A Gift From My Dad

My Dad and I with the Larry O’Brien trophy last August.

I was waiting to write about this until I was ready, but sometimes your plans change due to an amazing experience. I lost my Dad four weeks ago yesterday after a courageous battle with heart disease. My Dad was my best friend, my hero, and the strongest person I ever met. When I was a baby my father was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was given 8 weeks to live. He defied the odds and went on to live a healthy life for more than 20 years. He was able to further his dream of being an elected official and it all culminated when he was elected Mayor of the City of Maple Heights in 2007 . My Dad was an inspiration to so many people, but his will to live and never give up attitude is what I will always carry with me. At a young age, my Dad got me hooked on sports taking me to the local sports games, autograph signings and sports card shows. Like any kid once I realized I would never become a professional athlete, I knew I wanted to do the next best thing which was to cover sports. Now with a journalism degree and almost one year removed from college I have my Dad to thank for giving me my dream. I wanted nothing more than to be able to tell my father that I got my first job in sports media, but I am now more motivated to make it in this industry with the same never quit attitude that he had.

As an aspiring journalist, I am always listening to the sports talk shows here in Cleveland. Last week, I was listening to the Really Big Show on ESPN 850 with Tony Rizzo and Aaron Goldhammer like I usually do in the mornings when I was inspired. Hammer encouraged any listeners coming to their draft party at the Hard Rock Rocksino to bring a good luck charm of some sort to bring the Browns good karma on arguably the most important draft night in franchise history. Anyone who knows my family knows what a huge collector my Dad was. He collected all things sports for me when I was little from bobbleheads to autographs. My sisters joke to this day that at one point when I was a kid if you would walk into my bedroom and jump the entire room would be shaking its head up and down at you from all of the bobbleheads. I knew I obviously couldn’t bring something like a bobblehead or an autographed picture so I had to find something small. This was sort of a difficult task considering my Dad gave up our Browns season tickets four years ago because he was finally fed up with the losing, but he still watched them every Sunday. I settled on a small plastic Browns helmet that he got me out of a gum ball machine.

The Next Level, Emmett Golden and Jerod Cherry, preview the 2017 NFL Draft at the Permco ESPN Cleveland Draft Party at the Hard Rock Rocksino on Thursday.

Fast forward to yesterday, the guys on RBS were sharing some tweets about what people were bringing to the Rocksino. I decided to tweet the show with a picture of the helmet in hopes that our special bond would finally bring the Browns some impact players. What followed was completely unexpected. Rizz and Hammer read my tweet on the air and the ESPN Cleveland Twitter account retweeted my tweet. The response was amazing! Many people reached out to me and one of them even shared a story about how he and his Dad bonded over football just like my Dad and I. This reiterated the fact to me that Cleveland sports fans are the best in the world. We have all experienced loss either with our beloved sports teams or our personal lives and somehow we always rally around each other. It’s that togetherness that makes Cleveland such a special place and it’s why people from out of town don’t understand why we love our home so much.

The Rocksino took care of my buddy Nate and I last night by providing us with the VIP experience for the draft party. It was an unexpected, but appropriate gesture because my father loved the Rocksino! Until his sickness progressed, there would be many times he would take me up there to have dinner and play the machines for a little bit. The draft party featured a buffet and the guys from ESPN Cleveland broadcasted all night. The mini Browns helmet definitely brought us luck last night as we selected three impact players and picked up a first round pick for next year (I will have more on this in my Browns draft recap this weekend). Before I left, both the Rocksino and ESPN Cleveland gave me some Bernie Kosar goodies. This whole experience had my Dad written all over it and I have no doubt in my mind he played a part in it. I want to thank Jill Middleton, Dave Shultz, and Sylvia Watson from the Hard Rock Rocksino for their generosity. The Rocksino was our favorite spot and it was so fitting that I had this experience here. I also want to thank Keith Williams and ESPN Cleveland for their kindness. Your radio station provides the best sports coverage in Cleveland and you always take great care of your listeners.

As much as I wanted to have my Dad watching this historic draft with me last night I know he was watching over me. He will continue to look out for me for the rest of my life because a part of him lives in me. I will use that part of him to chase my dream of making it in sports media just like he chased his dreams.

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Browns 2017 Draft Preview

After going 1-15 in Hue Jackson’s first season as head coach, the Cleveland Browns hold the number one overall pick in arguably the most important draft in franchise history. Executive VP of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, has compiled an impressive amount of capital in the form of draft picks for this year and next year’s draft. Cleveland holds four picks in the first 65 selections with three of them being at the top of the first, second, and third rounds. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, this draft will be a make or break draft for the Browns “Harvard Brain Trust”. Sashi, chief strategy officer, Paul DePodesta, and VP of Player Personnel, Andrew Berry have amassed their vast treasure trove of draft picks from trading down in past drafts by using analytics. This year the trading down comes to an end as this draft class is loaded with elite talent especially on the defensive side of the ball. Cleveland needs help at almost every position and it will be pivotal to their future if they stay put for once to select some cornerstone players. It is crucial that the Browns nail their early picks this year as a part of their rebuild and I will give you my prediction for their top two picks.

Biggest Needs

  • Quarterback
  • Defensive End
  • Safety
  • Cornerback

Browns 2017 Draft Picks

  • Round 1-No. 1
  • Round 1-No. 12
  • Round 2-No. 33
  • Round 2-No. 52
  • Round 3-No. 65
  • Round 4-No. 108
  • Round 5-No. 145
  • Round 5-No. 175
  • Round 5-No. 181
  • Round 6-No. 185
  • Round 6-No. 188

No. 1 Overall-Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Texas A&M

Texas A&M defensive end, Myles Garrett. Photo: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

This pick is a no brainer to me. Myles Garrett is the consensus number one overall pick this year and it’s not even close. Garrett is the elite pass rusher that the Browns have never had and could easily build their defense around. At 6’4″ and 272 pounds, he put up freakish numbers at the NFL Combine by running a 4.64 40 yard dash, a 41.0 inch vertical jump, and 33 reps on the bench press. Garrett’s dominance at Texas A&M speaks for itself as he had 11.5 sacks as a freshman and 19.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore with 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. He battled a knee injury in the beginning of last season but still managed to record 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks in eleven games. There has been talk over the last few weeks that the Browns were split on taking Garrett or quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky with the first pick. While I do think Cleveland has legitimate interest in Trubisky with their second pick, I believe that taking him with the first pick would be a reach. Myles Garrett has the potential to be the next JJ Watt and the Browns CANNOT afford to pass on him. The Browns had the second worst rated defense in the NFL last season behind the San Francisco 49ers. Cleveland gave up 2,283 rushing yards last season, which was also the second worst in the league. Adding Garrett would instantly upgrade the Browns’ defense and would see the creation of a dangerous duo on the edge by pairing him with second year defensive end, Emmanuel Ogbah. As talented as Garrett is the one constant criticism that keeps popping up is the question of his motor. It was brought up again last week when Hall of Fame defensive lineman, Warren Sapp called him a “lazy kid that makes four plays a game.” Any questions about Garrett’s effort level will be put to rest when the Browns new defensive coordinator, Greg Williams gets to work with him. Williams is a no-nonsense coach who has a fiery passion for the game and you will be sure he will not let Garrett take any plays off. In my opinion the Browns have a very easy decision to make at number one by taking the best player in this year’s draft. However, if they don’t take Myles Garret at No. 1, the big man from Arlington, Texas has already issued a warning to the Browns in an interview with Sam Alipour of ESPN The Magazine earlier this month.

“If you don’t draft me No. 1, I will punish your team for the next 10 to 12 years. I’ll knock your QB out of the game every time we play you, and I’ll have to kick the hell out of No. 1, whoever it is.” -Myles Garrett

No. 5 Overall-Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina (PROJECTED TRADE)

North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

For years the Browns have made it an April tradition to trade down in the draft, but this year I predict that they will trade up from the twelfth pick to the fifth spot to take their franchise quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky. A trade at this position with the Tennessee Titans would make sense for multiple reasons. The first being that the Browns have history with the Titans after they traded down with Tennessee last year to select Corey Coleman with the No. 15 pick. The second reason this trade makes sense is that the Titans have their franchise quarterback already in Marcus Mariota and trading down would enable them to select a receiver to pair with him. It is very possible that Trubisky could still be on the board by the time the Browns pick at number twelve, but with another quarterback needy team picking at No. 6 in the New York Jets it may be too risky for the Browns to sit and wait. At 6’2”, Trubisky has the size and arm strength to be a successful starting quarterback, but the main concern that comes with him is the sample size. He started only 13 games at North Carolina after sitting his first two seasons behind three year starter Marquise Williams. Last season, Trubisky ranked fifth in the country with a 68.0 completion percentage while throwing for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns. He also ran for 5 touchdowns and 308 yards. The skills and numbers are there, but the Browns will have to have patience as it will take a season or two for Trubisky to develop. Sitting Trubisky behind Cody Kessler or possibly Brock Osweiler (if he is still on the roster by training camp) would not be a bad thing as he showed his potential after sitting for two years with the Tar Heels. The Mentor native has said it would be a “dream come true” to play for his hometown team, but we have seen the good and bad of this narrative before. Youngstown’s own Bernie Kosar was the last great quarterback the Browns had, while Lakewood native, Brian Hoyer was having a breakout season until he torn his ACL in October 2013. Being named the starting quarterback of the Browns already comes with enough pressure, but being the potential quarterback savior and a Cleveland native comes with enormous expectations. I believe Trubisky can handle the pressure and if the Browns truly believe he is their guy then they should move up to get him.

Lansky’s Final Take

Selecting the draft’s premier edge rusher and arguably the top quarterback in this class with their first two picks would be a monumental success for the Browns. If the Browns take both Garrett and Trubisky as well as addressing their needs at positions such as safety and corner, they will finally be on the right track on this long rebuilding saga.

Browns 2016 Draft Preview

The NFL Draft kicks off tomorrow night in Chicago and the Browns will be on the clock with the eighth overall pick. Cleveland traded out of the number two pick last week in exchange for the Philadelphia Eagles number 8, 77, and 100 overall picks this year as well as their 2017 first round-pick and 2018 second-round pick. The Browns decided against taking a potential franchise quarterback with the number two pick in either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. I thought it was a great move as Sashi Brown and Co. as they added to their already loaded arsenal of draft picks. Brown stated this week that he knows who he will pick tomorrow night and that he has a backup plan to trade down if his guy isn’t there. I will give you the players that I think the Browns will select in either situation, as well as my prediction for their second round pick.

Browns Stand Pat at Number Eight

Elliott was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week for his performance Saturday; his 274 rushing yards ranks second in Ohio State single-game history behind only Eddie George’s 314 (1995).
Mandatory Credit: Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports

Sashi Brown said that the Browns are “locked in” on a player for the number eight pick. There a few options at this spot if some of the players fall, such as  defensive end, Joey Bosa of Ohio State, offensive tackle, Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss, and defensive end, DeForest Buckner of Oregon. Cleveland’s signing of Robert Griffin III was great, but they need to surround him with play makers. A great start to this approach would be running back, Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State. Zeke is the total package for a running back as he can run, catch, and block. He also has explosive speed and raw power that can change the game instantly. Elliott excelled at Ohio State rushing for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns in his sophomore season, while leading the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014. Browns running backs, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have shown some potential, but they don’t have the complete skill set that Elliott possesses. He is the three down back that Cleveland has needed for years. If Zeke is still on the board at number eight, I would be shocked if the Browns passed up on him.

Browns Trade Down Again

Ole Miss wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell. Photo Credit-Rogelio V. Solis

If Sashi Brown’s guy is gone by pick number eight, expect Cleveland to trade down between the 13 and 15 picks. One of the Browns biggest needs are wide receivers. Cleveland will most likely move on from Josh Gordon after his request for reinstatement was denied by the NFL earlier this month. New head coach, Hue Jackson, loves receivers and I expect the Browns to add a few in this years draft. If Cleveland trades down I think they will take Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss. Over the past few seasons the Browns have had mostly smaller receivers in the absence of Gordon. At 6’2″, Treadwell is not small by any means and he fits the mold of receiver that Jackson craves. He is known for his ability to go up and win contested catches. He is also very reliable when it comes to third down and red zone situations. The one area where Treadwell is weak is that he lacks the speed for deep routes. He often struggles to break past cornerbacks in those type of situations. Despite his lack of deep speed, I think Treadwell would be a great offensive weapon to add alongside RGIII.

Browns Second Round Pick

Photo Credit-Chris Howell | Herald-Times Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) during the Indiana Ohio State football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio Saturday, November 22, 2014. Chris Howell

Cleveland holds the first pick of the second round (32 overall), a pick that was stripped from the New England Patriots as a result of the Deflategate scandal. Like the number eight pick, the Browns have plenty of options at number 32. Even though the Browns signed RGIII, they are still in the market for a quarterback. One option is Michigan State QB and Walsh Jesuit’s own Connor Cook. I think Cleveland is more likely to take him in the third round, but the second round is a possibility. Another option is an offesinve tackle. The Browns are in need of serious offensive line help after the departures of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz. There are will many solid offensive lineman available, but I think Cleveland will hold off until the later rounds. I think the most likely option at number 32 would be a wide receiver. Like I mentioned earlier, Hue values his receivers and I would love to see the Browns take Michael Thomas from Ohio State. Thomas has great hands and a big frame at 6’3″ and 212 pounds. He has the speed and skill set to be Cleveland’s number one receiver, but he is more likely to start out as the team’s number two option.

 

Lansky’s Bold Prediction

I think the Browns will stay put tomorrow night and select Ezekiel Elliott with the eighth pick. Zeke is a beast and he is the game changing player that Cleveland needs. I also think that the Browns will go receiver with the 32 pick and select Elliott’s college teammate, Michael Thomas.

So Long Johnny Football

Click to enlarge timeline

Click to enlarge timeline

The party is over for Johnny Manziel as the Cleveland Browns officially waived the struggling quarterback today. This move was a long time coming as it was reported that the Browns would wait to cut Manziel until the new league year opened this week to save salary cap space. New Browns coach, Hue Jackson, stated from the beginning that Manziel’s kind of behavior would not be tolerated and he has stuck to his word. Cleveland took a gamble in the 2014 NFL draft by selecting the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner with the 22nd overall pick. It appeared that the Browns finally had their man at QB, but a career that had such promise was quickly filled with turmoil.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel speaks with media members following the team's 30-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks n an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Seattle. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Eklund

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel speaks with media members following the team’s 30-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks n an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Seattle. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Eklund

During the 2014 draft, Manziel texted Browns officials to draft him so they could “wreck this league together.” Browns fans felt like they finally had a quarterback that was ready to buy in to what the team was doing. Manziel may have said that he was ready to make an impact in Cleveland, but his focus was clearly elsewhere during the summer before his rookie season. In the months following the draft, he partied the summer away in Las Vegas and Texas. The troubles continued for Manziel at training camp when he showed up late for a meeting because he “misread the schedule.” Johnny finally had the chance to prove himself on the field on December 1, 2014 against the Buffalo Bills. Manziel replaced Brian Hoyer and ran for a touchdown on his first drive. He would start his first game two weeks later, but it was hardly memorable. Johnny threw for 80 yards in a 30-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel scrambles against the Washington Redskins on August 13, 2015.

Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel scrambles against the Washington Redskins on August 13, 2015.

After a tough rookie season, it seemed like Manziel was finally on the right path when he entered a rehab facility on January 28, 2015. It was a decision that showed a lot of maturity from the former Heisman winner in the hope that it would carry over to a successful second season. Josh McCown won the starting role, but Johnny wouldn’t have to wait long for his chance to take the field. Manziel replaced McCown in the 2015 season opener against the New York Jets, throwing a long touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. He would get another crack at starting in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans. Johnny had a strong showing throwing two deep strikes to Benjamin in his first win as a starter. McCown returned to the lineup the following week, just as Johnny was starting to show some promise. Head coach, Mike Pettine named Manziel the starter for the remainder of the season on November 17. The following week, a video appeared online of Johnny dancing in a Texas club while holding a bottle of champagne. The video was filmed during the Browns bye week and it was revealed that Johnny lied to Pettine about when the video was taken. Two weeks later McCown suffered another injury and Johnny started the next three games. On December 31, the Browns ruled out Manziel for the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a concussion. He then failed to show up to the Browns practice facility in Berea on game day to undergo concussion protocol. This is where the Johnny Manziel saga reaches it’s most bizarre point. Manziel missed the season finale because he spent the weekend in Las Vegas in disguise as a man named “Billy” with a blonde wig and mustache. To leave your team during a game week to party in Las Vegas is not only unprofessional, but it is unacceptable.

Johnny Manziel’s time in Cleveland has come to an end. The Browns gave the young quarterback countless opportunities to fix his off the field issues and to focus on football. Instead, Manziel’s problems were more serious then they seemed and when it came down to it he had no interest in continuing his career in Cleveland. Johnny’s story took a dark turn last month when he was investigated by Dallas police for a domestic violence incident involving his ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley. Manziel reportedly threatened to kill both himself and Crowley. On February 28, Dallas police referred the case to a grand jury. He could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

So the question arises..what is next for Johnny Manziel? Manziel’s NFL future is now more unclear than ever with his ongoing investigation. If he ends up in jail for a year, I think it will be very difficult for him to get another chance in the NFL. However, if Johnny does not go to jail two teams come to mind that could make a move to sign him. The first is the Los Angeles Rams who already have a quarterback question with Nick Foles and Case Keenum. I think the idea of Manziel playing in the City of Angels could be a recipe for disaster with many temptations for his off the field lifestyle. The team that makes the most sense to me is the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is an obvious choice not only because it is close to Manziel’s home, but Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones may be the man that can help Johnny. Jones has had success with giving second chances to troubled played such as Dez Bryant and Greg Hardy. Jones coveted Manziel in the 2014 draft and he has the resources to help him.  It is not too late for Johnny to get help and one can only hope that he takes the necessary steps to get his life back on track.

 

Blowup in Berea

“We’re not going to blow things up, okay? I think we’re on the right track so we’re not going to blow things up. I understand why people might ask that after a couple of bumps in the first couple of years, but we are not going to do that. I think we’re putting a good foundation in place.” Jimmy Haslam: August 1, 2015

Cleveland Browns Owner, Jimmy Haslam. Photo Credit-Erik Drost

After the Steelers squashed the Browns 28-12 on Sunday, Jimmy Haslam did exactly what he vowed he wouldn’t do in training camp: “he blew things up.” Haslam wasted no time in firing Head Coach, Mike Pettine and General Manager, Ray Farmer. He continued the Sunday night shakeup by announcing Sashi Brown as the new Executive Vice President of Football Operations. This isn’t the first time Haslam has made a change in Berea. His three year tenure as owner has seen three head coaches, five presidents and general managers, and 61 assistant coaches. These numbers are head scratching and unacceptable.

I expected the firings of Pettine and Farmer after an embarrassing 3-13 record. I was never a big fan of Farmer and thought that he made some questionable roster moves this season including the signings of regular healthy scratch, Dwayne Bowe and Robert Turbin. I think that Mike Pettine is a good coach, but at the end of the day he couldn’t get the job done in a city that is hungry for a winning football team.

As I watched Haslam’s press conference on Sunday night, I was pretty optimistic with his plan for this rebuild. He said that the Browns will hire a head coach first and then they will hire a general manager. This is a move that is not often seen, but it will allow the new head coach to potentially bring in his own gm. I really like that Haslam has hired Jed Hughes of the executive search firm, Korn Ferry, to lead the search for both the head coach and general manager. Korn Ferry helped place Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks, Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Jim Harbaugh with the University of Michigan.

The part of Haslam’s plan that takes a new direction for the organization is the introduction of analytics. Sashi Brown, a Harvard grad and attorney, has been called a rising star in the sports world, but he has no football experience. In the past few years, he has overseen the Browns salary cap and negotiated player contracts. Haslam said that Brown will have final say over the 53 man roster, which is risky in my opinion for a guy with no football experience. I think Brown’s hiring will help the new coach and gm to work together, which was not always the case with Pettine and Farmer.

Cleveland Browns, Chief Strategy Officer, Paul DePodesta.

On Tuesday, Haslam shocked the world by hiring Paul DePodesta as the Browns Chief Strategy Officer.  DePodesta is a well respected baseball executive and he is known for his “moneyball” analytics with the Oakland Athletics. This was a fascinating hire because DePodesta has only been an executive in baseball and has no experience in football. Analytics has proven to be successful, but it has been rarely used on the gridiron. I actually think that DePodesta and Brown’s use of analytics could be successful as long as a “football guy” is leading the team on the field. DePodesta and Brown are not “football guys” which works for the analytics part, but as far as coaching and acquiring players, the Browns will need a pure “football guy.”

09 May 2015: Offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears Adam Gase in action during the Chicago Bears Rookie minicamp, at Halas Hall, in Lake Forest, IL. Photo Credit-Icon Sportswire

The Browns began their search for a head coach on Wednesday by interviewing Bears offensive coordinator, Adam Gase and Lions defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin. Gase and Austin are the two most sought after head coaching candidates this offseason. I also think that they both are the top two candidates for the Browns. Gase was the offensive coordinator during the Denver Broncos Super Bowl run in 2014. He then followed John Fox to Chicago this past season to take the offensive coordinator job. Austin’s defense was key part of the Lion’s playoff run in 2014 and he is known for having a good relationship with his players. Cleveland interviewed former Bills head coach and current Jaguars assistant head coach, Doug Marrone on Thursday. I am not big on Marrone and I think there is something to be said about a coach who resigned after one 9-7 season (this was Buffalo’s first winning season in 10 years.) The Browns also interviewed their former defensive back coach and current Cowboys secondary coach, Jerome Henderson on Friday. Three of the four candidates that the Browns have interviewed so far do not have head coaching experience.

As much as I would love to see the Browns hire a head coach with previous head coaching experience, that is currently not an option. I believe that out of all of the current candidates, Adam Gase is the man for the job. Gase is one of the top quarterback coaches in the NFL and is considered to have one of the best offensive minds in the league. If the Browns hire Gase and find their franchise quarterback, Haslam’s latest blowup will have proved to be a great move.

Browns Season Preview 2015

After a solid 7-9 season in 2014 under first year head coach, Mike Pettine, the Browns will look to build off that success when they open up the 2015 season in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets on Sunday. Cleveland had a mediocre free agency period that included the signing of veteran quarterback, Josh McCown, and the departure of Pro Bowl tight end, Jordan Cameron. The Browns made up for this with an impressive draft that saw two first round picks in the form of defensive tackle, Danny Shelton, and guard, Cameron Erving.

Browns quarterback, Josh McCown. Photo Credit-Erik Drost

The Browns offense will be a huge question mark this season. For me the main problem is at quarterback. Josh McCown had a decent preseason campaign, but his two best performances came against the struggling Redskins and the lowly Buccaneers. He had a rough outing in week 2 of the preseason against a strong Bills defense that saw him throw for 57 yards and 2 interceptions. Johnny Manziel showed some bright spots in the first two preseason games, but an elbow injury has raised some concern. McCown will have the reigns to open the season, but do not be surprised if Manziel takes over the starting job halfway through the year. Cleveland’s offensive line is one of the best in the league led by eight time Pro Bowler, Joe Thomas. Two time Pro Bowl center, Alex Mack returns after missing the majority of last season with a broken leg. Second year guard, Joel Bitonio has showed a lot of promise and is projected by many NFL experts to be a Pro Bowler this season. First round pick, Cameron Erving should see some playing time this year as he is currently backing up guard, John Greco. Erving will give the Browns options as he can play any position on the offensive line.

Browns running back, Isaiah Crowell. Photo Credit-Erik Drost

The Browns also have some questions at the running back position and at wide receiver. Cleveland took a step in the right direction last week by trading second year running back, Terrance West to the Tennessee Titans. West has a great deal of talent, but was inconsistent and had a horrible attitude that caused problems during his time here. For now the Browns will depend on second year back, Isaiah Crowell, and rookie, Duke Johnson. Crowell showed last season that he can be a productive back by rushing for 607 yards. Johnson is a speedy and shifty runner that will create headaches for opposing defenses, but he has already had some injury issues during training camp. Over the last month, rumors swirled about the Browns adding a veteran running back to step in for the young backs. Cleveland finally added a veteran back this week when they claimed Robert Turbin off of waivers from the Seahawks. It was a head scratching move for me because the Browns cut Terrelle Pryor to add a running back that won’t be ready for 2-4 weeks with an ankle injury, but we will get into that more later.

Browns wide receiver, Brian Hartline. Photo Credit-Erik Drost

For the second year in a row, Cleveland will start their season without top receiver, Josh Gordon. Unlike last season, Gordon is suspended for the entire year after a second substance abuse violation. His absence forced the Browns to add a pair of veteran receivers this offseason in Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe. Hartline had a good preseason and has built some chemistry with McCown. Bowe missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury and played in the finale at Chicago registering one catch for 8 yards. Bowe’s best may be behind him which means that younger players will have to step up. Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin will all get reps in week one. The Browns shocked many earlier this week by waiving Terrelle Pryor. Pryor made the transition from quarterback to receiver this summer with the hopes of keeping his NFL career alive. Like Bowe, Pryor missed the first three preseason games with a injury. Pryor had no receptions against Chicago, but he ran the wildcat offense twice where he kept the ball for a total of nine yards. Despite playing only one preseason game, he made the 53 man roster only to be waived just days later. With time, I saw Pryor growing into a dangerous offensive weapon. He is very fast, can catch the ball, and can throw. With Pryor gone and Gordon suspended, Cleveland will have to rely on a core of receivers that will face adversity this season.

Two-time Pro Bowl Cornerback, Joe Haden.

The Browns defense will be the strength of the team this season. Cleveland’s secondary is lead by a core group of veteran players that have each made the Pro Bowl. The two corner backs are longtime Brown, Joe Haden and newcomer, Tramon Williams. The starting safeties are Cleveland native, Donte Whitner, and Tashaun Gipson. The Browns entered the offseason with high hopes for the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Justin Gilbert, but his troubles have only continued after a disappointing rookie campaign. Gilbert is currently listed as the backup to Joe Haden and after his recent road rage incident his days in Cleveland may be numbered.

Cleveland will have a strong rotation of linebackers this season. The starters include veterans Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby, as well as Chris Kirksey and newcomer, Scott Solomon. Barkevious Mingo and rookie Nate Orchard should see time in the rotation this season. Mingo has struggled with injuries in his young career, but when healthy he has been the best coverage linebacker on the team. Orchard had an impressive training camp and is an excellent pass rusher. He recorded 18.5 sacks last season as a senior at Utah. Orchard will be a great piece in the Browns defense for years to come.

Browns defensive tackle, Danny Shelton. Photo Credit-Erik Drost

Cleveland’s defensive line was beefed up this offseason and is returning only one starter in Desmond Bryant. Defensive tackle, Ahytba Rubin signed with the Seahawks in free agency and tackle, Phil Taylor, was released in the first wave of this year’s preseason cuts. The Browns also traded 4th year defensive end Billy Winn to the Colts this week. With the departure of three tackles comes the arrival of a defensive monster in the form of Danny Shelton. At 339 pounds, Shelton is excellent at stopping the run and is a space-eater that swallows up blocks. Cleveland native, Jamie Meder, will see time at the other defensive tackle slot. Desmond Bryant will start at left end and newcomer Randy Starks will play at right end. Bryant and Starks should complement each nicely as they are both sack masters.

This season will be a make or break year for Coach Pettine and the Browns front office. After a rocky offseason that included textgate, Johnny Manziel’s rehab stint, Justin Gilbert’s attitude issues, and a recent scandal involving an offensive line coach, the Browns must make some improvements on the field. The first half of the Browns schedule is not too bad as it includes games against the Titans and the Rams. The second half of the season will be a challenge for Cleveland as they will face the Broncos and the Seahawks. My bold prediction is that the Browns will go 8-8, missing the postseason for the 13th straight year.

Browns Draft Preview

Browns players at the new uniform reveal at the Cleveland Convention Center on April 14. Photo Credit-Nate Nealon

Browns players at the new uniform reveal at the Cleveland Convention Center on April 14. Photo Credit-Nate Nealon

This Thursday is the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, a night where the Browns have the opportunity to make some noise. Cleveland has two first round picks at the 12th spot and the 19th spot. I love the NFL Draft and have watched the 2014 film based on the Browns, Draft Day, to get ready for the big night. In the movie, fictional Browns owner, Anthony Molina, tells general manager, Sonny Weaver Jr. (played by Kevin Costner) to make a splash. Weaver does this by trading for the number one pick, then later that night he makes deals that help him to reaquire the draft picks he gave up to move to the one spot. The Browns may not make cinematic like moves this year, but Browns general manager, Ray Farmer, needs to make a splash! After a disappointing off-season filled with “text gate” and no major free agent signings, Farmer must address some serious needs with the first two picks. Here is a list of five players that the Browns have been linked to.

1. Devante Parker: Wide Receiver-Louisville

Louisville wide receiver, Devante Parker. Photo Credit-chatsports.com

Louisville wide receiver, Devante Parker. Photo Credit-chatsports.com

The Browns signed veteran receivers Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline this season. They are both solid pick-ups with experience, but production wise their best is behind them. With Josh Gordon sitting out this season due to another suspension, the Browns will need a number one receiver and Parker is that guy. At 6’3″ he is a big receiver with explosive speed. Parker is a play maker which is what the Browns desperately need. If Parker is still available at 12, look for Cleveland to take him.

2. Danny Shelton: Defensive Tackle-Washington

Washington Defensive Tackle, Danny Shelton. Creative Commons

Another serious option for the Browns at the 12th spot is defensive tackle, Danny Shelton. At 339 pounds, Shelton is the defensive monster that the Browns need. He is excellent at stopping the run and is a space-eater that swallows up blocks. Defensive tackle, Phil Taylor, was hurt the majority of last season and drafting another tackle would give the Browns a back up option. Pairing up Taylor and Shelton would make them one of the most feared defensive duos in the NFL.

3.Eddie Goldman: Defensive Tackle-Florida State

Florida State Defensive Tackle, Eddie Goldman. Photo Credit-newsherald.com

Florida State Defensive Tackle, Eddie Goldman. Photo Credit-newsherald.com

If the Browns address the need for a receiver with the 12th pick, then look for them to take a defensive tackle at the 19th spot. At this point in the draft, Shelton will be off the board, but there will still be some strong options at DT available. Malcolm Brown from Texas is one option, but it is possible that he will be picked before the 19th spot. Eddie Goldman will still be available and would be a great pick up. Like Shelton, Goldman is a great run stuffer and he can eat up blocks. Goldman’s physicality against the run is a huge selling point, but he struggles with pass rushing.

4.Todd Gurley: Running Back-Georgia

Georgia running back, Todd Gurley. Photo Credit-onlineathens.com

Georgia running back, Todd Gurley. Photo Credit-onlineathens.com

Another option with the 19th pick would be Georgia running back, Todd Gurley. Last season, Gurley put himself at the top of the Heisman conversation with 773 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns in the first five games. In week 6, he was suspended for four games for violating NCAA rules. When he returned on November 15, he tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the season. Gurley has since been medically cleared and would be a steal for Cleveland if he falls this far. The Browns tandem of rookie running backs, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West showed bright spots last season, but were often inconsistent. One week they would have huge games and then the next week they would struggle. Gurley has a blend of speed and power that should not be overlooked. If Gurley is still on the board, I could see the Browns pull off a shock and take him at the 19th spot.

5. Marcus Mariota: Quarterback-Oregon

Oregon quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota. Creative Commons

Oregon quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota. Creative Commons

One name that has been linked to the Browns countless times over the last month is Marcus Mariota. The Browns quarterback dilemma is the top discussion of their off-season every year. This season has been no different with the puzzling signing of veteran journeyman, Josh McCown. There have also been reports that Cleveland has tried to trade for Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford twice. Many fans and experts seem to forget about Johnny Manziel. Manziel has been written off by critics after his disappointing rookie season and his voluntary time spent at a rehab facility. I am not ready to give up on Manziel after only seven quarters of play. Johnny showed a great deal of maturity by getting help for his off the field issues and he is ready to focus on football. Drafting Mariota would mean that the Browns have given up on Manziel and that would be a major mistake. Also to draft Mariota means that the Browns will have to trade some draft picks or even a key player to move up and grab him. I think Mariota is overrated and Ohio State helped to prove that by exposing his pocket passing inability in the National Championship game. Ray Farmer fueled speculation last week when asked if he would trade both the 12th and 19th pick for Mariota. Farmer responded by saying “Sure, why not?” Browns fans get ready because if Farmer has his way we may have two Heisman Trophy winners on our roster this season.

My bold prediction for this year’s draft is that the Browns will take Devante Parker with the 12th pick and Eddie Goldman with the 19th pick.