Holmgren: How He'll Shape the Browns

NWFootball.Net's Doug Farrar has followed Mike Holmgren throughout his time in Seattle and tells us what to expect when the Big Show starts to remake the Browns roster. Exclusive in-depth analysis you can't get anywhere else!

Howdy all - - thought I'd just throw a few opinions and observations out there about The Big Show, just to maybe give you an idea of his preferences/biases/weak points.

QUARTERBACKS: Since I assume he won't be coaching, I'll limit any coaching commentary to things I feel might color his draft/free agent eye. Obviously, he's known as a quarterback guru, and the title is well-earned. Nobody in the NFL is more exacting when it comes to quarterback mechanics and thought processes.

Holmgren sees the position in exploded view. He will evaluate Quinn and Anderson, and when he goes with one of them or casts them both aside and goes after a new guy, he will know EXACTLY how he wants the player to fit. Once he stands behind a quarterback, even when that quarterback plays like garbage (and he will -- this is a complicated system he runs, and he'll bring in an offensive coordinator/coach who runs it), be patient.

Matt Hasselbeck was a sixth-round Green Bay castoff who looked horrible in his first starting year. It takes time, but at least you'll know that the guy behind it has the outcome in mind. I would also bet that he'll add a veteran to the roster -- someone who understands the West Coast Offense and can teach it.

RUNNING BACKS: He likes the typical West Coast Offense running back, though he's pretty flexible if a guy produces to a ridiculous degree. Shaun Alexander was the opposite of the profile-- stone hands, didn't block. But when it worked, Holmgren adjusted his parameters and ran more a power WCO in the Super Bowl year -- not unlike what Shanahan ran with the Elway Broncos. I interviewed Jerome Harrison a few months before he was drafted, and I thought at the time that he would be a great fit in Seattle. My bet is that Holmgren will get a good read on him pretty quick and Harrison will be a tandem guy with another member of the current pool or a draft choice.

RECEIVERS: Holmgren wants short-area quickness and route correctness, but he doesn't need or necessarily want uber-talanted first-rounders. The best team he ever put on the field had Bobby Engram as its leading receiver. The system doesn't have a lot of deep throws. But if you're supposed to run a 14-yard dig route and you cut it off early or late -- ouch. He's a Bill Walsh disciple, and just as with Walsh, those routes had best be run with precision or God help you. His offensive concepts favor bigger tight ends that can block. He whiffed mightily with Jerramy Stevens, but John Carlson is more the prototype.

OFFENSIVE LINE: I'm really interested to see his take on the offensive line. He had Walter Jones his whole time here and he drafted Steve Hutchinson. He places a great, great value on the line, and it was probably his biggest sticking point with former GM Tim Ruskell -- Ruskell thought you could just paste in five fat guys and go. He's not a zone advocate per se, his linemen have traditionally been man-on-man, some combo, more pulls than traps and counters.

The current line might be a bit more finesse-y than he prefers. He likes guards that knock the living crap out of people with some athleticism. He'll love Thomas. The line calls will be complex, and he'll favor age over pure athleticism at right guard and center, though Mack will impress. Fraley might be his pet for that reason.

DEFENSE: As a talent evaluator on defense, Holmgren remains a bit of a blank slate. He is almost exclusively an offensive mind. He has said that in his next incarnation as GM, he would do the opposite of what he did early on in Seattle -- he went with age on defense and youth on offense. But he's not a guy I would hire for his defensive personnel acumen, and if he doesn't have someone on staff that he can really trust with those picks, like he had in Seattle with Ted Thompson and Scot McLoughan, the defense will suffer. Keep in mind that he's also never drafted 3-4 personnel.

COACHING: I am interested to see how the coaching hires go. If Mangini doesn't retain his job, Holmgren might bring in a guy from one of his old staffs, a Jim Zorn or Marty Morninweg. I do not expect him to hire a guy with a strong contrary voice. He wants to be The Man, he's earned the right, Lerner's given it to him, and he's going to hold on to that. Under the right circumstances, he could bring more to the new Browns than they've ever had. It's a good hire, and a lot of people in Seattle are pretty unhappy that he's off the list.

Specific personnel thoughts:

Here are some quick-hit thoughts on various Browns players based on what I've seen and what I know of Holmgren's systems in Seattle. I'm reluctant to comment too much on quarterbacks and wide receivers, because Cleveland's offense has been so ineffectual when I've seen it this season (the Chiefs game being the obvious exception)it is difficult for me to say, "Well, Brady Quinn does this or that, or Mohamed Massaquoi does this or that, and it will work."

Before he went on IR, Brady Quinn was having trouble completing two-yard screens. I don't even know what to say about that. I'm also reluctant to talk about the defense for the two reasons listed above: Holmgren has never been great at picking defensive personnel, and he's never picked players for a 3-4. I will say that he hasn't had a defensive tackle as good as Shaun Rogers since Marcus Tubbs was healthy. With those caveats, here's who I think will be in his sights right away.

Joe Thomas: If Josh Cribbs is Cleveland's best player, Thomas runs a pretty close second. I have been tremendously impressed with Thomas' mixture of strength and functional agility since he came into the league, and he's a perfect fit for the Holmgren offense. Walter Jones was the centerpiece of Seattle's best years (he should have been the NFL MVP in 2005), and Thomas has some of Jones' traits. He can fan wide and get a quick step inside or outside to deal with speed rushers. He has a good (but not great) ability to stand up a bull rush. He can drop in pass-blocks seamlessly and he plays very well in space. Holmgren will watch Thomas, put a check mark in the box marked "Left Tackle," and move on.

Eric Steinbach: I think that while Holmgren generally prefers guards with more power off the snap, he'll appreciate Steinbach's ability to pull and make things happen at the second level. When Steve Hutchinson was Jones' accomplice on the best left side in football, Hutch would pull a lot on pitches and sweeps, and Steinbach can certainly do that. Steinbach reminds me a bit of Mike Wahle, who Holmgren had in Green Bay and Seattle, so he knows how to deal with guards that play in combos and off the line as much or more than they just blow people the heck up.

Josh Cribbs: This is an interesting one. Holmgren was never known for having specific return specialists -- he saw it as wasting a position. However, he's never had anyone with return (and return coverage) skills like this. He is also not a huge fan of trick plays, and he has an enormous aversion to the shotgun formation. Based on his history I could see him using Cribbs as a receiver in addition to his special teams duties, but he will have to adjust his thoughts on special teams "skill players". The film will do the work for him.

Lawrence Vickers: Holmgren's traditionalist views on offense have made him a great advocate of the fullback position, and at a time where most of the league is going three- and four-wide and either eliminating fullbacks from the field and replacing them with H-backs, Holmgren will stick with the I-formation plays that have worked for him in the past. I really like Vickers in this role, especially based on what I saw in Jerome Harrison's career game. He can open up a hole on an iso blast as well as he can block in conjunction with linemen to open a cutback lane. On the NFL Network a few days ago, former Holmgren aide Steve Mariucci detailed the "99 Boss" play, in which Vickers was charged with blowing up the strong safety as the eighth man in the box. As with Fraley, I believe that Vickers will be a dark horse in this equation.


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