Stay healthy, but it’s OK to be efficient

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 28, 2013 – 11:38 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

CHICAGO — Here are my five areas to watch for Thursday night’s preseason-finale against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

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>>Stay healthy. It doesn’t matter that most of the starters won’t play. Besides the few starters who will be on the field, it’s equally important for the other players – many of whom will fill backup roles – to avoid getting hurt. This has been a particularly bad preseason for injuries for several NFL teams, and the Browns have not been immune with the losses of running back Dion Lewis (for the season with a broken leg), offensive guard Jason Pinkston (into the early part of the season with a sprained ankle), and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (return unknown with a bruised lung). Still, it matters that the Browns give a credible showing, something that indicates — even in some small ways — that they’re ready for the real thing on Sept. 8 against the Dolphins. Backups need to look every bit as ready as starters.

>>Jason Campbell showing hes a solid No. 2. For the most part, Campbell has had a solid offseason, training camp and preseason. He had a rough outing at Indianapolis Saturday night, but so did starter Brandon Weeden and third-stringer Brian Hoyer. Campbell and Hoyer faced heavy pressure from the Colts’ pass rush, and struggled to make plays. It would be nice to see Campbell to give an efficient and even effective performance, just to offer a little reassurance that the backup job is in good hands. By most accounts, it is. And compared with many other teams in the NFL, the experience of the depth the Browns have at quarterback is fairly strong.

081013 Travis Benjamin

>>Travis Benjamin showing he can be a dependable fill-in for Josh Gordon. Through the first three preseason games, the Browns have chosen to pretty much limit Benjamin’s contribution to punt returns. And, with his extraordinary speed, he wasted no time showing his game-breaking skills in that area. Benjamin is capable of having a similar impact as a wide receiver, and he should get the chance to display as much against the Bears. Gordon is among the few starters who will play, but it’s unlikely that he’ll remain in the game very long. Benjamin’s time at receiver probably will be limited, too, but it would be nice to see him get some pass-catching reps to help prepare him for those first two regular-season games while Gordon is serving his suspension.

>>David Nelson’s one-game audition. After sitting out the first three preseason games and most of training camp while recovering from major knee surgery he underwent as a member of the Bills last season, the wide receiver finally gets a chance to show the Browns’ decision-makers he’s worth keeping on the roster. Generally speaking, few, if any, players can make such a statement in a single preseason game, especially when they’ve done more watching than participating in practice. But Nelson is a little bit of a special case. The Browns’ hierarchy knows he could make a significant difference as a big, athletic red-zone target that is likely to draw favorable matchups working from the slot. If Nelson can, at the very least, show the ability to move well and get open, and at the very most, make a couple of nice catches, he could very well do enough to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster.

>>Other backups making their mark. The final roster is mostly set. The Browns’ player-personnel department already has a good handle on the next round of cuts that will take the roster from 75 to 53 and is well into the process of figuring out what late additions from other teams (and corresponding subtractions) it will make by the weekend. Nevertheless, this game holds some significance for certain players to reinforce their cases to retain reserve roles. The biggest judgements will be based on special-teams performance. Shayne Graham appears to have won the place-kicking spot, but Spencer Lanning and newly acquired Colton Schmidt will apparently have a one-game punting duel. Tank Carder, James-Michael Johnson, and L.J. Fort will each look to make one last push for one of probably two backup spots at inside linebacker. And the biggest way that push will be made is through their performance on the kicking units.

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>>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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Ogbonnaya: New breed of fullback

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 27, 2013 – 10:47 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You turn on the television, and an interviewer is asking Curtis Martin about the diminishing role of the position he played well enough to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.Carucci's Call Logo

The interviewer talks about the NFL being a “quarterback-driven league,” and that with more quarterbacks showing the ability to make game-breaking runs, the importance of running backs is steadily fading into oblivion. Martin, one of the greatest backs in the game’s history, grudgingly agrees, although he does offer some half-hearted optimism that players who do what he did will one day re-emerge into the spotlight because of the game’s cyclical nature.

You hear this, and you can’t help but think about what the sentiment means to the player whose job is to effectively serve as the running back’s body guard: the fullback. If the running back position is going the way of the compact disk, then what does that say about the fullback?

It says that the role, while still one of the more thankless in the NFL, has to evolve into something different. And that’s exactly what has happened with the Cleveland Browns.

The traditional, battering-ram approach to fullback has no place in the offense of coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The fullback they want must be much more versatile. He still has to be able to block effectively for the run, but he also needs to excel in pass protection and pass receiving while also having the skills of a running back. In addition, he needs to make a contribution to special teams, something the traditional fullback doesn’t do.

That’s why the Browns’ new fullback is a former running back, Chris Ogbonnaya. That’s also why Owen Marecic, a traditional fullback who had held the job since joining the Browns in 2011, was waived on Tuesday.082713 Chris Ogbonnaya

To say that Marecic’s departure brought an official end to the competition for the starting spot at the position would be an overstatement. From the start of offseason workouts, Ogbonnaya convinced the Browns’ decision-makers that he was the perfect fit for the job. He only enhanced his case through training camp and the first three games of the preseason by helping to open holes for Trent Richardson and the rest of the team’s running backs.

“I think that playing running back has definitely helped,” Ogbonnaya said of the transition to fullback. “You know where you need to be when you’re running the football, so with that, you’re able to complement those skills and those attributes into the fullback position.”

In the passing game, as well as in the running game.

Ogbonnaya understands the nuances of picking up the blitz, which is the most critical role for a back that doesn’t primarily touch the ball.

“You want to keep your quarterback upright,” he says. “That’s something I take a lot of pride in. I’ve always taken pride in it since I was in college (Texas).”

At 6-foot and 225 pounds, Ogbonnaya is bigger and stronger than he has been at any point in his four NFL seasons. He has added more muscle to his upper body in order to better withstand the rigors of opening holes and taking on pass-rushers.

The position change also has caused Ogbonnaya to undergo a change of attitude.

“I think I’ve gotten tougher,” he says. “It takes a lot of effort. It’s a man’s job. But that just goes back to the coaches, putting a little faith in me, a little trust and working on my technique.

“I’m still working on that stuff and doing the little things whether it’s blocking drills or sled work or whatever just to get better. I’m going to continue to get better and keep working at it.”

Even if playing fullback is the most thankless of NFL occupations.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 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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Wise to avoid overreaction

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 26, 2013 – 11:27 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Brandon Weeden nailed it.

“It’s never as good and it’s never as bad as you think it is,” the Browns’ quarterback said Monday.

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And that was the perfect summation of where the Browns are after three preseason games.

Yes, they did look sharp in victories against the Rams and Lions. No, they did not look like that team against the Colts Saturday night.

How much we should conclude from each game is highly debatable, because Rule One of the preseason is not to react strongly to almost anything you see – especially when it’s bad.

The absence of game-planning on both sides makes it extremely difficult to determine the exact quality of the performance. An offense and defense fully prepared for an opponent will more than likely play better more often than not.

I suspect Weeden and the rest of the Browns’ offense would have shown far greater competence against the Colts – and, frankly, even in their first two preseason games for that matter — if coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had put together a scheme that utilized more of the playbook and looked to exploit Indianapolis’ defensive weaknesses. I suspect there would be a dramatic improvement in the way the defense played at Indianapolis, as well, with defensive coordinator Ray Horton calling a wide variety of blitzes and confusing quarterbacks by mixing up coverages.

What the Browns did in all phases through the first two games of the summer mattered to the extent that, in simply matching physical talent, they consistently won one-on-one battles. There was plenty of reason to be encouraged by that, because it established a foundation up which the Browns can grow once the regular season begins.

But there was a down side.

It naturally elevated expectations, particularly when it comes to Weeden. It’s fair to look for strides from the quarterback from the struggles of his rookie season last year. However, it isn’t fair to assume he will look as sharp as he did in the first two games through the entire preseason.

That isn’t realistic, especially with the “show-nothing-to-the-enemy” approach that the Browns and every other team take and particularly because Weeden is still learning a new offense and new coaches.

Clunkers will happen, such as the one we saw Saturday night. And they aren’t always the worst thing that can happen. They can actually be beneficial to a team, like the Browns, that was due for a little bit of a reality check before the regular season begins.

“Sometimes, you need a little slap in the face to say, ‘Hey, listen! You need to continue to grind,’” Weeden said. “That’s just human nature to get a little ahead of yourself, but what better timing.”

Doing so in a game that doesn’t count is the best timing of all.

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Final thoughts: Tune out the tune-up?

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 25, 2013 – 2:07 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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INDIANAPOLIS – Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 27-6 preseason loss against the Colts Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

>>Taking a backslide. After two strong showings, the Browns took fairly significant backward steps in this game. Their offense never found the rhythm that helped it to be so highly efficient and productive in victories against the Rams and Lions. The defense also was far from stellar. Overall, the Browns looked out of synch and sloppy in every phase. The third preseason game is supposed to serve as a tune-up for the first regular-season game, which is why most of the starters played into the third quarter. But the Browns didn’t look particularly prepared to play at a level that indicated a readiness for the real thing. Hopefully, this game was the aberration and the first two were closer to what they will be on Sept. 8 against the Dolphins.

>>Brandon Weeden’s clunker. The Browns’ first two preseason games were defined by sharp play by the quarterback. He showed efficiency and effectiveness. Weeden’s third outing was a vast departure. The good news from Saturday night was that he didn’t throw an interception. The bad news was that he completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws (12-of-25) and only led one scoring drive, which ended with a 50-yard field goal by Shayne Graham. Some critics will be quick to assume that Weeden let up because he was officially named the Browns’ starting quarterback early in the week. That’s a ridiculous notion. He has still made significant strides from his rookie year, and his supporting cast didn’t provide a whole lot of help, either.

082413 Trent Richardson

>>Trent Richardson does enough. The three series the running back played were more than enough to help get him ready for the regular season. I wouldn’t be sad if he only played a series in next week’s preseason-finale at Chicago … or even if he didn’t play at all. He has been exposed to more than enough contact to show that he can handle punishment. Richardson continues to look fast and explosive, and is likely to get a fairly heavy workload through the first two games of the regular season while No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon serves his suspension.

>>Backup quarterbacks struggle, too. Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer had looked solid in the previous two preseason games. They contributed to a long night for the Browns’ offense. Campbell was under siege by the Colts’ pass rush. Hoyer threw a pick-six interception. There aren’t any real strong conclusions to make here. Campbell still gives the Browns a decent veteran backup to Weeden.

>>Penalties remain a problem. The Browns are still drawing too many penalties, and they all aren’t being committed by players on the fringes of an enlarged preseason roster. This was a problem last season, and there needs to be more focus on cleaning it up for the regular season. Like most teams, the Browns simply aren’t good enough to have to overcome self-inflicted wounds.

>>Shayne Graham small bright spot. On a night when there was minimal feel-good material for the Browns, the veteran kicker connected on both of his field-goal attempts, from 50 and 44 yards. At a minimum, he showed he could provide a reliable leg if rookie Brandon Bogotay isn’t able to recover from his groin injury in time for the regular season … or if the Browns’ decision-makers simply think Graham’s experience makes him the better choice. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

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>>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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1st-half thoughts: Lacking consistency

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 25, 2013 – 12:50 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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INDIANAPOLIS – Here are my first-half thoughts from the Browns’ preseason game against the Colts Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

>>So much for consistency: The theme entering the game was that the Browns’ starters needed to show consistency, demonstrating that their strong performances through the first two preseason games were a true reflection of how the team will look in the regular season. That still might prove to be the case. However, it isn’t tonight, especially on offense. Quarterback Brandon Weeden hasn’t looked nearly as sharp as he did the past two weeks against the Rams and Lions. He has been off target on some throws and his reads seem to be too slow. No one from the Browns has distinguished himself offensively, and the defense has mostly struggled.

>>Missing Jabaal Sheard and Desmond Bryant. The defense loses a lot when two of the stronger members of its front seven aren’t playing. Through the early part of the half, the Browns’ clearly felt the absences of Sheard and Bryant in their pass rush. That allowed Andrew Luck enough time to find receivers who took advantage of holes in the secondary. Luck, who demonstrated as a rookie last year that he is a talented athlete, made some nice plays running. The defense did redeem itself late in the second quarter when safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted Luck at the Browns’ 2-yard line.

Antoine Bethea, Jordan Cameron

>>Missing Davone Bess. The Browns’ highly reliable slot receiver is sidelined with tendinitis in his knee, and the pain has been felt throughout the offense. Bess forces defenses to pay attention to him inside because not only does have the ability to consistency pick up first downs, he also has the speed to generate big plays. Consequently, Bess helps create room for the Browns’ outside receivers, Josh Gordon and Greg Little, neither of whom has made an impact so far.

>>Sufficient workload for Trent Richardson. As expected, the running back did not remain in the game as long as the other starters. And he didn’t need to. In three series of action, Richardson didn’t do anything spectacular, but showed a good combination of power and speed, especially on his long run for 12 yards. He finished with an average of 4.4 yards per carry against a Colts defense that has been mostly soft against the run this summer.

>>Need to clean up the sloppiness. The Browns have to tighten some things up. Wide receiver Greg Little had a fumble after a catch. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas had a holding penalty. And linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was penalized for a hit to the helmet.

>>Special-teams struggles. The Browns didn’t distinguish themselves in kick coverage. And Johnson Bademosi showed that he doesn’t offer much of a threat on kickoff returns, even when he has good blocking. Travis Benjamin is the obvious best choice for punt and kickoff returns.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

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>>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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From the CEO’s Office

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 23, 2013 – 12:55 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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In the debut of “From the CEO’s Office,” Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner covers a variety of topics, from changing the culture in the organization to fan engagement:

A lot has been said about changing the culture within this organization. We all know it doesn’t happen overnight, but how do you think it’s been going so far?

“I’m very excited about it. We’ve changed a lot of people, so that brings a fresh energy. I think the physical space (of the Browns’ newly remodeled headquarters in Berea, Ohio) could be used to kind of add to that kind of excitement, that fresh-start feeling that you want to have. And I think anybody walking in the office just feels like, ‘Wow! There’s just real buzz here, there’s an energy, people are excited.’ I think there’s an optimism, too. I think we’re all aware it’s not going to happen in a minute, but they’re confident that we’re going to get where we’re trying to get to.”

How do you go about creating such an energetic atmosphere and how does it ultimately translate to building a successful franchise?

“Some of it is just by example. So when you have people like Chud (Browns coach Rob Chudzinski), (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner), me, (club president) Alec (Scheiner), (team owner) Jimmy (Haslam) walking around here with a real intensity about them, a real energy, determination, willing to set aggressive goals, I think that helps. Then, you bring in people who are naturally that way and mix them in with those people who are kind of leading the organization, I think those things come together and pretty soon you get those benefits.”

This organization places a high premium on fan engagement, and you even created a position that specifically deals with that aspect of the business. Do you sense that you’re building a stronger connection with fans?

“I do think we’re making a connection. I do think it’s a long-term endeavor, though. I think they’re starting to see and hear that we fully recognize how important they are, that we fully appreciate the challenges they’ve been through and the loyalty that’s been there in spite of it. I think, when they come to the Dolphins’ game (for the Sept. 8 season-opener) or hear about the experience of the Dolphins’ game, they’ll get another level. But I think we’re going to have to fix every single touch point between us in the fans and get better on the field to fully expect them to trust that. But I hope they’re starting to feel and sense, just by questions we’re asking and small changes we’re starting to make, that we put a huge priority on this.”

What have you learned the most about Browns’ fans in comparison with the fan base you dealt with for many years in Philadelphia?

“Some of what I’ve learned is that they’re not that different. Philadelphia is as passionate a fan base as there is for a football team, and as I anticipated before I got here and has been confirmed since I got here, is so is Cleveland. The energy, the belief, the loyalty, the thirst for success that exists here is something that’s driving all of us and that we’re hoping to reward.”

It’s rare that a team’s first major investment in facility renovation is in its headquarters rather than its stadium, which provides far greater revenue-generating opportunities. What was the thinking behind making this building the starting point of the upgrades to the tune of $5 million?

“All of the people in the leadership positions here, starting with Jimmy, believe we’re going to be exactly as successful as our ability to go attract great people. Great people could be your quarterback, your right guard, your ticket manager … throughout the building. And we felt that creating an environment that would really attract those people, have this place feel energetic and current, show that we had an owner that’s really committed to winning and doing things the right way, and that although there isn’t a measurable return on those things, there was a return on them that really mattered to what we believe in. I think we’ve already seen it in the people we’ve attracted and the reaction we’ve gotten that Jimmy’s support of that project is something that’s really going to benefit the Browns.”

Now, there are improvements coming for FirstEnergy Stadium as well that will be implemented over the next couple of years. What are some of the enhancements that fans can expect to see beginning this season and beyond?

“This season, there are some basic things that we’ve heard about from fans quite a bit. For example, the ingress and the egress from the stadium; I think they’ll see improvement there. I don’t think we think we’ve completely solved the problem, but I think we feel we’ve put a pretty good dent in it. We’ll see when we get to the first game if that’s true. I think the energy in the stadium – from the player introductions through the types of music and the video they’re going to see – probably won’t be at a full scale until we get the scoreboards that can maximize the impact of those things, but will be dramatically different than it was a year ago. I know that it sounds very trite, but I think it makes a statement that we’ve repainted the bathrooms, using Browns colors, and that they’ll be clean. So I think, with some of those very basic things, they’ll see changes right away.”

Describe your vision of how you see this team coming together this season and in the years to come, and how does analytics figure into all of this.

“I think the team is going to come together in the way we’ve described, of building a team from top to bottom of players that are very high character in terms of their work ethic and their competitiveness, their desire to be the best they can be and to be part of something that wins. I think we’ve started that ball rolling and we’re going to have to continue to do that and stay disciplined about it and to finish that job is going to take a little bit of time. I think the aspect of the analytics is something that, I don’t think you can be in sports today without looking at analytics, but realizing its appropriate role. It’s never going to tell you who to pick; it’s just going to help you increase your odds. Frankly, in a league with a cap, there are only a limited number of tools in which you can create a competitive advantage other than just trying to make better decisions, and in a league with a cap, with an inverted draft, to get good and stay good is to take advantage of things like analytics. I started doing analytics with a group of people in Philadelphia 17-18 years ago. We have a good analytic team here and we’re going to continue to make it a part of what we do.”

At its core, what does analytics mean in terms of the NFL?

“The truth is, analytics have been part of the NFL for a very long time. Something as simple as, what’s the other team’s tendency on third down, is really an analytic. And coaches have been studying and utilizing those kinds of things for many, many years. That’s really how they determine their game plan and what play to call when and what down-and-distance situation. Now there are other elements that you can put into it. I’ll give you a very trite example, but maybe it helps people see what it is: for many years you looked at a pass-rusher and you were focused on how many sacks he got. Now, the statistics are available to factor in how many sacks, plus how many pressures, plus how many hurries. And you can create a ratio of those three things against the number of plays, and you can rank the players in the league factually. You’re going to add your subjective judgment to it, but you can at least create a factual ranking of the players in the league based on the combination or their rate-per-play of pressuring the quarterback. And you can break it out just sacks or sacks-plus-hurries or sacks-plus-hurries-plus-pressures against the number of plays, and you create the rate and you can rank all the players in the league that way. It’s a good way to find some sleepers, maybe some players that haven’t played that much but were very productive in a limited number of plays. The analytics runs even much deeper than that, but maybe that’s a simple example for people to start to picture how we can utilize that and improve our decisions.”

It’s only the preseason, but this team has performed well in all phases. What’s your biggest takeaway from what you’ve seen so far?

“I’ve been saying that the keys, to me, are to see the coaches implementing their scheme and to see the players play hard and the development of the young players that we’re counting on as we move forward. For me, that’s the key for the whole season. I want to win every game we possibly can; I’m competitive to a fault. But I’m focused on those three elements and, I think, so far as to the extent that you can tell those things in preseason, we’re seeing some good things.”

When Rob Chudzinski officially named Brandon Weeden the starting quarterback, he said that Brandon had the trust of the organization. How did he go about earning that?

“I think it started with how he handled the offseason. He came in here with a determination, a work ethic, a desire to kind of prove he deserved the job. It seemed like he had a real excitement about wanting the job. And I think, as we went through and made some player acquisitions, went through the draft, saw the schemes starting to get implemented, his passion for the job and his optimism about the team increased. And that showed to the rest of the team and to the coaches. And then he just went out on the field and clearly is a guy that’s made progress. So I think it was all of the above, but it really started in the first appearances in the offseason when he started to be allowed to be here. And you just felt that you were really looking at someone that came back with a determination.”

Now that training camp’s over and there’s greater focus on getting ready for the season-opener, what’s your overall feel for how the roster is shaping up?

“I think the roster is making progress. I hope we’ll make some progress even between now and the season in terms of making the right decisions on our own guys. If there are players out there that provide us an opportunity to get better, I hope that we’ll be smart about finding them and we’re working really hard on that. But the progress that the roster has made needs to continue. We don’t have a roster that we consider a finished product in terms of where we want to get to. So every day there’s an opportunity, whether it’s somebody on somebody else’s practice squad or somebody that gets waived, making the right decisions on our own players, who to keep. We’re, every day, working hard to take every little incremental step forward we can on the roster.”

This team has had some injuries to deal with, but it isn’t as simple as just plugging those holes with healthy bodies from other clubs. You’re looking for players who fit the profile of helping to provide long-term success. How challenging is that to do this time of year?

“It’s extremely challenging. There’s a very limited number available. Most of the players that are available this minute or will be in the next few weeks are young players, so there’s some learning curve in understanding your system. So to find short-term solutions when you have injuries rarely comes from outside of your organization. One of the things I learned from having gone through one kind of turnaround/rebuilding of an organization is that when you’re in the early stages of that, your biggest risk is your depth. Because the first stage, obviously, is trying to get quality starters in place and then build the roster behind that. So in your first phase of building that roster, you’re very exposed to injuries because you don’t have the depth all the way through the (final) 53. We’ll be getting players maybe who we wish had more time to develop on the field and hope they arise to the occasion and continue to look for any option out there. But most of the options at this point for replacement of injured players will come from within.”

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>>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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No need to play Richardson much

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 21, 2013 – 11:37 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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Rob Chudzinski plans to play his starters into the third quarter of Saturday night’s preseason game at Indianapolis.

That’s a pretty standard approach for a third preseason game, when the idea is to give the starters a chance to “tune up” for the regular-season opener.

So, too, is the likelihood of the first-team players seeing minimal action in the fourth and final practice game of the summer.

For the Browns, there will be one exception to the rule Saturday night: Trent Richardson.

He won’t play as long as the other starters, and that makes perfect sense.

The Browns certainly don’t need to see what Richardson can do in a game-like setting.

They saw most, if not all, of what they needed to see in the two series he played last week against the Lions. Richardson got his first taste of full preseason contact in that game. In fact, he got as heavy a dose as any player in the league has received this summer when Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blasted him on an outside run, sending Richardson flying about five yards out of bounds.

081513 Trent Richardson Final Thoughts Lions

Richardson bounced right back up after the hit, acting as if it hardly affected him. Then, he proved as much with an impressive, 17-yard run that saw him start in the middle, where he was confronted with a wall of bodies, then bounce to the outside and deliver a couple of spin moves for additional yardage at the end of the run.

He was explosive. He was elusive. He was effective.

The Browns don’t need to see much more than that, on top of the consistently strong performance Richardson gave during training-camp practices. They know how nicely he fits into the scheme of Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner as a runner and a receiver. They also know how vital it is to make sure he is as healthy as possible to start the season, especially with No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon missing the first two games with a suspension.

That’s why Richardson’s workload against the Colts will be similar to the one he had against the Lions before he gives way to Brandon Jackson, who is in greater need of repetitions as he prepares to fill the No. 2 running back role.

I also wouldn’t be the least disappointed if Richardson sat out of the Aug. 29 preseason-finale at Chicago.

When it comes to Richardson, arguably the best offensive weapon the Browns have, preservation is the soundest plan of all.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 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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Surprise? No. Significant? Yes!

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 20, 2013 – 9:12 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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So it wasn’t a surprise.

So it didn’t qualify as “breaking news,” the way, say, the Philadelphia Eagles’ naming of Michael Vick as their starting quarterback did.

So what?

There still is plenty of significance in coach Rob Chudzinski officially announcing Tuesday that Brandon Weeden is the Cleveland Browns’ starter at the most important position on the team.

For one thing, it firmly establishes, with two preseason games left, that the Browns have who they believe is the right man to guide them into the regular season. Chudzinski made a point of saying that Weeden has not only gained his “trust,” but that of the entire organization.

“We are all behind him,” Chudzinski said.

For another thing, it eliminates an unnecessary distraction that was lingering, even though since the start of offseason workouts, all signs have strongly pointed toward Weeden being the starter.

For yet another, it serves as a reminder to Weeden – and everyone else on the team – that starting jobs must be earned.

And Weeden couldn’t have done a better job of earning this one.

He did it by performing consistently well through offseason and training-camp workouts, and then by looking exceptionally sharp in two preseason games.

It made sense for Chudzinski to allow Weeden to fully (or at least mostly) digest the offense that the coach and offensive coordinator Norv Turner installed, and then demonstrate his grasp of it in preseason victories against St. Louis and Detroit, before locking him into the No. 1 spot.

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Weeden has done much more than put up impressive numbers the past two weeks: completing 72 percent of his passes, throwing for three touchdown passes, and not throwing a single interception. He has been decisive. He has searched for – and found – open targets. He has been highly accurate. He has been quick with his delivery and put the ball only where the receiver can catch it. He has had a confident, commanding presence about him.

In short, Weeden has looked like a big-time quarterback, like the guy who should be starting for the Browns.

Of course, the road doesn’t end here. It is only beginning. Weeden needs to continue to show that he is deserving of this role, and that process resumes Saturday night at Indianapolis, where the Browns play their third game of the preseason. That’s the traditional tune-up game for the regular season, when starters play a whole half and then some.

My sense is that Weeden will hold up his end of the bargain.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 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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Week’s priorities: Prepping starters

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 19, 2013 – 10:09 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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Here are my top five priorities for the Browns as they shift from training-camp to regular-season mode in preparation for Saturday night’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts:

>>Setting up for the regular season. The third preseason game is the traditional tune-up for the regular season, so the Browns are expected to approach Saturday night’s encounter with the Colts accordingly. Although the first major roster cut (from 90 to 75) won’t come until Aug. 27, they need to get as much of a feel as they can for what their team will look like and how it will function in the regular season. In all likelihood, the players who start against the Colts will all (or mostly) be the ones who start against Miami in the Sept. 8 regular-season opener. That should mean that Brandon Weeden finally and officially is locked in as the starting quarterback (even if there truly was never a doubt, despite coach Rob Chudzinski’s assertion that the competition with the other quarterbacks was “close”).

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>>Figure out what to do at backup running back/kick returner. Losing Dion Lewis to a fractured fibula was a significant blow because it removed a difference-making role player from the offense. The Browns don’t have another player on their roster that can be as explosive as Lewis was in a short area or that is capable of turning screen passes into long gains and who can weave his way through traffic for big gains. However, they do have a highly reliable understudy for Trent Richardson in Brandon Jackson. Jackson has had an outstanding training camp and preseason. He is actually a more effective down-the-field runner than Lewis and is solid at catching the ball out of the backfield. Lewis also will be missed on kickoff returns, so the Browns need to decide whether to add that duty to Travis Benjamin’s load or go with someone else, such as Johnson Bademosi.

>>Figure out what to do at offensive guard. This is going to be a fairly big challenge, because the Browns are going to get the two players at the position who are out with ankle injuries – Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao – back in action within the first couple of weeks of the regular season. That will force them to ride out the storm with newly acquired third-year pro John Moffitt (whom the Browns picked up from Seattle in exchange for defensive lineman Brian Sanford) a couple of rookies (Garrett Gilkey and Caylin Hauptmann), and then decide what to do with the surplus of offensive linemen they will have when Pinkston and Lauvao return. In the meantime, offensive line coaches George Warhop and Mike Sullivan will be putting in a good deal of extra work to get the rookies as up to speed as they can be for the regular season.

>>Getting players used to the regular-season schedule. Beginning on Tuesday, the Browns will start a schedule that will have players meeting with the media late in the morning, and then practicing early in the afternoon, a little more than three hours earlier than they hit the field during training camp. This will cause for some body-clock adjustment for players, who tend to be creatures of habit. It will be particularly helpful for players and coaches to have a few days of exposure to the new routine this week and next week, before the preseason-finale at Chicago, before being fully immersed in it in the week leading up to the Miami game.

>>Getting comfortable with running the offensive and defensive scheme in a tune-up game. As impressive as the Browns have looked on both sides of the ball in their first two preseason games, it’s imperative that they perform at an even higher level against the Colts. The starters are likely to get at least a half and could possibly be on the field into the third quarter. That’s standard for the tune-up approach teams take to the third preseason game. And it means the Browns must look as sharp as possible because of the extended period they’ll be working together. It will be Weeden’s best opportunity to date to enhance his timing with his receivers. He has been exceptionally efficient the past two weeks, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions (and not even coming close to having any passes picked off). It also is a good chance for Trent Richardson to continue to work on his timing with his blockers and get himself conditioned to contact.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 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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Browns’ offense all about the taking

Posted by Vic Carucci on August 16, 2013 – 7:10 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

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NFL coaches and quarterbacks have long delivered the “you-take-what-they-give-you” line when explaining their offensive philosophy.

And fans and media have long responded with groans and eye rolls.

Once, just once, you want to hear them say, “You know what? We’re going to just take what we want!”

That, in a general sense, is what the Cleveland Browns’ new offense is all about.

We saw clear evidence of that in Thursday night’s 24-6 preseason victory against the Detroit Lions … in Brandon Weeden’s 117-yard, two-touchdown passing in a little more than a quarter of work … in Jordan Cameron’s two scoring catches … in Josh Gordon’s three catches for 72 yards.

This offense constantly seeks to hit the big play. It looks to stretch defenses with a vertical passing game. It sends receivers, tight ends, and running backs out on routes designed to gain yards in large chunks rather than bits and pieces.

It attacks.

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First-year Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, who has spent nearly half of his nine coaching seasons in the NFL as an offensive coordinator, has only known this approach. The same is true with the man he hired to be his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, a 29-year NFL coaching veteran.

They previously worked together in 2009 and 2010, when Turner was head coach of the San Diego Chargers and Chudzinski was his assistant head coach/tight ends coach.

In ’09, the Chargers won the AFC West with a 13-3 record, ranked fourth in the league in scoring (28.4 points per game), and 10th in total yards (5,761). The following year, the Chargers were 9-7, and ranked first in the NFL in total yards (6,329) and second in scoring (27.6 points per game).

“It’s an exciting offense,” Turner says. “We had very good players, but we were a wide-open offense that could run the football, and we were in the top five in scoring both years. That’s the type of offense we want to have. If you’re going to score points, you have to make big plays. And I think those are the type of plays that football fans like to see.”

Players like it, too.

Not only is it a whole lot more fun for a quarterback to throw deep rather than short and intermediate passes, and for receivers to catch long throws rather than ones that produce modest gains, but it also does wonders for their statistics.

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“I compared my stats to Norv’s top (receiver) last year (when Turner was the Chargers’ head coach),” Browns wide receiver Greg Little says. “(The receiver) had 50 catches for 800 or 900 yards and, like, eight touchdowns. I had 50 for about 500.

“So, you can kind of tell, through the comparison of the routes, the yards-per-catch is going to be drastically different.”

Running a more aggressive passing game means much more running. Receivers must be well conditioned to be able to consistently cover more ground throughout a game. That is why Brad Roll, the Browns’ new strength and conditioning coach, has placed heavy emphasis on running during offseason conditioning. Although he worked with the entire team, he was well aware of the need to prepare receivers and tight ends for the considerable running that Turner, who serves as the Browns’ play-caller, would do during training-camp practices.

The drills and preseason games are vital to the Browns’ efforts to successfully put together an exciting, explosive offense.

“I really believe you decide how good you’re going to be by how efficient and how well you practice and how well you do in training camp and through the preseason,” Turner says. “That’s where you get the great repetition doing the same things over and over again over that 30-day period. We’ve got to make the most of that and we’ve got to gain a lot of ground.

“We’ve got a lot of young players who potentially can be very exciting players, but now we’ve got to go do it.”

The offense frequently uses three- and four-receiver sets and pre-snap motions. And the tight end often is flexed out as a wide receiver, thus not allowing the defense to double cover the outside receivers.

The offense also looks to create coverage mismatches all over the field. A staple of the scheme is having an outside receiver motion to the slot, resulting in a No. 1 or No. 2 pass-catcher gaining an immediate edge over what is generally the opponent’s third-best cornerback in the nickel role.

The quarterback will spend plenty of time working from shotgun formation, although he’ll be under center for running plays. And there will be a healthy number of those.

More than anything, Chudzinski and Turner believe in thinking outside the box.

“The great thing and the fun that I think Rob and I have working together is that both of us have that mindset that is we’re looking for that next step, the next thing that’s going to be big in football,” Turner says. “People can talk about all these other teams that run the spread (read-option/pistol) offense in the NFL. Rob started it in Carolina a couple of years ago with Cam (Newton), and they were as explosive a team as anybody.”

Such innovation now has a home in Cleveland.

“I think the system’s proven, I think our players are buying into it, and I think our fans will enjoy watching what we do,” Turner says. “We want to be productive, we want to be explosive, and we want to score points. That’s obviously why you come to games.”

To see the offense take what it wants!

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 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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