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 Top Ten Cleveland Browns Since 1999

The Browns have struggled to put a viable product onto the field since 1999. Many might ask whether I’m joking about this post, as even the most die-hard NFL fan would have a tough time naming ten relevant Browns who’ve succeeded enough to warrant recognition on a Top Ten List. However, there is hope despite the fact the Browns are 88-203 since returning to the league. Many may find it more appropriate to do a Top Ten Browns of All-Time kind of list, where guys such as Paul Brown, Jim Brown, Brian Sipe, and Bernie Kosar would easily make such a list. Clay Matthews, Otto Graham, Bill Willis, Lou Groza, Gary Collins, Paul Warfield, and others would easily warrant consideration. Ironically, it’d be tough to find ten players to end up a cut above the others, especially during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 80’s. There are simply too many to fit into a top ten. For that, I needed a challenge, so I took the last eighteen years since the expansion season of 1999 to bring to you the Top Ten Cleveland Browns Since 1999.

 

10) Josh Gordon, WR: 2012-present- Despite his endless suspensions, Josh Gordon put together one of the best seasons in NFL History back in 2013. After an initial suspension cost him the first two games of 2013, Gordon returned to dominate the league with 87 receptions, 9 touchdowns, and over 1,600 receiving yards. The jury is still out on Gordon’s return, and he’s only a two-year-wonder. If he can get his act together, Josh Gordon can move up the ranks on this list.

9) Daylon McCutcheon, CB: 1999-2006- Daylon McCutcheon was the longest lasting player from the original 1999 team who wasn’t a specialist (Phil Dawson). A third round pick out of USC, McCutcheon posted a respectable 7 sacks and 12 interceptions in seven seasons with the Browns. Known for his physicality, he made 463 tackles before being released in March 2007.

8) Kevin Johnson, WR: 1999-2003- Many wonder what could have been with Kevin Johnson had the Browns kept Head Coach Chris Palmer, who drafted Johnson in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft. Johnson is best known for being the one to haul in a last second Hail Mary to give the Browns their first win in the Expansion Era. Johnson was known among fans as Tim Couch’s favorite weapon until 2003, when Couch was benched for Kelly Holcomb. Johnson also clashed with Palmer’s successor, Butch Davis, ultimately leading to his release in the middle of the 2003 season, justified by Davis as, “Not being a good blocker.”

7) Tim Couch, QB: 1999-2003- Tim Couch may land on several lists of All-Time NFL Draft Busts, but few remember his magical 2002 season, where he went 8-6 as a starter, going 7-3 down the mid to late season stretch, leading the Browns to their only playoff appearance in the last two decades. Couch is also the last (and only) Browns quarterback since 1999 to have started all sixteen games in a single season (2001), and start the season opener for three straight seasons. To this day, he’s one of the most highly respected Cleveland Browns among the fan base.

6) Kellen Winslow, TE: 2004-2008- A broken fibula and motorcycle accident marred Winslow’s first two seasons, but when he returned in 2006, he proved he wasn’t broken. Winslow tied a team record in receptions, hauling in 89 receptions in 2006. In 2007, he became part of a dynamic trio with quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver Braylon Edwards.

5) Jamir Miller, OLB: 1999-2003- One can’t say enough about Jamir Miller. The outside linebacker was signed as a free agent back in 1999, and was easily the team’s most talented player. In 2001, Miller recorded 13 sacks, becoming the Browns first and only Pro Bowl player of the Expansion Era until 2007.

4) Joe Haden, CB: 2010-2017- Joe Haden’s career started with a bang, recording six interceptions in 2010. From 2010 to 2014, he was one of the NFL’s best corners, making the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. Injuries have derailed Haden since and the artist known as Mr. Cleveland has since moved on to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, enabling the Cleveland Cavaliers season ticket holder to remain close to his shoe companies, located in his first football town.

3) D’Qwell Jackson, MLB: 2006-2012- When one thinks of D’Qwell Jackson, they think of a warrior. Jackson missed all of 2009 and 2010 with a pectoral injury, only to return in 2011 to continue where he left off, leading the NFL with 158 tackles. In 2014, after moving onto Indianapolis, Jackson led the AFC with 140 tackles, and followed up in 2015 with 150.

2) Phil Dawson, Kicker: 1999-2012- Phil Dawson, at age 42, continues to kick in the NFL. Dawson’s first big break came in 1999 when the Browns upset the Steeler at Three Rivers Stadium on a last second field goal. Dawson was the last remaining player from the Browns Expansion Era, moving on to San Francisco in 2013. Dawson may be best remembered with his unusual field goals, where he had two in 2007 bounce off the crossbar. The first, initially being called ‘no-good,’ was reversed after a long review, leading to a new rule in the NFL dubbed, “The Phil Dawson Rule.”

1) Joe Thomas, Offensive Tackle: 2007-present- Everyone in slots two through ten were competing for second. In fact, it would be hard to keep Joe Thomas off the NFL’s All-Decade team for both the 2000’s and 2010’s. Thomas is the Tom Brady of NFL Offensive Tackles, having set what is believed to be the longest consecutive snap streak in NFL History, well over 10,000. In fact, Thomas has never missed an NFL snap in his eleven seasons, and is one of only a handful of players to have been selected to the Pro Bowl every time in their first ten seasons. Thomas will retire one day, and five years after his retirement, he’ll be a first ballot NFL Hall of Famer. He’s arguably the greatest Offensive Tackle to ever play the game.

One Crazy NFL Sunday!

Before I begin, I would like to thank all the players, coaches, owners, and fans who took the time today to spread the awareness of freedom of speech, guaranteed to us by the First Amendment of the Constitution. This is a reminder we need to continue to allow freedom ring in a country where all men are created equal. We must also band together and continue this fight against a tyrannical leader who is using his given power in an attempt to create a nation fueled by corporate socialism, in an attempt to tell us what to do, when to do, and how to do. We must stand up for America and true, core American values, of what is given to us by the Constitution of the United States, so help us God.

The Browns were down twenty-eight to seven in the second quarter, and it looked like that time of year again. You know, the annual blowout which will set the team back eons once more. But it didn’t. the Cleveland Browns fought back, led by a rookie quarterback in DeShone Kizer. The defense stepped up big in the second half, and the offense came to life. Once again, the team was down big, but they failed to give up. They didn’t surrender. And they brought the game to within three points.

Once again, I saw good in the Browns, who were really banged up, missing receiver Corey Coleman, outside linebacker Jamie Collins, and defensive end Myles Garrett. This was a banged-up team who once more stepped up when it mattered most. Down by twenty-one, the Browns fought. Down by seventeen in the fourth quarter, the Browns continued to fight the good fight. It just wasn’t enough on this late-September’s Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis. Once again, for the third week in a row, the Browns lost. Once again, for the third week in a row, they fought with vigor. But the defense gave up too many points in the first half to recover.

Again, DeShone Kizer completed less than fifty percent of his passes, and threw three more picks (one on the final play of the game). Yet, he still showed grit, toughness, and poise. He’s the best quarterback the Browns have had since Derek Anderson in 2007, when he had a Pro Bowl season. Coach Hue Jackson, Owner Jimmy Haslam, and the entire Cleveland Browns organization must stick with Kizer. The kid has grown since his debut against Pittsburgh earlier in the month. Sure, he’ll likely lead the league in interceptions. Sure, his passer rating is going to be low. But as for me, his stats resemble that of a young Peyton Manning. A young Peyton Manning who can run, and extend plays with his legs. Kizer has thus far impressed me, and he’s doing it with an underwhelming receiving corps. Reminiscent to what Tim Couch had. The difference? Kizer’s keeping the team in the game and he’s leading the charge.

Jamie Collins and Myles Garrett will likely be back next week against Cincinnati. Good, because they’re going to be needed. The Browns’ passing game was mauled early in the first half, but they got it together. This team will mesh. In many ways, they remind me of the 2009 Browns, who started the season at 1-11, and rallied to win their final four games. The difference? That was an aging football team who signed role players in the previous offseason. This team is young, hot, and ready to mesh when the time comes. And with an aging Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, the Browns may be the King of the North sooner than many think.

An Inside Look at the Browns, Week Three

The Browns, not surprisingly, sit at 0-2. Yet, I find optimism in this group, despite the record. For one, they nearly beat the Steelers in Week One, taking the game all the way into the final two minutes before succumbing. Last week, the offense turned the ball over five times, and the defense, at times, resembled defenses from the past. There was one huge difference, and that was the final score, 24-10, didn’t get out of hand. I told myself that two years ago, the final score would’ve been something like 34-10. Ditto for last season. But the fact the Browns were in both games, even last week, they had a shot to cut into that 24-10 lead, spells improvement. With that, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this has been the case.

Gregg Williams is turning around a defense that’s been bland since 2001. The Browns didn’t have a good defense in 2001, but they created a lot of turnovers (33 interceptions). They were aggressive under former Head Coach Butch Davis, who employed a similar playing style as Gregg Williams. This defense improved in 2002, when the Browns finished at 9-7 and made the playoffs, nearly upsetting the Steelers on the road. But Williams has employed a physical style of play that saw Briean Boddy-Calhoun, a one-hundred and eighty-pound corner, light up Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell like a rag doll. Furthermore, the Browns contained Bell. They didn’t do as good a job last week, but the Browns struggled in time of possession, and the defense was on the field substantially longer. The Browns were also facing backs they didn’t prepare for, as Baltimore’s two top backs were out with injuries come game time. Nevertheless, the run defense still looked better than in years’ past, allowing 4.3 yard per carry.

When DeShone Kizer left with a migraine, I thought he was done for the day, but he was able to re-enter the game, even after Kevin Hogan led an incredible drive at the end of the half. Previous Browns coaches never would’ve done this, and had Hogan placed decent all game, yet another quarterback controversy would’ve ensued. Haven’t we seen enough quarterbacks’ careers get massacred because of annual controversies? Kizer may have had a rough game, and it won’t be the last bad game he has this season, but it held off a potential controversy. I’m a big Kevin Hogan fan, having watched and liked him in college, but Hogan reminds me more of a Chase Daniel, who’s best suited as a back-up quarterback in this league. Sure, he’s a great spot starter, but he lacks the physical tools possessed by Kizer to be a long-term starter. Nevertheless, he’s a great back-up.

Let me be the first one to admit I’m head over heels about the return of pre-season sensation Jordan Leslie. The guy dominated every time he took the field, and I was shocked he wasn’t picked for the final roster, but the numbers game came into play, and this Browns regime rightfully favors players they’ve drafted over prove-it players. Leslie wasn’t drafted by the organization, and it put him behind the eight-ball. However, he played with passion, and that’s something I admire about Jordan Leslie. Sure, he was playing against back-ups, but he was a cut above every one of them, easily the best player on the field when his number was called. Can he translate this and become a starting receiver? With Corey Coleman’s hand injury and Kenny Britt’s struggles, Leslie may fit in as a number three receiver at worst, behind Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis.

Speaking of Higgins, the kid was on the practice squad last Saturday, when the Browns called him up to the active roster. Higgins had a career game against what is statistically the best defense in the NFL at this point. This leads me to ask what he can do against the next three opponents, who are a combined 0-6. For one, the Browns have an opportunity to build momentum against Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and the New York Jets. Higgins can be a major part of the offense, and he’ll be embracing the opportunity. When asked about his performance, Higgins responded his motivation was he didn’t want to get cut again. If he has a few more games like that this season, he’ll be a number one receiver in the NFL.

I spoke of Briean Boddy-Calhoun earlier, but the Browns had a major weakness last season at corner. This became even more of a concern when every Browns fan, minus myself, freaked when Joe Haden was let go. After evaluating Haden’s performances with Pittsburgh, the Browns look like geniuses. Then again, BBC, Jason McCourty, and Jamar Taylor have proven thus far the Browns made the right move. Some wanted Haden to move to safety, but Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred (a favorite of mine), have held the fort down. It’s amazing to say that Peppers, Kindred, and BBC are all under the age of twenty-four, with Jamar Taylor at twenty-seven. This is a young, hot unit that should stick together for years to come.

Then there’s the Crown Jewel of the defense, Myles Garrett, who has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain, but is questionable to make his return this week. For one, a high ankle sprain takes six to eight weeks to recover, but Garrett’s from another planet, and recovers faster than the average human being. Will he return this week? I hope they keep him out another week, because I’d love to see him make a splash of a debut against Cincinnati.

What I Learned in Week Two

The Browns are a bad football team, but they’re not as bad as they’ve been the previous two seasons, where they finished an abysmal 4-28 over that time span. They just aren’t good enough to hang with the top teams in the NFL. But when you start a rookie quarterback, coupled with the youngest team in football, growing pains are going to happen often, and a lot of good has come out of the first two weeks of the season.

I want to begin with DeShone Kizer’s toughness, poise, and ability to extend plays and move the football downfield. Sure, Kizer had an ugly performance both before leaving, and after returning to the game, while battling a migraine, but he never looked rattled. Kizer was on the run often, as he still likes to take his time to go through his reads, but he never lost his poise. In fact, even when down 24-10 in the fourth quarter, he directed a beautiful drive. Unfortunately, the drive ended in an interception. Kizer made the right decision, he just threw a bad pass. Yet I was impressed, as no one from last season’s quarterback committee came back after their injuries (or misfortunes) in any game, at any time. Kizer already set himself apart from his predecessors, because he came back into the game after battling a migraine, but again showed flashes of brilliance.

The defense neither looked as fast nor was as aggressive, but some of that may have to do with the fact Baltimore used a committee of running backs not even signed with the team two weeks ago. Sure, these backs may be less talented, and they made their fair share of mistakes, but when you watch game film, preparing all week for the two top backs before they’re ruled out with injuries, you’re now playing against a style you weren’t preparing for. Nevertheless, the Browns contained the Ravens as often as the Ravens broke out for big gains, and though the defense was inconsistent, this time last season, they would’ve been run over all game long. It was good to see them force a turnover in the fourth quarter, and they played well enough to never let the game get entirely out of reach. This tells me one thing: the defense has improved, and this is without top pick, Myles Garrett.

Injuries are unavoidable, but the Browns seem to be charged double year after year. Both Jamie Collins and Corey Coleman went down, and while Collins will be back once he clears concussion protocol, Coleman will miss extended time for the same exact injury he sustained last season. The good news? Rashard Higgins may have had his coming out party, hauling in seven receptions for 95 yards. Higgins may have even caught a touchdown pass, but Kizer threw the ball a second too late and the ball sailed behind him into the hands of a Ravens defender. Still, Higgins may be a gem.

Ricardo Louis has four receptions in two games, meaning he’s on pace to double his reception total from last season. His role will be extended in the absence of Coleman. Louis has shown toughness on the field in the past two games, and he’s been relatively consistent. What really impresses me are the play of the tight-ends, and Seth DeValve may be the best of the bunch. He’s on pace for fifty receptions this season, and that’s a respectable number as the Browns appear to be using a tight-end committee these days. Both David Njoku and Randall Telfer have also contributed early on. Telfer is more of a blocker, but can catch if called upon. Njoku is making his rookie mistakes, but seems to make big plays when needed, as seen yesterday afternoon when he caught his first touchdown pass from Kevin Hogan.

In conclusion, the Browns would’ve lost this game 35-10, or worse this time last season. The fact the game was only 24-10 speaks wonders, as the defense never let the game get out of hand, and the offense moved the ball, only to make two costly mistakes in the red zone. Still, the Browns kept me watching until the final second for two weeks in a row. And when these games come against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, you’re on to something.