If there is No Struggle, there is No Progress

These words were made famous by Frederick Douglass, and his famous quote accurately describes the last season and a half for the Browns. Over the past twenty-two games, the Browns are 1-21, leaving Cleveland fans (again) clamoring for another clean out the front office. As for Coach Hue Jackson, the feelings are mixed. I feel for Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, the ringleaders of the current front office. If Hue gets axed, I’ll feel for him, too.

If the Browns decide to hire a General Manager, and said General Manager wishes to bring in his own coach, ninety-five percent of Browns fans and NFL fans in general are going to give credit to the wrong group of people when the Browns start winning. Why? Brown and DePodesta have built a foundation for the team. When was the last time an incoming General Manager could say that? Furthermore, Brown and DePodesta tore down a roster to its bare bones when they inherited a franchise nothing short of a train wreck.

I’m astounded when fans think Hue should be winning and are already labeling guys such as DeShone Kizer and Corey Coleman busts. For one, Kizer and one of his NFL Draft brethren, Mitchell Trubisky, have an identical completion percentage. Kizer’s is actually better, at 50.9%, then Trubisky, at 49%. For another, Corey Coleman has played twelve of his first twenty-two games as a Brown, meaning he’s missed half his possible games. In these twelve games, Coleman has forty receptions. If one averages this out to a full season, they’ll get fifty-three receptions. He also has four touchdown receptions, which is on pace for five over a sixteen-game stretch. Great numbers? No. But at this point, rookie tight-end David Njoku is on pace for thirty-five receptions for eight touchdown grabs as he shares time with tight-ends Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer. Running-back Duke Johnson is on pace for seventy catches, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the ground. What do these kids have in common? They’re all in their third seasons as a pro, or less.

Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta have built a foundation on offense, yet many fans fail to see it. Fans point to winning as the only statistic that matters and in the long run, it does. But when you break a roster down to men who are either rookies or rejects, sans tackle Joe Thomas, back in 2016, I’m not sure what the fans are expecting. Especially in Year Two of what’s supposed to be a five-year plan. I’ve previously written this season reminds me of that pivotal 2000 season, after which the Browns fired Chris Palmer and courted Butch Davis. At that time, the Browns were in Year Three of the Expansion Era, and Palmer was supposed to be in the driver’s seat, not Davis. Palmer built a budding foundation, and Davis reaped the benefits in Years Three and Four. When Davis changed the culture, and brought in his own guys in Years Five and Six, he fell flat on his face, ultimately resigning in November 2004 after leading the Browns to a 3-9 start.

I love history because it can teach us what works and what doesn’t work. The fanbase is impatient and frustrated, and they have every right to be, but for once the Cleveland Browns as an organization need to learn from their history and see this storm through until the end. Hiring and firing coaches and personnel every two seasons has gotten the Browns into this mess. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. Why would they even consider?

The Browns will win under any new coach and front office, but they’ll be doing so under men acquired by the previous regime. If this happens, a tornado siren should be going off in the minds of every Browns fan. What if the next regime wishes to bring in its own people? The process will never end. I like looking to the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who through three abysmal seasons record-wise, stuck with Head Coach, Brett Brown. In Year Three, the Sixers went 10-72. In Year Four, their record was 28-54. This season, many NBA analysts are projecting a lower-end playoff berth. The same could be said for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, or the Houston Astros of the MLB. If the Browns wish to finally get this right, they need to stick out the storm, ignore the critics, ignore the fans, and keep their eye on the final prize.

To Trade or Not to Trade Joe Thomas

The name Joe Thomas always surfaces in the name of trade talks as the NFL Trade Deadline approaches. All NFL fans know Thomas’ story. Eleven years in the NFL, ten Pro Bowls, never missed a game, never missed a single NFL snap. The latter is believed to be the longest snap streak in NFL History. Let’s face it, Joe Thomas may be the greatest offensive tackle to ever play in the NFL. There are four things Joe Thomas has yet to accomplish in the NFL: Appear in a playoff game, win a playoff game, appear in a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl. In 2015, Thomas would have won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. The Browns had a deal in place to ship him to Denver, but the deal fell through and Thomas remained in Cleveland.

Here’s another fact. The Browns have been abysmal since appearing in the playoff in 2002. Before 2002, the Browns saw one playoff appearance in the 1990’s under coach Bill Belichick. In 1995, whereas many predicted the Browns to make their first Super Bowl appearance, former owner Art Modell hijacked the team and moved them to Baltimore. Cleveland fans, you know what happened. Baltimore won the Super Bowl four seasons later with arguably the greatest defense to take the field. Want more? Had Modell kept the Browns in Cleveland, he never would’ve fired Belichick. Modell fired Belichick before moving to Baltimore, because former Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda was available. If the multi-verse theory exists, Bill Belichick coached Ray Lewis for seventeen seasons, and Tom Brady, drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft at Belichick’s insistence, would be in Cleveland. No one gave Brady a shot other than Belichick.

What I’m getting to, is over the past ten seasons, over six-hundred NFL players have worn a Cleveland Browns uniform. Joe Thomas is the sole survivor. There is no one else. Kicker Phil Dawson, now playing his nineteenth NFL season, is with the Arizona Cardinals. Dawson played for the Browns from 1999 to 2012, but by the time Dawson left Cleveland, Thomas was a household name. If Thomas leaves, who else is there? Joe Haden’s in Pittsburgh, T.J. Ward’s in Tampa, about one-million blown first round draft picks are either back-ups or are out of the NFL, and rookie Myles Garrett has played in one NFL game. Okay, I hear some fans shouting two names: Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins. Shelton and Collins have been with the Browns for a total of five seasons, counting this season. Shelton is in his third season with the team, Collins is in his second. Thomas is the face of the franchise, being in Cleveland longer than these two combined. The point? Outside Cleveland, no one knows who Danny Shelton is. Ditto for Jamie Collins, sans the New England fanbase, where Collins spent his first three and a half seasons.

If the Browns trade Thomas, neither Shelton nor Collins qualify as the face of the franchise. Quarterback DeShone Kizer has done nothing to prove he can be the guy coach Hue Jackson wants him to be. Tomorrow, Kizer’s riding the bench. There are two names that jump out at me, Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers. Garrett had a strong NFL debut, as expected. Peppers has shown flashes, but let’s try to forget the Browns passed on Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, who went to Indianapolis at fifteen back in April. I’m not one to give up on Peppers, as he played linebacker in college and is still learning the safety position. The kids’ a Swiss Army Knife. He’s a hard hitter, a dangerous return man, and a hybrid player. He reminds me of Troy Polamalu, who terrorized offenses after a shaky rookie year.

The good news is if the Browns trade Thomas, they’ll going to coax at least two first round picks out of someone. This would give the Browns three first round picks in 2018 and two first round picks in 2019. But we must ask ourselves the burning question: When has this strategy worked? 2012’s pair of first round picks, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, are long gone from the NFL or are bouncing around the league as backups. 2014’s pair of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel are out of the league. 2015’s pair of Danny Shelton and Cam Erving are mixed, as Shelton appears to be a solid pickup while Erving is fighting for his NFL life in Kansas City. Still, the Browns are 1 for 6 when it comes to multiple first round picks. This year, the Browns had three first round picks. Garrett, Peppers, and tight-end, David Njoku. Garrett lit up the league in his NFL debut. Peppers has shown flashes. Njoku had a slow start in preseason but has since progressed. He’s on pace for ten touchdown receptions in his rookie year and appears to be a favorite target of quarterback Kevin Hogan.

Furthermore, owner Jimmy Haslam appears to be content with the state of the Browns. Sure, they’re 1-20 over the past season and a half. I get it, I’ve watched and listened to every game, from the first whistle to the last. I’d recommend researching the Philadelphia 76ers and something they’re calling, The Process. The Browns are the NFL’s version of the 76ers, and if Haslam remains patient with his current staff, better days are ahead. The 76ers more than doubled their win total in 2016-17. What is The Process? It involves tearing down the roster to the bare bones, and building it back up, piece by piece. No, not with marquee free agents, though the Browns managed to bring in guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter, but with rookies, a lot of them. The Process takes time, but it must be trusted, hence the term, Trust The Process.

The downside is if Thomas goes, the most recognizable face in the history of the post-1999 Browns goes with him. If Thomas stays, per his wishes, there will be two more first round draft picks taking the field in Cleveland come 2018, and at this point, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is worthy of the number one pick. In addition, the Browns offensive line will have another year experience under their belt as a complete unit, either Kevin Hogan or DeShone Kizer are capable of being the starting quarterbacks, tight-ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku have made major strides, and Duke Johnson has been more than serviceable. Couple this with a defense at full-strength, and Barkley may very well be the missing piece in the offense.

In conclusion, Don’t Trade Joe Thomas!

Kevin Hogan, the next…Joe Montana?

On Wednesday, it became official. After bringing the offense to life several times over the last few weeks, Kevin Hogan will be in the driver’s seat this Sunday as the Browns take on the Texans. I know what you’re thinking: Couch-Holcomb, Quinn-Anderson, Hoyer-Weeden, McCown-Manziel, Seinfeld never made yada-yada sound so tasty. Well, here we go, again. This year’s match-up will be DeShone Kizer versus Kevin Hogan.

There are two things I need to admit. For one, Kevin Hogan was my favorite quarterback in the 2016 Draft Class. Not Goff, not Wentz, not Prescott…what were the Browns thinking when they drafted Cody Kessler in the third round? Kessler, as we now know, has been inactive all season, and the kid started eight games back in 2016. Nope, it was Kevin Hogan. That’s right, the fourth man on the depth chart to open the preseason. Naturally, I thought Hogan would be the odd man out this year, simply due to Kizer’s and Kessler’s draft statuses, and the trade for Brock Osweiler.

We know what happened. Osweiler looked like Jim Druckenmiller. Who? Exactly. Look up the 1997 San Francisco 49ers, and you’ll find out. Kessler took about twenty steps backwards, and ended up losing his starting gig in training camp to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler proved to be a free agent bust in Houston, and he didn’t impress anyone in Cleveland. Kizer impressed against the back-ups, and played well enough against the starters to earn the job.

Then came the game against Pittsburgh. Get this, the Browns almost won! And it was DeShone Kizer leading the charge, looking like Tim Couch from back in the day. Hey, if you think Couch is a bust, you need to watch some of his game film. Sure, there’d be games where he went something like 13 for 35 for 98 yards and a few picks, but two weeks later he’s 30 for 40, with 350 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Then he’d play a few okay games, and finally, a few not-so-okay games. Then, he’d have the one game where you’re begging for Kelly Holcomb. Want more fun? Holcomb starts a few and looks like the career-backup he’s always been, and manages to break his leg. Before you knew it, Couch was back in, and the fans were looking to the Heavens as if Thanksgiving came early. Well, DeShone Kizer has looked exactly like Tim Couch…no, maybe Couch isn’t a great example. What about Mike Phipps? Phipps was before my time. All I know is he was supposed to have been the successor to the aging Bill Nelson and blew his shot.

Look, we all knew Kizer wasn’t going to be the reincarnation of Otto Graham. Nor is Hue Jackson the reincarnation of the team’s namesake, Paul Brown. Okay, Hue Jackson may be the one guy in the entire history of Cleveland’s Head Coaches who bears resemblance to Brown’s personality. The passion, charisma, never-say-die attitude, and then some. Look, I know Jackson’s 1-20, but this roster was torn to the bare bones. Besides, how can Kizer be anything but what he’s been, with his 49.1 passer rating and 50.1 percent completion percentage. The kid was throwing the ball to Kasen Williams and Bryce Treggs last week! Who? Exactly!

                Then Kevin Hogan came into the game and played “lights-out,” if I’m going to quote Hue Jackson when describing the play of Kizer just one week before. No, Hogan played lights-out in the second half. Heck, a 122.1 quarterback rating is going to change the mind of any coach, especially with a kid whose faced adversity over the past few seasons such as Kevin Hogan. Here’s the harsh reality, Browns fans. Didn’t Kelly Holcomb do the same thing? I was on the Holcomb bandwagon at the time. I was also eleven years old and didn’t know the first thing about NFL quarterbacks. Then there’s Couch, who in 2002 went 8-6 as a starter, 7-3 down the stretch, and won the must-win, do-or-die Week Seventeen Game against Atlanta on a broken leg. Kelly Holcomb plays next week in the Wildcard Playoffs against Pittsburgh and, well, plays as if he was the reincarnation of Otto Graham. He had a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, a 33-21 lead in the fourth, and ended up losing 36-33.

Here’s the stark difference between Hogan and Holcomb. For one, Hogan was drafted, Holcomb wasn’t. For another, Hogan’s twenty-four, Holcomb was thirty at the time. Hogan is young enough to be the next Tony Romo or Russell Wilson. Holcomb was more like Gus Frerotte, or worse, Matt Flynn. Hogan’s going to relish the opportunity, while Holcomb never appeared to be totally comfortable, always looking over his shoulder at Couch, knowing he’d be yanked by former Coach Butch Davis after throwing his first interception.

So, who would I go with against Houston? Honestly, I’d throw them a curve ball. Kizer moves the ball well, just watch the game film. Problem is, he’s left more points on the field than he’s scored, including twenty last week against the Jets. The Browns outplayed the Jets, and Hogan’s two touchdown passes would’ve added to the score. So, I’m starting Kizer. Once he drives the offense into the red zone, I’m switching to Hogan. Why? Hogan’s scored thirty-one points on ten drives.

Know who Hogan reminds me of? Joe Montana. Before claiming I’m out of my mind, hear me out. Look at Montana’s strengths and weaknesses. Hogan’s accurate. Montana was accurate. Both knew how to extend plays. Neither had brilliant arm strength. Both had brilliant minds. Best yet, both were rookies during their respective coaches first seasons with their teams. Both were mid-round picks. Hogan wears eight, Montana wore sixteen. Both are gutsy. What’s the most striking trait about this duo? Both are playing, or in Montana’s case, were playing on storied franchises with loyal fanbases going through the worst seasons in franchise history.

You know what, I talked myself out of it. I’m going with Kevin Hogan. I don’t know if he can be the next Joe Montana, but I’ve seen the play of DeShone Kizer, and it’s uninspiring.

The True Richfield, North Columbia

As with many, I base my settings off familiar locations. I believe many writers and authors do this in order to paint a vivid picture, where they can effectively describe any scene if it takes place outdoors. Furthermore, it’s easy for them to convey the demographic to the reader and in many cases, the buildings and other structures are in place. It’ll also allow the writer to focus on the surrounding plot and main characters rather than take almost half their time constructing a world from scratch. Well, even if a world is constructed from scratch, it’s still possible the writer places elements of a familiar location within the text.

In Once: The Uprising of Columbia, I used this same technique. The setting of the novel is in Richfield, North Columbia, which is a carbon copy of a small village called Wintersville, Ohio. Wintersville, which I’ve long considered my hometown, gave me several landmarks in which to construct Richfield, North Columbia. The one difference is that Summit University is located in Richfield, whereas Wintersville doesn’t contain a college or university, though nearby Steubenville, the more well-known of the two towns, has two. Steubenville, known as the City of Murals, is a carbon copy of Muralville in Once, where a game of shotball takes place. In addition, it’s mentioned in Once that Summersville, South Columbia bears resemblance to Wintersville, and Mural City, South Columbia is the South Columbian version of Steubenville.

In Once, Richfield is named after Richfield, Ohio, which is located in Summit County, Ohio. In Columbia, there is a total of eighty-eight colleges and universities, each named after Ohio Counties, minus Jefferson, where Wintersville and Steubenville are located, in order to avoid confusion with the name of a main character in Once. Instead, the university in question would be named Thomas University. With Richfield being located in Summit County, it was appropriate to call the existing university Summit, though I did consider Cuyahoga and Ashtabula before settling on Summit. Not only is Richfield located in Summit County, but Summit is easier to read and pronounce than the latter two.

Let’s get back to the buildings and structures real quick. For one, a white water tower is mentioned in the book, described as overlooking the Village of Richfield. This is true, because one of Wintersville’s water towers is built in a similar manner. It’s such a towering structure that no matter where one is standing, they can see it for miles. If one stands on the surrounding hills ten miles away, it can be seen. If one is across the river in Weirton, West Virginia, it can be seen. It’s majestic, in such a way the sun appears to gleam off the tower in the midafternoon, even on the cloudiest of days. The sunbeam is so powerful, the tower becomes quite the gem in the low Wintersville-Steubenville skyline.

A mural is mentioned during our main characters’ arrival in Richfield, consisting of a colonist, who in the book is George Santos, one of the Founders of Summit University and one of the first colonists in the New World, soon to be named Columbia. This mural exists and was designed by the students of what was once Buchanan Middle School. The mural depicts a standing colonist, along with others riding on horseback.

Kettlewell Stadium is a real stadium where I tend to do my track workouts when I’m hanging out in Wintersville. It’s the home of the Indian Creek Redskins, and contains one of the newest tracks in the Outer Ohio Valley. Also mentioned is Harding Stadium, where Steubenville Big Red play their home games, and Cartwright Field, home of the Edison Wildcats (my former high school).

Mares Pizza and Raze Pizza are based off Giannamore’s and Rays Pizza Shops in Wintersville. Like Mares, Giannamore’s has been in existence over the last four decades, and it still possesses an old school feel for anyone looking to order their pizza within, complete with pinball, Pac Man, and other classic games. The popularity of Mare’s is mentioned several times, and this claim holds true for Giannamore’s, which even to this day is in such high demand the usual wait is one to two hours. So, go ahead and order your Giannamore’s Pizza, because it’s worth the wait!

Summit Forest is named after Fernwood State Forest, and Bantam Ridge Road is mentioned in Once. Bantam Ridge is also a real road, which leads to what I describe in Once as ‘the vast countryside.’ It is mentioned that Bantam Road cuts into Summit Forest, which is partially true, as Bantam Ridge can lead to Fernwood State Forest. Also located near Fernwood State Forest is the Jefferson County Airpark, where several airshows are conducted each year. This was the basis for the Richfield Airpark, mentioned a few times in Once to have been located ‘just outside Richfield.’ One can always treat themselves to a breathtaking view of the Airpark if traveling south, just beyond the Jefferson County Christian School and the Dunlope-Shorac Funeral Home. Once they hit the residential area which will take them to an onslaught of houses, including that of my own grandparents, the Airpark will come into view in the distance, surrounded by Fernwood State Forest.

The Fort Mural Mall is named after the Fort Steuben Mall, which is actually located in Steubenville, but I decided to pull the Mall over into Richfield instead of placing it in Muralville when it’s mentioned in one of my scenes. The Fort Steuben Mall is an ailing mall whose prime is well behind, with The Mall in Robinson and the Ohio Valley Mall superseding the necessity of the Fort Steuben Mall. However, in Once, the Fort Mural Mall is still in its prime, due to its close proximity to Summit University. The place, which doesn’t have a huge role in the book, is a popular hangout for students and staff alike.

Main Street in Wintersville leads to a highway which will also branch off into the countryside, leading to quaint towns such as Bloomingdale, Smithfield, and Richmond. Instead of the highway, it was the perfect location for the university, which would technically be located just beyond the corporation limit of Wintersville. Summit University itself is based off Kent State, in both size and location of residence halls, which are apartment complexes in Once. It is true that half are located on one side of campus and half on the other. In Once, the South Columbian half are in the same location as Kent State’s Centennial Courts, arguably the nicest residence halls on campus. The North Columbian half are located on the other side, where Lake Hall and a few others sit. Also, White Hall is mentioned a few times in Once, described as the ‘northernmost tip of the campus.’ This holds true for Kent State, and it’s White Hall. Other structures, such as the library being described as the ‘tallest building on campus,’ also holds true for Kent State.

So, there you have it! My created town of Richfield, North Columbia, is a place which holds true to me. Not only did I wish to share this with you, but I wish to share it with the world.