Addressing quarterback situation

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 28, 2013 – 12:10 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Judy– Are the Browns actively seeking a new quarterback?

If, by new quarterback, you mean looking for a replacement for Brandon Weeden, I don’t think that’s the case, Judy.

The fact Alex Smith is no longer available, having been traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs, is worth mentioning if only because of the speculation that the Browns might have had interest in him because Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner had success with him in San Francisco.

But even if Smith were still potentially in play for the Browns, I’d say that Weeden’s chances of remaining the team’s quarterback are good. I think he has the physical attributes – big guy who stands tall in the pocket and has a strong arm – that fit the Rob Chudzinski/Turner offense well – and much better than Smith.

I’m not saying that Weeden is an absolute lock to start. None of the Browns’ top decision-makers has said that.

What they’ve said is that Weeden will compete for the No. 1 spot, and that makes perfect sense. They inherited Weeden; they didn’t choose him. So they want him to demonstrate during the offseason and preseason that he merits the job.

Judging by the public comments that Chudzinski and Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner made at the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, it’s fair to say they’ve seen enough of Weeden to view him as a viable starting candidate.

Banner made it clear that Weeden must show significant signs of improvement, the kind that a player (and especially a quarterback) tends to show between his first and second seasons. That is a reasonable expectation.

Banner and the rest of the Browns’ brass are looking for the coaching from Chudzinski and Turner to noticeably elevate Weeden’s game. That’s reasonable, too.

Are the Browns looking to add a quarterback, even if he isn’t designated to be the starter? I think so. I would expect them to land one in the draft and perhaps another in free agency to enhance the competition at the position.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Looking at Browns’ draft priorities

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 27, 2013 – 12:02 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Melly – What do you think of the Browns taking Tavon Austin, wide receiver from West Virginia, with the No. 6 pick? He is a play-maker we need.

I don’t see it as a great possibility, Melly.

The most obvious reason is that wide receiver isn’t the Browns’ biggest need. I don’t even know if it would rank any higher than third or fourth on their needs list.

My sense is that a pass-rushing terror in the form of an outside linebacker/defensive end is the team’s top priority, followed by a cornerback.

My sense also is that outside linebacker/defensive end is one of the deeper positions in the draft, and that would, theoretically, give the Browns the best chance of getting a high-quality player at that spot with their first pick.

On the other hand, cornerback doesn’t seem to offer the same level of talent beyond Alabama’s Dee Milliner, who likely pushed his way into the top 10 (and perhaps higher) with the 4.31 and 4.37 40-yard dashes he ran Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Browns certainly could consider selecting Milliner at No. 6, with the idea that they might be able to get a strong pass-rusher later. But for now, their next pick wouldn’t come until the third round, and at that point, the elite pass-rushers in the draft are likely off the board.

I do think the Browns will look to draft a receiver somewhere along the line, but that would probably be well after Austin, who boosted his stock considerably by running a 4.25 40 at the Combine, has been selected.

John – Maybe the Browns should draft Chance Warmack, offensive guard from Alabama, if possible?

I share your enthusiasm over Warmack’s skills, John.

However, I don’t see much of a possibility that the Browns would draft him.

Offensive guard doesn’t look to me like a pressing enough need to prompt the Browns to choose Warmack in the first round, which is probably where he will be drafted.

Could that change if the Browns were able to swing a trade that would get them a second first-round choice? Possibly. But I don’t see it happening under their current circumstances.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Ansah leaves favorable impression

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 25, 2013 – 11:46 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Jeff – Which outside linebacker is best for my Browns at No. 6? I like Ziggy Ansah, defensive end from BYU.

I like Ziggy, too, Jeff.

I’m not necessarily endorsing him as the Browns’ top pick, at least not yet. I’d like to gather more information on him in the coming weeks, including his performance at his pro day.

But I definitely have a higher opinion of him after seeing what he did and talking with him at the NFL Scouting Combine. He showed impressive speed, athleticism, and strength. And he strikes me as a bright person who can learn quickly.

And Ansah has undergone quite a football education when you consider that he’s from Ghana and originally chose BYU to compete in track and ultimately develop into an NBA player.

When the 2012 season began, he was not being discussed as a highly rated draft prospect. Now, some draftniks see him as a potential top-10 choice, and think he would make a good fit in the Browns’ 3-4 scheme.

Ansah’s combination of size (6-foot-5 and 271 pounds), explosiveness, power, and body control allowed him to quickly establish himself as a top-level defensive end at the collegiate level. But the fact he’s such a good athlete and a quick study should allow him to play standing up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 or with his hand down, and demonstrated he could do exactly that at the Senior Bowl. He told me he would be comfortable with either scheme.

I also came away with the strong sense that Ansah is highly competitive and has the work ethic necessary to improve every aspect of his game and learn all of the nuances to help him succeed in the NFL.

But let’s see how the rest of the pre-draft process plays out for him and other players the Browns might consider for that sixth overall pick.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Player search runs deeper than talent

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 23, 2013 – 8:56 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – It isn’t simply a case of finding good players.

That is always at the core of the Browns’ evaluation of potential free-agent signees and college prospects.

There also is a specific parameter that might sound obvious, but is paramount to the team’s efforts to improve its fortunes. Coach Rob Chudzinski said it on Friday and chief executive officer Joe Banner reiterated it on Saturday: The Browns want players who want to be Browns.

That goes deeper than landing someone who just wants a big payday in the free-agent market or wanting to play in the NFL.

And Banner is confident that the Browns will be able to identify those players once the free-agent signing period begins on March 12 and during April’s draft. He sees plenty to which they will be attracted beyond money.

“We won’t know that for a few weeks,” Banner said during a breakfast gathering with reporters who cover the Browns at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But we think that Jimmy (Haslam) coming in as the owner was a tone-changer. We think, around the league, the hiring of Chud, the quality of the (coaching) staff, was perceived both in terms of its quality and the message that it sends about what we’re committed to, the investments that we’re willing to make to win.

“Aside from Chud, both (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) and (defensive coordinator) Ray (Horton) have reputations, from talking to players, as people you really want to play for – that they like playing for, that they have a lot of respect (for), that they think will be successful.”

It doesn’t stop there.

The fact the Browns play in the AFC North is another factor in making them attractive to the rest of the league, as well as to college prospects.

“I think the division we’re in is one that players that are driven by kind of being competitive would be excited to be in,” Banner said. “So I think we have a good story to tell.”

A story that the CEO believes will and must get better in order for the Browns to acquire players who will have an added sense of pride of wearing brown and orange.

“Despite perception (that it’s only about money), most players want to play where they believe they can win,” Banner said. “So once we’ve actually proven that we’re going to be different from previous regimes and we’re going to win here, it will get easier.

“But I still think we’ll be successful in recruiting the primary guys we’ll be looking for.”

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Barkley symbol of QB class doubts

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 22, 2013 – 9:52 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Everything you needed to know about the perception of the quarterback class in the 2013 NFL Draft was standing at a podium in the media center at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday.

It was an embodiment of doubt and controversy and physical, as well as metaphorical, damage. It was a symbol of something that never reared its ugly head last year, when the quarterback draft class was all about high class and high quality and the highest of high picks.

It was Matt Barkley, of USC, talking with reporters covering the NFL Scouting Combine about the status of the right (throwing) shoulder he separated late last season – an injury that caused him to miss the final two games of his collegiate career and will cause him not to throw passes during workouts here after he had originally indicated he would.

“I’m 100-percent on track with my rehab program,” Barkley said. “It’s been a slow process. I’ve had to be very patient at times with the rehab that I’ve been doing. But I’ve been in great hands under Dr. (James) Andrews, Dr. (Neal) ElAttrache on the West Coast, and Dr. (James) Tibone. I believe in the plan that’s set.

“By March 27, on my pro day (at USC), I should be perfect to throw.”

A year ago, the quarterback draft discussion was about whether Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III would be the top overall choice. Luck, the former Stanford star, was taken first by the Colts and Griffin, the former Baylor standout, was taken second by the Redskins.

Now, Barkley, once viewed as a potential No. 1 overall pick, was being asked about whether he has something to prove despite his record-setting career.

“I think there’s always something to prove,” he said. “It seems right now that I’m kind of working my way up as opposed to already being on the top … I’ve been in both cases before.”

A year ago, the quarterback draft conversation was about how many of the quarterback would be selected in the first round (there were four: Luck, Griffin, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, and the Browns’ Brandon Weeden) and how many rookies would start (there were five: the first-rounders, plus Seattle’s Russell Wilson).

Now, there are some draft analysts who say there isn’t a quarterback worthy of a first-round pick.

What are the expectations of West Virginia’s Geno Smith, viewed in some circles as having the best chance of this year’s quarterback class of being a first-rounder?

Understanding the doubts that exist, he gave a safe answer.

“My only expectation is to become as polished as I possibly can when I enter into the NFL and compete and be a competitor; that’s all I know how to do,” Smith told reporters here. “Once I set foot on a team and I’m drafted, I’m going to come in with the same mentality. It’s not going to change. I’m going to continue to grow as an athlete and a person.”

That doesn’t mean Smith is ruling himself out for a chance to start right away. He is hoping to do exactly that. But he recognizes that last year’s rookie quarterbacks “changed expectations for many quarterbacks, let alone rookies.”

Said Barkley, “There’s always going to be that comparison, whether it’s just or unjust. I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on my part to live up to them. I know every situation’s different. Whatever a player’s going into is going to be different than what they went into last year. I don’t feel there’s any need to live up to what they lived up to. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough.”

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Combine tight-end competition tight

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 21, 2013 – 11:25 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Tight end is among the more interesting positions to watch during the NFL Scouting Combine, because of the anticipated competition to determine who in the group will be first off the board in April’s draft.

And it is a competition.

The tight-end prospects here are looking at the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium as a chance to gain an edge and convince teams they merit a first-round grade … and a higher one than the others.

It is generally believed that the cream of this year’s tight end crop includes Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame, Zach Ertz of Stanford, and Gavin Escobar of San Diego State.

“I’m just looking toward the opportunity to go up against them in some of the drills,” Ertz told reporters here.

It should be a significant challenge, given the talent of some of the better players at the position.

For instance, Eifert, who is entering the draft as a junior, established himself as the top offensive player on a Notre Dame team that competed for a national championship. He led the Fighting Irish with 50 receptions for 685 yards and four touchdowns. That earned him the Mackey Award, recognizing him as the top tight end in the nation.

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Eifert has demonstrated superb versatility. He lined up as a wide receiver, his high school position, in addition to the normal tight end spot. NFL scouts rave about his reliable hands, his ability to make difficult catches, and knack for holding onto the ball on catches in traffic over the middle.

The 6-6, 252-pound Ertz also is known for being highly versatile. He, too, lined up at receiver, as well as at the traditional tight end position. He, too, has shown an ability to run a wide variety of pass routes, including deep patterns, and enjoyed some of his better performances against top opponents.

All NFL teams see the vital importance of having a high-impact tight end, capable of taking advantage of favorable matchups against safeties and otherwise finding room to operate underneath zone coverage.

The tight ends in this year’s draft class are encouraged about seeing so many difference-making players at the position in the league.

“I think seeing what all those tight ends do and all those things they’ve been doing, it is very neat,” Ertz said. “You see Jimmy Graham (of the New Orleans Saints) out there against corners all the time. And just seeing what he does is very impressive.

“It’s something that I just hope I can do at that same level.”

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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New talent selectors can build on what they have

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 20, 2013 – 7:06 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Craig — Love the show; I listen to all of them. Thank you for what you do to keep us all informed. (Have they extended your contract or are you a free agent, too?) To my question: Every year, we are at the same juncture, picking sixth and lots of holes to fill again in the piece of Swiss cheese we know as the Browns. After the questionable draft and lack of impact players brought in through free agency, we really haven’t filled the necessary holes to make the team competitive in the AFC North. Under new ownership, management and coaching, will that finally improve our approach to plugging the holes and making us a winner?

Thanks so much for the kind words, Craig. And, yes, I plan on continuing to be a part of this club and hosting “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” for the foreseeable future.

As for your question, I first would disagree with the premise that the Browns had a “questionable” draft last year or for the better part of the past three years, for that matter.

I think they’ve managed to put together a reasonably solid young core or players, and I think the new folks in charge of the football operation would generally agree with that. You’ve heard some of them say as much publicly.

No, the Browns have not acquired much in the way of impact players via free agency. I think there is reason to think that the team might be more aggressive in that area now, although I still believe that the best approach is to be selective with signing players from the open market and not getting someone for the sake of simply landing a “big game.” That strategy almost never brings favorable results.

It’s fair to think that new people making player-personnel decisions could do a better job overall of selecting talent. And while it is crucial to find quality players, the key to acquiring players via the draft and free agency this year is to find the proper fits for the new defensive and offensive schemes the Browns will be running.

The greater challenge exists on the defensive side, as the Browns make the transition from Dick Jauron’s 4-3 to Ray Horton’s 3-4. That means finding help at outside and inside linebacker, which is very doable.

Offensively, the Browns must get players who can operate within a more downfield-throwing, attack-oriented offense that coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will put in place. My guess is that the Browns will be looking to enhance what they have among pass-catchers, particularly at tight end.

And it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that they’ll have an eye on picking up a quarterback or two.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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One way or another, Weeden will be challenged

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 19, 2013 – 11:54 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Dave — I understand Brandon Weeden will be challenged for a QB spot. Will Thaddeus Lewis have a chance to challenge? He held his own on the field.

If Lewis is on the roster during training camp, then, yes, I think he would have a legitimate chance to challenge.

But figuring out what the quarterback position will look like by the time camp starts is tricky. I suspect the group of players at the position on the roster will change at some point before offseason workouts begin. It could change dramatically, with a replacement or perhaps two coming from the free-agent/trade market and/or the draft.

I think Weeden will be in the mix. Ditto for Colt McCoy. I’m not as sure about Lewis, although I agree with you that he did hold his own in making his first NFL start against the Steelers in last year’s season-finale.

Lewis showed tremendous poise in that game, especially considering that he was facing the league’s top defense on the road. He generally made good decisions and got rid of the ball quickly. He also showed some of the athleticism that allows him to buy time in the pocket and make plays on the run.

Provided the Browns don’t get a highly established quarterback who would likely be designated the starter upon his arrival, Weeden would figure to again be a front-runner for the No. 1 spot.

But he won’t have the job handed to him.

Weeden would have to demonstrate through the offseason and the summer that he is worthy of starting for a second season. He must respond favorably to the considerable technical coaching that I expect him to receive from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Re-signing Dawson not as easy as it might seem

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 19, 2013 – 2:29 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Tyler – Please keep Phil Dawson!! Getting rid of him shouldn’t even be an option. Phil Dawson has been our MVP for the last decade!!!

I hear you loud and clear on Dawson, Tyler.

There is no denying his importance to the Browns, or the fact he is one of the greatest kickers in the game – and has been for a long time.

Still, there also is no denying that the business of football is a factor in such decisions.

As tremendous a contribution as Dawson has made through the years, the Browns will need to assess a potential long-term investment in him on the basis of how many strong years he has ahead of him and on other investments they might make in future players they would want to retain or the free-agent market.

The Browns have placed a franchise tag on Dawson in each of the past two years. If he were to be tagged a third year in a row, he would be entitled to compensation equal to that of a quarterback.

The bottom line is that re-signing Dawson might not very well be the slam dunk that many of us think. I’m not saying it won’t get done, but it will present some challenges.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Receiver less pressing need for Browns

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 16, 2013 – 3:06 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You’ve got questions and comments that you submit to the Browns’ official Facebook and Twitter pages. Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

Jack – The Browns need to get some better receivers and the O-line needs to hold the blocks a little longer. I added one touchdown to all of the games that the Browns lost last season, and you know what the record was? 9-7.

I agree that the Browns could use some receiver help, Jack.

Do I see it as a top priority? No. I think the Browns can find success in that area with the expected improvement and development of Josh Gordon and with Greg Little continuing to show the progress that he demonstrated through the second half of last season.

Gordon has established himself as a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Little is somewhere between a second and a third receiver, and needs to show more consistency to lock in his place. Travis Benjamin can be a game-breaking threat from the slot, although his greater impact will likely be made as a return specialist.

The Browns are better at receiver than they were a year ago, but they could use at least one more difference-maker. I’m always leery about making a big investment in that position in free agency. I think the Browns would again be able to help themselves there through the draft.

However, I see a far greater need for a dynamic pass-rusher at outside linebacker. After that, I think cornerback is another key area for the Browns to address. Although I would have no problem with the acquisition of a receiver, I think a playmaking tight end might present a more pressing need.

To your point about the offensive linemen needing to hold their blocks longer, that is particularly true with the more vertical passing game that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is installing. Deeper pass patterns take more time to develop, which means the quarterback must wait a couple of more beats before releasing the ball … and that puts greater pressure on the line to maintain protection.

And your stat about adding a touchdown to the 11 games the Browns lost last season merely underscores how close they were in so many games. But as the saying goes, you are what your record says you are.

>>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 ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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