Q: When we were discussing the draft earlier in April, it sure seemed that the Browns highest priorities were the sledgehammer ILB and pass-rushing three-down OLB. I know that when Eric Barton was acquired, it appeared the ILB position got second billing to the OLB. However reading Mark Leonard, it appears Eric Barton is more of a duplicate of D'Qwell Jackson than the sledgehammer type the Browns have been missing. What happened?
LA: I wouldn't call Barton a duplicate of Jackson, but he is not a sledgehammer type ILB either. What you get in Barton is experience, recognition and the ability to play within the scheme. The difference here is that Barton in the Mangini scheme is a better player than Davis in the old Browns scheme. Barton is not a world-beater, and he is not the sledgehammer ILB all want to see.
As for addressing the ILB spot, Barton is adequate and will hold the fort until the team is able to develop or land a significant ILB candidate -- if they haven't already. David Veikune and Maivia are going to see reps in various schemes of this defense, some inside and some outside.
The organization went with the theory of signing players familiar with the system that can come in and play a role within the scope of the team defense. Now they want to secure additional players who they can develop into the scheme, as the veterans provide instant stability and an opportunity for the next generation of Browns to mature.
While many will jump at the opportunity to question the the team's direction, I simply look at alternatives which are available and reference if player "A" is a true fit or whether player "B" may have less impact but will provide instant results. This organization sought players they were positive would come in and play a role right away, be consistent, and basically preach the word of the HC.
Right or wrong, that is the approach and we'll see what transpires. For me, its more important to see if the players selected to become the next wave of LB's have been evaluated properly.
Q: Rookie second round draft selection David Veikune was thought to be an OLB when coming to Cleveland by many covering and watching the team. Now there's information seeping out suggesting rookie will see time as an ILB… how is this going to turn out?
LA: This head coach likes versatility in players and on the defensive side of the ball. Having players who can do multiple things provides many options to a coaching staff schematically. So far, Veikune has been like a sponge. He continues to absorb the information and display the ability on the practice fields to play at ILB and OLB.
In this defensive scheme, the ability to exchange LB's is an interesting option and does provide the defense some leeway in personnel moves. In many cases, this provides the opportunity to get the best eleven players on the field in various roles which does not immediately indicate a specific personnel package to the opposition. Veikune lined-up at ILB and OLB this past weekend and this is expected to continue.
Q: We keep hearing that wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has issues catching the football and is not polished or explosive option. Watching the Georgia Bulldogs for many years, I see a player that has progressed each and every year. What gives with the media and their reports?
LA: I can't speak for the media, but can tell you what I see and what I know in talking to those in place to evaluate the player in question.
In a workouts prior to the draft, Massaquoi excelled, and he was tremendous in a workout for the Browns. Since arriving in Cleveland, the WR has displayed an explosiveness in and out of routes, while being smoother in person than he might come off on film. Interestingly, Massaquoi has received plenty of hands-on work already on the practice fields, which has been immediately beneficial. As for the issue of drops, Massaquoi did not struggle with this issue in his senior year and did not display it during rookie camps.
Q: From most accounts, the Browns draft was graded as average. Having the opportunity to select a top five player one would think the Browns would have done better than average. As a life long Browns fan, average appears to be customary…. why draft a center instead of one of the stud linebackers available or a wide receiver with the first selection, rather than a player who doesn't make the same sort of impact?
LA: My impression of the draft is that the Browns did a good job - solid for the needs of this team. It can be argued the organization could have received more in return for their first round draft day dealings. In the end, though, the organization has added talent which can step into the lineup immediately, as well as depth and young talent for further development purposes.
According to our sources, challenges at the center position jumped off the tape from a season ago when the coaching staff reviewed the team. The Browns of 2008 were often beaten through the interior of the offensive line. The issues was not only at center, as the play of the guards struggled at times. This was especially true at right guard, which the organization hopes to have addressed via free agency with Floyd Womack and possible return of a healthy Ryan Tucker.
Sitting with the 17th, 19th and then 21st first selection in this draft, I did not sense there was a linebacker of significance on the board that would slide into this defensive scheme. There wasn't an over-the-top LB that the team simply could not resist. The selection of Alex Mack should help solve the issues of instability at center and make those players surrounding him better, simply due to the standpoint of talent and experience.
Bypassing wide receivers in the first round was a tough call for the organization, there were numerous receivers available who had the physical ability to help provide explosiveness and depth. After players such as Crabtree and Maclin were off the board, players such as Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt were still enticing. The Browns did look to trade back into the first round to select a player, with Nicks being the speculated target.
On paper, my initial impression is the organization did well. A draft can never be realistically evaluated for a couple seasons or so and we'll certainly look back on this draft with a keen eye.