For the better part of 17 years the Browns have been more entertaining off the field than on it.
Believe it or not, times are changing under new head coach Hue Jackson and executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown.
If you’ve been to Berea for Training Camp you’ve seen it first hand. The intensity and energy during practice has picked up. The nonsense off the field has disappeared.
“Accountability, responsibility, being a pro will be a mandate here,” Brown told Bull and Fox Wednesday in an interview on 92.3 The Fan.
The Browns don’t want them to be simply buzz words or clichés, they want them to become a way of life.
What little drama that remains – see Josh Gordon and Armonty Bryant – was inherited. Talk to players from Joe Thomas all the way down to last year’s rookie class and ‘accountability’ is a theme when asked the difference this year versus previous years.
Of all the clichés and marketing slogans the franchise has rolled out with every regime change – ‘Play Like A Brown’ takes the cake by the way – culture is the one that consistently surfaces as the root of all the problems within the building. Brown and Jackson have put a premium on changing the culture and flushing out the negativity that has built with the annual 4-12, 5-11 with the occasional 3-13 thrown in have bred in an attempt to get the black cloud that has hovered over the team to finally disappear.
Fans say, “Just win, winning will cure all,” but that is a pretty simplistic view and not the approach the team is taking or falling back on.
“Winning can drag along a culture,” Brown told Bull and Fox. “I’ve been some places where winning did not affect a positive culture, as well…I believe your winning starts as a process and not a result. So, our culture should drive winning. It’s really, if we have a thermometer on one thing – and it’s hard to measure culture – we try to make sure we have tabs on how guys are feeling, how we’re doing, how the program is rolling along from that standpoint, and we do feel like the winning will follow.”
Watch Jackson and his staff on the field. Most NFL coaches leave the coaching solely to their assistants while they sit back with their arms folded and observe. Not Jackson who acts more like a position coach during practice than a head coach. The intensity, energy and positive attitude he brings has become infectious.
To Jackson and Brown’s credit, they’ve realized that the only way to fix the mess they inherited, aside from finding better players, is to get dirty and that’s exactly what they are doing.
Here’s a few other thoughts on where the Browns are at 2 weeks into camp as they prepare to kick the preseason off in Green bay Friday night.
– The first ‘unofficial’ depth chart was released by the team earlier this week sending a few fans into a tizzy about where certain players were listed. That’s why it’s called ‘unofficial,’ because nothing is set in stone and there are still lots of moving parts as camp continues and the preseason gets underway, so relax.
– It’s certainly disappointing that Corey Coleman won’t play Friday night in Green Bay. The Browns’ first round pick was having an outstanding camp until he tweaked his hamstring last Friday night during the full-contact scrimmage that saw him catch 3 deep balls, including a pair of touchdowns, but the reps he could’ve gotten against the Packers would’ve been tremendously more valuable to him and his development than practice. As fellow rookie Seth DeValve pointed out this week, hamstring injuries can’t be rushed or they will get worse, so we have to file Coleman’s setback under ‘stuff happens’ and better safe than sorry.
– Barring major injury problems – including the calf issue that popped up Wednesday – Terrelle Pryor is going to make this football team and the opportunity for him to contribute significantly this season will be there. Pryor deserves tremendous credit for the work he has put in to convert to receiver and he more than looks the part. He’s proven he can do it in practice, now it’s time for him to show he can do it on Sundays.
– On paper, this offense could be a lot of fun to watch come week 5. OK, maybe week 6 since the Patriots will be in town on Oct. 9. The return of Josh Gordon coupled with Pryor, Coleman, the veteran Andrew Hawkins, running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson give Robert Griffin III some intriguing weapons to play with.
– Maybe the Browns should have kept Mitchel Schwartz. Letting Schwartz, 27, walk in free agency is the only move I still question from this offseason that makes little sense. Hue Jackson said this week that the team will be built from both lines, because that’s where the game is won and lost, yet they allowed Schwartz, who had grown into one of the best right tackles in the game, to go. Now they have to choose between Alvin Bailey, Austin Pasztor and Spencer Drango. Not only is watching the merry-go-round at right tackle in camp dizzying, but no one has jumped to the front of the pack in that competition. As the cliché goes, when you have more than 1, you have none. Luckily they have 4 weeks to sort it out.
– The defense is loaded – with questions. Starting up front, the loss of Desmond Bryant was a big one, but filling 1 spot isn’t the worst thing in the world. Filling 2 however could be. John Hughes remains away from the team to tend to a personal matter and Armonty Bryant will be gone for the first 4 weeks of the season. Hughes has missed over a week now pushing Nick Hayden, signed on July 22, into a starting role. Danny Shelton – slimmed down thanks to a new diet and workout program – will only be as good as the supporting cast because a big portion of his job is to create opportunities for those around him. Aside from Paul Kruger, the outside linebacker corps is being shuffled like a deck of cards. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, dubbed a ‘mad scientist’ by his players, has been mixing and matching all sorts of defensive combinations in an effort to figure out what works including moving around second round pick Emmanuel Ogbah between outside linebacker and defensive end, Mingo to inside linebacker and Pierre Desir to safety. The season may become one of complete experimentation for Horton, so bear with it and buckle up.
– Finally, the Browns need a bigger field house to practice in. There are high school teams that have full-size regulation indoor facilities, but not the Browns. For the third time in 10 practices in Berea they had to move inside because of weather. Jackson indirectly conceded Wednesday that he couldn’t get accomplished everything he wanted to with a 90-man roster and just 70 yards to work with which is why he couldn’t wait for the storms to let up so he could move outside. Expanding the field house was on the table when the team was drawing up plans for the $15 million renovation project that was completed this summer, but it got scrapped after financial and space concerns arose. While I realize it’s easy for me to say cut the check and have some employees park across the street to replace or expand the existing structure, the reality is the team really does need it no matter how many times they want to tell themselves they don’t. For all the praise and thanks the Haslam’s have received from players for the new locker room, training spaces and pools, the real thank you should go to the taxpayers of Berea who helped to fund the expansion.