The differences between the current Browns head coach and his predecessor continue to surface.
Really, they are so different in so many ways, it's hard to believe Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel are such good friends.
On Saturday, the same day that the no-nonsense Mangini cut defensive lineman Shaun Smith for failing to toe the line, something that the easy-going Crennel never came close to doing with the outspoken sixth-year pro or any other player during his four-year tenure, Mangini had the Browns practice for an hour and 40 minutes in weather that turned from a drizzle into a steady rain at the end.
Yes, Mangini cut the scheduled two-hour training camp session 20 minutes short because it started coming down sob hard, but Crennel never would have worked in any rain for any length of time. Whenever the weather was even threatening, such as a dark cloud hovering over Sandusky or Findlay, Crennel moved the practice indoors, fearing players would lose their footing on the slippery grass and get hurt. In 2007, the Browns had a club-record six camp practices rained out.
Mangini said in the spring that he likes to practice in inclement weather because the Browns need to learn to cope with less-than-ideal conditions since they will be playing games in them.
The players didn't seem to mind it at all Saturday.
"A little rain has never hurt anyone, has it?" running back Jerome Harrison said.
Maybe Smith, Harrison and some of the other Browns should have said something to Crennel the last four years.
TAKE THAT: Mangini is wasting no time distancing himself from Smith. No doubt at his direction, the club's public relations department issued a terse-sounding one-sentence statement that said volumes by saying little. It stated simply, "The Cleveland Browns released defensive lineman Shaun Smith today, the team announced." That's it, no other bio information about a sixth-year pro who had played with the club the previous two seasons. In addition, the release came out at 4:29 p.m., or about three hours and 45 minutes after Mangini had announced the move in his daily press conference.
TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD: Mangini said he evaluated Smith only on what he observed since he got hired about seven months ago. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word. Sure, Mangini was watching Smith like a hawk as soon as he arrived because of the fact the lineman punched quarterback Brady Quinn in a weight-room incident last December, late in Crennel's tenure. But Smith seemed to legitimately be in the mix for a roster spot until he tried to show up defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who is tight with Mangini after having served as an assistant under him the last three seasons with the New York Jets, and played for Mangini when he was an assistant with the Jets and New England Patriots. That was all Mangini needed.
ANOTHER DIFFERENCE: Mangini cut Smith for sloughing his way through a drill and failing to jog off the field with the rest of his teammates, but Crennel didn't even discipline Smith for taking a swing at a quarterback who was a first-round draft choice in 2007. That says it all.
NO TIME TO STOP: The fast-paced nature of the NFL, especially during training camp, offers virtually no time to look into the rear-view mirror. Such was the case for his former teammates when Smith was abruptly released. "It's a tough thing, but this is a business and we all know what we're getting into when we sign up to do this," Harrison said. Smith talked to Robaire Smith, who tried to get his teammate straightened around during the aforementioned drill. But even he didn't have much to say. "It's hard to lose a friend and a teammate like Shaun, but this is a business and those decisions are made by the coaches," he said. Especially one coach, Mangini, who, with what he did regarding Smith, sent a clear message to anyone who was also thinking about giving less than his best either physically or verbally.
NOT THE ONLY ONES: Mangini and his mentor, Bill Belichick, aren't the only Browns head coaches who refused to let players show them up. Chris Palmer, the first coach of the expansion-era Browns, once cut a tryout player in the middle of a minicamp practice after he failed to heed the coach's repeated warnings for no one to touch the quarterbacks. Palmer, a man of high morals, also cut an offensive lineman after he kneed an 18-year-old cafeteria worker in the head at Browns Headquarters. Paul Brown cut a player after a drunk-driving incident that embarrassed the Pro Football Hall of Famer by making a mockery of his strict public conduct policy. In addition, Sam Rutigliano fired an assistant coach for interviewing for another job without first telling him and asking for his permission since he was already under contract to the Browns. "Sam, I got an offer from another team. I wonder if I should take it?" the coach said. Rutigliano replied, "You'd better, because you've just been fired here."
THE WRIGHT STUFF: It's not easy being a rookie cornerback in the NFL. Teams go right at you. It's baptism under fire. But the Browns' Eric Wright is two seasons removed from that and has improved greatly. The third-year pro was tied for third on the team last year with three interceptions and is looking forward to 2009 both from a personal and club standpoint. And whether he or Brandon McDonald is the Browns' top cornerback is immaterial to him. "Obviously, I'm very optimistic about the team in general," he said. "As far as being the No. 1 corner, I'm just working hard every day. You can always get better, and that's what I'm trying to do."
MORE WRIGHT STUFF: Though Wright finished his college career at UNLV, he obviously still has a warm feeling for USC, where he started his career. While talking to reporters, he wore a pair of sweat pants that had a crimson "SC" embroidered at the bottom of both legs.
BRING IT ON: Fullback Lawrence Vickers is getting a lot of playing time with Charles Ali remaining out with an undisclosed injury. The more reps, the better for Vickers. "Fullback is a dirty job," he said. "It's not for everybody. It's for a guy like me who doesn't back down from challenges. If someone says, ‘It can't be done,' I jump at the chance to prove them wrong, that it can be done." Vickers said he lost "a lot of weight" in the offseason. He won't say what he now weighs, but he's listed at 235 pounds and doesn't look that big. The 255-pound Ali seems to dwarf Vickers. You have to wonder if Vickers is big enough to be a lead blocker for Jamal Lewis, Harrison and James Davis in the running game.
TWO-SPORT STAR: One of four native Ohioans on the Browns, rookie free agent offensive tackle Branndon Braxton was looking toward a future in basketball much more than football while growing up. "I was more of a basketball dude," said Braxton, a cousin of Samaki Walker, who played 10 years in the NBA. But while he played basketball at Youngstown Ursuline High School, from which he graduated in 2004, it wasn't long into his time there that it became apparent that he would end up in football instead. "I just got so big," said the 6-foot-6, 312-pounder, who was a first-team All-Ohio pick in football for the Fighting Irish before being recruited by Youngstown native Bob Stoops to Oklahoma, where he got to play in the BCS national championship game last January. He said he wasn't a Browns fan – or a football fan overall – "until I went to some Browns games, and then I became a Browns fan." Now he's an even bigger fan. "I'm excited about this opportunity," the extremely polite and friendly Braxton said. "I really appreciate this. Every day, I appreciate playing in the NFL." It will be quite hard for Braxton to make the final roster. But he has good size and is athletic, so with the Browns looking for a young tackle to bring along, he could be re-signed to the practice squad.
UP NEXT: The Browns will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 1 p.m. Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Just like training camp practices, it is free and open to the public. As for camp, the Browns will be off on Monday and will resume practice on Tuesday with two sessions from 8:45 to 10:45 a.m. and then 5:45 to 7:45 p.m.
QUOTABLE: "I just feel real confident within this scheme." – Wright on the new defense being installed this season.