Seldom does the tandem of George Kokinis and Eric Mangini speak, so when they talk, people listen. E.F. Hutton would be jealous.
But the duo has been a little more talkative lately, holding pressers after the draft and during Rookie Camp, which was completed last week. Upon reading between the lines of the press conference transcripts and blurbs, certain things have stood out to me. Kokinis:
"(Alex Mack) fits what we wanted to do, he's tough, he's an academic Heisman, he's smart... when you can get a young offensive lineman that has inside versatility, both guard spots and the center spot... you've got to go get him."
"(Mohamed Massaquoi) is a good route runner, he's got good quickness out of his breaks, he's got good size, he plays on special teams, and he's a willing blocker. He can play on the outside and he can work on the inside as well, so there's versatility there."
"At the combine, (David Veikune) worked standing up and they dropped him. He's got that versatility to put his hand in the dirt and get to the quarterback, or stand up and work as an outside backer. He's got the size and intelligence to possibly even work inside. That versatility, that toughness, that motor... He's a smart kid that we could probably use in a lot of positions."
"When you get down to the 45-man roster, position flexibility is key."
"I have seen a lot of positive things from (Alex Mack), and one of the most important things that we are looking for is the ability to understand what is happening with everybody."
"Alex (Mack) is unique because he has the ability to play center and guard."
"If you put the ball on the ground, you run. If you get a penalty, you run. There's nothing more valuable than the football... If you can't concentrate long enough to get the snap count, then we need to give you some time to concentrate on that."
"I met with all (the USC Linebackers) when I was out there and I was really impressed with (Kaluka Maiava's) intelligence, his recall of the system, the way that he played, his temperament, and he is a tough, tough guy."
"I like the way (the rookies) are minimizing the mistakes they made the prior day. That, to me, is a good sign of their ability to process information and, I think, as a group they've done well with that."
"We have this period after practice called opportunity period where we let the young guys play against each other, get extra reps, and prove that with extra reps that they should continue to stay around in camp."
"I want the secondary to learn all the spots. When they do understand what each guy does on each play, then you have versatility. You can put a corner at safety, a safety at corner, and when they understand how the whole secondary works, a lot of the problems are easier to process if a look comes out that they didn't expect."
"I'm a believer of giving (the players) a lot of information, see how much they can absorb, and try to build as much flexibility as possible. Get (them) used to thinking in terms of multiple positions, multiple adjustments."
"What you are trying to do is just understand how (the players) learn the fastest, what you can do to help facilitate that learning. Put them in all the positions they can possibly be in to expose them to as many different things as possible. Ideally, get them with a really good mentor, an older guy that can teach them some of the tricks to the trade. If you get all of those things together and the guy has a great work ethic, attitude, and can build on the information, then the transition is usually quicker."
"I've been happy with the way (David Veikune) has moved from defensive end to inside linebacker. Usually, it goes from defensive end to outside linebacker, but we will work him more this weekend at inside linebacker. I'd like to have the flexibility with him to go in or out."
"(David Veikune) actually cost me some money this morning. I brought him up to the board in the squad meeting, and he had to draw a full blitz with everyone, defensive line, linebackers, safety, and secondary. I polled the defensive staff, and they had the option to bet on him and I would be the house. He got it right, nailed it."
"(We evaluated James Davis) more in terms of did he press the hole well enough, did he go to the right place often enough, did he understand where he was in the flare control?"
"(Abram Elam) came in, wasn't intimidated by coming into a new environment, and really stood out in the secondary based on his leadership, his ability to make calls. All of those things that you're looking for."
"The core things that we value and you see some of those words on the field, communication, focus, finish and trust. If you have those characteristics, you are doing the things that we put a high value on, you've got a great chance to make it here."
"(When Brett Ratliff was on the Jets' Practice Squad) I wasn't going to just let him sit around as a quarterback, so I had him work at practice squad receiver. He did a great job there and bought himself a year. Through the course of that next year, the amount of development that this guy made to his work ethic, his intelligence, all of those things, were impressive."
"We will have (refs) at every practice. We will track penalties every day in practice we will track them from OTA's to training to every single practice of the year, types of penalties, who got the penalties."
"I thought (Graham Harrell) did a nice job as well this afternoon, not just with his throws, but also the huddle mechanics, absorbing the information and being able to run the offense."
"I've only had (Don Carey) for a day, but I don't think it would matter what (formation) we were playing, he seems pretty smart."
"(Tackling) is a skill like anything else, blocking, tackling, catching the football, and we want to keep rep-ing that fundamental to make sure that we can minimize the amount of missed tackles."
"You want to see the complete package. It's all those traits that you're trying to find."
A: Would you ever expect these words to come out of Romeo Crennel's mouth? Butch Davis? Butch was a big talent-trumps-all guy, and Romeo... I'm not sure we'll ever know what Romeo stood for.
B: It isn't very difficult to decipher what kind of team Mankinis is trying to build, what kind of players Mankinis covets.
Smart. Tough. Versatile.
There is little doubt that the idea of a "smart" team is being fronted more than we have seen since the return, and with good reason: Cleveland has led the league in dumbness for years.
It's a fact. Look it up.
Now, I'm not saying that having a clear goal and vision is a guarantee of success, and I'm not saying that I completely agree with said vision. But it certainly is refreshing that the people in charge at least feel like they know what they're doing and what they want the team to be. Accomplishing their goals, bringing their vision to fruition... well, that's the hard part.
But if you don't at least have an idea of where you want to go, you'll probably just end up wandering around. That happened to me in Greece one night long ago, and some dude broke a bottle over my head. If I had had some direction, I might have one less scar on my melon. If the Browns had had some direction since 1999, we all would have one less scar on our psyches.
And, by the way, Mankinis gets a lot of criticism for being close-mouthed and quiet, but I can't recall one instance in 4 years of Romeo/Phil (or 4 years of Butch, for that matter) where they sat down and explained themselves, their process, and their way of thinking in such a concise manner.
They may not explain themselves to the public enough for some people's liking, but, when they do, it is very apparent that they're not just making decisions by throwing darts, flipping coins, or playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo.
(I was always partial to "My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes" myself. What color was the blood?)
And we should not ignore this particular quote from Mangini:
"I've been happy with the way (David Veikune) has moved from defensive end to inside linebacker."
Now there's an interesting concept.
One always assumes that the college DE will convert to OLB in an NFL 3-4, but the Browns feel that Veikune is fast enough, smart enough, and fluid enough to play the middle too. Let's look at the players we have at both positions:
OLB: David Bowens, Alex Hall, Kamerion Wimbley.
ILB: Eric Barton, Beau Bell, D'Qwell Jackson, Leon Williams
Draft Pick Expected To Make An Impact: David Veikune
Draft Pick Expected To Provide Depth: Kaluka Maiava
Undrafted Free Agents, Practice Squad Players, and Players Previously Drafted Who Have Never Played A Down In The NFL: Titus Brown, Marcus Benard, Jonathan Foster, David Holloway, Phillip Hunt, Bo Ruud.
Honestly, looking at this lineup at LB - both inside and out - is disheartening. If someone held a crossbow to my aorta, I guess I'd have to say that the ILB had the greater depth. You've got one viable starter (Jackson), one marginal-to-decent starter (Barton), one career backup (Williams), and one likely backup (Bell). But if you look at OLB, all's you've got is one draft bust (Wimbley), one late round wildcard (Hall), and a backup (Bowens).
There ain't much in the middle, but there's less on the edges. Thus, despite speculation of Veikune's relocation to ILB, I still anticipate him playing on the outside. Especially if he's got the "motor" that the coaches keep referring to. We need some of that out of the pass rush.
Regarding The Undrafted Rookies
Amongst the notables at the Rookie camp (both signed undrafted free agents and tryout players):
Bryan Williams, DB, Akron - Third team All-MAC as a receiver and returner (in 2007).
Jordan Norwood, WR, Penn St. - The least known of the Penn State trio of receivers, Norwood is a State College guy as his father coaches the Nittany Lions secondary. He caught at least 32 balls in each of his four seasons as a part-time starter, but saved his best for his senior year. He garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors with 41 catches for 637 yards and six scores. Projects as a complementary receiver, may need to bide his time to prove himself at the next level.
Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech - By the time the three-year starter hung up his helmet for the final time, he was the proud owner of the NCAA record for the most touchdown passes (134) in major college annals. He would also place second all-time with 15,793 yards passing and 15,611 yards in total offense and third with a 350.96-yard passing average and a 346.91-yard average in total offense.
Marlon Davis, OL, Alabama - Full-time starter the past two seasons after seeing limited action with the first team as a sophomore. Undersized, low-to-the-ground lineman best in a small area. Must improve his overall strength as he struggles to finish blocks. Not light on his feet and struggles sliding in space. Davis is a solid small area mauler with the body type to play guard in the NFL. He must improve his strength and iron out his game, yet he is worth a look in camp this summer.
Branndon Braxton, OL, Oklahoma - Braxton started at right tackle for OU in 2007, but lost his starting job to Trent Williams last season. He also battled various injuries that kept him from playing much in 2008.
All of these stuck, with the exception of Graham Harrell, who, due to the "logjam" at QB, was let leave without a contract. Which, I suppose, is fine with me, as the only way Harrell makes this roster is if one of Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson are traded. And that probably ain't happenin'.
Completely Ridiculous Prediction That I Will Deny Ever Having Said Should I Be Wrong
Brett Ratliff will have a better NFL career than Mark Sanchez.
There! I said it.
Or maybe I didn't.
Regarding Tony Grossi
Each and every morning, like clockwork, I check out 3 sites for Browns-related articles: this site, the OBR, and the Plain Dealer. I go to each for different reasons, but the total package is a well-rounded picture of what is going on with the Browns ahora.
If I have extra time, I'll check out CNNSI and Profootballtalk.com, but that's more to get the national perspective than anything else. If it's a really slow day at work, I'll take a look at the Akron Beacon Journal and Canton Repository sports pages, but they don't really post that much Browns-related info, and it's not so different from what you'd read in the PD. Maybe I'll even check out the Official Browns Site, if someone tempts me with a few bucks if I do.
Sadly, one of my 3 staples is sporting a horrendous shiner right now.
Tony Grossi of the Plain Dealer, a once respectable journalist, is committing career suicide.
One of the writers here, Dave Kolonich, has suggested this regarding Grossi's recent journalistic performance:
Another perspective to take from this story is Tony Grossi's future in Cleveland. Considering the Plain Dealer is currently suffering through a horrendous regional economy, is Grossi auditioning for a new job? I tend to think that Grossi's pre-draft report regarding Michael Crabtree's attitude, which offered a conflicting viewpoint from the other Plain Dealer story regarding the visit, seems to suggest that Grossi is trying to get his name out on a more national level.
And if what I'm suggesting has any merit, can you blame the guy? It's obvious Grossi has lost any genuine passion for the Browns, considering how badly the team has played in recent years. Add to this the arrival of Mangini, who is not exactly an overflowing source of information and the writing seems to be on the wall. Or at least subtly inserted into a reader mailbag.
I wouldn't call Grossi subtle at this point, nor would I absolve him of blame for losing passion in the Browns, no matter how bad they have played. He's the damn beat writer, for Pluto's sake. How many years of bad Cavs basketball did Joe Tait endure? Insert "Indians", insert "Herb Score".
How many bad years of Cleveland Sports have WE all endured? Hell yeah I blame the guy that bails when the going gets tough! But I digress.
Dave may be right. Maybe Grossi IS trying to make a national name for himself. But even if it works and he gets some nationwide NFL gossip job - which is highly unlikely given his age - he loses. Because then his job is to be Skip Bayless.
But something tells me Grossi isn't auditioning for HotFootballRumors.com. I will now for the first time directly steal one of my posts from the Browns forums and present it as my impression of what happened to Grossi:
He had his heart set on Cowher. He DID NOT want Mangini, mainly because he remembers how difficult it was to get info during the Bellichick days and did not want to repeat that. So he hated the Mangini hire right off the bat, mainly for personal reasons.
Then Mangini came in and axed a lot of people that were found to be leaking info to the press. Some of them were obviously Grossi's sources, because his info dried up in heartbeat.
Angry at losing his sources and being reduced to nothing more than a glorified blogger, Grossi lashed out, going hyper-negative on any move that was made and wildly speculating on the value of certain players (insisting that the Browns should get a 1st Rounder for DA, for God's sake) so that he could further criticize the moves later (if they were made) because the team did not get his unattainable value in return.
He also lashed out by repeatedly floating the idea that the team not providing info to the media was "not fan friendly", then running with stories like the Hall of Fame mural being painted over (and, of course, not asking why or mentioning that Hall of Fame plaques replaced the mural and were put in a more noticeable hallway). He purposely selected to reveal information that painted the team in a bad light, which is part of his protest, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind if his efforts helped the fans to turn on the regime quicker than they would on their own.
Experiencing some backlash for his obvious agenda, he has now decided to tone it down a bit, but since the team won't provide him with the information he needs to remain an "insider", he petulantly will print any bit of hearsay or innuendo that comes across his desk. If he can no longer provide quality, he will provide quantity. In this way, he feels he will not become irrelevant.
What he doesn't seem to realize is that, in a very short period of time, he has gone from valid reporter to gossip-pedaling hack. He's now the sports writer version of paparazzi.
And the damage he's done to his credibility and reputation will take a lot longer for him to repair than he spent tearing it down.
Throw in the fact that he's now directly compared to Terry Pluto (since Pluto joined the PD), a comparison that is just making Grossi look awful, and you've got the recipe for meltdown.
I almost feel bad for the dude, but then he chose his own fate when he refused to behave in a professional manner. With his position as beat writer for the only newspaper in town, he is held to a much higher standard than just some teenage blogger, but, from reading his stuff, you don't get the idea that he understands that.
If it seems like I'm on a personal vendetta against Grossi, I am. If I didn't know that Grossi can be a decent-to-good reporter, I wouldn't care. I'd just accept his suckitude. But since I know that Grossi once used to be pretty good, I am frustrated, and I really could do without my Browns beat guy acting like Eric Mangini dumped him on Prom Night.
Regarding "Rookie Night"
Just after Rookie Camp, I read an article on the Cleveland Browns official website regarding "Rookie Night", which is apparently some Mankinis multimedia propaganda spiel arranged to convert the soft minds of the young men who are endeavoring to become NFL Pros. Incidentally, this is a very good idea, and, after reading the article, I wish I could have been there. Sounded very cool.
However, as I mentioned, the article was from the Cleveland Browns official website, and you really can't expect anything from the Official Site other than team stats and fluff pieces. Thus, the article was written with just a tad too much "exuberant flair". But despite its obvious purple nature, the article is well worth reading and can be found here.
I will now paraphrase in a somewhat different fashion:
Since joining the Cleveland Browns in January, Head Coach Eric Mangini and General Manager George Kokinis have developed many interesting ideas and programs, all of which are designed to try and bring winning football back to Northeast Ohio.
The most recent example of this was on Saturday night, when the team held a "Rookie Night" for all of the players participating in the weekend's rookie minicamp, which concluded on Sunday with conditioning tests.
The goal of "Rookie Night" was to indoctrinate the Browns' 2009 rookie class to the long-storied history of the team - and the tradition of which they are now a part, a tradition that, while historically impressive, lately has been shameful - at least for the vast majority of these rookies' lifetimes.
While the rookies endured several different speakers and various highlight films documenting the history of the franchise, the players seemed somewhat interested when they were addressed by two former Browns now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame - Jim Brown and Paul Warfield.
Browns Director of Player Programs Jerry Butler started the seminar by showing a film divided into eight parts, one for each decade of Browns football and an eighth segment with college highlights of each of the team's 2009 draft picks and rookie free-agent signees. The 7th segment documenting the current decade was about 3 seconds long. "Run Willie Run!... Butch Davis has resigned... The Titans beat Jim Sorgi and the Colts."
About 15 minutes after the last college play was shown, Joshua Cribbs stood in front of the room and essentially told the 47 wide-eyed young players that class was dismissed.
"Hey, I have a college highlight tape, too," Cribbs said. "That right there is probably the last time you'll ever see it unless you go home and pop it on for yourself. That's over. This is the NFL now, Bitch."
And the seminar, which was also attended by coaches, members of the front office staff and team owner, soon became an NFL experience that was unique to these kids.
In a little less than two hours, the Browns' rookies heard Butler, himself a player and former NFL coach (in case you'd forgotten, which is fine, because so did I), talk about his personal quest for the Lombardi Trophy. After the projection screen showed passes from Otto Graham and Brian Sipe end up as touchdowns, passes from Tim Couch flutter harmlessly into the turf, and passes from Derek Anderson end up as Pick Sixes, they heard from a guy who caught 85 touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career, Paul Warfield.
Warfield recalled how, on his drive from his hometown of Warren to his first professional training camp at Hiram, he wondered if he was good enough to play in the National Football League and for a team that featured the likes of Jim Brown.
It was the challenge of proving that he did belong that pushed Warfield from there, and he spoke to the rookies about the opportunity they have to carve their own paths.
"I wanted to make sure that every single day I was on that field, I was a better player than I had been the day before," Warfield said.
Brown then talked about sharing the 1964 NFL Championship - back in the days when Cro-Magnon man still walked the earth - not just with Warfield but every player on the Browns roster. He said it took a total team commitment for the Browns to take down a Colts team that featured Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, and some guy named Geno.
"Our team of overachievers beat that all-star team 27-0," Brown said. "Twenty-seven to nothing, Bitch. Every guy on that team played a part in it."
Butler told the rookies that spending a weekend learning more about their new playbook was important - although not as important as a good "skank-hunt" - and said the Saturday night history lesson was designed to challenge them to "make new history; pull the Browns out of this Swamp of Suck."
Kamerion Wimbley talked about dealing with the NFL spotlight, the strain of a 16-game season, the importance of having a second pass-rushing move, and taking accountability in the locker room when things are both good and bad.
"If you're about winning, we'd love to have you here," Wimbley told the group. "We need someone that gives a good goddam."
Cribbs told his "welcome to the NFL" stories. He spoke of getting flipped in the air by blockers while covering a punt, of getting hit simultaneously by two Bengals players and tearing his MCL in his first regular-season game, and of hearing from Romeo Crennel during his first rookie spring camp that if he could cover kickoffs and take on two blockers and get some pizza rolls for coach, he could make the roster.
"I called up the special teams coach, Jerry Rosburg, that very next day," Cribbs said. "I just sort of talked to him, asked him how he was doing, what he was wearing, told him I thought everything was going OK for me, and that he wasn't that bad looking for an older guy. It got to kind of an awkward pause and he asked me if there was any specific reason I was calling.
"I just told him I needed him to know me. I needed to suck up to him. That sounds bad, but it's not what you... rewind... forget I said that. Ummmm.... I was a quarterback in college; I'd never done any of that stuff before. Returning kicks that is. Yeah. I tried to let him know how bad I wanted to make the team. I'd do anything. Well, not anything. At least not... never mind. This isn't going the way I wanted."
When it comes to undrafted success stories and keeping an audience entertained with facial expressions and football stories, Cribbs might be the greatest. He did an excellent impression of Rodney Dangerfield and Marcel Marceau.
Except on this night, The Greatest was still to come. Sadly, however, at the last moment Muhammed Ali couldn't make it, so Jim Brown had to do.
"I'm 73 years old," Brown said. "I hear people talk about old-school football and how the players weren't as big, weren't as fast as you guys are today.
"I'll say this: Give me a chance to be 21 again, give me a chance to get among you. I may not be as big, I may not be as fast, but I will whoop your ass. I won't stop whooping it. I'll whoop it every single day. I'll take responsibility for being The Whooper."
All four speakers stressed opportunity. For Wimbley, it was producing as a first-round rookie at a brand new position, then subsequently fading and becoming what is widely considered a draft bust. For Cribbs, it was doing the same as the longest of longshots that became the Browns most beloved player despite not having a clear role with the team. Brown said he was energized by the Browns' new regime and some blue pills he took and the chance to help any way he can.
"I took a call from Coach Mangini a couple days ago about coming out here," Brown said. "The plans I had to watch The Price Is Right went out the window and I got here at 6 a.m. And I'm fired up.
"I watched the video and I got excited. I saw you guys practice today and I got excited. Then I took a nap. Then I listen to the speeches, see the passion, and I'm excited again. Walk around this building and look at the men on these walls. Especially me, right over there, right near the front door. You're part of something very special."
"We're going to recapture the greatness," Warfield told the rookies. "And we're going to do it with young men who are committed and who have a great passion for the game. That's what it's about. Either that, or we'll pay off the refs like the Steelers do."
After Brown's speech, Butler encouraged the rookies to make sure they paid a visit to the lobby of the training facility where the Browns have recently renovated the space with punch, cookies, and tributes to Hall of Famers and those with retired numbers. He also asked for questions to any or all of the speakers. First to raise his hand was sixth-rounder Coye Francies, who said he was speaking for all his teammates in expressing his opinion of the "blessing" of having the chance to listen and watch and relive history.
"Is there a Taco Bell nearby?" Francies said.
And he left to get a chili cheese burrito.
Regarding Wes Welker
I will now channel a post I made on the boards for the second time ever. As I wrote it, I feel that I will not be mad at myself for plagiarizing... myself. I hope. I often cringe at things I've written in the past. Anyhoo:
Mangini just got his Wes Welker.
Or what one might consider a psuedo-Wes Welker, and only if you were wearing Mangini's Quirk-O-Vision glasses.
But at least we can say the WR position is a little deeper than it was 2 weeks ago.
I do not mean to be flippant here. I suppose my only meaning is that Quantity is not Quality.
Regarding The Dangers Of Expectation
You see what I'm doing here, don't you? I'm deliberately being snide - from time to time - about the Mankinis regime in an effort to keep my expectations solidly low. As a whatever-it-is-I-am, I want to be objective about the Browns. As a Cleveland Browns fan, I've taken a lot of psychological abuse lately and I will NOT get my hopes up until I absolutely have to. So even though I can't help but feel somewhat positive (despite my best efforts), I refuse to give in to optimism.
Even though I'm pretty sure I feel it stirring somewhere deep down inside. I'd better get some Tums.