These past seven days were unusually eventful for the Cleveland Browns, much more so than what you would typically expect in the first week of NFL preseason. Not to say that things don’t happen, but you’d be hard pressed to find another opening week that was as illuminating, in terms of really being able to gauge the direction of the team (as best one can) than this one was. While attitudes and opinions clearly abound, there’s reason to come away from it feeling pretty good about this franchise, or at least better than we’ve had reason to in the past.
Of course, drawing too much inference over things that happen at this stage of camp/preseason can be perilous. Still, it’s the combination of these things that, to my mind anyway paint a more positive picture (or least not a completely negative one) of where we are and where we’re going. It could all go wrong, as we are all so well aware. For now however, let’s ruminate on them for a bit:
Corey Coleman Traded To Buffalo For Basically Nothing
With Josh Gordon still being held out of camp due to unannounced but widely assumed purposes of personal rehabilitation, the WR position was seemingly already down an important (and as we all know, very unreliable) piece. That’s one reason (of many) why it was such a head-scratcher to learn that we had traded Corey Coleman, the 15th pick in the 2016 draft, to the Buffalo Bills for a 7th rounder. The trade closed the book a stint in Cleveland that wasn’t even complete enough to be called disappointing.
In each of his first two year, Coleman sustained a broken hand after the 1st week of the regular season. Now there are some injuries (particularly having to do with any part of the leg) that are indicative of longterm issues for a given player. If a guy’s got a problem pulling hamstrings, for example, that’s a big issue that may not ever be fixed. However a broken hand? Two years ago it was because someone stepped on it in practice, and last year it was due to landing weird on it trying to catch a pass. It’s an oddball thing to have happen, it just happened to have happened twice to the same guy in successive seasons.
When on the field, save for his 2nd career game against Baltimore, he never did reach a consistent level of performance one would reasonably expect from a first round selection. Then again, it’s not unreasonable to say that Coleman was playing with possibly the worst collection of passers an NFL team has ever put together over a two year period. Perhaps individually there are instances of competence but cumulatively, it’s been about as bad as it could be.
That said, nothing excuses Coleman for the dropping of the 4th down pass in Pittsburgh which essentially iced our 2017 “perfect” season. There was also the incident that happened in Houston last year where Coleman was sent home from the team along with the deeply hated Kenny Britt, for missing curfew. Whatever other behavioral issues may have existed can’t really be known outside of the clubhouse, but one can surmise that his ousting was probably due to something more than simple under-performance during two injury-riddled seasons.
Either way, Coleman’s departure represents yet another in a long line of Browns’ 1st round draft picks being discarded (by people who didn’t draft them) three years or less after entering the league. It would seem, at least at the time of the move, that this was a situation where Coleman simply wasn’t one of (current GM) John Dorsey’s guys, a paradigm which occurs every time we decide to make a change in the Front office, which happens to have been every other year for the last decade.
It certainly seemed less-than-fortuitous when on the same day the trade was announced, news came out that 4th round pick Antonio Callaway, who would presumably be the benefactor of Coleman’s reps, apparently got busted with some pot driving around late in Strongsville last Saturday. It was then rumored that the team wasn’t even aware of the incident until after they had traded Coleman. Suffice it to say, the overall consternation these two items created and added to the murkiness surrounding the Gordon situation caused some serious angst, and while clarity wouldn’t necessarily be forthcoming, some entertainment certainly was.
I have to admit, I had never watched a full episode of Hard Knocks until last Tuesday night. I had seen some fragments of episodes here and there and, while the human element of football is intriguing, human nature is such that grandstanding tends to be the order of the day whenever cameras are introduced into any normal setting. Thus, I just never really got into the show, and wasn’t especially excited about our guys being featured this time around.
I should have been. It clearly is all about the perspective of your team, because I was full-on blown away by how much I enjoyed the episode, principally because it actually did (IMO) shed light onto so many things within the organization that the casual observer simply can’t know without this sort of insight. Sure, the grandstanding was absolutely present (I think DC Gregg Williams was probably the most in this regard) but that was far from all of it, and added to the rest was overall a not unwelcome aspect of the show.
There were some great highlights, such as Jarvis Landry’s legendary smacking-down of basically the entire WR room (which at the moment very much included Coleman). Also the unexpected and wildly popular dissertation/sermon given by DE Carl Nassib about compound interest was mesmerizing. So also was everything that there is about 4th string QB Brogan Roback, who might as well have been cast for that part he played it so perfectly.
However there were more tangible things to glean from the program as well. For whatever faults he may have, coach Hue Jackson came away as a sympathetic character having lost both his brother and mother over the course of just this last month, and still showing up for work every day and doing his level best not to inflict upon the rest of the team his obvious grief with which he was so understandably stricken. It displayed a mental toughness on the part of our embattled head coach that any casual observer - Browns’ fan or not, can absolutely appreciate.
It is my hope that this challenging state of mind contributed to the conduct he showed during the (what I consider to be) most important scene of the night (to the extent that any of this ultimately is important or noteworthy). In a meeting with his coaches, there is an exchange with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has just spent the last several years trying to help the hated Pittsburgh Steelers make it back to the Super Bowl. Haley, who to my mind looked like the only one (or one of few) not playing to the cameras, was explaining how far behind the team currently is, and what’s going to be required to get better, speaking from his experience. The full exchange can be viewed here.
Hue’s reaction was quite troubling to me, as he essentially told Haley (in so many words) ‘I hear you, but I’m the boss’. Except, he then proceeded to continue on and on about how he was in charge, that it was ‘his bus’ and he was going to drive it as he sees fit. Now to me, the issue here isn’t the issue - as in the issue in question Haley was bringing up had to do with resting/playing players and how that affects their preparedness. All sorts of opinions abound on such things, but the bigger problem as I saw it was the way coach Jackson chose to handle the suggestion, which presumably is of the type of thing he brought Haley in to offer.
Pretty much in any walk of professional life, if you are the boss, you don’t have to tell anyone that you are the boss. They know. That Hue found it necessary to luxuriate on this point caused me to roll my eyes throughout the entire sequence. I chalk it up to him being bogged-down by the aforementioned personal challenges, but then it also occurs to me that perhaps other coaches/personnel have been making suggestions over the last two years which have been disregarded and subsequent time was then spent being lectured to about who’s in charge. It would certainly explain a lot.
First Preseason Game Goes About As Well As Could Be Hoped For
What Hard Knocks did for me as much as anything was to amp up the excitement for the first preseason game, particularly after it was announced that Baker Mayfield would be getting a great deal of the playing time. However first and foremost, the preseason game was a rollicking success in the one way that matters above all others: no injuries. Beyond that, there were plenty of real positives to take away, not just the final score of 20-10.
Starting QB Tyrod Taylor looked tremendous. He connected with Landry on a deep ball to start the game, and ended his night with a gorgeous TD pass to David Njoku. Can’t put too much into preseason games (after all Brandon Weeden looked excellent in the first two games of ‘13) but still you’d rather a guy look sharp than the other way around, and Taylor certainly was all of that.
However the really big deal, more than anything else by far, was the performance of Mayfield. How he would look in his first time against live-speed NFL players was of keen interest to all in Browns’ fandom (myself very much included). Unless you have just the most ridiculous of standards for rookies, he did not disappoint. In fact, what he displayed in his first time on the pro field was night-and-day from what we’ve seen from any rookie QB we’ve had in memory - and that is a LOT of QB’s.
The stat line doesn’t bowl you over, but it should go without saying that judging these types of things goes well beyond boxscore-counting. The pocket presence, the going-through-progressions, the pre-snap reading of the defense, and yes the terrific accuracy were all on display. To be sure, there are areas for him to improve upon but there’s no reason to expect that they can’t/won’t be. What looks very clear to me is that what’s most important for success of an NFL QB - the stuff between the ears, Mayfield’s got it. Yes he’s also got the arm and mobility and all of that, but that he’s already operating at the level he’s at is very, very encouraging.
Which is ultimately where this week leaves me personally: encouraged. The head-scatchyess of the Coleman trade dissipates when looking at the performance on Thursday both of the rookie Callaway but also third-year pro Rashard Higgins, who was taken in the same draft as Coleman but five rounds later. Not to mention that, while the action was limited, nothing seemed too daunting for our new Left Tackle Joel Bitonio, even if the overall performance of the OL (particularly in the run game) left plenty to be desired. If what we saw on Thursday is indicative of his ability there, then that will be extraordinarily fortunate for us.
On balance, a GM that looks like he’s willing to discard players we had previously invested much capital in is not heartening, but in this case it may be a bit more understandable. Likewise, a HC who seems more interested in winning a self-created power-struggle also doesn’t lend much in the way of optimism, but again it’s probably not wise to draw that up-and-down conclusion without taking into consideration the totality of the life-pressure he’s currently enduring. What’s new, is that we have a quarterback on the roster who has the potential to offset both of these challenges (however substantive they actually are), and compel us to be winners anyway. In that sense, it was a great week, and there’s plenty to be excited about this one coming up.