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Is Gabe Paul to blame? - Thu, Sep 24 2009 at 6:06 pm

Long-time Cleveland-area sports fans will recognize the name referenced in the subject line of this entry.


The late Tribe executive was a baseball lifer who served the front offices of many MLB organizations. But it was in Cleveland that he seemed to distinguish himself as something of a flim-flam administrator.


Rather than conscientiously constructing something with genuine shelf life and homegrown upside, Mr. Paul would annually pacify the masses with the sensational, a personnel practice that seems to have become the template for all subsequent insincere contenders to follow in this town.


Gabe raised a generation of baseball fans on the blockbuster trade, usually featuring Cleveland’s acquisition of some washed-up former slugger, as if the long-ball were the key to the winning this community craved and formerly knew intimately.


At least that is how I remember it.


Every spring some new home-run hitter was foisted upon the unsuspecting populace, invariably costing the Cleveland organization a legitimate young prospect or two, if not one or more of its few established ballplayers. Such grandstanding was done to stimulate fan interest, sell a few tickets and create the mistaken impression some real progress was occurring.


Each season would predictably result in big-time losses and horrendous attendance, signalling the start of yet another cycle of disappointment and despair.


These impressions are resurrected today because the Baltimore Ravens provide this weekend’s opposition for the woeful Cleveland Browns, a franchise that once again seems unable to either pass or run the football with consistency or distinction.


What is the connection? It has to do with the contrast between front offices that truly know what they are doing and those that do not.


Whereas the Ravens, who had once been the Browns, are seemingly positioned for yet another run at serious Super Bowl contention, the New Browns continue to manifest chronic problems. Lots of them.


Most prominently, the Browns again can’t block anyone. Their OL is—how should this be put?—less-than-adequate. Even ’60s cigarette commercials knew: “It’s what’s up front that counts.” Football is a game decided in the trenches, much as baseball is won on the mound (not by the longball). Some things are simply fundamental.


Which statistics should be cited to illustrate how inept has been Cleveland’s OL yet again this year? The 6-for-26 third-down conversion numbers? Their being last in the NFL in total offense? The 143 rushing yards after two games, a pace that would put the team just over 1,100 for the campaign? Being outscored 41-7 in the second half of games thusfar this year?


Why don’t we just leave that point alone? Consider it indisputable. The Cleveland OL has been annually deficient, despite occassionally superb seasons from selected individuals. No one who’s been paying any attention whatsoever would dare debate that truth.


This is all a very long way of introducing this little nugget to readers of this site: The Ravens have completely rebuilt their OL since 2006, transitioning from one championship-caliber unit to what may be another. During that same period, the Gabe Pauls running the Browns’ organization have loaded up on pass-catchers, the NFL equivalent of the overrated slugger.


Not long ago, Baltimore bid farewell to future Hall-of-Fame LT Jonathon Ogden, LG Edwin Mulitalo, center Mike Flynn and whomever else it was with whom they won their 2000 Super Bowl. As recently as last season, they featured former Bengal graybeard Willie Anderson at RT and Jason Brown over the ball, a rising talent who since became 2009’s highly-compensated Rams’ free agent acquisition.


Brown has since been replaced by ex-Viking Pro Bowler Matt Birk, who for the sake of this article will be henceforth overlooked. This because Baltimore can boast a starting five of exemplary assets assembled within the past four off-seasons—every one a draftee!


What is more, three of them—LT Jared Gaither, LG Ben Grubbs and RG Marshal Yanda—arrived in 2007. Ole Miss RT Michael Oher arrived this spring in Round One. In for Birk at center can be Chris Chester, who came aboard in Round Two of ‘06, making the fourth-year man the veteran of the group.


Imagine that.


Meanwhile, the Browns extended a mis-guided tradition of pointlessly investing in second-round WRs, selecting not one but two within the top 50 April draftees. They’ve combined for one more catch than either you or I.


Earlier off seasons presented the North Coast with such luminary second-round wideouts as Kevin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis—a quartet that, rather than performing in its prime as Browns today, has long since been marginalized in the sport (Northcutt, Davis) or out of it entirely.


If that were not enough, 2009’s #3 and #5 are also of no further use to the Browns, having expended them in pursuit of already-discarded TE Martin Rucker and WR Paul Hubbard.


Incredibly, all of this has left WR Braylon Edwards alone as the club’s only offensive threat about whom opponents must concern themselves in the unlikely event the OL pass-blocks well and long enough to allow QB Brady Quinn to find (reach?) him.


Fortunately, there exist specific calendar dates long-suffering and loyal Browns’ fans can anticipate, in the fervent hope that one or more of them will provide the dawn of personnel deliverance: the start of NFL free agency, end-of-training-camp cutdown day and (though they should know better by now) Draft Day.


Gabe Paul, rest in peace, would be so proud.




On the subject of the Ravens’ front office, it must seem so ironic to long-time Browns’ followers that former owner Art Modell installed in Baltimore one of the premier talent evaluators in the NFL, given his resistance to employing professional assistance for so many of his maddening Cleveland years.


The genius for whom the club is named, the late Paul Brown, had functioned for decades as his own GM, assembling as remarkable a roster as has ever been seen.Within two years of firing Brown, Modell won his only Cleveland championship in 1964 using PB’s players, schemes and coaches—including the under-rated man who replaced him, head coach Blanton Collier.


Thereafter, Modell mistakenly maintained he could be his own GM, much to the dismay and depression of his teams and fan base. In 1981, Modell appointed Bill Davis to the position of Director of Personnel. It was he who orchestrated the June ‘84 trade with the Bears for their three picks in the supplemental draft, a process that delivered to the Browns such USFL commodities as Kevin Mack, Dan Fike, Mike Johnson and Gerald McNeil.


On that staff at the time was Executive Vice President Ernie Accorsi, the brains behind securing Bernie Kosar in the ‘85 supplemental draft. Accorsi’s personnel work saw the club through its last extended glory period of the late ’80s.


Bill Belichick secured personnel authority upon his appointment as head coach in 1991, selecting as first-rounders Tommy Vardell, Eric Turner, Steve Everitt, Antonio Langham and Derrick Alexander. He also navigating the 1995 Round One exchange that delivered OSU OLB Craig Powell.


That last manuever—executed with Ruben Brown, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks still on the board—allowed SF to choose in Cleveland’s tenth spot. The trade enabled Modell’s Mob to land Ogden and LB Ray Lewis as first-rounders in 1996 for Baltimore, with Ogden having been tabbed with what had been Cleveland’s choice (were it not for the move) and Lewis as part of the compensation from the Niners.


Modell’s first official GM hire became, of course, the last of the great old Browns, Hall of Fame TE Ozzie Newsome, who’d been born on Joe DeLamielleure’s fifth birthday, just a day after Clay Matthews, who also preceded Ozzie as the first of two first-round picks in 1978.


On the subject of those late ’80s Browns, their head coach, Marty Schottenheimer celebrated his 66th birthday Wednesday September 23.




An earlier entry to this site referenced Eric Mangini’s autocratic reign and those moves made and not made. One has to wonder if having a seasoned OC might have made Quinn’s transition easier. Also conspicuously absent is a veteran backup QB, someone who might benefit both Quinn and deposed starter Derek Anderson.


One could respond with: “Whole helluva lotta good Ken Dorsey did for the club in that capacity last year,” but it is not as if Dorsey started a lot of NFL games or won many, either. Then again, who fitting the prescribed description would consent to such a limited role?


Nonetheless, it may also be Mangini preferred his QBs to have but the coach’s carefully selected voices in their ears—his and Brian Daboll’s.


What remains stunning, however, is how little of substance was done to assure his attack would have a bonafide NFL ground game as an aid to his young signal-callers.


With the Jets in NY, Mangini had Steelers’ import Alan Faneca fueling his league-leading running attack, complemented by draftees D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, holdover Brandon Moore and fellow free agent Damien Woody.


Here, Mangini patched voids with Floyd Womack and John St.Clair. He auditioned George Foster, Corey Hilliard and Fred Weary and is presently testing Patrick Murray, Phil Trautwein and Billy Yates—all to relatively less effectiveness. Then again, maybe this is as impressive a cast as he could recruit.


What with the shotgun-snap difficulties being had by number-one pick Alex Mack, one wonders why Mangini did not consider honoring the words of former Browns’ OL coach and camp visitor Dan Radmonovich, who had been Hank Fraley’s coach at Robert Morris.


When talk circulated Fraley might move from center to guard, Mad Rad opined that Fraley would have no problems with the switch whatsoever, inasmuch as guard is much easier to play than center. Tony Jones and Cody Risien are two former Browns Pro Bowl OTs who started their careers inside before graduating to tackle. Perhaps a somewhat similar tact might have worked with Mack, playing the youngster at RG while he acclimated to the NFL and polished his pro techniques.


Moreover, the girth and strength of Rex Hadnot would seem to translate to what Mangini wants from his center. But it must be assumed—since Mack was targetted in the draft while Hadnot resided on the roster—that Rex is not perceived to have starting center skills.




Lastly, in what might be interpreted as testimony to such things as coaching, scheme, culture, winning tradition and core leadership, the New England Patriots continue to be identified among the sport’s elite clubs.


This is no longer a glorious roster of stars, what with the subtractions of Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi and Richard Seymour. That’s a lot of talent to lose in one off-season. The injury to young ILB Jerod Mayo just may cripple their authenticity.


The OL, secondary, LB and RB units are fairly non-descript and only Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and maybe Ty Warren, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas merit mention in conversations about the best at their respective positions.


Then, too, it’s always been more about team than individuals for the Patriots, an approach Mangini must be assumed to be pursuing, as well.


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A matter of trust? - Thu, Sep 24 2009 at 1:44 am

More than likely, each of us knows at least one defensive individual. Extremely territorial. Secretive. Hyper-sensitive. Almost paranoid. Tight. Anal. Controlling. Oft-times physical and aggressive. The kind that, if threatened, might even mount a blitz.


The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged defines “defensive,” among other ways, as being: “excessively concerned with guarding against the real or imagined threat of criticism, injury to one’s ego, or exposure of one’s shortcomings.”


As the term applies to football, defense is about resisting attack, protecting one’s turf, especially one’s endzone. If an opposing team cannot score, it will be difficult for it to beat you. It is commonly held that defenses win championships. For this reason, defensive-minded coaches are often prominent personalities throughout the sport.


The stereotype resurrected whenever one is considered for the head-coaching position is that he will be conservative, almost to a fault. Difficult to deal with. Stubborn. Inflexible. Driven obsessively. Not an altogether pleasant sort at all.


These are the guys who moreso play to avoid losing rather than seize wins. Marty Schottenheimer is as close an example of that stereotype as the Cleveland Browns have ever seen. The circumstances of his dismissal, his legacy as a close-but-no-cigar type whose downfall was his prevent defense, his jut-jawed and grim visage, his passion and his competitiveness were other tell-tale indicators.


The legendary Bill Parcells—who constructed winning organizations with the Giants, Patriots, Cowboys and Dolphins—was also a noted defensive-minded NFL head coach. A few years ago, I had a very minor incident with Parcells above the North endzone of Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium that nonetheless exemplifies the nature of a defensive personality.


It was before a morning practice during Senior Bowl week a few years back. Because those stands are regularly populated with an array of grown men, many of whom are recognizable as old pros, Hall-of-Famers and league luminaries, one doesn’t tend to dwell too heavily upon who it is one might be sitting amongst. I’d slipped into an innocuous row just high enough to gain a favorable perspective of proceedings and became engrossed in them.


Soon, I became aware of the arrival of the old coach positioning himself several rows beneath, directly in my line of sight, were I to be focused downward. The old man paused to scan the faces of those seated around, but especially behind, himself before settling in. This, too, was not completely uncommon and I was paying it no particular attention. At least until I felt him staring directly at me, minding my own business and assessing the talent on display below.


Shortly, I engaged his glare through my dark glasses and waited for some reaction, eventually saying: “Good morning.” He just continued to glare, remaining unresponsive. But decidedly defensive. Presumably, the 12 or so rows between us was insufficient for his comfort.


I might’ve thought, of course, that he’d simply been examining those situated slightly above and behind me; but I knew none were there, inasmuch as I, too, am a bit defensive and, therefore, sit predominantly in isolation.


Better to be defensive, I guess, than the opposite. After all, who wants to be defenseless, offensive or indefensible?


Thoughts of such men came to me when viewing last Sunday’s Browns’ loss in Denver. The 2009 edition of what once had been the Yankees of the NFL is now being coached by a defensive-minded individual named Eric Mangini, sort of a grandson of the aforementioned Parcells in that Bill begot Belichick and Belichick begat Mangini.


Mangini’s Browns were again impotent offensively, replicating much of the same inefficiency and hopelessness displayed in their opener versus the Vikings. On this day, the overriding summation was: “Either this is all QB Brady Quinn is capable of doing or this is all the head coach will allow him to do.”


Either way, promise was elusive.


In brief, Mangini’s Men personified the stereotype assigned to outfits managed by defensive-minded head coaches: tight, controlled, conservative to a fault, inflexible, stubborn, not at all pleasant.


The numbers were horrific. Out-gained 449 to 200. Eleven first downs to 25. Outrushed 186 to 54. Outscored 27-6. Unable to convert on 3rd down, contrary to the opposition. Too many completions of the why-bother? variety, as evidenced by Josh Cribbs’ five catches for 22 yards and Mike Furrey’s one for two. A dismal display, indeed.


Days afterward, Mangini, whose post-game countenance reportedly did little to inspire calm or confidence, described his team’s issues as “controllable.” Perfect. Fans must feel so much better.


It is early in the man’s administration. Rash and/or harsh judgements might best be stifled. But one must acknowledge that all things Browns these days are under this man’s control. All that is and all that is not are because Mangini wants things that way. Or so we must assume. He is the latest Italian Dictator, to borrow on another stereotype.


The man has told those following the fortunes of the Browns that he can win with either guy, when pressed about what had been a QB competition between Quinn and deposed starter Derek Anderson. We must assume, then, that he also felt he could win with the roster he and hand-picked GM George Kokinis assembled.


One must assume the vet free-agent offensive linemen he and Kokinis signed for the right side, Floyd Womack and John St. Clair, carry his endorsement and are guys he can win with. One must assume the two second-round wide-receivers he and George selected, Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, also qualify for those descriptions, though the former was inactive Sunday and the latter has the only catch between them thusfar.


Similarly, we must assume what has been done about providing whomever was to win the QB competition with a running game was deemed sufficient by this former NY Jets coach. These things are being listed because none of these measures has yet to bear fruit, any more so than did the signings of veteran DB reserves Corey Ivy and Roderick Hood.


The point is there does not yet seem to be very much at all that indicates the man knows what he’s doing, at least insofar as personnel and winning football games are concerned. Minimally, during that period when his signal-caller was being decided, Mangini should have assured his offense would be able to move the chains rushing the football. As it now stands, his squad can neither run nor pass the pigskin. Regrettably, there is not much else that exists by way of offensive football.


Schottenheimer and Parcells, for their parts, always made certain their teams could and did run the football with authority. They also saw to it the other clubs could not.


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Wow, the Browns can't run the ball...........only after 2 games? What happens if they do a better job by mid-season? It is what it is, when you lack so much talent, you pick and choose your time to make a move, the Browns weren't even close.

When you don't have the players, you better have good coaches and good schemes. Of you have neither you have what we have - no hope.


The play calls suck and the coaches don't get this team ready to play. Pretty soon that "first half" aganst the Vikes will be way way in the past.


After 2 games I'm no longer a Mangini fan. He has to do something to earn my respect and so far he has dug himself a hole.

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When you don't have the players, you better have good coaches and good schemes. Of you have neither you have what we have - no hope.


The play calls suck and the coaches don't get this team ready to play. Pretty soon that "first half" aganst the Vikes will be way way in the past.


After 2 games I'm no longer a Mangini fan. He has to do something to earn my respect and so far he has dug himself a hole.


Yadda, yadda, yadda. You are making conclusions before things even get started. That is your problem. Heck, even the players, for example the rightside of the OL were considered good fits in this system. Maybe, just maybe, this offense needs time to jell. Maybe the coaching is at the point the players are at. When they jell a bit more, they can up the ante a bit more with playcalling.

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