Essence of Browns’ draft comes down to four picks

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 29, 2012 – 12:09 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The Browns had 11 picks in the 2012 draft, but the essence of what they accomplished over the past three days comes down to four choices: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, and Travis Benjamin.

This is in no way is to suggest that any or all of the remaining seven picks won’t become good or even great players in the NFL.

But for all practical purposes, it is fair to say that Richardson, Weeden, Schwartz, and Benjamin are being counted on the most to have the sort of immediate impact that will allow the Browns to make the “big jump” that team president Mike Holmgren called a “reasonable” expectation when addressing reporters near the draft’s end on Saturday.

Based on what they’ve done at the collegiate level and how they’ve been evaluated by general manager Tom Heckert and the rest of the Browns’ player-personnel staff, the four look to be direct answers to the following pressing questions that have lingered since last season’s 4-12 finish:

Who is going to carry the load at running back now that Peyton Hillis has moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs?

The Browns were so confident in Richardson’s ability to do so that they made a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to move from the No. 4 to the No. 3 overall pick to guarantee that they would land the former Alabama star. Richardson not only is the most talented running back in the draft, he is arguably the most dynamic player, period. He provides greater versatility than Hillis did even when Hillis was in the midst of the one standout season he has had so far, in 2010. The Browns’ anemic offense instantly improves with the addition of a highly explosive runner who can be as effective working between the tackles as he is going outside, who catches the ball exceptionally well, and who is an excellent blocker in the passing game.

Who is going to be the franchise quarterback?

Neither Holmgren nor anyone else within the Browns’ hierarchy is anointing Weeden as the team’s starter. None of them is saying the job still belongs to Colt McCoy, either. The fact is, however, the Browns invested a first-round pick in Weeden with the idea of upgrading themselves at quarterback. And, as Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur mentioned on Saturday, the former Oklahoma State standout enters the NFL with an elevated level of maturity because he is 28 and has already been exposed to professional sports as a former baseball player in the New York Yankees’ organization. The Browns’ brass clearly is excited about Weeden’s powerful arm, strong pocket presence, and superb decision-making skills on the field.

Who will replace Tony Pashos at right tackle?

The Browns parted ways with the oft-injured Pashos earlier in the offseason, but questions would have lingered about the right tackle spot even if he were still on the roster. Oneil Cousins and John Greco could conceivably have helped patch the hole, as they tried to do last season, but there was a need to have a more definitive answer. Granted, nothing can be considered definitive with any rookie at any position, let alone one as challenging as offensive tackle, but the Browns feel very good about Schwartz’s chances of sufficiently handling the chore as their starting right tackle. Schwartz gives them a combination of good size, strength, and athleticism that should allow him to be a force in helping to make room for Richardson in the running game and providing solid pass protection. The Browns’ big-picture view of their offensive line is that they will eventually have three highly dependable pieces in Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, and Schwartz.

How will the receiving corps improve?

This, by far, was the hottest of the burning questions among the majority of Browns followers. And the general consensus is that, by selecting only one wide receiver in the draft, the team essentially ignored it. Not true. Let’s start with the addition of Benjamin. At 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, he isn’t nearly as tall or thick as receivers typically found in the West Coast-style offense the Browns run. However, what the Browns coveted was Benjamin’s remarkable speed (he runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash), something they feel will provide a game-breaking dimension to their passing game and their kick returns. Additionally, if Richardson is the same player in the NFL that he was in college, the Browns’ passing game should easily improve because opposing defenses will be forced to honor his presence in ways they did not have to do against Cleveland’s virtually non-existent running game last season. And if Weeden is the highly accurate and smart passer in the NFL that he was in college, the Browns’ incumbent receivers should thrive more … provided, as Holmgren was quick to point out, they catch the ball better than they did a year ago. And the team president is expecting they will.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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Browns target Schwartz in thin tackle crop

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 28, 2012 – 12:37 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Understand this about the 2012 NFL draft crop: It did not offer a whole lot in the way of exceptional offensive tackles.

Some would argue that only one was Matt Kalil, the former USC standout chosen by the Minnesota Vikings with the fourth overall choice acquired in a trade with the Browns.

The Browns had an offensive tackle need as well, someone to take over on the right side after they parted ways with Tony Pashos. But according to their player evaluations, after Kalil, they did not see a second one worthy of a first-round pick. That is why, after using the third overall choice on running back Trent Richardson, they used the 22nd on quarterback Brandon Weeden.

The Browns did, however, identify a player they believe can satisfactorily address their hole at right tackle: Mitchell Schwartz, from California. And that is why they decided to select him with their second-round pick, ahead of other tackles who received greater discussion from national draft analysts.

The Browns like the power with which he plays, the exact quality that a right tackle must have to help lead the charge in the running game.

The Browns also like the fact that he has a solid physique, with long arms (33 inches), and is capable of adding more muscle. Mitchell is smart, agile, and has strong instincts.

In addition, he is a highly aggressive player who gives full effort on every snap, the perfect attitude when getting out in front on run plays. And Mitchell does a nice job of working in space.

Some draftniks might have had Mitchell rated a lower than where the Browns chose him, but that doesn’t matter to general manager Tom Heckert and the rest of the team’s decision-makers. The Browns thoroughly scouted the position, and were convinced Mitchell was the right man to address a pressing need.

And, as far as the Browns were concerned, Mitchell brought better value than the remaining wide receivers on the board. They saw far more urgency in landing him where they did because they want someone who can help them get the most from their two other newest additions on offense, Richardson and Weeden.

With better offensive line play, the Browns have every reason to believe they’ve already done enough to improve their production on that side of the ball.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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With big-armed Weeden, age is not a problem

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 27, 2012 – 2:45 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

NEW YORK – Forget about the age thing.

Brandon Weeden might be “old” for an NFL rookie, but he is far from ancient.

At 28 (he’ll be 29 in October) he is plenty young to be viewed as a player with the proverbial upside.

And let’s face it: The goal is to have a quarterback who can make a major impact in the next three to five years. In the grand scheme of things, worrying about what he will do 10 years from now is fairly irrelevant.

The Browns needed a passer with a big arm that allows him to handle the inclement conditions with which they often have to cope at home as well as at the three other stadiums they visit each year in the AFC North. Weeden gives them that.

They needed a quarterback with a strong pocket presence – a strong, fearless leader who won’t back down from the challenges prevented by the stout defenses of the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. Those can both be checked off with Weeden.

Getting that kind of player at the most important position on the team was critical enough for the Browns not to take a chance on waiting beyond the No. 22 pick to do so.

Don’t fret. The Browns still have the ability to find the help they need at wide receiver and on the offensive line on Friday night, and can hit their defensive needs through the balance of the draft as well.

Weeden is a poised professional. The time he spent as a professional baseball player, which caused him to put his football career on hold, allowed him to grow and develop as a man. It hardened him – gave him more of an edge than can be found from the typical rookie.

The fact Weeden is older than Colt McCoy, as well as many other players on the Browns, is no small consideration. He won’t feel any sense of intimidation or trepidation about stepping into an NFL locker room.

You want your quarterback feeling that he is not merely leasing the spot behind center. You want him to feel that he owns it. That is the sort of feeling Weeden will have.

With a dynamic running back in Trent Richardson and a big-armed passer in Brandon Weeden, the Browns have every reason to feel good about the way they have begun one of the most critical drafts in team history.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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Browns did what was necessary to land Richardson

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 27, 2012 – 1:21 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

NEW YORK – In the end, this was the move that made the most sense.

The Browns desperately needed to land a difference-making player in the 2012 draft. They could not take the risk of sitting at No. 4 and hoping that Trent Richardson – the most dynamic force in this year’s college crop outside of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III – would be available for them to take.

Hope is not a strategy.

Making a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to move up one spot to assure themselves of getting Richardson was. And the Browns did the somewhat bold and extremely smart thing by pulling off that deal.

Now, the team has someone it can count on to make an enormous impact right away … and for years to come.

Yes, Richardson is a running back, and, yes, the NFL is a pass-first league. However, his presence in the Browns’ backfield should go a long way toward enhancing their passing game. He will force opposing defenses to put a safety in the box and, therefore, leave an extra hole to be exploited through the air.

Richardson also is a superb receiver out of the backfield and can also be split wide. In addition, he can help in pass protection.

Most of all, though, he is a highly effective ball-carrier. He can pound out the tough yards between the tackles. He can explode for long gains up the middle and outside. He is the multi-dimensional running back talent that the Browns haven’t had in a long time. As strong a season as Peyton Hillis had in 2010, he still wasn’t what you could call highly versatile. He did a nice job of catching the ball, but the bulk of his damage on the ground came through straight-ahead, power running. And he wasn’t able to sustain that high level of performance in 2011.

The majority of draft evaluators with whom I’ve spoken say Richardson has the talent to consistently produce at an elite level. And with Richardson running well, the Browns should be able to get much more from the passing game that Pat Shurmur installed last year and will have a full offseason, training camp, and preseason to enhance.

I have no problem whatsoever with the fact the Browns parted with fourth-, fifth-, and seventh-round choices to acquire the pick to land Richardson.

In the long run, those players are unlikely to make the individual or even collective impact that Richardson will make. When you have a conviction on a player, as the Browns did with Richardson, you have to do what you can (within reason) to get him. This transaction fell in the parameters of being “within reason.”

The Browns can do something they haven’t been able to do for much of this offseason, and that’s give their fans a reason to feel excited and hopeful.

That’s what dynamic players such as Trent Richardson do.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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With draft decisions, follow your convictions

Posted by Bernie Kosar on April 24, 2012 – 4:28 pm

By Bernie Kosar, Special Contributor to

Here are some highlights from my latest appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”:

When all is said and done, the decision with your first pick in the draft comes down to this: If, in your heart of hearts, you are convinced that you’re going to get a difference-maker, that he’s going make you an exponentially better team and is going to be a starter and difference-maker for years to come in the league, then you have to take that guy.

And I don’t necessarily mean a difference-maker as in someone who scores touchdowns. Joe Thomas has been a difference-maker by holding down the left tackle position for five years, by being consistent, by being reliable, by not being an issue, by locking down the left side of the line. I think Alex Mack has done that, too, at center.

So it doesn’t have to be a player at a so-called “sexy” position, but it is imperative that you get a guy who is going to play and contribute solidly for you for years to come.

I read an interesting article on about the history of the top 10 picks of the draft since the Browns came back in ’99, and, boy, there have been some incredible years where most of the top 10 was a disaster – to the point where you look at it and say, “Oh, my God, I’m glad I didn’t pick there.”

You’re talking about cases of six, seven, eight, nine of the top 10 guys who haven’t really been playmakers. Instead, it’s been players selected 15-30 who have been the better long-term NFL playmakers and pros.

Now, if you have those demons in your head and you’re just not sure about any of the players available when you make that first pick, you know there are typically other teams that want to jump up and they’re paying incredibly higher prices in picks to move up, sometimes only a few spots. And if you’re able to get picks next year and get some picks later this year and still keep your first-round pick but only a few spots lower than where you started, there’s a lot of great depth at certain positions in this draft to make that move work.

I think history’s going to say that in this draft, yes, the top two quarterbacks are getting a lot of the hype at as the first two picks, but there are some other players in some other spots that I think really are going to be special for years to come.

Be sure to catch Bernie Kosar’s regular appearances with Vic Carucci on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford,” Monday through Friday, 6-7 p.m. ET, live on ESPN 850 WKNR and

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Pressure is nothing new for Heckert

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 19, 2012 – 10:42 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Tom Heckert acknowledges that the Browns face as vitally important a draft as any they’ve had in recent memory.

The Browns’ general manager also points out that pressure is a constant companion for him and the rest of the team’s player-personnel staff.

He’s absolutely right. Whether the Browns were 4-12 or 12-4 last season, the chore of making them better for 2012 would be huge. Expectations never get smaller.

Obviously, there is a great deal of frustration among the fan base over the team’s prolonged playoff drought and mediocrity, and that clearly ramps up the feeling that Heckert and the Browns’ other talent-evaluators have to get this draft right. That is especially true with the club owning the fourth and 22nd overall picks. But …

“I think we always have pressure,” Heckert told me on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” Thursday.

Yet, he fully understands what must happen.

“We have to come through with the young players,” Heckert said. “Our philosophy in the organization is to build through the draft, so obviously we have to do well. So I don’t think there’s any added pressure, but we need to add young players to this team and we do have to improve. Obviously (4-12) is not going to cut it, and we all know it. So it’s a draft where we expect guys to come in here and help us win games.”

There are a couple of massive challenges facing the Browns in this draft beyond getting the premium choices right.

One, they must choose between needs and best players available. This year, the brunt of the needs clearly exist on offense, particularly with defense being emphasized in the last two Browns drafts. The second challenge is not being so focused on the fourth overall choice that the remaining 12 picks are treated as something less than critically important.

“Obviously, we do have to help ourselves on offense because these last two years we kind of went the defense route,” Heckert said. “But I think you have to look throughout the whole draft. You can’t just focus on the first pick or the first two picks. To say we need first-round players at every position on offense, I just don’t think that’s the case. We can’t obviously take defensive players in the first three picks; we just can’t do that.

“But can we take one defensive player in there? I think we can, and still come out with enough offensive players to help us on offense. So I think there’s a fine line but you still can’t go away from your philosophy of taking a need position over a good football player. I don’t believe in it.”

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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It’s dangerous to jump to schedule conclusions

Posted by Bernie Kosar on April 18, 2012 – 8:56 pm

By Bernie Kosar, Special Contributor to

Here are some highlights from my latest appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”:

Maybe it’s human nature, but typically when the schedule comes out you have a tendency to look for unfair setups and rough situations. And I’ve got to say, going over the Browns’ schedule at first glance, this looks like a pretty nice, fair setup.

That’s not saying it’s easy, because every week an NFL game is hard to win and is going to be challenging. You would have never guessed that the St. Louis Rams were only going to win two games last year – and one of those wins was going to be against the New Orleans Saints. And you would have never guessed that the Green Bay Packers were going to start off last season 13-0, and then go to Kansas City and lose their first game to a bad Chiefs team.

So when you start thinking you have easy games or you start looking ahead and kind of checking off wins, I think that’s a dangerous scenario. The same goes for thinking that certain games are too hard or they’re not winnable.

Things change so much from year to year within the NFL, which gives each team the opportunity to make big strides and is one of the reasons it is so popular.

Last summer, I remember listening to the so-called experts saying that Cincinnati Bengals are the worst NFL team that they have ever seen. And here we are talking about four of our first six games being against 2011 playoff games, and two of them being against the Cincinnati Bengals.

There are always going to be some surprises.

The Browns have a very interesting situation with their third preseason game coming against the Philadelphia Eagles, who they will face a little more than two weeks later in the regular-season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Traditionally, the third preseason game is treated as a live simulation of a regular-season game. The starters see more playing time than they do in any other game of the preseason and you tend to game plan for that game, putting in plays to go against that specific defense. And I know both sides will probably down play the importance of it, but there is no doubt that there will some gamesmanship going on between the two teams in that third preseason game as well as in the home-opener.

And then you add the fact that there is so much history between coaching staffs, with Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress having previously spent years together working for Andy Reid in Philadelphia. This will be as close to the equivalent of a mental chess match as I think you could get in the preseason.

Be sure to catch Bernie Kosar’s regular appearances with Vic Carucci on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford,” Monday through Friday, 6-7 p.m. ET, live on ESPN 850 WKNR and

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Browns have a mostly balanced schedule

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 17, 2012 – 11:36 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The Browns’ schedule offers plenty of challenge, based on their opponents’ won-loss records in 2011.

But my initial impression as I study the slate of games announced by the NFL on Tuesday is that it doesn’t offer the additional hurdles of prolonged stretches of road games.

Of course, the two places with back-to-back road contests (Sept. 27 against Baltimore and Oct. 7 against the Giants, and Dec. 23 against Denver and Dec. 30 against Pittsburgh) certainly offer a high degree of difficulty.

Yet, there is a fair amount of balance in how the schedule comes together. The two longest trips – at Oakland, on Dec. 2, and at Denver, on Dec. 23 – are separated by a pair of home games: Dec. 9 against the Chiefs and Dec. 16 against the Redskins.

“When you look at the amount of travel we do, that’s the case,” coach Pat Shurmur said on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” Tuesday night. “But every opponent is tough.”

The bye arrives in Week 10, five weeks later than a year ago. That should work out reasonably well on the assumption that injuries begin piling up that time of year, and the Browns will have an extra week to allow players to heal.

Another interesting element is that the Browns will be opening the regular season against the Eagles, on Sept. 9, only two weeks after facing them in their third preseason game, on Aug. 24. There is little doubt that Pat Shurmur and the rest of the Browns’ coaching staff will have to approach that preseason game, usually treated as a tune-up for the regular season, a little differently than they normally would. You can expect some holding back of certain plays and formations … and you can expect Andy Reid (Shurmur’s former boss) and the rest of the Eagles’ coaching staff to do the same.

The Browns will have an opportunity to make a strong statement early on, because three of their first six games are against division opponents (Cincinnati on Sept. 16 and Oct. 14, and Baltimore on Sept. 27) and four are against  2011 playoff opponents (Cincinnati, Baltimore, and the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants).

Also, they face seven AFC opponents in their first nine games.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at

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Identifying depth at key spots always key to draft success

Posted by Bernie Kosar on April 12, 2012 – 7:58 pm

By Bernie Kosar, Special Contributor to

Here are some highlights from my latest appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”:

>With the draft now only a couple of weeks away, so much of the focus continues to be on the obvious names – on the players expected to be taken in the first three, four, five, or six picks.

You don’t need to all that much research to know about Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III or Matt Kalil or Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne. We’ve been hearing and talking about those guys for months.

Where I think a lot of energy that needs to be invested is when you start looking at the depth of certain positions.

So, after Trent Richardson is off the board, how much depth of top-tier, first-, second-, or third-round-type running backs is available? How many other top-tier receivers — potential play-making receivers — are there in the first, second, or third round?

For instance, Mike Wallace, the standout receiver for the Steelers, was a third-round pick from Mississippi in 2009. I think just about any NFL team would be happy with Mike Wallace being one of their draft picks.

So even though a lot of fans and media are focused on those players who are candidates for, in the case of the Browns, the No. 4 pick overall, you can do even more to help yourself as a team by really looking at the depth of certain positions you’re looking to address. And you say, “Hey, maybe I don’t take the running back or the receiver in the first round or the second round, but I may be able to get another other guy at the position later to kind of help fill in my roster.” I think a lot of that thinking goes into draft preparation.

>There’s a fantastic/humbling article that Terry Pluto wrote for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer over the weekend that looked the history of the fourth and 22nd overall picks of the draft.

The fourth pick has been used on players such as A.J. Green, the receiver who had a strong rookie season for Cincinnati last year. It also has been used on players such as Aaron Curry, a so-called “can’t-miss” linebacker who went to Seattle and then got traded to Oakland for basically nothing. Even somewhat scarier was the history of the 22nd pick.

What that article really shows me is that, sometimes, having quantity — as the Browns do with 13 picks — is probably the surest way to success in the draft. Because the best pickers, drafters that are Hall-of-Fame material, really don’t even bat 50 percent in drafting guys in the first few rounds. Not even 50 percent.

Yeah, you could say A.J. Green worked out well, but for every A.J. Green, there’s an Aaron Curry. So, sometimes, having the extra picks gives you a little luxury because everybody makes mistakes, and being able to just kind of limit your exposure, limit your mistakes, is really imperative.

Be sure to catch Bernie Kosar’s regular appearances with Vic Carucci on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford,” Monday through Friday, 6-7 p.m. ET, live on ESPN 850 WKNR and

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Documentary dialogue sparks trash-talking memories

Posted by Bernie Kosar on April 7, 2012 – 2:58 am

By Bernie Kosar, Special Contributor to

Here are some highlights from my latest appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”:

As disturbing as most of the quotes from Gregg Williams in the incriminating documentary that surfaced this week were, I actually got a kick out of comments from some of the players talking to guys they hit.

Unlike the whole bounty situation with the Saints, the back-and-forth between players is one of the things I find fantastic about football — the competitiveness, the toughness of it.

But when a guy hits a quarterback under the chin and says to him, “I’m going to be back; you don’t forget me. I’m going to be back and get ya again,” and that’s presented as being the same thing as what Gregg Williams did in directing players to deliver hits that cause injuries, I just don’t understand that. I don’t see that even in the same hemisphere as what Williams did.

I’ve had guys say those kinds of things to me when I was playing, and I always found it hilarious – all the smack-talking and trash-talking. It’s one of the fun things that you do in the league.

I remember Mark Gastineau hitting me late in our double-overtime playoff game with the Jets, and then saying “I killed ya, I killed ya … and I’m going to kill ya again.” And he was doing this as we got the first down, as we got the 15 yards from his penalty.

When I was with the Cowboys and I was playing in the NFC Championship game after Troy Aikman had gotten hurt, two defensive linemen from the San Francisco 49ers were on top of me saying, “Oh, I yoked ya, I stroked ya, you old man. You can’t play anymore.”

And I said, “Hey, guys, I don’t think these 80,000 people are cheering because you yoked me; which I’m not even sure what that is.” What they were cheering about was the 60-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Harper.

I mean, those are the memories that you keep with you for forever. And it’s one of the unbelievably fun parts of the game.

Be sure to catch Bernie Kosar’s regular appearances with Vic Carucci on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford,” Monday through Friday, 6-7 p.m. ET, live on ESPN 850 WKNR and

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