It has begun. Sort of.
Yesterday, Training Camp began for the Cleveland Brown rookies. It isn't open to the public, and it doesn't feature many players that will make a big difference this year (or even make the team), but it is the start. That means that finally - thank ye gods! - football is starting again.
Now, I'm fully aware that not much news will come out until next week (July 31) when the veterans report. But it gets the ball rolling, and causes me to clumsily segue into a Training Camp piece: Who the Top 10 Most Important Browns players are going into this season?
Regarding the 10 Most Important 2009 Browns Players (in no particular order)
1. Brady Quinn - This one's obvious. Derek Anderson is Derek Anderson, and therefore should not be starting. Brady Quinn MUST win the QB job decisively and then show a consistency and intelligence that DA was never able to produce. If Brady Quinn doesn't do these things, then we'll be discussing Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy all offseason.
2. Shaun Rogers - Also obvious. The Big Boy's our Main Man up the middle, and a major key to the success of the base 3-4 Defense. With the question marks surrounding him on either side at Defensive End, Rogers has to have as dominant a season as he did last year, and then we can at least have some hope that someone somewhere will get some pressure on the QB.
3. Kamerion Wimbley - I talked about him last week. Kam's been a Super Dud the last 2 years, amply earning his nickname "Pocket Satellite" due to his propensity to orbit the pocket uselessly while the QB has enough time to make himself some tea. The new regime wants to see if there's anything there, and they're taking steps to help improve Kam's production - namely, moving him around a lot to utilize his speed and teaching him to bull-rush to utilize some variety. As there are absolutely no Pass Rushers of note on the Browns squad, it makes Wimbley's Ressurection vital to the team.
4. Jerome Harrison - Laugh if you will, but I think Harrison will be a more important offensive element than Jamal Lewis this year. In fact, I think he will be the Leon Washington to Jamal's Thomas Jones for a while, then he'll actually take over the majority of carries by year's end as Jamal wears down. E-mail me your complaints in triplicate if you will, but Harrison can get the tough yards in the middle and there ain't a helluva lot separating him from LaDainian Tomlinson size-wise. (And, NO, I didn't say he would be like LT. I said he was about LT's size, and that LT has managed to be productive.)
5. D'Qwell Jackson - Pundits have been raving about this guy for years, and his tackle numbers are gaudy. But so were Wali Rainer's. In order for this Linebacking Corps to be anything other than passive, Jackson needs to become a leader and to announce his presence with authority. (You want to what?) I've seen him make some plays, and Mankinis supposedly singled out only he and Joe Thomas as "untouchables" during the March Player Garage Sale, so obviously they've seen enough to appreciate his value.
6. Abram Elam - The Browns tried to sign this guy through RFA, but the Jets matched. Then, he was the key component in the draft day trade. It's obvious that Mangini was desperate to get him here to replace Sean Jones, a player he didn't try very hard to keep at all. That tells me Mangini feels Elam is an upgrade over Jones, and, in our Defensive Backfield, he'd better be. It's thinner than Milla Jovavich back there. Also, Peter King predicted Elam would be a Pro Bowler immediately after the Draft. Now, I don't know if I'd go that far, but color me intrigued.
7. Ryan Tucker - Whether it be at Right Guard or Right Tackle, the Browns need solidity and talent on the right side of the line, and Tucker - when healthy - has proven himself more than capable of providing that. The "when healthy" part is the key, cuz Ryan's getting older and has been largely negated by injuries the last couple seasons. But I still feel it's important for Tucker to come back and play at a high level and win one of those jobs, because the RG/RT combinations involving John St. Clair, Porkchop Womack, Isaac Sowells, George Foster, and Rex Hadnot are as appealing to me as a Tripe Sundae.
8. Braylon Edwards - Duh. Dude's our only top-shelf Receiver, our only legitimate deep threat, and he's in a contract year. Braylon just murdered the team last year with his drops and lazy routes and silly penalties. He HAS to remove his cranium from between his cheeks and play like everyone knows he's capable of playing. I mean, this Offense scares me as it is. After the last 6 games of last year, I am frightened to death of them. Braylon 2009 playing like Braylon 2008 makes my fears much more likely to go Boo.
9. Brandon McDonald - Eric Wright, I'm not worried about. But the other Corner position... hmmmm... well... Let's put it this way: I think McD is a good CB. He has loads of talent. But he's small, and those big Receivers, whoa, they abuse him like he stole their Wii. However, Rod Hood and Corey Ivy are not adequate replacements. They're decent players, don't get me wrong, but they shouldn't be starting on the outside. McD does have the talent to start at CB - he just needs to find a way to avoid those embarrassing lapses and keep his confidence up. Especially if the Browns have a weak Pass Rush, which, I'm afraid, might be the case.
10. Lawrence Vickers - OK, he's lost his mind, you say. No. Well, maybe. But I put Vickers in this list solely because I was watching the Browns-Giants game from last season the other night (the only 2008 game that I kept) and started noticing how vital he was in every facet of that game Offensively. When your starting RB is Jamal Lewis - a man that's lost a step or two and needs time to get rolling - having an effective Fullback paving the way and keeping the rushing Linebackers in check is key. Plus, I bet that someone on Mangini's staff actually notices that Vickers is a decent screen option out of the backfield - something the Crennel people tried their damnedest to ignore.
Regarding Signing the Rookies
For those of you bored enough to have read my articles over the years, you know of my disdain for the NFL rookie signing process, particularly amongst the high draft picks. Every year, agents make their names (and considerable loads o' cash) by striving to get their client the most bank-breaking deal. Agents don't want to just get the standard 10% raise, no, they want to raise the roof. And they also don't want to look foolish, so they wait until the players picked around their client has signed so they have a dollar amount that they cannot go below (or, more likely, they have to beat).
So what you have is a bunch of Agents sitting around, waiting for everyone else to make their move, holding up the signing process, and holding out for contracts that will pay their rookie clients more money than successful NFL veterans.
It's an awful system.
And the fact that it creates so many holdouts of players considered keystones to the future of the franchise isn't even the biggest travesty. No, the worst thing about this system is that it has become so bad that having high draft picks is a curse rather than an equalizer. The kind of cap-breaking moolah you have to shell out for someone who's never played an NFL down is bad enough, but if they bust, you're dead.
Lots of ‘em bust at the top, too, because - making the kind of money they're making - the top picks need to produce immediately. There's no time for them to develop. It hurts the players, it hurts the teams, it hurts the supposed parity of the NFL.
Take the Browns situation, for instance. Rookie Camp starts today. Their 4th Rounder (Maiaiva) and their 6th Rounders (Carey, Francies, and Davis) have all signed. And a whole slew of Undrafted Free Agents will be there. But none of those guys - not one of them - can be counted on to play a major role with the 2009 Browns. You might get lucky with one or two of them where they step up and earn some significant playing time, but you can't COUNT on it.
So, what about the Rookies that you are counting on? They're close to signing Alex Mack, their 1st Rounder. But the system has gotten so screwy that they are reportedly not close with Brian Robiskie, Mo Massaquoi, and David Veikune - freakin' 2nd Rounders. It's gotten to the point where you have to fight tooth and nail for the contracts of even the lesser picks. Ridiculous.
It's good news that Mack will soon be in the fold, because, as the probably starting Center, I'd say he was a pretty important piece to get in camp. And I guess we should give some props to Mankinis, as we get this quote from the Plain Dealer:
A sticking point with some of the agents has been the Browns' rookie report date of today [July 24]. It's the earliest in the NFL and was set, they believe, to force negotiations.
Damn those evil Browns! How DARE they try to force negotiations? Don't they know that this is a long drawn-out process where everyone but the Agent loses?
Ugh. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Owners need to get this shit fixed in the next CBA. There needs to be a rookie pay scale, period, end of story. Give the extra money to the veterans that have earned it.
If the Owners need to lock the players out to get this done, then so be it. I'd much rather miss a couple 2011 games than wonder about holdouts year after year until the end of time.
And it would be nice to have a world where getting a Top 5 draft pick was actually a GOOD thing.
Regarding Big Ben's Big Issue
And now to the only kind of news that you really get during the offseason - ugly news.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB of the Fixburgh Steelers, has been accused of rape by a hotel employee in Nevada. She filed a Civil lawsuit against him for the alleged event, which purportedly took place in July 2008 while Ben was in town for some Celebrity Golf Tournament.
I don't need to go into the details. You can read them here and here. Ben supposedly asked her to his room on false pretenses, then blocked her exit and forced himself on her, including full-blown penetration.
Now, I hate Ben as much as anyone - probably more than most - and if these claims are true, then Roethlisberger should be castrated at his earliest convenience. But he would have to be the dumbest guy alive to forcibly rape a woman under these (or any) circumstances, seeing as he's so high profile and an easy target to begin with. Then there's the fact that the woman waited a year and then filed a Civil claim, basically going for the dough rather than criminal charges. I'm sure she has her reasons why, but something about this rings false.
Of course I realize that it is insane to be turning a victim into a defendant, but rape is a serious accusation. Sadly, gold-digging is an all-too common occurrence amongst the rich and famous, and women are sabotaged by those who came before them with similar claims that were later proven to be false. If I were a woman, I'd despise tarts like that because all they do is emphasize a negative stereotype and create a "crying wolf" environment for those that come forward with legitimate grievances.
You get raped - you go to the hospital, you go to police. Immediately, while there's still evidence. You make the guy pay, and not just monetarily. In many cases, victims are unwilling to do this for a variety of reasons. But it must then be understood how it will look - innocent victim or not - if you wait a year and then go after the guy's wallet.
I hope the truth prevails in this case, but good luck finding out what that is.
Regardless of how this turns out for you Ben, and regardless of my undying loathing of you as the QB of a team I despise, I want you to know that I thought you did an excellent job as Sam in the Lord of the Rings movies.
"I didn't do it, Mr. Frodo!"
Regarding Chad Johnson
I ain't callin' him no Spanish numbers.
His momma call him Chad Johnson, I'm a call him Chad Johnson.
Regarding Louis Armstrong
So there I was, looking through my CD's, looking for music to upload onto my I-Tunes account. I have about 700 CD's of all genres, an eclectic mix that had me pausing to consider the oddity of Louis Armstrong right next to Alien Sex Fiend.
Then I thought "Hey, haven't listened to Louis in a while. There's gotta be at least one song I'd want to import." So I grabbed the 2 albums of his that I have and stuck it into my computer as I was working.
Damn, I'm hooked.
I've listened to these 2 albums - The Essential Louis Armstrong and Louis Armstrong's All Time Greatest Hits - about 5 times in row now each, and I can't help but walk around all day humming Hello Dolly or La Vie En Rose. But the song that has really caught me the most is his rendition of Mack the Knife, the famous song originally from a German play called The Threepenny Opera. You've heard the song, even if you don't recognize the title. Armstrong did the first American version of it 1956, but it was really made famous by Bobby Darin when he took it to #1 in 1959. It seems everyone's done a version of it, from Frank Sinatra to The Doors to Sting.
However, what really hooked me on this song are the lyrics, which are about a dashing villain named MacHeath that committed numerous atrocities including murder, rape, and theft. Here's how the lyrics go:
Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack knife has MacHeath, dear
And he keeps it out of sight
When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves though wears MacHeath, dear
So there's not a trace of red
On the sidewalk, Sunday morning
Lies a body oozing life
Someone's sneaking round the corner
Is the someone Mack the knife?
From a tug boat by the river
A cement bag's dropping down
The cement's just for the weight, dear
Bet you Mack is back in town
Louie Miller disappeared, dear
After drawing out his cash
And MacHeath spends like a sailor
Did our boy do something rash?
Oh, the movie a talented filmmaker could make from this song...