Mangini Defends Practice Approach

Steve King brings us thorough coverage of today's events in Berea, where Monday's game seemed to be an afterthought. The focus? Practice. They were talkin' 'bout practice!

Oh, by the way, the Browns still have a game – on Monday Night Football, no less – against the former Browns franchise, the hated Baltimore Ravens, no less.

But that game, which kicks off in about 80 hours, was not discussed at all on Friday morning by Browns head coach Eric Mangini, who spent nearly his entire 30-minute press conference – the last he will have before the game as Saturday's availability has been canceled -- defending his methods of practicing.

Veteran running back Jamal Lewis criticized Mangini heavily on Thursday, saying the club practices too long – 2½ to three hours a day -- and hard, thus tiring out the players before games.

The coach disagrees.

"My first year in New York we practiced the longest," Mangini said in reference to the 2006 season when he served as head coach of the Jets. "But I've adjusted that since then.

"I feel very good about the way we practice and how long we practice. It's two hours on the field on Wednesdays and Thursdays and less on Fridays. We also have a 30-minute walk-through – a walk-through – before practice where we go over the offense and defense. That's the reality. Those are the facts."

He said the way he practices "is not drastically different" from how the New England Patriots practiced under head coach Bill Belichick when Mangini served on the coaching staff from 2000-05, and how the Jets practiced under head coach Bill Parcells when he served on that staff from 1997-99.

"They kept things moving and kept things within that two-hour window," the coach said.

He added, "I've experienced a lot of success with it over the years."

Belichick's Patriots won three Super Bowls in a four-year span when Mangini was there, and Parcells' Jets made it to the AFC Championship Game one season.

When Lewis was with the Baltimore Ravens for the first seven years of his career, during which time they won a Super Bowl and made the AFC playoffs three other times, he played for a head coach in Brian Billick who rarely had his team work in full pads. During the last two seasons after he came to the Browns, he played for a head coach in Romeo Crennel who had a similar philosophy.

Thus, he has never been exposed to these kinds of practice methods, and at 30 years old and with 10 years in the NFL, about half of which were successful from a team perspective and all of which have been successful from an individual perspective, as he is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it's hard to change.

It doesn't mean one is wrong and the other one is right. It just means they are different, a point Mangini tried to make.

"We have 53 guys and you're not always going to have a consensus on everything, so sometimes, you have to agree to disagree," Mangini said.

But Mangini did not like the timing of Lewis' comments.

"Going into Wednesday, five of the previous six days the players had off (because of the Browns experiencing the bye week)," he said. "I'd like to think the guys got a good rest and were able to get off their feet."

The coach also did not like the way Lewis went about airing his grievances, going to the media with them instead of to him in private, behind closed doors.

"Everybody has a right to express their opinions, but what I'm always looking for is communication directly," Mangini said. "I've always stressed communication. Like I've said a lot of times, my office is always open."

Lewis, an offensive team captain, spoke to the media about three hours before Mangini met with all of the team captains. Those sessions, always held following Thursday practices, are, according to the coach, "opportunities for anybody with concerns or questions to voice those things, or to voice the concerns or questions of someone else in the locker room they're representing."

Mangini said he "had a good conversation with Jamal" on Thursday afternoon but would not reveal specific details.

In the past, when players have bucked Mangini or one of his assistants either verbally or physically, such as sloughing their way through practice, they've paid for it by getting released or traded. It remains to be seen what, if any, action will be taken against Lewis.

Lewis, who has an ankle problem, was among the Browns who were listed as having been limited in Thursday's practice. Mangini was asked if Lewis would continue in his starting role Monday if he's healthy enough to do so.

"It's not going to change our practice," Mangini said of the player's comments. "It's all based on the (offensive) packages (the Browns come out with)."

So it's very possible – more like probable – that Mangini, to make a point with Lewis and others who may be thinking about handling their gripes the same way, will start the game with some alignment that does not include a running back, thus taking him out of the starting lineup, if only for a play or two, or a series.

This is Mangini's team. He's the boss. He made that clear long ago.

"Anytime you're 1-7, there's going to be frustration," Mangini said. "Everybody wants answers, and they want them now. Like everything else, [turning the team around] takes time. You have to be diligent and persistent. There are not a lot of microwave answers."

On another front involving practice methods, Mangini addressed the issue involving second-year pro Keith Grennan, a practice squad defensive lineman from Eastern Washington who tore his patella tendon on Thursday in the post-practice "opportunity period" and will have surgery on Monday.

He said the extra work, which he has seen used the last 16 years on staffs he's either led or served on, allows players on the practice squad or at the end of the regular roster the chance to volunteer to participate in 15 extra minutes of practice following the regular practice to showcase their skills against other like players on the team and possibly increase their stead. Earlier this year, rookie running back James Davis, a member of the 53-man regular roster at the time and someone who came from Lewis' old high school in Atlanta, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the opportunity period.

Mangini said he does not know if other NFL teams use this extra work.

"You never want anybody to get hurt, but I've seen so many guys really benefit from this," he said. "One of those is (rookie linebacker) Marcus Benard (who was recently promoted from the practice squad to the regular roster). When he came to us, he was very talented but also very raw. There were some things he did early on that you just had to shake your head about.

"If the only thing that he and other guys like that ever did was their work on the show team, it wouldn't be fair to the team, the organization or the player.

"The coaches would all love to go inside following practice, get something to eat and start watching tape. That would be the easy thing to do. But I feel that this extra period is important."

When asked if this extra work "increases the possibility of injury," Mangini said, "No, it increases the possibility of success."

Maybe the kind of success the Browns would like to have on Monday in that nationally-televised game against a fellow AFC North foe, the discussion of which has been ignored in the days leading up to kickoff to make way for practice discussion.

Just like NBA player Allen Iverson once said, "Practice? You're talking about practice?"

Yes, in Cleveland this week, they are.

A lot.


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