Berea Report: All Hail the Wizard of Oz

Steve King reports from Berea: Ozzie's post-playing success may be the greater, a fight breaks out in Berea, questions about who is running the ball, and more...

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Think about it.
Ozzie Newsome was a Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end with the Browns from 1978-90. He leads the club in career receptions with a whopping 662, exactly twice as many as the No. 2 man, wide receiver Gary Collins, who has 331.

Every tight end who has played for the Browns – and in the NFL -- since, has been measured against Newsome. He's the standard bearer.

But in 14 years as general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, who meet the Browns on Sunday in Baltimore, Newsome has been a hall of famer of sorts, too. He has taken a club that left Cleveland following the 1995 season with no money in its pocket and, by pinching pennies here and clipping coupons there in the early days, along with making a slew of astute moves and wise decisions, has built the Ravens into one of the best franchises in the NFL. Talk to anyone around the league and they'll sing the praises of "The Wizard of Oz."

So that begs the question: Is Newsome now a better football GM than he was a football player?

There can be strong arguments on both sides of that debate.

But while you're pondering that question, ponder this one, which is much more important from a Browns perspective: What would have happened had the original Browns remained in Cleveland instead of moving to Baltimore, and Newsome, who was working as director of pro personnel then, been promoted to GM?

That probably would have happened – the promotion of Newsome, we mean. Mike Lombardi was GM of the Browns at the time, but he and Belichick were starting to have a falling out and he likely would have been fired at season's end. Even before the news of the team's move broke midway through that 1995 season, when a Browns team picked to go to the Super Bowl was having all kinds of struggles, Belichick was finding out that Lombardi was going behind his back to owner Art Modell and saying that he was supplying Belichick with good players but the coach was not coaching them properly.

Just as you don't cross Browns head coach Eric Mangini, you don't cross Belichick. Not then, not now.

So instead of taking his expertise to Baltimore, Newsome could have kept it right here in Cleveland. Instead of the Newsome-directed Ravens being the ones to take left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle/inside linebacker Ray Lewis in that first NFL Draft in Baltimore in 1996, it could have been the Newsome-directed Browns.

And, as has often been mentioned here, it could have been the Browns winning that elusive Super Bowl championship following the 2000 season instead of the Ravens.    


BOYS WILL BE BOYS: At the beginning of the media interview period on Friday, rookie cornerback Coye Francies, possibly after being hazed by some of the veterans, dumped a cooler full of ice onto veteran corner Brandon McDonald. Veteran safety Abram Elam then yelled something to Francies, who started after him. Some pushing and shoving, and even a few quick punches by Francies at Elam, ensued. It was then that nose tackle Shaun Rogers, taking a strong team leadership role, grabbed the rookie by the nap of the neck and led him into the training room out of sight. Both Francies and McDonald said later that it was "just boys having some fun." But afterward, as Francies left the locker room, he said he was headed "up to see Coach (Eric) Mangini," probably to explain his side of what happened. Said practice squad defensive lineman Brian Schaefering with a laugh, "It's all about being a rookie." To his credit, McDonald picked up a broom and a dust pan and swept up all the ice in front of his locker so an equipment worker or ball boy didn't have to do it. So, how much of the frustration of the team's 0-2 start is responsible for what occurred?   
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WHAT'S A COACH TO DO?: If running back Jamal Lewis can't play against his old team on Sunday – and it appears that will be the case since he sat out a third straight day of practice on Friday – then the Browns are faced with a tough decision as to who to use as his replacement. Do they go with a Lewis-type in James Davis against that physical Ravens defense? He's a big, strong downhill runner, but he's also a rookie who has played in just one pro game. Or do they go with Jerome Harrison? He's got the experience, being a fourth-year pro, but he's the antithesis of Lewis and Davis in that he's a small, speedy scatback at just 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds. The vote here is for Harrison -- clearly. He has the ability to make big plays, which the Browns will need against the Ravens in order to move the ball and score points. Plus he will not come unglued in front of the emotional Ravens and that always loud, raucous Baltimore crowd. A rookie like Davis probably would melt, and the result could be a costly mistake such as a fumble. Those kinds of game-changing turnovers have happened before when the Browns played in Baltimore. "The Ravens have a good defense," Harrison said. "They're big, but they're also quick. When you go against them, you know it's going to be a backyard brawl. We're going to go in there and see if we can win that brawl."
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OPPOSITES ATTRACT: The Browns are 32nd – dead last – in the NFL in total offense (an average of 234 yards per game), while the Ravens are No. 3 (406). The Browns are 27th in rushing offense (71.5), while the Ravens are fourth (164). The Browns are tied for 30th in points per game (13), while the Ravens are second (34.5). The Browns are last in third-down offensive efficiency percentage (23.1), while the Ravens are fourth (50). And the Browns are 31st in rushing defense (205.5), while the Ravens are first (41). The only place where the Browns have a decided edge is in pass defense, where they rank seventh (174) to the Ravens' 29th (290).
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PRETTY GOOD:  The Ravens and Green Bay Packers are tied for sixth for the NFL's best record since 2000 at 85-61. The Ravens have five playoff appearances and that aforementioned Super Bowl triumph. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are deadlocked for first at 103-43, followed, in order, by the Pittsburgh Steelers (95-50-1), Philadelphia Eagles (93-52-1), Denver Broncos (87-50) and the Ravens and Packers.
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OUCH: You already know about Lewis and safety Ed Reed. But also keep an eye on Ravens – and former Tennessee Titans -- wide receiver Derrick Mason. He, too, has been a Browns killer over the years. In 14 games against Cleveland, Mason has 68 catches for 1,033 yards (15.2 yards-per-reception average) and four touchdowns. In addition, linebacker Terrell Suggs, in 12 games against the Browns, has 11 sacks, seven forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned 42 yards for a score.
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BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: It's obviously been a nightmarish start for the 0-2 Browns, especially considering the fact they lost their final six games last year en route to a 4-12 finish. But as difficult as this has been, Mangini isn't flinching. Actually, he's more determined than ever to stay the course. That's because he went through this type of thing once before, and came out of it with a Super Bowl championship. In 2001, when he was in his second season as defensive backs coach at New England and the team was coming off a 5-11 finish, the Patriots started 0-2 with losses to the then-lowly Cincinnati Bengals (20-17) and to the New York Jets (10-3). A 44-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts followed, but the joy was short-lived because the Pats got blown out 30-10 at Miami the next week. The fans – and the tough-as-nails Boston media – who were howling over the 0-2 start, were much more vociferous now that the club was 1-3. Mangini said that a little later, with the team at 5-5 with just six games to go following a 21-11 win over the Buffalo Bills, Belichick popped in the tape of a horse race and showed it to the club. He singled out a different player to point out the leader at each turn. Then he showed the end of the race, where another horse that had been lagging well behind throughout, came charging on to win. "Bill made the point that it doesn't matter who's in first after the first part of the season, or the second part or third part," Mangini said. "All that matters is who's in first at the end." He said that even in the 5-11 season, the Pats kept working hard in practice and improving. And it paid off, as the 2001 Patriots went 11-5 and then captured the first of three Super Bowl crowns in a four-year span. He's trying to get the Browns to do the same. A Super Bowl championship would seem out of the question, but Browns fans would settle in a heartbeat for simply a .500 record. We'll see how it works out.   
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REMEMBER WHEN…: Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of the expansion Browns' first game against the Ravens. The 1999 Browns, 0-2 after losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers (43-0) and Tennessee Titans (26-9), went into Baltimore and played their first competitive game, losing to the former Browns just 17-10. The Browns would go on to lose four more in a row to fall to 0-7 en route to an eventual franchise-worst 2-14 finish.
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TAKING THE RAP: Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took full blame for the club's 27-6 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday. With the Browns trailing just 13-6 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter and the Broncos facing a second-and-eight at their 49, Ryan said he got frustrated and tried to force a big play by calling for a maximum blitz. Denver picked it up and Kyle Orton threw a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Jabbar Gaffney, who had just single coverage. The Broncos scored on a two-yard run on the next play to go up 20-6, and the Browns never really recovered. "I screwed up," he said. "Everybody saw it. I'm not going to hide. I've never been one to hide. It's a call a junior high coach would know better than to make." Said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who followed Ryan to the podium, "Rob's an accountable guy, but when you don't win, we're all accountable." It's also a good bet that Mangini really chewed out Ryan for the call, just as Belichick used to chew him out when he made the wrong call at New England.
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QUOTABLES: "This isn't an easy team to play, because you've got to fight. But I think this team is ready for a fight." – Ryan on facing the Ravens.

"People look at the statistics and say, ‘They aren't worth a crap,' but if you take away that fourth quarter last Sunday, we've got a pretty good defense." – Ryan on the fact the Broncos broke open a close game by outscoring the Browns 14-0 in the fourth quarter.


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