Sunday, April 29, 2007

Well Done, Browns

I think efforts to grade drafts 15 minutes after they end are silly; we won't begin to know how this draft turned out until well into next season. But I'll tell you one thing: if the Cleveland Browns are in the Super Bowl five years from now, this draft will be the event that people speak of as the team's turning point. Phil Savage laid it all on the line in this draft. He didn't try to save his job or Romeo Crennel's job. He made it apparent with this draft that winning right now is what matters the most, and he was willing stick his neck out to do that.

Boy, do I ever respect that approach, even if I don't agree with every selection he made. I think this was an exceptional draft, because it was a draft in which the front office said, "To hell with it. We're tired of losing. Let's roll the dice and see if we can't win some damn games."

Phil Savage won't hear any criticism from me. I now believe he wants to win more than he wants to keep his job. This is a good day to be a Cleveland Browns fan.

Now it's done.

This picture says it all. Savage is estatic. Romeo looks as relieved as a man facing the guillotine can look. The last pick was a complete waste. In fact, it was idiotic. But, other than that one, I'm pretty happy with the draft. For the first time since 1995, there's something to imagine.

The dogs on Main Street howl, 'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands.
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
And I believe in a promised land.

~~~Bruce Springsteen, Promised Land

Syndric Steptoe

I think the Browns just drafted Dennis Northcutt's Mini-Me!

This guy is a itty-bitty (5'9", 170 lbs.) wide receiver from Arizona. He made his mark in college as one of the Pac 10's best return men. We'll see if he can do it in the pros. He isn't a burner--his forty time is around 4.6.

It's almost done.

The Browns just grabbed two DL's, just as they should have. The sixth round pick was Melila "Mel" Purcell. He wasn't on the radar of most teams, and Draft Countdown didn't even rate him. I'm not sure why they didn't. He's a physical specimen. He's 6'5" , weighs 278 pounds and runs in the 4.7 to 4.9 range. The good thing about him is that he's not just a workout warrior. He actually produced on the field too. He was a Rainbow Warrior teammate of Ikaika Alama-Francis. He's a pretty good pick for a sixth round project.

In the seventh, the Browns selected Chase Pittman of LSU. He's a pretty big boy and a pretty sure tackler, but he's not great at anything. If he makes the team, it will be as a situational substitute and a special teams guy.

They didn't take Thomas, but it's a solid second day so far. The Browns have one more pick, # 24, that they received from Dallas.

Melila Purcell

Ah, yes, the long-awaited defensive lineman. Melila Purcell is a big and athletic 3-4 defensive end from The University of Hawaii. Based on what I've read, he was projected to go higher than this after his junior season, but had a somewhat disappointing senior campaign (although he was still All-WAC).

I like this pick, and I'm guessing that when you read this, you will too.

Day One Guys

Not a bad picture.

McDonald Instead of a Defensive Lineman?

I'm surprised about the McDonald pick. I thought they'd go for a defensive lineman with this pick. There are some decent ones still on the board, including Derek Landri of Notre Dame and Keith Jackson of Arkansas. Landri was a very good college player, but is too small to play NT in a 3-4 scheme. However, Walter Thomas, the man mountain that Vinny mentioned earlier in the week, is also still on the board. I'm a little surprised by that.

I wanna believe...

The Browns just grabbed Brandon McDonald (DB) in the 5th. He's not particularly fast. He's not a particularly good tackler. He's a decent zone coverage guy. I guess Savage just wanted a body.

I don't like the pick, but like I said, I wanna believe.

Now what?

Like my hornless friend said, the Browns may have gotten three first round talents on day 1 of the draft. Other than Quinn, who may not be immediately anointed the starter(but who could get the nod from day one) and barring any injury, it's pretty safe to think that Thomas will be lining up at a tackle spot and that Wright will be in one of the starting corner packages. Quinn, obviously, will play the role of QB of the future. I have a funny feeling that that future just may start around game 6, if not sooner. Despite any concerns about whether or not they overpaid to get Quinn, that's a pretty damn good haul for the first day of the draft. But, in the immortal words of Winston Wolf, "Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet."

There's still work to be done during day 2.

Savage has made it clear that his priority is winning in '07. If that's the case, he needs to get at least one more player out of this draft.

Before the draft, I said their acute needs were offensive tackle, cover cornerback, quarterback, and defensive linemen who could disrupt the offense. Savage addressed the first three. Now he needs at least one defensive lineman and he's got three picks (so far) to get one. The Rhino and I both are intrigued by Walter Thomas. He could be a huge risk, a huge waste of a draft pick, and a huge disappointment. But, he could also be a huge presence in the middle of the D-Line. That's enough to keep me interested. Baraka Atkins (DE) and Antwan Barnes (DE/OLB) are still out there, but there's a good chance they'll be gone.

Other than a defensive lineman, the Browns could also use a running back, another CB, another offensive lineman and an outside linebacker. Any one of those things taken when the Browns pick in the 5th round will be an utter crap shoot. So, if Thomas is gone, why not really roll the dice? Take Michael Bush (RB). Sure, he's suffered a major injury, but the Browns have a proud tradition with injuries. Wasting a 5th on a guy who really had first round talent could be the kind of lucky break this franchise needs.

If they want to go a more conservative route and grab another offensive lineman, watch for Mansfield Wrotto (OG). He's a big guy with pretty good feet. Moreover, I know the Browns personnel guys have been quietly sniffing around him. As a complete aside, someone in the fourth is going to get a huge bargain. The team that drafts Mason Crosby is going to get a hell of a field goal kicker.

Savage has shown that he's willing to take risks. Now, let's see him take a couple more.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Savage gets another one of his guys---Eric Wright

I just learned that Savage got another one of his guys, Mr. Ecstasy, Eric Wright.

Wright could be a terrific pro cornerback. He's the kind of guy who could legitimately cover big, fast receivers. He needs to lay off the ecstasy. He got busted with a stash.

Eric Wright

Holy smokes! It's official -- Phil Savage is working without a net.

A lot of people thought that Eric Wright had first round talent (some people speculated that the Saints might take him with the 28th pick), but character issues kept him off the board until now.

One way of looking at this draft is that the Cleveland Browns managed to trade their way to the equivalent of three first round picks. The other is that the Dallas Cowboys may have just done to the Browns what they once did to the Vikings with the Herschel Walker trade.

By the way, I can't sit by and watch the Browns draft a problem child named Eric Wright and not give a shout out to Dr. Dre and the single most misogynistic rap song ever written.

Somehow, Dr. Dre seems kind of appropriate for this pick, doesn't he? Good luck with this guy, Phil.

Quinn & Savage 4 Ever

Phil Savage must truly believe Brady Quinn is an elite quarterback. He sure paid like he believes that. Although all of Brownstown is rejoicing because the Browns got their elusive left tackle and a QB, the trade is pretty thought provoking. The first thought I had was: Is the package of Thomas and Quinn better than the package of Quinn, Blalock and next year's first? If you analyze it like that, the only way you can justify the trade is if Quinn is an elite quarterback. That means he has to turn out, for purposes of my definition, to be in the top quartile of NFL starting quarterbacks and capable of winning playoff games. Otherwise, Phil Savage was pantsed by Dallas. For better or worse, Phil and Brady are sittin' in a tree.... Nah. Not that. But, they're going to be inextricably connected in Browns lore.

I think a few things happened that made it all possible. First, the news about Adrian Peterson's collarbone injury had to give Savage pause. The Browns are not a franchise that can afford an injured marquee player. Second, Cam Cameron simply lost his mind. He and the Dolphins passed up a lot of good players to select a kick returner, Ted Ginn, Jr. Quinn was one of the guys they let pass. Then, Quinn began to fall. At some point, Savage had to think, "What if...."

I'm sure he wanted to see how far Quinn could fall, but he couldn't take too many risks. The Bears inexplicably stood pat. I guess they're thrilled with Rex Grossman, but a reasonable thinking person would have at least suspected that the Bears would make a move on Quinn. After all, Chicagoland is lousy with Golden Dome fans.

So, our boy Savage jumped. I'd be lying if I said I was unconcerned about giving up a first, but I'm hopeful that Savage knows real talent. Earlier in the day, I said Savage had big stones. The Rhino called him audacious. Regulars to this site know that Gen. Patton is one of my heroes. He was fond of quoting Frederick the Great who said, "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace."

That means "Audacity, audacity, always audacity."

It worked for the King of Prussia and for General Patton. Here's hoping it works for Phil and Romeo.

Brady Quinn

I was out for a couple of hours this afternoon and am just hearing about the trade with the Cowboys. I am literally too stunned to fully process this deal. I will say this, however -- Phil Savage is one audacious guy.

They say that fortune favors the bold. I guess we're about to find out.

Quinn's falling like a stone.

Quinn's falling and there's no logical team which would pick him for the next half dozen picks. This is real interesting.

Last week, I'd heard that the Browns had offered Andra Davis (ILB) and their 2nd to the Giants to move up to #20 to draft Joe Staley.

I wonder if they'd do that deal to grab Quinn.

Maybe Another Lineman?

Following up on Vinny's second round speculation, here's an article from the Browns' website concerning their second round possibilities. The article mentions a number of second round alternatives at various positions, but it also suggests that even if the team did pick Thomas in round one, they might use a second round pick on another offensive lineman.

Thinking about the 2nd round

Early this morning, I heard a rumor that the Browns offered Braylon Edwards and the # 3 pick to move up two to get JaMarcus Russell. Savage clearly liked the guy, but I'm wondering if that means he wants to use another pick to get a QB. I think not. I think he viewed Russell as a singular talent.

The Joe Thomas pick says the Browns want to win now. Their next pick should be in a similar vein. I suspect they'll be looking to get the best cover cornerback or they could go for Kenny Irons if he's available.

Joe Thomas

I love it. The grown ups are finally in charge in Berea. Joe Thomas is the best tackle in the draft. What's more, he's the pick who has the best chance to succeed here and who can help them the most right now. Here's the scouting report.

I heard the ESPN guys call this the "safe pick." I think Vinny's got it right--it took some stones for Savage to make this pick with Everybody's All-American smiling at the TV cameras. Now give Thomas Secret Service protection and put him in bubble wrap until the first game of next season.

Here's a video I found on Youtube showing his combine workout and some season highlights.


Boomer just called this a "curveball." It is. Savage has some big, big stones to take Thomas.

This is cool. Usually when the Browns have taken a lineman, everyone goes, "huh?"

Ready, set...

...JaMarcus Russell to the Oakland Raiders.

No one is surprised.

Draft Day

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning..."

--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago."

--William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

"With the third pick of the first round, the Cleveland Browns select..."

--Roger Goodell, in about five hours.

Welcome to draft day, Browns fans!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

When Being a QB Was Fun

This year's top QB prospects have a lot in common. Like most elite college football players, they've participated in scientifically designed workout, nutrition and sports psychology programs designed to turn them into football cyborgs, who can run 4.6 in the 40 yard dash and throw a ball 75 yards on their knees into the teeth of a hurricane.

The story of Marv and Todd Marinovich was supposed to be a cautionary tale, but in many respects, it's become a blueprint. For most college players, the end of a season doesn't mean a break from practice, it just means that it's time for the dreaded offseason conditioning program to begin, and pro athletes who don't participate in their team's "voluntary" post-season programs often find themselves in serious career trouble.

This is a far cry from the days when Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgenson got kicked out of the Redskins' weight room for getting mustard on the equipment. For a whole generation of guys like Kilmer, Jurgenson and Bobby Layne, the game wasn't so drearily serious. When you hear their stories, you realize that being a pro athlete may not have been as lucrative, but was probably a lot more fun, than it is today.

Speaking of fun, I think that it's hard to imagine anyone who had more fun in his playing days than Joe Namath, as evidenced by this profile of him in the nation's leading resource for unrepentant dipsomaniacs, Modern Drunkard magazine. What's most interesting to me about this profile isn't the amount of partying he did, but how he appears to have treated people while he was doing it. This profile, like every other story about Joe Namath that I've ever read, gives you no reason to doubt that he was a decent human being even when he was the most celebrated athlete in the country.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Okay Minnesota, Game On!

Joe Mauer is one of the brightest young stars in baseball. Last year, he not only became the first catcher to win the AL batting title, but became the first catcher in history to lead both leagues in batting average. He seems like a really nice, likable guy as well. That's why I sincerely hope that he doesn't end up on the DL if the Indians do the right thing and plunk him with a fastball during his first at bat when the Twins visit Cleveland next month.

Why go after Mauer? Because while Johan Santana is probably the best pitcher in baseball, he is also a jerk. After Travis Hafner took him deep last night, Santana first plunks the very next batter (Victor Martinez), and then plunks Hafner when he comes to bat in the seventh. Then, instead of just shutting his mouth, Santana mumbled something about "trying to throw a two seamer and it went too far." What a crock.

A pitcher has every right to claim the inside part of the plate, and sometimes that means that you have to throw at a guy to get that message across. That's particularly true in today's game, where power hitters wear more protective gear than most linebackers. And I also think that if a batter shows a pitcher up with some video game home run trot or similar antics, he ought to know what to expect with the first pitch of his next at bat.

I must admit, if I were Johan Santana, I'd be pretty honked off about Pronk's home run too. After all, about all that was missing was Crash Davis trotting out to the mound to deliver a line like "Man, that ball got outta here in a hurry! I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don't you think?" Santana was probably even more infuriated by the knowledge that he absolutely owned Pronk before that at bat. But I think that what really got under his skin was knowing that he'd wake up to headlines like this one this morning.

Given all that, I can forgive the pitch that hit Martinez (which I'll admit may not have been intentional, despite the suspicious timing), but sitting around waiting for an opportune time to throw at Hafner last night was just bush league, pure and simple.

Santana couldn't deal with no longer being invincible in his own building. So, he decided to throw at the hottest hitter in the American League and the one guy that the Tribe cannot afford to be without if they are going to avoid giving away their shot at a pennant in the first six weeks of the season. The Indians and Twins have a history of bad blood, and it looks like Minnesota's decided to renew the feud. Okay, Twinkies, game on!

See you guys next month, and tell Joe Mauer that he may want to wear his catcher's gear when he comes to the plate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Mock Browns Draft --- Day 2

Now comes the hard part.

As much as the draft publications, talk show hosts, and Mel Kiper like to pretend that the next set of picks have some immediate significance, most do not. The talking heads will fill up all sorts of ESPN's time during the draft explaining how the last stiff just picked will help the team. That's just something to fill air time in between commercials. GM's really spend Day 2 of the draft finding back-ups and special teams players. Sure. They're all praying for an impact starter in rounds 4 through 7, but in reality, they're largely satisfied with guys who can contribute and perhaps help save a coach's job. Meanwhile, the prayers will lead a number of those GM's to chase "projects."
I think Savage will eyeball one or two projects on Day 2.

4. The fourth round may be one of the most intriguing for the Browns. This will be the last time the Browns pick where the guys available aren't utterly riddled with questionmarks. This is a spot where they really, really will have to take the "best player available." Zak DeOssie will probably still be there, and as the saying goes, he just might be the best player still left. He's a tough Inside Linebacker from Brown. His size and strength are good, but like all players from small schools, questions about the caliber of opponents dog him. I don't think the Browns will go after him, but he has pretty interesting skills. Alan Barbre is the guy I'd love to see the Browns take. He plays Offensive Tackle and is a real unknown. He might just be able to give the Browns a bona fide tackle who could be around for a while. Another guy that I'd consider here is OG, Andy Alleman, of the University of Akron. He's a big boy and seems to move well. He probably understands that, outside of getting drafted by the Browns, his second biggest moment as a pro will be the first time he punches James Farrior in the face. He's a guy who seems to be getting a lot of recent interst as the draft has drawn nearer. Lastly, there's a chance Manuel Ramirez (OG) could still be available. He's a behemoth and a bad man. He could be just what the Brownies need on the line.

5. In case you haven't noticed, the Browns need help on the defensive line too. Baraka Atkins (DE) would look pretty nice lining up at end. He's pretty quick and could both help with the run and put a little pressure on the QB. He's another guy whose been getting increased interest, and if the Browns really want him, they may have to grab him in the 4th. If he's not there, they should look at Antwan Barnes (OLB). He's undersized but fast as hell. He could play somewhere on the end---either OLB or even as a DE, but he's really a guy who'd probably be a special teams player. If they still haven't gotten a CB, local guy, Usama Young of Kent State, would be a nice pick. He's pretty quick, and he's another guy who would probably be jonesing before the first game to drill Hines Ward. Apparently, Tampa Bay has him on the radar. I just don't know how high Gruden will take him.

6. I know it's not the 2nd round, which is where past regimes have grabbed wide receivers, but I can see the Browns taking Yamon Figurs or Joel Filani. Even though they're both wide receivers, the only thing they have in common is that both have large question marks about their respective abilities. Other than that, they're almost complete opposites. Figurs will be one of the fastest guys in the draft. He can fly. Unfortunately, he can't catch all the time. GM's always think they can fix that (e.g. Quincy Morgan). Sadly, my viewing experience has been they can't. But he is fast (a 4.30 forty). Filani, on the other hand, is pretty slow for a receiver, but he's bigger, uses his body well in traffic, and has pretty good hands. He'd really serve as a special teams guy and the understudy for Jurevicius.

If the Browns don't chase a receiver here (and I don't think I would), I'd like them to take Walter Thomas. He could be the project of all projects. The guy is a man-mountain. He's 6'-4" and weighs 374 pounds. Despite his size, he ran a 5.19 in the forty, which isn't fast but is stunning considering his bulk. I doubt he'd get pushed around if the Browns put him at Nose Tackle. He's another small school guy. So it's hard to anticipate in which round someone would have to take him. If the Browns can get his footwork straight, he could start this year. I know that's a big "if," but you gotta love someone that big clogging up the middle of the field. He'd be the biggest late round pay-off if he came through.

7. For their final pick, Scott Stephenson (C) would be a nice acquisition if the Browns are still looking for Offensive Linemen. Centers always go far lower than their talent would warrant. Stephenson is one of those guys. Although he'd be a back-up behind Fraley, he's a guy who could legitimately start with some experience.

On defense, I'd take a flyer on Greg Peterson (DE). He's a tough, strong guy, who could put a few Steelers on their asses. He's another guy who'd need a lot of coaching.

Useless draft rumor mongering: Apparently, Denver really wants to grab Calvin Johnson. Their problem is that they pick at #21. That means they'd have to give up their first 3 picks ( #'s 21, 56 and 86), plus their first pick in 'o8. If the Browns are serious about trading down, this may be the deal. Having an extra first next year, even if it'll be a mid to late pick, would be pretty nice.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Go Sabres

Here's a link to Ryan Miller's save of Miro Satan's potential equalizer with 10 seconds left in Game 5 of the Sabres v. Islanders series. Simply amazing. If you're wondering whether Miller saw the shot, wonder no longer: he didn't.

With Friday's win, the Sabres advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they will face either the Rangers or Tampa Bay. Let's go BUF-FA-LO!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Queasy About the Wizards

You know the feeling. It's the one you had when the Browns were sitting first and goal against Denver late in the 4th quarter of the 1988 AFC Championship, or when the Indians brought in Mesa in the 9th inning of Game 7 against the Marlins, or even last year, at the end of Game 6 against the Pistons, when the ball simply would not go into the hoop.

I'm talking about the queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you sense that now is the time when the "Cleveland Thing" is about to kick in, and the wheels are about to come off your dreams of a Super Bowl, World Series or NBA title. I don't usually get that feeling at the start of a playoff series, but the strange and wonderful series of events that resulted in the Cavs vaulting from the fifth seed to the second seed in the East has me looking over my shoulder.

Instead facing Shaq and Wade, the Cavs have drawn a Wizards team that is missing both Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. As Ben Cox pointed out, the Cavs' path to the conference finals is absolutely greased, with Miami, Detroit and Chicago all safely ensconsed on the other side of the bracket. Not only that, but as The Sporting News noted last week, a #2 seed has won four of the last six NBA titles. The Cavs are healthy, they've got playoff experience, they've won 50 games for the second season in a row, and despite their up and down performance over the past month or so, all things considered, they're exactly where they want to be going into the playoffs.

That scares the hell out of me, particularly since they play a team in the first round that they ought to beat like a red headed stepchild. The Cavs are saying all the right things, but you've got to wonder whether, in the back of their minds, they're thinking about their second round opponent. That would be a big mistake. The Wizards remember last year's first round series very well, and would like nothing better than to lay the Cavs out, or at least put a good dent in their hopes to make a playoff run. And that, by the way, is exactly what I think they're going to try to do. My guess is that the Wizards strategy will be to whomp the living snot out of LeBron James, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

LeBron should be familiar with this strategy. After all, he's a St. V's guy, and like several old St. V's football player pals of mine are fond of saying, "we didn't always win the game, but we always won the fight."

Even though I'm uneasy, I still think the Cavs should sweep this series, but in a nod to how bad they've been at times against the dregs of the NBA, I'll say that the Wizards take one game. If Washington wins more than one, I'm betting that we'll all start to get that familiar queasy feeling again.

My Mock Browns Draft --- Part I

Most mock drafts usually start off with identifying the various teams' needs and then project who they'll take. Here's my shot at it.

Needs: Everything.

Not really, but almost. The Browns need everything except Tight End, Punter and Safety. Anyone who thinks the Browns are set at any other position is simply wrong or utterly delusional. The latter is a condition that seems to affect sentimental Cleveland fans who believe the mediocrities who people the Browns' roster are good. I concede that a few positions have some solid players but every position other than the three I mentioned could easily be upgraded.

Their acute needs are offensive tackle, cover cornerback, quarterback, and defensive linemen who can disrupt the offense.

Right now, I think the Browns' draft will go something like this:

1. Brady Quinn. GM's can't resist getting a QB, who they envision will be the so-called face of the franchise for the next seven years. Savage, although a better talent evaluator than most, can't either. Unless JaMarcus Russell falls to third, I have a strong belief that Savage tabs Quinn as his guy. That's ok with me. I like Joe Thomas better, but the Browns don't have a championship or even a playoff caliber QB on the roster. They need one. They may as well pick Quinn. He could be pretty good.

2. Toss-up. If Savage gets his QB in Round One, I think he grabs one of the following: Justin Blalock (OG) (who I think would be a beast at guard and be almost a Steinbach clone), Ben Grubbs (OG) (he's the next best thing and immediately upgrades the line), or Marcus McCauley (CB). As a shutdown corner, McCauley could be the safest pick for Crennell. So, Crennell will lobby hard for him or Eric Wright (CB), if he's still available. Despite the acquisition of Steinbach, don't think the Browns don't need offensive linemen. They do. They could use at least two more good ones---at any line position. By the way, despite all the wishful thinking, everyone's darkhorse offensive tackle of the future, Joe Staley, will be long gone when the Browns pick in the second.

3. I think Savage goes for a project who could have a big upside like Ikaika Alama-Francis (DE), Jonathan Wade (CB) or maybe Michael Bush (RB). Ikaika Alama-Francis is an extremely raw but strong defensive lineman. With good coaching, he could be an animal. If he can't pick up the skills to go along with his power, he'll just be an extra guy who fills in on the line. Jonathan Wade started out as a wide receiver. He's fast. Really fast. But, his coverage skills...well, they suck. He gets faked out by quarterbacks too much. That's something that could be corrected with coaching and experience. And, did I mention that he's fast, really fast? Michael Bush may have the most interesting upside of any of the guys who should be around in the third round. He was a stud and potential Heisman candidate before he suffered a huge injury. He was fast and strong and ran with balance before the injury. His doctor claims he's in good shape and can play pro football. I think most GM's will be too scared to take him in the first or second rounds. If he's really healed, he could be the steal of the draft.

If Savage plays it safe and goes for pure value rather than projected value, watch for Daymeion Hughes (CB) or Josh Wilson (CB). Hughes is a good cover guy and can tackle. No one seems to like Wilson as much as I do, but he's fast and can cover fast receivers.
If he takes a CB earlier, he can get another offensive lineman, but I think Josh Beekman (OG) is a bit of a stretch.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Dream Draft

I was thinking about writing something on what my dream Browns draft might look like, but now there's no need. Rich Swerbinsky has posted his new mock draft over at Swerbs Blurbs, and all I can say is "Amen."

I'm not as high on Levi Brown as Swerb is, but still, if the draft plays out as he suggests (with Miami paying through the nose for Cleveland's first round pick), I will be both amazed and delighted. On the other hand, I've been through enough Cleveland Browns drafts to know that I'm more likely to end up dazed and confused.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

JaMarcus Russell Isn't the Answer Either

I've been advocating that the Browns trade down and/or use at least two first day picks on offensive linemen. I'm on record as saying that Quinn's just not all that (and likely never will be wearing a Browns uniform) and that Peterson is too injury prone to bet the farm on. I haven't dissed JaMarcus Russell yet, but with the draft only a couple of weeks away and one recent mock draft showing that he might end up here, I guess there's no time like the present.

Russell has all the physical tools that you could ever ask for, but he's an inconsistent player who could definitely use another year of seasoning. His upside is big, but so is his risk. He might be the next Daunte Culpepper, but he could just as easily be the next Kyle Boller. His current ascendancy is based largely on a terrific performance in the Sugar Bowl against a Notre Dame secondary that could charitably be characterized as "dreadful," and people forget just how bad he looked at times last season.

Russell threw three interceptions against Florida in LSU's 23-10 loss to the Gators, and the LSU offense that he led managed only three points in a 7-3 defeat at the hands of Auburn. Russell's advocates will point to his performance against Tennessee, where he led the Tigers to a 28-24 comeback victory, but they'll neglect to point out that he threw three picks in that game, one of which was returned for a touchdown. In fact, you know who JaMarcus Russell reminds me of when it comes to big games? Yup, Brady Quinn. If you want to see how similar the two players' numbers are, check out this analysis--it's an eye opener.

So you can talk all you want about the physical tools (remember Kyle Boller's 60 yard throws from his knees during his pro day workouts?), the bottom line is that if the differentiating point for you between Russell and Quinn is that Sugar Bowl, then you're taking a pretty big leap of faith. You may be comfortable with that, but I'm not. I remember how Akili Smith parlayed a stellar senior year into being the #3 overall pick in the draft, even though he had only 11 starts to his credit in his entire college career.

Now, I'm not saying that Russell is Smith, but what I am saying is that there's reason to worry about guys who come out from nowhere to rise to the top of the draft board. Russell's not as inexperienced as Smith was, but compared to picks who've been successful, he is pretty inexperienced. This week's ESPN Magazine quotes as saying that "the leading indicator of NFL success" for QBs taken in the first two rounds is college starts. Philip Rivers started 51 games, Donovan McNabb started 49, and Carson Palmer started 45. In contrast, Russell has started only 29 games, putting him in the same category as guys like Rex Grossman, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith. (Bradycakes lovers take heart--your guy has 46 starts.)

Concerns about his experience alone might be enough for me to think twice about drafting JaMarcus Russell, but what seals the deal for me is the increasing desperation of the Cleveland Browns. Romeo Crennel, and maybe even Phil Savage, need this team to show improvement fast in order to survive. When you couple the pressure they're operating under with the nightmarish first part of the Browns schedule, the temptation to throw a rookie QB to the lions before he's ready could be irresistible. In short, I think that if Cleveland is a bad place for Brady Quinn to develop into a solid pro, it's likely to be an even worse place for JaMarcus Russell.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Melancholy History of Cleveland Hockey

The Stanley Cup playoffs began earlier this week, and true to form, one of the first night's games went four overtimes and didn't end until 3:30 a.m. EDT. It's that kind of stuff that makes the Stanley Cup the most grueling--and to me, the most compelling-- tournament in sports, even though I know that nobody reading this gives a damn.

Being a hockey fan in Cleveland is a lonely business. For example, the other day a friend of mine tossed me a copy of last week's Sporting News, which had a Stanley Cup preview in it. He said that he saved it for me because I'm the only hockey fan he knows. Of course, Cleveland isn't the only place where hockey has a hard time attracting fans, but the sad thing about Cleveland is that it used to be very different here.

Back in the day, hockey wasn't just big here in Northeast Ohio, it was huge. Cleveland Barons hockey was the reason Cleveland built the 10,000 seat Cleveland Arena in the midst of the Depression. The Barons were so popular that owner Al Sutphin could thumb his nose at the NHL when they asked the Barons to leave the AHL and become the NHL's seventh member.

The original Cleveland Barons weren't merely popular; they were also quite simply the greatest team in American Hockey League history. The team appeared in 14 Calder Cup finals from 1938 to 1966, and won nine of them. Even though they've been out of the AHL for more than 35 years, that record of nine Calder Cups still hasn't been bested. The team won its last Calder Cup in 1964, and its popularity declined during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ultimately, the Barons couldn't compete with the World Hockey Association's Cleveland Crusaders, whose arrival prompted the Barons to move to Jacksonville midway through the 1972 season.

The man behind the maneuvers involving the AHL Barons and the Crusaders was none other than Nick Mileti. At one time or another during the 1970s, Mileti owned just about every sports team in this town except for the Browns, and his fingerprints were all over hockey as well. Mileti had a major stake in the original Barons, brought the Crusaders to Cleveland, and built the Richfield Coliseum.

The Crusaders had signed away some big name NHL stars, most notably former Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers, and were actually fairly successful for their first couple of seasons. Then the team moved from the Arena to the Richfield Coliseum, and the fans just didn't come with them. Cleveland hosted the WHA All-Star game in 1976, but that still couldn't spark enough fan interest to keep the Crusaders around. They left for Minnesota after the 1975-1976 season.

Cleveland finally got its own NHL franchise in 1976. Unfortunately, that franchise was the answer to the trivia question, "whatever happened to the California Golden Seals?" The Seals were usually terrible, and are probably most renowned for the ridiculous green and gold uniforms and white skates that one-time owner Charlie O. Finley put them in to mimic his Oakland A's. When owner Mel Swig moved them to Cleveland, he rechristened them as the Barons, probably hoping to resurrect a little of that team's AHL mojo.

It didn't turn out that way. The new Barons were horrible, nobody watched them, and they quickly started to go broke. By February 1977, they couldn't make payroll, and were doing their bit to add to Cleveland's growing reputation as a national laughingstock. The NHLPA actually had to loan the Barons money in order to enable them to limp through the 1976-77 season.

The Gund brothers then stepped up to buy the team. The Barons played in Cleveland for the 1977-1978 season, but the team continued to hemorrhage cash. The Gunds tried to negotiate a deal to keep the team in town, but it didn't come together. The Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars and headed out of town shortly after the 1978 season ended.

The Gunds ultimately sold the North Stars, and the team moved to Dallas. The Gunds then got an expansion franchise, which became the San Jose Sharks. That team is largely responsible for starting the insidious teal and black color scheme epidemic which now infests all sports.

The 1976-78 Barons were Cleveland's swan song as far as the NHL was concerned. After an extended absence, hockey returned to the city in the 1990s with a succession of minor league clubs. First came the IHL's Cleveland Lumberjacks, then yet another incarnation of the Cleveland Barons. Both of these franchises went the way of the Dodo, but in another example of the triumph of hope over experience, Dan Gilbert is bringing a new AHL team, the Lake Erie Monsters, to town next season. Yes, that name is horrible, but it was almost much worse. How much worse? How about The Cleveland Fighting Walleye.

I'm not real optimistic about the prospects of another minor league hockey team in this town. With NFL, NBA and MLB franchises, Cleveland has every reason to think of itself as a major league city. I think that what most Cleveland fans feel toward these minor league teams (aside from a complete lack of interest) is resentment. They're a reminder that when it comes to pro hockey, our best days are far behind us, and that as far as the NHL is concerned, we aren't even on the radar screen.

Pretty far cry from the days when 10,000 hockey fans packed the Arena and Al Sutphin could thumb his nose at the NHL, isn't it?

ca 58-62 Cleveland Barons, Eddie Mazur, home

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thanks for Nothing

The Browns announced their 2007 schedule yesterday. On the surface, it doesn't look all that bad. The Browns play only four teams that had winning records in 2006 (Baltimore, New England, the Jets and Seattle), and play four other teams that couldn't manage more than six wins last season (Miami, Oakland, Houston and Arizona). Overall, this is a schedule that on paper gives the Browns a fighting chance to improve. I say "on paper," because the trouble is that unless the Browns play very well right out of the gate, their season may still be over almost before it starts.

The Browns' schedule is so front-end loaded that Don Imus has a better shot at getting an honorary degree from Rutgers than the Browns do of winning more than one game out of their first five. They start out with back-to-back games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, break things up with a game against the woeful Raiders, and then face another daunting set of games against Baltimore (13-3) and New England (12-4).

The first part of this schedule is a coach killer if I ever saw one, and the bad news for Romeo Crennel is that even if makes it through these five games, he still isn't out of the woods yet. After the Patriots game, the Browns get a bit of a break, and play two games against teams they should at least have a shot at (Miami (6-10) and St. Louis (8-8)). Following those games, they quickly get thrown back into the fire again, with a game at home against the Seahawks (9-7) followed by road games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

After this, they enter the more forgiving part of the schedule, playing only one team with a winning record (the Jets (10-6)) in their last six games. The thing is, they could very easily be 2-8 going into that home stretch. If the season plays out like that, the Browns are likely to be a pretty beaten down team that will be a longshot to make much headway even against the weaker teams that they will close out the season against.

It doesn't have to turn out like this. I think the Browns have better talent than their 2006 record indicated. They've made some free agent acquisitions that helped to address some of their biggest needs. If they get some contributions from the draft and a little luck on the health front, the Browns may be more competitive than many people expect them to be. My only point is that the schedule does them no favors, and if they don't figure out a way to compete early in the season, they may not compete at all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NFL Update:

Barring a trade by blockhead Matt Millen, who is sitting at pick #2, only 17 days remain before Brady Quinn becomes the newest Cleveland Brown.

Nothing's happened since his workout, but I feel a sense of inevitability about Quinn. Get used to it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Anna Nicole Smith saga continues.


The strange spring of Nanook of the North Coast, formerly known as Chief Wahoo, just got a little stranger. Since our weather is supposed to be miserable for at least a week, Major League Baseball has thrown in the towel and decided that the Cleveland Indians' home opener this season will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Yup, the Tribe will open the 2007 home campaign against the Angels in Milwaukee. It goes without saying that this is the kind of stuff that can only happen to Cleveland. After all, it's like Randy Newman said, we're the "city of light, city of magic."

Anyway, if they have to play the Tribe's home opener in a Cleveland substitute, Milwaukee's as good a place as any. In fact, the good folks of Milwaukee have some experience subbing for Cleveland. Milwaukee's old County Stadium played the part of Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the film Major League.

Let's just hope that the real Tribe plays as well in Milwaukee as their fictional counterparts did. When it comes right down to it, I guess I don't really care where they play in April, so long as they're playing someplace in October.

My apologies.

For years, I complained that Hargrove never won games or prevented losses as a manager. I have to apologize to Mr. Hargrove. He sure did a good job of staving off defeat last Friday at the Jake. With the Tribe leading 4-0 and Yuniesky Betancourt facing a two-strike count, Hargrove claimed that no one could see and that the game should be called. The umps agreed.

Paul Byrd missed being a part of baseball history by one strike. Poor Victor Martinez. He squatted behind home in a snow storm all game, and all he got to show for it was a pulled quadricep.

Does this mean that, after just about every other sports guy on the planet picked the Tribe to win the division, the baseball gods decided to f**k with all of us?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pitching in a Winter Wonderland

Sometimes I hate Northeast Ohio, and the first week of April is definitely one of those times. Six inches of snow on the ground on the day of the home opener and it's still snowing. Of course, we've got a grand tradition of this kind of thing. Today's Plain Dealer points out that the Indians have played some mighty chilly openers, and have even had a couple snowed out.

But that only scratches the surface when it comes to this town and snowy baseball. How about the 1997 World Series? I don't think I was ever colder at a Browns game than I was watching Jaret Wright take the hill amid the snowflakes in Game 4 that year. I knew I was chilly, but I didn't know I was making history. That turned out to be the coldest game in World Series history.

How about the first series at The Jake when it opened back in 1994? Opening Day was chilly, but clear and pretty nice as early April days go here. The Indians and the Mariners then took a day off, which gave the snow and sleet just enough time to move in. The first night game in Jacobs Field history was to be played on April 6, 1994, but it was postponed by snow. You can look it up. They got the game in the next night, but the conditions weren't much more auspicious, at least according to Jack Morris, who pitched that night.

Watching a ball game in a snowstorm doesn't exactly make you want to scream "PARTY!", but if that isn't enough to put a damper on today's festivities, some genius scheduled the game on the most solemn day on the Christian calendar. I mean, c'mon, Good Friday?! I don't know about you guys, but that's a day of fast and abstinence for us mackerel snappers. That means no dogs and definitely no beer.

Anyway, it looks like the fates have combined to make the home opener not likely to be much fun this year, so I think I'll take a pass. See you guys in church.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Indians Bandwagon

Every Tribe fan who wants to believe the hype about the team being peddled by the national media should read Terry Pluto's column in this morning's Akron Beacon Journal. Pluto likes this year's Tribe, but he isn't ready to anoint them as the team to beat in the AL Central. I feel exactly the same way. This could be a very entertaining team with a legitimate shot at the post-season, but only if the bullpen does more than just "hold together."

Improvement over last year's epic relief pitching disaster is almost inevitable, but one of the biggest reasons the Indians were able to rack up 93 wins in 2005 was that their bullpen that season wasn't just okay, it was the best in baseball. Did the team improve its relief pitching enough in the off season to bring the pen back to something approaching 2005 levels? I kind of doubt it.

The Indians' plan to contend for the Central Division crown depends on getting big relief pitching contributions from guys who past their "best when purchased by" dates several years ago. If you're comfortable with relying on Joe Borowski, who only ended up here because he failed his physical in Philly (try saying that three times fast), or Roberto Hernandez, who admits to being 42 years old, well, that makes one of us. Could they come through? Absolutely, but forgive me if I don't start camping out for post-season tickets just yet.

The best part of Pluto's column is his analysis of why the national media has made the Indians the flavor of the month. These guys are infatuated with the Moneyball idea--the thought that pennants can be won on the cheap if your front office is brainy enough. Pluto's take on this is that payroll may not mean everything, but it sure does give a team a "very big eraser." In contrast, for a team to like the Indians to win, everything has to go right. That's not the most encouraging news for fans of a team that already has two pitchers on the DL.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Gator Bait

I feel your pain, Buckeye fans, I really do. Hat's off to the Florida Gators, though. That's a pretty amazing basketball team.

There are a couple of things that bother me about the Gators, however, and they've been bothering me for a long time. For the life of me, I can't figure out how Yannick Noah managed to get Miss Sweden to sleep with him in the first place, and I sure as hell can't imagine how anything that looks like this could've crawled out of somebody who looks like this. The second thing is, unless he really does want everybody to say that he's the spitting image of Eddie Munster, why did Billy Donovan pick that particular haircut?

Still, Noah and Donovan can console themselves for their bad looks by hoisting another NCAA Championship trophy, while all Buckeye fans can do is point at them and say "you're ugly, and your mother dresses you funny."

Monday, April 02, 2007

We Have a Winner

This year's George Will Award for excellence in overheated Opening Day bloviations goes to The Cincinnati Enquirer, for this editorial in today's paper.

As you know, in selecting a winner of the Will Award, the judges look for that special combination of pomposity and maudlin sentimentality that the "Baseball is Life" crowd finds almost irresistible this time of year. I think you'll agree that this year's winner is a worthy recipient of the Will Award. Among its other highlights, the Enquirer piece:

  • Uses the word "glorious" in its title;
  • Quotes both Walt Whitman and Albert Einstein;
  • Impressively and unselfconsciously uses nearly every cliche about Opening Day in existence, including this one: "It's about more than baseball. It's about nostalgia and hope, tradition and youth. It brings us together - people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. For one day, everyone's a kid again, peeking through the slats in the outfield fence."
The editorial also received extra credit for referencing the fact that baseball is played without a clock. This fact, along with tidbits like "it's the only game in which the defense has the ball," looms large in the cosmology of baseball's cognoscenti.

The award honors the bow-tied conservative intellectual George Will, whose efforts to demonstrate his "regular guyness" by writing pretentious columns about baseball culminated in his unreadable best seller "Men at Work," which almost single-handedly created the Tony LaRussa Cult.

Congratulations to The Enquirer.