Browns Analysis: A Fundamental Shift

Working either inside or outside Berea, Steve King has kept a close eye on how Browns coaches operate. How is Eric Mangini changing an approach that's been part of the Browns since their return in 1999? Is there fundamental change, at last?

OK, so maybe it was overkill in some regards, but overall, you've got to like the way Browns head coach Eric Mangini tried to simulate a real game in the Brown and White scrimmage on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Recently, former Browns star wingback Dub Jones talked about training camp under the legendary Paul Brown. He said practices consisted of a lot of game-like situations.

"Paul wasn't real big on doing drills," Jones said.

Mangini seems to be that way, too, at least to some extent. Though he still runs drills, they're not many. Instead, he puts his players into situations where they have to react as if they're in a game.

The Browns ran drill after drill after drill the last four years under former head coach Romeo Crennel, and the results were dismal. In fact, drills have been used extensively throughout the expansion era, with virtually nothing to show for it.

This has to change, and Mangini is trying to change it. Actually, so much of what he does is different than what's been tried here the last decade.

His practices are tough and physical. There's no nonsense. If you screw up, then you run a lap. If you screw up again, then you run another lap. And if you screw up too much, then you run to the sideline and stay there with the other guys not playing.

Mangini is trying to clean up all the silly, stupid, little penalties that have killed this team, especially last season. Guys jumping offside. Guys going in motion illegally. Guys not lining up right. Guys not being on the field when they should be, and being on the field when they shouldn't. Guys not knowing the play. Or the snap count. Or how much time is left. Or even what the score is.

"Self-inflicted wounds," as ex-Browns head coach Blanton Collier used to call them.

There's no excuse for those kinds of mistakes, that kind of ignorance. These are professionals. They're supposed to know this stuff. High school teams know this stuff.

On many occasions, the team that makes the fewest errors wins the game. Indeed, it's not so much what a team does, but what it doesn't do, that makes a difference.

The Browns under Paul Brown were like a well-oiled machine. They were so efficient, so proficient. They hardly ever beat themselves. And because they had so much talent, it was hard to beat them even on those rare occasions when they did err.

The current Browns pale in comparison to those championship teams, but Mangini seems to have the same mind-set that Brown did. Remember, Mangini learned his football from former Browns head coach Bill Belichick, who is a big fan of Brown.

Many none of this will help. Maybe the Browns are going to continue to make all kinds of undisciplined mistakes that cause them to lose just as many games – 12 – as they did last year, and also in 2006 and '04.

But maybe – just maybe – this will all benefit the Browns. Maybe those nagging, annoying problems will go away. Who knows?

In the meantime, the premise of what Mangini is trying to do, including how he ran Sunday's scrimmage, seems sound. It makes sense. It's worth a try.

After all, nothing else has worked to this point, so what's the harm of giving it – and Mangini – a chance?

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