Browns Notes: Looking for Clues

Steve King reports from Browns practice, where even a half-hour of practice is enough to reach a conclusion about who the Browns will start. Steve digs down to the truth without any help from T.O. (chuckle).

Clues.

Clueless.

A Cleveland pro sports head coach some years ago had a nickname for one of the beat writers covering his team.

"I call him Sherlock Holmes," the coach said snidely, motioning to a reporter who was just out of earshot, "because he's always looking for a clue."

With Browns head coach Eric Mangini refusing to tell the media – and apparently not even the other players on the team, for that matter – who will start at quarterback for his club in Sunday's regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, reporters are left to look for themselves to find clues to see if they can unearth the truth and determine if it's Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson.

And a big, maybe even defining clue was there in plain view for all to see on Wednesday in the first half-hour of practice that the media is allowed to watch. If anyone needed one final bit of evidence that Quinn is the man, then this might have been it.

Quinn -- and not Anderson -- was the one to work with the running backs to get the timing down on handoffs on various running plays. That's an essential part of a quarterback getting ready for a game, especially on a busy work day such as Wednesday when the preparation begins in earnest for the next Sunday's game. A botched handoff and a lost fumble could be a death knell, especially for a team such as the Browns that needs to play a near-flawless game in order to stay with the talented Vikings.

While Quinn was going through this important drill, Anderson was about 60 yards away throwing to receivers against the Browns first-team defensive backs. This was a drill to get the DBs ready, not the receivers or the quarterbacks. All that was needed was a quarterback – any quarterback, even third-stringer Brett Ratliff – to throw the ball in the general direction of the pass catchers. For that matter, it could have even been quarterbacks coach Carl "Tater" Smith to make those throws, except for the fact he was working with Quinn in the other drill, which was another big tip-off that the Dublin, Ohio native will be under center at the start of Sunday's game. If it were Anderson, then Smith would have been working with him.

*

INJURY REPORT: The Browns list right guard Rex Hadnot (knee) as being out for the game. They report that new running back Cedric Peerman (thigh) did not participate in practice, outside linebacker David Bowens (knee), running back Jerome Harrison (knee), Rogers (foot) and cornerback Eric Wright (knee) all had limited participation in practice, and outside linebacker Alex Hall (shoulder) and tight end Steve Heiden (knee) participated fully in practice.

*

WHO'S GOT LOOSE LIPS?: Could it be that Mangini, along with concealing the identity of his starting quarterback to keep the Vikings from gaining what he thinks would be a competitive advantage, is also doing it to see if there are any leaks in his locker room? If the word gets out, then he could try to trace the source. And remember, with all of the Browns who played under Mangini with the New York Jets, the coach has a wide choice of men he could enlist as spies to make sure that mum remains the word.

*

BEING A GOOF -- AGAIN: As the Browns finished warm-up drills and went to some group activities, Anderson took the football he had been carrying during some agility work and fired it onto the roof of team headquarters, trying it land it near a Browns employee who was filming practice, which he did. Who knows what it means, but you would never see Quinn doing such a off-beat type of thing.

*

DOES IT MATTER?: You'll have to excuse Vikings head coach Brad Childress if he's not staying up late at night worrying about who will start at quarterback for the Browns. "We're getting ready for a scheme," he said during a conference call with the Cleveland media. "No matter which one starts, they're not going to get rid of all their plays. We're trying to get ready for what all those players will be doing in those schemes." He added in terms of knowing what the Browns will do on both sides of the ball, "With all new coaches and a lot of new players (a 43-percent turnover in the roster), there's some unknown there, beginning with the quarterbacks, of course. When preparing for anyone, you always worry about yourself first, but we are definitely going to get some un-scouted looks on Sunday." He was no doubt referring to versatile wide receiver Joshua Cribbs. He could line up just about anywhere.

*

CHILDRESS ON THE BROWNS QUARTERBACKS: Childress is a pretty good offensive mind dating back to his days as the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, so it was interesting to hear his opinion of Anderson and Quinn. "They're both good quarterbacks," he said. "They're not Michael Vick-esque, but they're nifty enough and can move in the pocket, which I think is as important as anything for a quarterback."

*

CHILDRESS ON FAVRE: The coach is obviously giddy over the fact that he now has future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, fortifying beyond his wildest dreams the one position where the Vikings were really weak – the one position that many thought could keep the team from getting to the Super Bowl. As you might guess, he was effusive in his praise of Favre. "He's in the building at all hours," he said. "There's a reason he's as good as he is. He's got all the physical skills, but he also works hard at it although he doesn't make a big deal of it." Adding Favre and filling that hole obviously puts more pressure on Childress to bring home a real winner. Management went out and spent big money – not former Browns weighty defensive tackle Gerard Warren, but a large sum of cash -- to acquire a top-flight quarterback. It was done to get the Vikings not just to the playoffs or even to the Super Bowl, but to win the Super Bowl. Anything less than that will be considered a failure, and Childress could end up paying dearly for it – maybe even with his job, just as Mangini did last season when his Jets, 8-3 with five games left and seemingly a sure bet for the postseason, lost four of their last five to crash and burn to a 9-7, playoff-less finish. "I had said before Brett Favre came that we were going to be a good football team, and now we're going to be even better with Brett Favre," Childress said. "He's got a wealth of experience, and he's the ultimate competitor."

*

LESS IS MORE: Other than the QBs, the other big question concerning the Browns is why seemingly perfectly healthy Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers rode the bicycle during training camp and the preseason instead of practicing with his teammates. There have been all kinds of theories as to what's really going on. Here's another one after visiting the locker room on Wednesday and seeing Rogers without a shirt on. Just as close observers of the team had surmised while watching Rogers practice – when he did practice – during the spring work, for a few days of camp and in the team's intrasquad scrimmage, he has lost a considerable amount of weight, and most of it seems to be in his stomach. He doesn't have much of a gut at all. He looks much, much smaller than the man who was listed at 350 pounds last season. That no doubt was a little low – maybe even more than a little low, as he may have been as much as 365 or 370 by season's end. But if it were accurate, then Smith can't be more than about 325 pounds currently. We'll say he is legitimately about 335. So, with all that being said, was Rogers told by Mangini to stay on the sideline not just to keep his legs fresh and protect him from injury to make sure he's ready for the start of the regular season, but also to work on the bike and slim way down so as to be even quicker than he already is, and to do all the things he needs to be able to do in the version of the 3-4 scheme being installed by Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan? Part of it worked, as Rogers is definitely lighter. But more importantly, will it allow him to shine even brighter on the field than he did last season, when he had a Jerry Sherk-like performance? We'll begin to find out on Sunday.

*

BROWN-OUT: Because of the heat factor, the Browns traditionally wear their white jerseys for their first four home games, and that, coupled with Mangini's affinity for those ugl … -- er, those brown pants -- could make for a unique uniform combination on Sunday. The Browns have never worn anything but white or orange pants for a regular-season game, home or away.

*

AND FINALLY…: Cribbs has to be licking his chops. Mangini said the Vikings have done a lot to improve their special teams, but you have to wonder just how much better they really are. They were awful last year, including giving up four TDs on punt returns. A big day by the explosive Cribbs on special teams could be the great equalizer.


The OBR Top Stories