.
Others to be let loose since Draft Day include former Browns Simon Fraser and Nathan Bennett, a DE and OG formerly with Atlanta. Kirk Barton is again with a new organization, having put behind himself Chicago, SF, Miami and Cincinnati. He's signed with Detroit. Also let go by the Bengals are S Mike Doss and RBs Chris Perry and Gary Russell.
Doss and Barton are both former OSU Buckeyes from Canton, which melds nicely into mention of Tim Warsinskey's piece in April 27th's Plain Dealer. Tim charted the birth-states of all 265 draftees and learned Ohio, seventh in population among the 50 states, placed fourth with its 16 native sons. Texas led easily with 39, followed by Cali's 28 and Florida's 17. Nine of Ohio's were from the Cinn-Dayton areas, while New Jersey had 7 in Round One, a total New York needed all weekend to match.
For those who joined this writer in puzzling over the fourth-round selection of USC's undersized LB Kaluka Maiava, consider this quote from Mangini, when discussing how scheme and whole-unit play influence pass-rush production: "…if we're not fitting in the underneath part of coverage…(sacks are hard to come by)."
The 5-11 229-pounder is being discussed as an inside backer though he comes with the reputation of often being overwhelmed by size. He is nearer the action in the middle of the field, harder to avoid, easier to disguise, more difficult to isolate. Hidden behind Shaun Rogers, his quickness can be optimized.
Another set of worthwhile quotes emanated from ESPN's post-draft analysis. Mark Schlereth and Eric Allen, a pair of former league stars, were identifying qualities that make for a successful organization in today's NFL: "Disciplined, smart, with a definitive system."
(They were simultaneously thinking of Philadelphia and New England. Both winners were heavily-fortified with ‘09 draft picks and turned a few into additional 2010 choices. Each now sits with nine. NE with two 2's, while the Eagles have an extra 3 and 4.)
Suzy Kolber generated a precious nugget as well. Commenting upon what she'd heard of last year's Browns, then coached by Romeo Crennel: "(They) lacked passion and leadership on defense—and that's tough to fix in any one draft."
Lastly, the Canton Repository's Steve Doerschuk is probably the responsible party insofar as TSN's Browns' depth chart is concerned. As regional correspondent for that magazine, Doerschuk identifies a few surprises. He foresees a front wall of Kenyon Coleman-Rogers-Corey Williams from left to right, which reverses last year's responsibilities outside, with another former Jet, C.J. Mosely behind Coleman. Brady Quinn is listed ahead of Derek Anderson at QB; Robert Royal over Steve Heiden at TE; Hadnot and Tucker as starters on the right side; Leon Williams listed among the LOLBs. Barton and Veikune project as LILB with Titus Brown, who'd been an edge-rusher at Mississippi State. (Maybe Brown is a sleeper whose development precluded drafting an ILB.)
Examining other rosters reveal a few surprises, as well. For example, NE starts both Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs at CB, with Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable competing at LOLB. (Both are NE Ohio natives who attended Michigan.)
Philadephia presently has a pair of Quentins starting at safety, Mickell and Demps. Sean Jones backs the latter at free.