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DBN Mailbag: Changes With a New Owner, Run Defense, and More

Training camp opened to the public on Saturday, and I am going to try to attend Sunday morning. In the mean time, your questions came rolling in last night, and one of the hot topics was obviously the situation involving Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner preparing to sell the team.

WheeltownBrownz: "First off, great job with the Mailbag; I really enjoy the read every week. Secondly, with all the selling talk going on, what do you see happening to Holmgren, Heckert, and the rest of the Gang? (We all know Grossi's opinion, but his sources are usually in his head)"

Chris: "I can't imagine Tom Heckert's job being in jeopardy because he has pulled off some nice drafts for the Browns and has a previous affiliation with Joe Banner, the potential investor in the team. Pat Shurmur's job is not in immediate jeopardy. He is only in his second year -- regardless of whether or not Mike Holmgren sticks around, Shurmur will receive the opportunity to show he has what it takes to be a head coach in the NFL.

Shurmur has to know he might have a short leash, though. With all of the questions surrounding whether Holmgren is retained or gets pushed out, if this team looks anything like it did a year ago and Holmgren is not around to support 'his guy,' then there is really no obligation for the owner to keep him around. I would like to see Holmgren fulfill his contract and be the voice of the team this year, and I think that is what will happen. If the new ownership feels he is not worth paying for, though, I don't think it will cripple the Browns or anything like that."

bumblyjack: "I've noticed in recent interviews and conference calls that Pat Shurmur has taken a much tougher approach to the media than last year. When criticism was directed at him he dismissed it, when it was directed at his players he staunchly defended them. Pat Shurmur 2.0 seems to have a new fire in him that's a combination of pride and anger. He finally seems like a head coach that can instill confidence in his players, unlike the meek Pat Shurmur of last season and early this offseason. Personally, I like it and hope it's here to stay. What do you think?"

Chris: "I am all for a more energetic delivery from Shurmur, as it got pretty tiring to hear his generic 'it's my understanding' and 'he battled' catchphrases. My early thought is that he is only acting this way because he wants to be firm that the change in ownership should not become a distraction to the players, and that he is focused on getting his team ready to beat the Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers. Part of it might also have to do with an offseason of maturity; coaches can learn some things too."

Bach: "I wasn't one of the Randy Lerner haters, but I am excited about the idea of having an actual football fan owning the Browns. The one misgiving I have is that there's the possibilty of yet another team upheaval if Haslam wants a new management group and the new group wants a power running game, 3-4 defense, etc. . .Is it unprecedented that a new ownership doesn't uproot the management, especially on a non-winning team (but one that's looking like it might be ready to turn the corner)?"

Chris: "I don't know if we have seen a situation comparable to the Browns' right now. I think the current owner (Lerner) really has a lot of faith in Holmgren, Heckert, and Shurmur, and that he would like for there to be a simple transition in the role of ownership and nothing more. To look at some recent ownership changes...

In late 2011, Jack Del Rio was fired, and shortly afterward, it was revealed that the team had been sold. General manager Gene Smith was given a three-year contract extension and interim head coach Mel Tucker was retained as the team's defensive coordinator. Not a complete overhaul.

In 2009, Steve Spagnuolo was hired as the Rams' head coach. In 2010, a minority owner of the Rams became the majority owner. Spagnuolo still coaches for two more years. Only after the team went 2-14 in 2011 was Spagnuolo and general manager Bill Devaney fired. They gave the staff a chance to succeed, and when they hit rock bottom, they were canned. I see no reason why the new owner, who is in this for the long haul, can't take a look at what the current guys have to offer before tearing things down unnecessarily. I'd like for the new owner to be interested in the Browns (envisioning Dan Gilbert), but I don't think he needs to dictate the team's offensive and defensive philosophies."

GB: "Chris, I want to be optimistic about the changes the Browns have made this season. I thought their biggest problem on defense was the inability to stop the run. Do you think they have improved in this area or is it too soon to tell?"

Chris: "Even though Cleveland's run defense was not ranked well in 2011, there were some good individual performances against a lot of running backs. The issue is that that the opposing team's running back would either have a tremendous first drive, or a big run late in a game. They put a lot of chips in Frostee Rucker's basket to help improve the run. John Hughes is supposed to be more of a run stuffer, but it's too early to tell what will happen at Phil Taylor's vacated position. Ideally, you hope Jabaal Sheard grows in his sophomore season and improves against the run.

The big help could come from the safety position. T.J. Ward missed half of last season and can be a difference maker against the run, especially compared to Usama Young. Eric Hagg is a question mark. I don't think Cleveland's run defense is poised to be dominant by any stretch of the imagination, but a partial cure will come if the offense is able to stay on the field longer and start putting some points on the board early in games. There were times last season when teams had no reason to pass, which is going to inflate the running stats a little bit."

BornAKardiacKid: "With the impending sale of the Browns by someone who currently has a stake in the Steelers, have you ever heard of a situation like this in the past, where someone was an investor in 1 team before purchasing another? It seems pretty unprecedented to me."

Chris: "While it didn't involve another NFL team, when Stan Kroenke bought the Rams in 2011, he also owned the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Ranch. Due to NFL regulations, he had to give up both of those clubs and passed them down to his son.

In the NFL, Ralph Wilson, the current owner of the Buffalo Bills, was a minority owner of the Detroit Lions in the 1950s. He then left to found his own franchise in Buffalo, but that is different from this situation since he 'started' the franchise to expand the AFL; it wasn't a purchase of an existing club."

Roger: "Who would you prefer to come into a game where (J.T. forbid) Weeden was injured, Wallace or McCoy? Who is your favorite dark horse prospect to make the 53 man roster? Who shot Mr. Burns?"

Chris: "If Weeden was injured, I'd rather go to Wallace. I think he is a good backup and he has been in the West Coast Offense for a long time. I don't know if McCoy can come in and deliver a spark, because we really didn't see that from him in 2011.

My dark horse prospect to make the 53-man roster is probably cornerback James Dockery. Is he really a dark horse since he was on the team all of last year? If you're talking more along the lines of an undrafted free agent/practice squad type, then I would go with David Sims, simply because the team really needs to find a fourth safety who is better than Ray Ventrone.

I remember seeing the iconic Mr. Burns episode live. Back then, I wasn't very good at tracking when new seasons would premiere for television series, so I ended up missing the episode that revealed who did it. Through bits and pieces of syndication, I learned that it was Maggie. I think I originally suspected Lenny or Moe."