Outside the Perimeter: Growing Their Own

Post-game coverage got you depressed? Let's take a look at the longer term: Mark Leonard returns with an even-handed look at the Browns talent development philosophy. Will the new front office be successful where their predecessors failed?

It sometimes happens that a losing organization, such as the New Browns have been, will opt to reconstruct around available veteran discards so as to affect a quick-fix, reasoning youngsters take too long to develop and the holdovers must be deficient.

That has not been the course charted by the new regime of GM George Kokinis and Head Coach Eric Mangini, however.

This duo has resisted the temptation to infuse outsiders, except for those known commodities familiar to one or the other administrator. What they've seemingly elected to do is to grow their own prospects, a refreshing change from what is so often attempted.

What is occurring is open-minded competition, not only to bring out the best in each competitor, but also to experiment with personnel in less-customary locations, so as to assure the best eleven are appearing on the field at any given moment.

It is quite unlikely a player could argue he's being denied a full opportunity to exhibit his potentials. And it figures to be the coaching staff will both know its personnel thoroughly and make informed choices as how best to employ it.

Moreover, the approach allows for the possibility of an extended run of eventual team success inasmuch as it invites for athletes with longer shelf-lives to prevail. The growing pains could be in evidence, certainly, but this can possibly be mitigated by the staff's determination to "coach-up" how the game is to be played at each respective position.

Reports out of Berea, in fact, allude to how details and techniques are relentlessly emphasized, almost an acknowledge ment that it has been the preparation, not the players, responsible for the Browns struggles.

At any rate, there is no suggestion this regime is into the quick-fix approach. Instead, note how homegrown youngsters are receiving their invitations. At virtually every positional unit on the squad, Cleveland-drafted prospects are challenging for prominence, unencumbered by newly-arrived outsiders receiving preferential treatment.

Certainly it is true both Kokinis and Mangini have imported carefully-selected veteran personnel, if only to assure positive influences and reasonable mentoring will populate the various positional meeting rooms, helping the kids process the coaching tips and techniques, indoctrinating them into The Mangini Way. But the long-term future is clearly open for the young challengers to demonstrate their readiness to graduate to frontline responsibilities.

This philosophy is most clearly exemplified at the LB position, where elders David Bowens and Eric Barton followed Mangini west from New York to spearhead his approach to LB play. These seasoned stopgaps are keeping warm LOLB and LILB, respectively, while Alex Hall and David Veikune acclimate to the varied demands of the pro game. Simultaneously, others are competing to exceed them as Bowens' and Barton's eventual successors, Titus Brown being the best example among that group.

Similarly, the new administrators signed old-pro CBs Corey Ivy and Hank Poteat but then drafted sixth-rounders Don Carey and Coye Francies to play behind them. Subsequently, vet Rod Hood was added to the mix and Carey was both injured and waived (claimed by Jacksonville); but the principle remains. Planned succession is happening, with carefully-selected seasoned influences holding the forts until the young talent can assimilate.

The same is playing out at WR, where David Patten and Mike Furrey protect against the unreadiness of second-rounders Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, with second-year men Paul Hubbard and Lance Leggett (among others) also contending.

At TE, Martin Rucker is being groomed while Steve Heiden, Robert Royal, John Madsen and Aaron Walker exist as bell cows. At QB and RB, former number-one pick Brady Quinn and yet another sixth-rounder, Clemson's James Davis, are respectively establishing themselves.

Only along the two lines does this pattern not appear, though the club does have highly-drafted LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. Offensively, the 2009 Browns have recruited seasoned free agents John St. Clair and George Foster for RT and Floyd Womack and Fred Weary at RG. Hence, it seems predictable the September waiver-wire will be carefully monitored so as to add a guard alongside undrafted free agent tackle Branndon Braxton for the practice squad.

Defensively, youngster Ahtyba Rubin has already supplanted Shaun Smith as NT Shaun Rogers' backup. Other than that development, the defensive line has been a unit dependent upon veterans for fortification: trade acquisitions Rogers, Corey Williams and Kenyon Coleman; free agents Smith, CJ Mosley and Robaire Smith; waiver pickups Santonio Thomas and Louis Leonard. In fact, the only draftees on the three-deep depth chart are Rubin and DE Melila Purcell.

What has not yet been conspicuous is the rush to import seasoned pros once training camp has commenced, with the sole exception being Weary's understandable signing following Rex Hadnot's knee injury, underscoring the team's need for more viable options at guard.

What then will be interesting for Browns' fans to observe as the exhibitions unfold is how well the new administration's process survives. Will the vision of having veteran mentors adequately prepare the youngsters or will league castoffs be pursued in order to enable the new regime to field a representative NFL outfit during their first season?

It's among the strongest reasons to watch carefully these reportedly-meaningless summer exhibitions. The future may already be here, simply stacked behind and shielded by chosen veteran influences. This edition of Browns' leadership seems intent upon growing and developing its own.

Here's hoping the autumn harvest is fruitful.


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