Friday, August 18, 2006

Thomas A. Hawk, Esq.

After watching Paul Byrd baffle the Twins (to avoid the sweep) in a bar at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, we're coming to you from the Western Shores of Lake Michigan...Milwaukee, which as Alice Cooper told us means...forget it.

And with that, let the Tomahawks fly:

  • Mike Hegan (or Rick Manning) had an interesting comment about Carmona falling off of (or twisting off of) the mound as he followed through his pitch, causing the balls to run up. The end result being that he's not throwing strikes, and when he does, it's over the plate, letter-high, and in the hitters' wheelhouse. He also mentioned that JD and Cabrera have the same problem. If he notices it, and we all notice it, can we have someone work on this to see if these guys can develop a consistent delivery where they work downhill, that will produce strikes, and notably strikes that don't land over the fence?

  • Did anyone else see the Twins series as how this team was supposed to play in 2007, excluding of course the travesty of a bullpen that continues to get the ball? Solid starting pitching, enough offense, and...and...God, that bullpen is a killer. Wedge is stretching out his starters, mainly because this bullpen reminds me of the Donald Sutherland character in Backdraft. They want to see everything burn to the ground, and they're doing a bang-up job so far.

  • Ryan Garko has continued to impress, but not just at the plate. Garko has proven himself to be an adequate 1B and, while he will never evoke thoughts of JT Snow at 1B, he is certainly a valid option for 2007. As long as he continues to hit through the end of this year, he should be given the first opportunity to go into WInter Haven as the starting 1B.

  • Apparently Trevor Crowe has made the switch to 2B in Akron and may be closer to being ML-ready than originally thought. That readiness SHOULD affect the type of player the Indians pursue in the off-season, which is to say that they shouldn't be doling out 4 year deals if Crowe is close to contributing. That certainly will downgrade the players available to them, but if they think they can get by with a Band-Aid at 2B in 2007 (and don't think that means Inglett or Luna), they can use the dollars elsewhere.

  • After golfing with a Cubs fan this afternoon, he mentioned that he thinks that the Cubs are a starting pitcher (he mentioned Barry Zito) and a power corner OF (he mentioned C. Lee and Soriano) away from contending in the dreadful NL Central. Nothing surprising about that (unbridled optimism from the North Side), but noteworthy in that those two spots (SP and OF) are where most teams feel that they need to upgrade (including the Indians, particularly in the OF), so the competition is going to be fierce (as usual) for quality FA.

  • By the way, the Cubs payroll was north of $95M this year and the team is worse than the Indians. There are worse scenarios than the one we face on the North Coast.

Off to the sanitary confines of a closed-roof Miller Park for a Brewers-Astros game. There's something about watching a game in a dome (or closed roof stadium) that just doesn't feel right.

Feel free to go nuts on the comments section as I don't know how frequently I'll be able to get to a computer until Monday.


t-bone said...

To echo your dome comments, that definitely was weird watching Great Lakes Classic IV last year in Detroit in a dome.

And in related news, Browns take home GREAT LAKES CLASSIC V!!! WOO HOO!!! Although a preseason game, it was my first as a season ticket holder.

Also, good seeing this guy back on home turf last night.

Frustrating thing was checking the Tribe score throughout the night...

Baltimoran said...

hafner almost put one out of the dome roof yesterday

t-bone, any chance you could post the insider article about the browns bad luck? i enjoy being miserable

t-bone said...

ask, and you shall receive: NFL Training Camp 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006
Hits keep on coming for beleaguered Browns

By Jeremy Green
Scouts Inc.

When Browns fans saw the offseason that GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel put together, expectations were on the rise for this organization and its fan base.
Three weeks of training camp and one preseason game later, everyone associated with the Browns has to be wondering why this team can't seem to catch a break. The Browns have played only one preseason game, but if that game (a listless 20-7 loss to the Eagles) was any indication of what to expect this season, their fans better buckle up for another extremely bumpy ride.

The Browns have been cursed with bad luck on the injury front since they reentered the league, and this preseason has only continued that disturbing trend. The season-ending knee injury to center LeCharles Bentley, Cleveland's prized offseason acquisition, was the biggest setback, but not the only one. Starting cornerbacks Daylon McCutcheon (knee) and Gary Baxter (shoulder) are likely to miss the entire preseason. Right tackle Ryan Tucker, who's batting a knee injury, probably won't be ready until the season opener.

The team has also had to deal with the unexpected retirement of center Bob Hallen and the controversial way in which Savage handled the entire situation.

In their haste to fix the issues at center, Savage and his staff failed to do their homework on Alonzo Ephraim. The Browns signed Ephraim on July 29 without knowing he would eventually be served with a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. According to a source in the organization, he was the top center on the Browns' emergency list even though they knew he had some character issues.

The Browns can't wait to put this preseason behind them and move on, but are they ready to do that?

The task at hand will be difficult. The Browns are now down to their fourth center in Ross Tucker, whom they acquired just over a week ago. Though the center is not the highest-profile offensive lineman, he is the most important player on the line. He is the player who is the glue in the middle. If you find a great one, he can make everyone around him better.

With the inexperience the Browns now have at the position, second-year quarterback Charlie Frye will have to set the line and make the line calls. Frye already has enough on his plate trying to figure out all the nuances of the offense as he prepares for his first season as the full-time starter.

The running game is also going to suffer because of the lack of continuity up front. Reuben Droughns is coming off a 1,200-plus-yard season, but he too has had a miserable offseason with two off-the-field arrests. Droughns could find it tough sledding this season behind the patchwork offensive line the Browns are trying to piece together.

Although the Browns put a lot of effort into getting better on offense, at the end of the day this team is going to look extremely similar to last year's version.

If the Browns are going to take a step forward it will have to come from the knowledge that Crennel brings to the defense. Crennel has an excellent defensive mind and the team went out and added veterans on that side of the ball. Nose tackle Ted Washington, outside linebacker Willie McGinest, cornerback Leigh Bodden and inside linebacker Andra Davis are going to have to rise to the occasion and become one of the stingiest units in the NFL.

After a solid offseason, this was supposed to be a big year for the Browns. However, with the regular season right around the corner, they don't appear equipped to improve on last year's results. This is a team that will need to play conservatively on offense by trying to take care of the ball and playing low-scoring games. The Browns will look to keep games close and hope someone on either side of the ball can make a play to change the outcome.

Expectations are high in Cleveland again this season, but too many similarities to past years appear to be creeping to the surface.

Jeremy Green is director of pro scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been an NFL scout for 11 years, including two as director of pro personnel for the Cleveland Browns.


t-bone said... NFL

Friday, August 18, 2006
Tucker is center of attention

By KC Joyner
ESPN Insider

The big story coming out of Cleveland's training camp has been all the problems surrounding the center position. The season-ending injury to LeCharles Bentley was compounded by the retirement of Bob Hallen and suspension of Alonzo Ephraim. The Browns are now starting Ross Tucker, a player who has been with the team for less than two weeks.
Playing a fourth-string center would figure to severely hamper the Browns' running game, but a closer look shows the situation might not be quite as bad as initially feared.

First of all, the rest of Cleveland's run-blockers are quite good. All but one of the other starting linemen had a run-blocking success percentage of less than 80 (80 percent being the benchmark of a good blocker). Kevin Shaffer was the only lineman not to top the mark, and he missed it by only 0.5 percent.

It wasn't just the offensive linemen who had good metrics. Starting fullback Terrelle Smith had a success percentage just over 85, 13th in the league among fullbacks. Blocking tight end Steve Heiden's success percentage (91.5) was the second-highest among tight ends last year.

The other silver lining for the Browns is that the center position is often the weakest link of even the most successful offensive lines. The Chargers' offensive line was able to run block quite effectively last year despite Nick Hardwick's 75.3 percent success rate.

San Diego was able to do this because the rest of the linemen had success percentages at or near 80. Other examples of offensive lines able to hide their center effectively with top-notch blocking elsewhere include the Seahawks with Robbie Tobeck's 74.5 percent success rate and the Redskins with Casey Rabach's 71.1 percent.

Another reason Cleveland fans shouldn't despair is that Reuben Droughns does his best running on plays that often don't involve the center at the point of attack. Droughns' most effective running plays last year were the off tackle and the counter. Both plays are run at the edges of the offensive line, and the center's responsibility usually is limited to blocking back-side pursuit.

The Browns can also be thankful these issues occurred early in the preseason, giving Tucker ample time to get into a groove. The schedule is also somewhat favorable, as Cleveland's first two opponents -- New Orleans and Cincinnati -- had trouble stopping the run last year. The schedule does get a bit rougher after that, but at least Tucker will have a few games under his belt.

There is no question playing a fourth-stringer on the offensive line can be a problem. The center usually calls all the line blocks and plays an integral part in pass blocking. The Browns also don't have any quality depth behind Tucker, so one more injury at this position could have a devastating impact. Having said that, the metrics do show this type of situation is one teams are often able to plan around, at least from the standpoint of the running game.

KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. His latest book, Scientific Football 2006, is available for preorder at his Web site, Here's a 37-page sample of the new book.


t-bone said... NFL Training Camp 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006
Browns need healthy Edwards and Winslow

By Len Pasquarelli

BEREA, Ohio -- Here are six observations on the Cleveland Browns, gleaned from the training camp practice of Aug. 16:

Much has been made about the rehabilitation of tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. from extensive knee surgery, and justifiably so, given the importance of the Browns' star-crossed 2004 first-round draft choice to the progress Cleveland needs to make in the passing game. Of course, the Browns, whose passing game ranked 23rd in the league in 2005, need second-year veteran quarterback Charlie Frye, who started five games as a rookie in 2005, to grow up quickly. No doubt, his learning curve will be accelerated if Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, the team's top pick in 2005 who's also coming off knee surgery, are whole.
Braylon Edwards
Wide Receiver
Cleveland Browns

Rec Yds TD Avg Long YAC
32 512 3 16.0 80 202

The question that begs for an answer: How close are the two potential Pro Bowl pass catchers, each of whom would add a big-play dimension to the offense, to being 100 percent?

Of the two, Edwards is inarguably the bigger surprise at this point in camp because, given the timing of his injury and the fact he had surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee only seven months ago, even the most optimistic reports from Cleveland officials were that he might not return until October. That still might be the case, but based on Wednesday's practice, the timetable could be shortened considerably. Edwards moved pretty well in the practice and caught the ball effortlessly, but we didn't observe him make any really hard cuts yet. There is some whispered optimism that Edwards could play in September, perhaps even in the season opener, but that remains to be seen. The third overall selection in the '05 draft, Edwards was just beginning to hit his stride last season when he was injured, and he had 25 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns in his seven starts. In four of those starts, the former University of Michigan star posted 60 or more yards, with 86 or more in three of them.

It's not easy yet getting a good read on Winslow, touted as a prospect who, like his father, might redefine the position but has played in just two games in two seasons. Winslow conceded to local reporters that, given the scope of the damage to his knee, an injury suffered when he flipped his motorcycle over a curb, he might never be the player he was projected to be. But team officials say that Winslow, whose brusque and bodacious persona might have been taken down several pegs in the last year, has worked diligently this spring and summer to come back and he is a far more mature individual.

In practice, he certainly seems to be a presence in the middle of the field and appears to have retained the innate ability to locate an open spot and nestle into it. But it was notable that there were times, when the Browns were moving between practice segments, that Winslow seemed to have a bit of a hitch in his gait. There was no pronounced limp, nothing especially alarming, but rather just a subtle indication of fatigue. It looks as though Winslow will still be a terrific red zone option for Frye, but we didn't see enough of him in one practice to know whether he still has the explosive athleticism and run-after-catch ferocity that marked his college career.

There is one receiver of whom we are more certain: Veteran Joe Jurevicius, signed as a free agent in the spring, will provide a nice safety net for Frye and raise the leadership level in the Browns' locker room.

Here's all you need to know about the Cleveland offensive line: Just a little more than three weeks into camp, the Browns are, amazingly, working on their fourth starting center. Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the dean of beat writers here, put it best: The tenuous situation on the offensive line, a product of incredible misfortune, could negate a lot of the good things general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel have accomplished.
The litany of woe at center: Two-time Pro Bowl performer LeCharles Bentley, signed away from the New Orleans Saints and a player some felt was the prize catch in free agency, ruptured a patellar tendon the first day of workouts. His replacement, Bob Hallen, retired with a mysterious back ailment. Then, on Wednesday, Alonzo Ephraim was suspended by the NFL for four games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

That leaves fifth-year veteran Ross Tucker, acquired from New England only last week, as the starter. Tucker is a smart, try-hard guy, but his résumé includes just 24 starts. Unless the Browns can swing a deal for a more experienced snapper, such as former Philadelphia starter Hank Fraley or maybe John Wade of Tampa Bay, who is being challenged for the No. 1 job, Tucker will be the guy.

But the problems on the line, and the streak of poor luck, extend beyond the center position. Right tackle Ryan Tucker, who started all 16 games in 2005, had arthroscopic knee surgery in camp. The bet is that Tucker, a tough guy, will be back for the start of the season but will have missed significant practice time. On Wednesday, the No. 1 right tackle was Kirk Chambers, a two-year veteran with no career starts. The starting guards, Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman, have thick medical dossiers.

The guy the Browns hoped to groom to replace one of them, probably a year from now, fourth-round pick Isaac Sowells, is injured. And the team's other big free-agency acquisition on the line, former Atlanta starting left tackle Kevin Shaffer, is coming off a 2005 season in which his pass protection skills regressed. A self-made player, Shaffer, a 2002 seventh-round pick, might actually be a more effective run blocker, which might not be good news for Frye.

The line woes could slow the progress of a Cleveland team whose growth in 2006 might not necessarily have been reflected in the win column. The Browns have closed the talent gap a bit in the AFC North, but the injuries on the blocking unit might obscure the progress.

Leigh Bodden
Cleveland Browns

Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
57 47 10 2 0 3

OK, so maybe loquacious Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson, who recently referred to Cleveland's best young defensive player as "Lehigh" Bodden, might not have gotten his name right. But if fourth-year cornerback Leigh Bodden continues his emergence, he won't be anonymous around the league for much longer.
A former star at well-known football factory Duquesne University, and signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003, Bodden is definitely an ascending talent. He started 11 games in 2005, replacing injured Gary Baxter (pectoral), and played well enough that the Browns wisely rewarded him with a contract extension. Good move because, had Bodden continued to improve and hit the free-agency market, he would have been a pretty hot commodity.

Nothing against Baxter or Daylon McCutcheon, but Bodden already might be the team's best corner. People talk about his future, but the guy can play right now. And with Baxter sidelined again by a pectoral injury, and McCutcheon (knee) also missing practice time in camp, Bodden is taking advantage of his opportunities. Bodden has prototype size (6-foot-1, 192 pounds), runs really well, and is strong enough to jam receivers and redirect them. On consecutive pass plays Wednesday, he just knocked receivers completely off their inside routes by muscling them. We didn't see him have to turn and run deep, but he certainly demonstrated terrific burst closing on balls in front of him. A really good young player worth watching closely in 2006.

Cleveland officials expect Baxter to be ready for the start of the season, although there has to be some concern about his durability, and McCutcheon should be ready to roll, too. Assuming everyone is indeed healthy, the Browns will have a nice trio and the position could be one of relative strength for them. The best combination probably would be Bodden and Baxter as the starters with McCutcheon as the nickel corner.

There is some depth at safety, too, with the trio of Brian Russell, Sean Jones and Brodney Pool. Right now, it appears Jones has an edge over Pool in the battle between second-rounders for the starting strong safety spot. Of course, as potentially solid as the secondary might be, the Browns are going to have to generate some pass rush after a 2005 season in which they rang up a league-low 23 sacks.

A rookie linebacker seems to have secured a starting job, but it's not the one everyone anticipated. While first-round pick Kamerion Wimbley is still running with the second unit in the 3-4 base defense, second-rounder D'Qwell Jackson is working with the starters at inside linebacker.
The former Maryland standout, who finished his college career with 447 tackles, looks like a good fit to team with Andra Davis, the human tackling machine, at inside backer. Jackson doesn't have as much bulk as you might expect from an inside linebacker in the 3-4, but he seems to get off blocks quickly and finds the football. He might not be all that flashy but, like Davis, is simply a solid football player.

It's probably just a matter of time until Wimbley, a classic 3-4 hybrid edge player, supplants Matt Stewart as the weakside starter. A college defensive end, Wimbley is a great character kid and hard worker and, maybe most important to this team, he can rush the passer. The strongside spot will be manned by venerable Willie McGinest, who appears to be using camp just to ready himself for the rigors of the season.

In their two years on the job, Savage and Crennel have concentrated on trying to improve not only on the field but also in the locker room, and McGinest is a prime example of that initiative. He's expected to bring a winner's mentality born of three Super Bowl rings, to serve as a mentor of sorts to Wimbley and to collect maybe 8-10 sacks. McGinest will be an interesting guy to watch, though, from the sack standpoint, because his former New England coaches felt as though he couldn't bring much anymore on the speed rush. The Patriots felt McGinest, who is 34 and entering his 13th season, had become more of a power rusher. The Browns need him to be a difference maker if they are to improve their limp pass rush.

Cleveland has to start home-growing some defensive linemen. Of the 11 linemen currently on the camp roster, the lone one who began his NFL career as a Browns draft choice is Babatunde Oshinowo of Stanford, a sixth-round selection in this year's draft. No one is from here, and -- even in a 3-4 front, where linemen tend to be anonymous pluggers -- that shortage has to be rectified.
Of the 11 linemen, five came into the NFL as undrafted free agents. Just one, veteran run stuffer Ted Washington, was drafted before the fourth round, having been chosen by San Francisco in the first round in 1991. Sure, we know that on third down Cleveland will use linebackers as rush ends. But you still have to have bodies up front on first and second down to stop the run. No matter how good a coach Crennel is, it might be tough to win with a line of such collectively dubious pedigree. End Orpheus Roye is a solid player, but he's 33 and entering his 11th season. Washington, 38 and going into his 16th year, is a stopgap.

Given Trent Dilfer's preference to move on after only one season in Cleveland, it's tough to quibble with the decision to trade the quarterback. However, the Browns had better hope Frye stays upright for 16 games. Beyond the reality that the depth chart lacks a veteran to help mentor Frye is the sobering fact that the Browns simply don't have a quality backup. Ken Dorsey, acquired from San Francisco in the Dilfer swap, has 10 starts, but he can't play. The other three quarterbacks on the roster -- Derek Anderson, Lang Campbell and Darrell Hackney -- have combined for zero regular-season pass attempts.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for To check out Len's chat archive, click here .