Springtime Got Me Talking…About the NFL and the Browns

Well, it’s a nice wintry slash spring day in Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania, as I tend to nomadically morph between the three areas. I may be visiting three different states over the span of a single day, but in this area, the wintry weather is, well, unpredictable. It was literally summertime on Friday, spring yesterday, winter today and tomorrow, spring again Tuesday and Wednesday, before winter returns Thursday and Friday. Then it’s supposed to be spring again after that. It’s really not that bad. Heck, it could be Boston, where winter lasts a good nine months. If you’re ever in my neck of the woods and you happen to get caught in a snow storm, just stop at a hotel and wait twelve hours. Trust me, it’ll likely be at least sixty degrees and sunny the following day, even if it’s mid-January. Winter up in this area is wild and unpredictable.

But with that being said, March 1st is right around the corner, the unofficial start of spring. I like to consider this unofficial start to spring today, as the Daytona 500 commences what will be an exciting NASCAR season. But enough NASCAR talk, let’s dive into my favorite time of the year of all things football. Why is that? If you’re a Browns fan, you understand the optimism that comes with the off-season. Coming off a 1-15 season, this off-season is a blessing, as we no longer need to look forward to guessing how our team will lose this week, and if it will exceed the one-in-a-million losing moment that only seems to happen to the Browns from the week prior. Again, if you’re a Browns fan, you know what I’m talking about.

Today, I want to talk about the current state of the team, and why things may not be as bad as they seem. Let’s start with the offensive line, which looked pretty bad last season, with the exception of future Hall of Fame tackle, Joe Thomas. I want to really dissect this, because things aren’t as bad as they appear. Joel Bitonio and John Greco were banged up. Austin Reiter, who looked good in his sole start last season, was lost with a torn ACL. Bitonio and Greco followed suit and were also lost for the season. Cam Erving struggled at center, but looked okay at right tackle. Also, Spencer Drango and Shon Coleman were two rookies adjusting to the speed and complexity of the NFL. All in all, the only major hole on the line is center, and there may be a person of interest in free agency in soon to be former Jet, Nick Mangold. Mangold is also a former Ohio State product. With the amount of cap space Cleveland has after literally overhauling the roster with rookies, rejects, and a few experienced veterans, Mangold may be a hot topic.

Let’s go to receiver, beginning with Terrelle Pryor. Pryor is slated to be a free agent this off-season, but has publicly stated he wants to remain in Cleveland. Pryor made a very smooth transition from quarterback to receiver last season and has potential to build upon 2016. He had his struggles, as all players who are making a position change will, but he was very sure handed. I want him back and so do the Browns. Corey Coleman only had 33 receptions and 3 touchdown receptions in 2016, and while Terry Pluto and Mary Kay Cabot are already writing him off, I’m not one to do so. Coleman played in only ten games last season after struggling with a pre-season hamstring issue and breaking his hand early in the 2016 season. If one calculates his averages, he would have had 53 receptions and 5 touchdown receptions had he been available all sixteen games. Not bad for a rookie playing in a gimmicky offense in college. The Browns also selected four more receivers in Ricardo Louis, Rashad Higgins, Jordan Payton, and Seth DeValve. Again, Pluto and Kabot grilled these selections, but dig deeper. Pryor and Coleman were going to be the top guys. Also, veteran Andrew Hawkins had experience playing in Hue Jackson’s offense down in Cincinnati and he knew the playbook. Given his veteran status and knowledge, he was going to get the nod while the others adjusted to the pro game. Louis showed flashes at times, with 16 receptions. A little newsflash to Pluto and Kabot: Antonio Brown also only had sixteen hauls his rookie season. Higgins and Payton may or may not develop, and it remains to be seen. DeValve lined up at tight-end and ended up with 10 catches, 2 for touchdowns. He remains one to watch.

It’s also worth noting that Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Charlie Whitehurst, and Kevin Hogan were throwing the football in 2016. Of the five, only Kessler showed promise. I don’t believe he’s a starter, but he’s a great, high-end back-up. Was he a reach? Put it this way: the guy didn’t look like Dak Prescott, but he looked better than Jared Goff. I hear a lot of fans complaining: why didn’t they pick Carson Wentz? Wentz would be lucky to know his name by now, since 60% of the starting offensive line was hurt in 2016 and a patchwork unit of back-ups were forced to fill in. Just ask Colts quarterback Andrew Luck how that feels.

I also hear a lot of “Why did they pick Corey Coleman over Michael Thomas?” First off, Michael Thomas had Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Coby Fleener, and Mark Ingram at his side. He was also catching the ball from Drew Brees and a high octane New Orleans Saints offense who had to score points due to the poor state of the defense. The Saints are also built to win the game on offense. Of course Thomas was going to pull better numbers!

Duke Johnson Jr. and Isaiah Crowell looked good at times. Crowell excelled between the tackles, especially early on, while Johnson remained the change-of-pace back. Fullback Dan Vitale was also a good find and reminds me of Lawrence Vickers as a jack-of-all-trades. Look for this duo to build on 2016. Some mock drafts say the Browns should go with a back in Round One. Honestly, unless Leonard Fournette drops, I wouldn’t go with one.

Let’s head over to the defense, which looked like a Division III high school team at times. Again, things aren’t as bad as they appear. First off, Ray Horton was always an overrated coordinator, and he wasn’t going to stick around. I love the pick up in Greg Williams, and the guy has a style that you need in the AFC North, even if he had gone a little overboard about it in year’s past, culminating with a year long suspension from the NFL. I like Williams, and I think he’s the guy. I believe he’ll also go with a 4-3 base, which is what the Browns need. Very few teams can pull of a 3-4 front. Sure, the 3-4 may be more effective than the 4-3 when run properly, but it can also backfire and set a defense back years.

Currently, Cleveland has Danny Shelton, Jamie Meder, Carl Nassib, and Emmanuel Ogbah as the starting defensive linemen. Are Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen options? Of course! And I really believe they will take Garrett, who Mary Kay (again) drilled for his ESPN interview depicting him “begging” Jerry Jones to trade with Cleveland for the number one pick. Honestly, I really believe Mary Kay Cabot failed to watch the actual interview and drew conclusions from another source, because if you hadn’t done so yet, go to youtube.com and watch the video. You can clearly see Garrett wasn’t being serious. The guy, in all seriousness, went on record to say that on April 27th, at 8:00pm, whichever team has that first overall pick is the team he wants to end up with. Yeah, Garrett had a down year in the sack department, as Cabot has stated numerous times, recording half of them against an FCS opponent. Yet she clearly “forgot” to report the ankle injury Garrett played through in 2016. Take Myles Garret number one, and you have a solid defensive line. Shelton and Meder looked great. As bad as the run defense was, I encourage you to watch game film from last season. They ran the ball way from Shelton and when they did run it in his direction, Shelton either forced them to change direction or gobbled them up at the line. Ogbah led the team in sacks, and Nassib looked good until a broken hand derailed his season and was minimally effective in the sack department afterwards, as both Pluto and Cabot reported, clearly forgetting the amount of batted balls Nassib was responsible for.

Jamie Collins resigned and will be back, as will Chris Kirskey, who was a leader among all NFL linebackers in tackles in 2016. Sure, half of them were down field, but the guy was a sure tackler. He reminds me of D’Qwell Jackson and I’m happy to have him in Cleveland. They need someone on the weak side. Perhaps Jabrill Peppers? This is assuming they don’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or draft someone. Personally, I would trade that second first round pick for Jimmy G., but they may like DeShaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky. Put it this way: if they feel there’s a franchise quarterback in the draft, take them. If not, maybe they do trade that number twelve pick for Jimmy G. Better yet, they may continue to build on the defensive side of the ball. I’m also hearing a lot about Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, who I liked watching last season. Mahomes may be there at number thirty-three, which may allow the Browns to work on defense in the first round. This may be the way to go, but only time will tell.

The defensive backfield struggled mightily and was a main reason the Browns defense struggled so badly in 2016. Joe Haden is the oldest twenty-seven year old on Earth? Perhaps not, but he’s the oldest twenty-seven year old corner on Earth. However, I would love to see him at safety. Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Jamar Taylor looked strong last season and they’ll only get better. I’d love to see Cleveland bring in a nickel back and use Haden at safety. Derrick Kindred was a pick I fell in love with and he’s a hard hitter. If they try Haden at free safety and Kindred at strong safety, this may work. We shall see.

As the draft draws ever nearer at only two months away from today, I’ll be talking more draft. Also, more promos of Once will also be in in the near future as well, plus some summertime shred tips. Sports, Writing, Fitness…my own personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Divine Trinity of Todd Matthews. Keep it real, and until next time, stay fit and knowledgeable. Also, quit reading Terry Pluto and Mary Kay Cabot! Talk about negativity.

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