The Cleveland Browns and the (p)layoffs

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While some fans are just now feeling the sting of another football season over, with no title and no championship, Browns fans got a head start after watching their woefully undermanned team get beaten up and down the field, and flat out beaten up in Week 1. After one game, Robert Griffin III went from attempting to prove his ability, as well as durability, to the Injury Report for the better part of the season. The rookies would struggle to grow, as injuries mounted, and other street free agents would replace them. The only continuity the Browns could seem to find this season was bad luck and injuries.

By the time Cody Kessler took the field in Week 3, several websites had already posted mock drafts with the Browns selecting a QB with the No. 1 pick in the draft, following a projected winless season. If this was a fairy tale it would have a fully-refundable happily ever after, guaranteed or your money back. But, Cleveland is closer to Sparta than any storybook town. But, even happily ever after takes work and has to be earned on the shores of Lake Erie.

The Browns can’t rely on a fairy godmother to show up, sing a catchy tune, fix the offensive line, create the perfect QB to draft, lace RG3’s bones with Adamantium and get Tony Grossi a fullback to cuddle with at night. It just won’t happen. Nor can the Browns wait for a once in a lifetime type talent to be born and bred in Ohio to take them to the Super Bowl.

Hopefully the Browns have a plan that neither relies too heavily on trusting Hue Jackson’s instincts or analytics, but falls harmoniously somewhere uniting the two concepts. Oh, and it should include an infusion of experienced talent this offseason as well.

The front office left the roster thin to ensure practice and playing time for the rookies in hopes of speeding up the learning curve. Which is a decent theory, but watching that science experiment play out this season was just miserable. When the rookies struggled to adapt to coaching, scheme, injuries, the speed of the NFL or whatever they struggled with, there was no one on the roster to replace them. When defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah struggled, there was no experienced replacement on the roster as veteran Paul Kruger was cut.

Instead, the Browns subbed in street free agents and pilfered other teams’ practice squads for upgrades over their own personnel. This happens all the time in the NFL, but not at the extreme level of the Browns, starting players that hadn’t even practiced with the team to fill-in for a player injured in practice, kicker Cody Parkey was a perfect example.

And then there was Nunn

As far as the coaching changes; I didn’t like or understand bringing Ray Horton back, so I am not sad to see him go. I liked defensive line coach Robert Nunn and thought Shelton, especially, showed a ton of improvement and once Ogbah moved to the line, he started to look comfortable and play like the player from the scouting reports. At the same time, I understand new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wanting his own guy that he knows and trusts. With no previous knowledge of his replacement, Clyde Simmons, I’ll have to wait and see.

Defensive backs coach, Louie Cioffi, seemed to come in a package deal with Horton, so I wasn’t surprised, but still not happy to see him go.

Their replacements start at the top with Williams. By now, you’ve read his rap sheet, I mean resume, and remember why his name sounded familiar so I’ll spare you the repetition, but what stuck out to me about Williams was the following:

• Past success as a defensive coordinator
• Past head coaching experience
• Ability to adjust scheme to talent
• Ability to get most out of his players.

As stated in the first two bullets, Williams has been in the NFL since 1990 and worked his way up the ladder, all the way to head coach, with several stops along the way to being an assistant head coach/coordinator. This speaks volumes to his reputation, before and after Bounty Gate. By the way, who named Bounty Gate? Because it is awful and sounds like someone broke into a paper towel factory.

As for the last two bullets, I listened to Williams break down different assignments and positions on the defensive line in a non-Xs-and-Os type of way to make it comprehensible to me, imagine what he can do for the players. Between his knowledge of the game and his former players saying he gets the best and expects the best out of them, that should tide you over until the coaching staff is completely filled in and can be broken down better.

For those worried that the players respected and enjoyed playing for Horton, with all due respect to Horton, the players may have loved playing for him, but it never showed up on the field. Who on the defense stood out as a playmaker? Who on the Browns roster could be could be placed in the Top 5, or even 10 at their positions.

Christian Kirksey and Shelton had promising seasons, but the rest of the team just falls into a pile of diamonds in the rough. Players just waiting to be former-Browns (as the local media would lead you to believe), gleaming like a bright new toy, shining in that playoff spotlight. The same media members fail to mention the years out of the league for those players, or the fact that the Browns were one of the only teams willing to gamble on the talent and give them a first chance.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, Pavlov’s media hounds are more concerned with getting attention, even if it is negative, than reporting news. This has led to a media driven narrative of incompetence around the front office, though they are only heading into their second offseason with the team—one they have had much more time to prepare for (including a full season of evaluation) than the first.

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David is a talented writer who has been covering the Browns for a few years now. He is a contributor to CSZ, and also writes for BrownsBeat.com and EverybodyHatesCleveland.com.

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