One Pound Of Sadness: Beginning To Love Chud


I’ll be honest with you.  When the Browns whiffed on Chip Kelly, and made no clear effort to go after any other big name coaches on the market, I was pretty discouraged.  Then, when they hired a non-headline coach in Rob Chudzinski, I was ready to slam the door on the new ownership “regime”.  I mean, did these guys know the precarious situation they were walking in to?  A rabid fans base, arguably one of the most involved, certainly one of the most loyal, in the entire NFL.  A fan base who has experienced nothing but failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment, literally for longer than I have been alive (I’m racing up on 30).  And to this fan base, who they needed to win over, they throw some no-name head coach to, and hire the much maligned Mike Lombardi to be the GM.  How could this be the good start they desperately needed?  Did they realize how bad this looked?

Then, I started to pay attention a bit more to Coach Chud.  The things the man said, the things he does, and (probably most importantly to the oft nostalgic Browns fans) to the things he HAS done.  I won’t lie, I started this from a fairly critical, openly sarcastic position.  Coach Chud wasn’t getting a fair shake at this from me, but I’ll be honest in saying that he’s started to win me over. Why? Well, I took the name away. I made him simply “Coach X” in my head. Then I thought about what he brings to the table as the Browns Head Coach.

1. Passion.

There is no question that Coach Chud is the single most passionate head coach the Browns have had in my lifetime. He WANTS to be here. Cleveland, unbelievably, was his dream job. You are probably not going to find another Head Coach option where this is the case. Most guys would use Cleveland to show that they can get the job done in a more glamorous market. The Cleveland Browns head coaching position is not one that most coaches look at as a final, permanent spot. The hard truth is that this has been a disaster of a football franchise for more than 40 years (one-to-two year stretches of non-mediocrity don’t count, those were flukes imo). Who wants to be responsible for an extension of that disaster? The answer is, simply, Chud. Chud wanted this job, badly. He grew up, like the rest of us, as a Browns fan who desperately wanted his favorite team to be better than the mess that they were/are. And now he’s in a position to do something about it. Now as we know, passion alone is not enough…

2. Brains.

The guy has the brains to turn this thing around. He’s widely considered to be one of the most innovative, creative young minds in the NFL. Now, since Chud has never coached a national champion contender in college, or been a head coach in the NFL, he’s flown under most of the national medias radar. To get a real opinion of him, you need to ask the guys he’s coach under. The opinion you come up with is unanimous. Heaps of praise, tons of respect, and an almost glowing admiration from his former superiors. It’s not an accident that so many people share the same opinion of Coach Chud. He might be one of the best guys in the league at breaking down film (which he does borderline obsessively), which is big in my eyes. Coaches who obsess over film are the ones who get the real, objective story. Film doesn’t get emotional, it isn’t biased. Winning coaches are the ones who follow the film.

Outside of that, Chud did something that Chip Kelly has yet to do, which is successfully apply the spread offense to the NFL. Think about who the first QB to have great success running the spread. A hint, it was RGIII/Kaepernick/etc. It was Cam Newton, smashing rookie QB records in the system Chud built. That is no accident…

3. Past Success

Coach Chud has been successful at every level he’s coached thus far. Most notably as a TE coach/asst head coach in San Deigo, where he helped build Norv’s vaunted offense. In Cleveland in 2007, he took an objectively awful QB in Derek Anderson and built a system for him that made him a pro bowl QB. Additionally, its worth noting that it was statistically the Browns most successful offense in well over 30 years. Then, as I noted above, he was the one who brought the spread successfully to the NFL, building around Cam Newtons unique skill set. Now, its worth noting the immense versatility this shows. Cam Newton and Derek Anderson and Phillip Rivers are all about as different from one another as Quarterbacks can be. Yet, Chud was able to work out a system for each that played to their strengths, covered up their weaknesses, and allowed them to thrive.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still question marks. Can Chud’s systems be sustained over the long haul? He only got a year with DA, and Cam certainly had a little drop off in his second season. Can Chud adapt when NFL defenses start to figure out his systems? This is certainly a matter for concern, but after a neutral examination of the facts, I’m willing to get behind the kid from Toledo and give him a shot. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen, we can have a few more losing seasons?

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One Pound of Sadness: “We’re not going 13-3 next year”


“We’ve won 23 games in the last five years, won 14 games in the last three, so we’re not going to go 13-3 next year,” Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam said.

That one line out of his recent interview with the Cleveland media at the NFL League Meetings on Tuesday sent the wretched Cleveland Sports media into convulsions, and rubbed many a Browns fan the wrong way.  From my perspective though, I heard something a little different.  I heard a team owner in Cleveland finally being objective.  Finally, a guy who will tell you the cold, hard truth, regardless of if its what you want to hear or not.  Seriously, for how many years have the Lerners and Modell before them pumped up average-at-best, league-bottom-feeders-at-worst teams to be something they were not?  Don’t get me wrong, the pathetic media in Cleveland eats it up, and the fans are so desperate for something resembling a respectable football franchise that so do we.  It has never been based in reality however.  You need only to take a step back, look/listen/read the opinions of the national media on what our Cleveland Browns are/have been, and a very different image starts to form.

Our defense, with the signings we’ve made thus far, and the assumed picks early in the draft, has the POTENTIAL to be good.  By good, I mean top 1/3rd of the NFL.  That’s a realistic assumption, based on where they were last year, who they brought in, what those upgrades mean, and the guy leading the show (Ray Horton).

Ray HortonI trust this guy that much.

The offense, however, stands to be one of the very worst in professional football.  Brandon Weeden is a below average NFL Quarterback, and he’ll be over 30 this season, which is only his 2nd in the NFL.  Trent Richardson is a beast, but he’s injury prone and has no support from the passing game.  The offensive line is solid, but we didn’t fill those holes at Guard, which aren’t going to help overworked T-Rich one bit.  We have one exceptionally talented young receiver (Gordon), and one who the jury is still out on (Little).  We have zero viable tight ends.  We potentially have no fullback.  And ending where we began, we have an old, inexperienced waste of a 1st round pick at Quarterback.  The Browns will never, ever, ever be a winning football team until they can address the gaping hole at the most important position on the field (QB).

Brandon WeedenYup, this is your current franchise QB Cleveland.

Haslam/Banner/Chud are smart enough to realize that this is not the draft to find the future Quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.  Sure, there are some interesting prospects, but those usually fail here in Cleveland, and we need to wait until there is a “sure thing” type QB prospect, or at least something close.  Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, even Matt Barkely are interesting prospects, but they aren’t sure things.  Andrew Luck was a sure thing.  RGIII was pretty close to a sure thing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, you can get lucky.  You can stumble upon a great quarterback.  But, the chances of finding a Tom Brady are a lot slimmer than waiting to find a Peyton Manning.  And much more based on chance.

So, knowing that we won’t have a terribly effective offense this season, Haslam and Co are doing the smart thing, hedging their bets and tempering expectations at home.  Its hard for Cleveland fans to hear, I know, but its the truth and its smart.  The Browns only spent about half of their massive cap room on free agents.  They haven’t traded away any draft picks.  They are holding themselves to being committed to building a team the right way, for the long haul.  You do that through the draft and through developing young talents.  Let teams like Miami try and buy wins, because I guarantee you that they don’t get far like that, and they mortgage their future on a couple extra wins for a couple years.  Its bad business, and its not how you run a franchise.

So no, Haslam didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.  But he told the truth, and if you look past the headline, he said the right thing.  A few more parts of that interview that I found

“I wish we could have done on offense what we did on defense but you’ve got to spend your money selectively and smartly. A lot of it had to do with the players who were available. I’ve got high confidence we’re going to be a lot better on defense. I think Chud and Norv will do a great job with their offense. I’ll just continue to state this. You’ll get tired of hearing me say it. This is a process, and we’re in it for the long run and we’re going to do it over several years. We’re going to do it the right way. I don’t want to be sitting here two years from now and we’re cutting two players because we didn’t use the cap wisely.

I agree.  There were too many boom-or-bust offensive players available (See: Mike Wallace), and too many guy that just didn’t fit into a Chud/Norv system.  Why spend money on the wrong parts?

“I think you can have internal competition and you can have external competition. This is the first time I’ve gone through free agency, and of course you have the draft. It’s still a pretty long time till camp, right? I think we start officially in mid-July. I think we’ll see how things shape up.”

The cynical Browns fan in me read that and as “WE ARE DRAFTING A QUARTERBACK”.  Breathe Shawn, breathe.

“I don’t see us doing Hard Knocks.I think it interferes with your basic football operations. I think you’ve all heard me say this and I tell everybody in the building this every time we have a team meeting: We’re all about winning games and, two, giving the fans a great experience. If you’re doing anything besides the two of those, you’re not working on the right stuff.”

Couldn’t agree more.  I’m glad we’re not interested in becoming a circus like the Jets or the Dolphins.  We don’t need that crap in Cleveland.

“We talked about it a lot at these meetings and I think we continue to improve there. Not just with the Browns, but what every team has to worry about — and (President) Alec Scheiner’s main job is what we call fan experience, game day experience. The experience is so good at home now. Let’s face it, Cleveland in November, December, can be a pretty tough place, weather-wise, so why don’t I stay home and sit on my couch and watch three games at one time or watch whatever I want to and I can grab a beer right here, etc.?

“I think what every NFL owner’s got to do is make that three and a half hours of the game better than it is at home. We’ve got to give you some things at the stadium you can’t get at home. We spent two hours this morning talking about it in the meeting. I’m not ready to share that, but there’s a lot of great ideas. Minimal impact for the ’13 season but I think some pretty dramatic impact in ’14 going forward.”

I don’t really care too much about PSL’s, or not having PSL’s, but I think this little bit gives you an insight into the way of thinking of the guy who owns our team now.  And I’ve got to tell you, I like what I see.  He’s smart, he’s got a mind for business, and he’s focused on the right things.  Even if I have major gripes with some of the players on our team, for now I feel a little better knowing that Haslam is the guy steering the ship.

Targeted Aggression


As bad as the Browns have been offensively since 1999, I’ve been just as frustrated watching the defense.  Regardless of scheme, coaches or players, it looks the same year after year.  We see them give up lots of yards on the ground, always lose time of possession, hope to force enough field goals to keep the game within reach, and most of the time give up big plays at the end of the game.  “Bend-but-don’t-break” is a losing philosophy in today’s league.  It is far too easy for offenses to take what you give them and pick you apart until all that’s left is the carcass.  You have to disrupt the quarterback and make big plays, so constructing a tenacious pass rush is the highest priority.  In 2011, the Giants (with a suspect secondary) were able to beat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady because they have some athletic freaks up front that were able to cause chaos and kill drives.  I am thrilled that the Browns have identified this and prioritized the pass rush in free agency.

Paul Kruger is capable and experienced, and we should be getting his prime years (unlike the Fujita and McGinest signings from years past).  The Browns may have overpaid him and I don’t believe he’s as good as most seem to think, but I have no doubt that he’ll help Ray Horton’s new defense.

The Browns also signed Desmond Bryant to some good money, probably more than he was expecting a few weeks ago when he took one of the most priceless mug shots of all-time when he was arrested on a “criminal mischief” charge.  Bryant has great size and athleticism and statistically was one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the league last year.  This addition to the line gives Horton all kinds of flexibility and depth.  The defensive line was the strongest unit on the team last year and looks even stronger going into this season.

Horton was able to convince the Browns to bring in one of his guys in Arizona last year, Quentin Groves.  Groves had his best season as a pro under Horton and should also be a positive contributor to the Browns pass rush from the outside linebacker position.

Like most fans, I’m stunned Banner has not signed a corner yet, given how many were available, but I’m OK with that given what they have signed so far.  I don’t like using early round draft picks on defensive players that you’re projecting to use differently than they were used in college, so filling the outside linebacker holes with experienced, solid players is an excellent strategy.  The Browns will almost certainly draft a corner and still may sign Grimes or Munnerlyn.

I had a mentor who taught strategy at the War College who told me that most battles are won by the aggressors.  This is true of football as well.  In his introductory press conference, Coach Chud said he wanted an aggressive, attacking defense.  The hiring of Horton and these three signings are big steps in achieving that goal and finally changing the passive defensive culture that has resided here since 1999.  The front office has  made aggressive moves to become a more aggressive team, but it seems like a more focused, targeted aggression than what we’ve seen from teams like Tampa last year and Miami this season, who desperately threw big money at big names and hoping things change.  I’m very encouraged so far by this new regime’s approach.

Reviewing the Initial Browns FA Signings


Well, the Browns certainly were one of the most active teams early after the free agency period began, signing former Ravens Outside Linebacker Paul Kruger very quickly.  Kruger got a 5 year, 41 million dollar deal, making him the teams third highest paid player.  Later in the evening, the Browns signed former Raiders Defensive Tackle Desmond Bryant to a 5 year, 34 million dollar deal.  Before night fall, the Browns had inked the best pass rushing linebacker and the best defensive lineman available.  Not bad.  Early this morning, it was announced that the Browns had signed former Cardinals Linebacker Quentin Groves to a 2 year, 2.8 million dollar deal.

First, lets look at Paul Kruger.  Kruger has been rated as the 6th best pass rusher in the NFL by profootballtalk.com, and was expected to be one of the top 2 free agents available this off season.  He brings an immediate upgrade to the Browns pass rush, as well as post season/super bowl experience.  Coupled with the already impressive D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns have two highly touted, in-their-prime linebackers to build around.

The addition of Desmond Bryant gives the Browns one of the overall best defensive linemen in the NFL.  Bryant is an outstanding pass rusher, but also a powerful run blocker.  He is as dangerous a D-linemen as you will find in football.  Additionally, the upgrade Bryant provides gives the Browns true depth on the defensive line, with Rubin, Taylor and Bryant all being solid to outstanding linemen.  Additionally, Defensive End Jabaal Sheard can now be expected to be moved to outside linebacker, which really is a more natural position for his skill set.  Again, the Browns now have true depth in their defensive line and potentially in their front seven.

I think the biggest steal of the free agency period so far is Quentin Groves.  A paltry 1.4 million per year, Groves is much better than that contract would indicate.  He’s one of the most underrated linebackers in the league, and was highly productive in Ray Horton’s system.  I don’t know if he’ll start, but he will definitely provide depth.

Shawn’s Picks: My Best Case Scenario For Free Agency


Tomorrow at 4:30 pm, free agency officially kicks off.  I’ll jump right in and give you my dream scenario of signings (I try and keep it within the realm of possibility here), and where I hope things stand heading into draft day.

1.  Dannell Ellerbe.  Ellerbe is ready to become a star, and the Browns could outbid the Ravens for him, even with their slightly increased cap space since trading Anquan Boldin.  Ellerbe is big, and one of few really good ILB’s in the NFL.  He’d go great next to Jackson.

2.  Cliff Avril.  Yeah, I’m pretty over Paul Kruger.  He’s going to cost too much money, he’s too risky, and I don’t like him working out long term.  Let Indy have him.  Avril has a ton of upside, and he’s going to be around for a while.  Definitely the kind of guy we can build around.

3.  Keenan Lewis and Greg Toler.  Lewis to start opposite Joe Haden, and Toler to get time in off the bench.  Lewis is developing into a stud, and Toler is in his prime. 

4.  Jared Cook.  He was soooooo terribly underutilized by the Titans.  If he gets paired up with Chud and Norv, he can be a constant All-Pro Tight End.  That should appeal to him, and hopefully get us a discount.

5.  Domenik Hixon.  I realize he hasn’t been mentioned in connection with the Browns at all, but this is my list.  Hixon is a solid 2nd tier receiver, and the Browns are so paper thin at WR.  It wouldn’t hurt to make Little have to produce to earn snaps, and would take some pressure off Gordon.  This draft is relatively light at WR, and our lack of a 2nd round pick means we probably won’t get anyone decent.

I realize my picks didn’t do anything to help improve the Guard spots on the o-line, but I’d look to the draft for that.  I’d like to see that #6 pick go to another pass rusher, and look later for offensive linemen.

We’ll see how tomorrow goes.  The anticipation is killing me.

A (Very) Early Take On The Browns In Free Agency


I know.  Its crazy early to form any solid opinions.  Technically, free agency isn’t even open yet.  As of 12:01 AM Saturday, teams were allowed to express interest in free agents via their representatives/agents.  The NFL sent out a firm warning memo threatening investigations and possible penalties if any deals were struck early or even numbers discussed, so don’t expect much to leak out as far as deals go until after things open up officially on Tuesday.

In the meantime, we can start to see the bigger picture form up by taking a look at the guys the Browns quickly showed an interest in.  As expected, the Browns got into contact with reps for both Paul Kruger (OLB, Ravens) and Cliff Avril (DE, Lions).  These guys have both been in the Browns sights from the minute Ray Horton came in and they decided to transition to the 3-4.  The Browns also contacted Dannell Ellerbe’s (ILB, Ravens).  I think this is more a strategy to help ensure that the Browns actually get Kruger, or more specifically to take away the Ravens ability to resign both men.  The Ravens are more likely to give Ellerbe a big deal than Kruger, but they won’t have the cap space to resign both to the deals they are expected to command.  So, the Browns potentially steal a playmaker from a Division rival, and also help push them to hamstring their own capspace.  If it works, its brilliant.

 

At the cornerback position, where the Browns really lacked a solid starter opposite lockdown corner Joe Haden, the Browns have cast the net wide and deep (there are quite a few CB’s available in this years free agency period).  The two the Browns are rumored to have the most interest in are Antoine Cason (Chargers) and Greg Toler (Cardinals).  Both are in their primes, and are solid, dependable corners.  They would be excellent opposite Haden.  At Safety, the Browns are rumored to have interest in Keith Lewis (49ers).  Lewis is a solid veteran, who would provide a nice presence in the Browns secondary.

 

The Browns have also contacted reps for Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler, as well as Jets tight end Dustin Keller.  The Browns are still expected to look in contacting reps for the various WR’s available, as well as a few more CB’s and TE’s (Jared Cook, Titans in particular).