By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are some final thoughts on the Browns as they wrap up their final week of organized team activity workouts:
>Brandon Weeden is the real deal. He throws the ball with exceptional accuracy, impressive velocity, and tremendous consistency. He makes good decisions with his throws most of the time. And the fact the former professional baseball pitcher is a 28-year-old NFL rookie becomes less important when you see the way he carries himself, showing the maturity and command of someone who already has been exposed to the life of a professional athlete.
>Trent Richardson has the look of a dynamic superstar. He moves with speed and explosiveness. No, he hasn’t had a collision in the hole with D’Qwell Jackson or any other NFL defender yet. But it’s hard to imagine that Richardson won’t deliver the elite skills as a runner, receiver, and blocker that he showed while helping Alabama win a pair of national championships.
>The incumbent receivers appear to have used their offseason for much more than relaxing and/or wallowing over being the target of most of the criticism for the Browns’ 4-12 finish last season. The group that dropped too many passes and made too few big plays showed up in top physical condition and has generally performed with a much greater sense of purpose and urgency. The practice performances haven’t been perfect, but they’ve clearly been better than what we saw for most of the 2011 campaign.
>New offensive coordinator Brad Childress has taken a necessary load off of the shoulders of Pat Shurmur, who wore the additional hat of OC as a rookie coach last year. Childress brings a sense of depth that one would expect from a man with 33 years of football coaching experience. Shurmur looks clearly more comfortable knowing that he has someone who not only shares his vision of the offense, resulting from their time together as assistants in Philadelphia, but is capable of running offensive staff meetings when Shurmur is pulled away by other duties that inevitably require the head coach’s attention. Players also speak glowingly of what Childress brings to the table.
>New senior offensive assistant coach Nolan Cromwell also has taken a load off of Shurmur’s shoulders. Cromwell earned plenty of Shurmur’s trust when Cromwell was the St. Louis Rams’ receivers coach in 2010, Shurmur’s final season as their offensive coordinator before becoming the Browns’ coach. Shurmur wisely has Cromwell working with receivers coach Mike Wilson to guide the Browns’ pass-catchers. In every drill, Cromwell can be seen and heard challenging the receivers to give maximum effort while paying ultra-close attention to details.
>Without contact, it’s hard to draw many conclusions about the defense, but it is easy to see the injection of pass-rushing talent from free-agent end Frostee Rucker. He has quick off the ball and consistently gets into the backfield in time to be disruptive. The absence of big Phil Taylor at defensive tackle is noticeable, of course, because, well, he’s big Phil Taylor. But rookie John Hughes looks to have the girth and strength to hold his own in the middle.
>T.J. Ward’s return from a foot injury has brought a higher degree of energy and play-making to the secondary. As the old saying goes, you sometimes don’t know how much you miss someone until they’re gone, and Ward was sorely missed for more than half of last season.
>Before a good portion of the Browns’ football operation shut down until training camp, team president Mike Holmgren met with the media to let them to know that they will be seeing more of him in the coming months. It is all part of Holmgren’s efforts to “try to be more available” to reporters. He said he was motivated to change the original approach of remaining in the background as much as possible in order to allow Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert to be in the forefront of the organization by hearing questions about his long-term commitment to the Browns. Holmgren stressed that he is fully committed to the team and that he and his wife, Kathy, are committed to Cleveland. Holmgren is the same guy now that he was when he became club president in 2010 – the same driven man that led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship during a coaching career that should land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It makes perfect sense for him to allow more people to see that guy as often as possible.
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