AFC North: Eric Mangini

First and 10: Scoring and scoreboards

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
5:26
PM ET
First and 10 talks Steelers, scoring and stadiums ...
  1. The Browns talked big things a week ago when they said they were up to the task of playing in a big game in November. Now they are 4-6 and the half-full view says that with games at home the next two weeks, they could be 6-6 in December. How the rest of the season goes will depend on how the Browns fare against the Steelers on Sunday.
  2. But a week after feeling good and upbeat after a win, the Browns now look like a team that has lost four-of-five, which it has. The Steelers? After an 0-4 start, they’ve won four-of-six.
  3. No team has treated the Browns since 1999 like the kid brother Rob Chudzinski mentioned than the Steelers, with thrashings and embarrassing losses piled on each other. The lone Browns win in a game Ben Roethlisberger started might have even been a loss, because it started a streak of wins that saved Eric Mangini’s job for one season. To say the Steelers have owned the Browns is an insult to ownership.
  4. By the way ... that motivational speech from the former playmaker himself ... Michael Irvin ... Never mind.
  5. Give coach Rob Chudzinski credit for one thing -- he is very adept at defusing things in his media get-togethers. He was asked if the second quarter against Cincinnati was a snowball going downhill, and he simply said a lot of atypical things happened. Which was wise. He took what could have been an issue -- “how could a coach let things get away that badly” -- by stating a simple fact. It was a very deft statement.
  6. How advantageous is it to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown? Consider that Sunday was the 88th time that had happened in Browns history (Joe Haden did the deed for the Browns). The Browns have won 79 percent of those games, having gone 69-18-1. The one in five they lost was last Sunday.
  7. Backup linebacker Eric Martin must have some unbelievable potential. The guy is a penalty machine on special teams, and he was part of the duo that missed the block on Cincinnati’s blocked punt. His penalties have been downright bizarre. Against Cincinnati, he was flagged for unnecessary roughness when the Bengals sent a kickoff 5 yards out of the end zone. Against Green Bay he was flagged for the same when he blocked a Packers player out of bounds, then blocked him again on the sidelines. On the blocked punt, Martin blocked down on a player already engaged with a Browns protector, which provided the gap for the block. Yet while the bottom of the roster is juggled, Martin remains. Interesting.
  8. Cincinnati’s 31-point quarter was not a record by a team against the Browns. Green Bay holds that mark, as the Packers scored 35 points on Nov. 12, 1967, in the first quarter of a 55-7 rout over the Browns. Longtime Browns watchers recall a player named Travis Williams not once, but twice, returning a kickoff for a touchdown in that game.
  9. The 31 points by the Bengals matched the worst second quarter in Browns history. The team had given up that amount twice -- in 2013 against the Bengals and in 1990 against the Houston Oilers.
  10. It’s really something to hear a mayor of a struggling major city in the rust belt and an NFL team president make a convincing case that $30 million from said city’s general fund is not a bad cost for cosmetic repairs to a stadium. Then you think what $30 million can do for a city, and how that compares to beautiful scoreboards. Cleveland City Council should have fun with this vote Monday, but it would be a surprise if it didn’t pass. Art Modell’s decision was not that long ago.
If there is a day when you really need a wake-up call, it's going to be after New Year's Eve. You can thank me later ...

RAVENS: According to the Ravens, "a number of teams" have contacted Baltimore seeking permission to interview assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. But, just like DeCosta did last year, he made it clear that he's not leaving the Ravens. “I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships," DeCosta said in a statement released by the team. "I have no intentions of leaving this team.” DeCosta is considered the general manager-in-waiting to Ozzie Newsome.

BENGALS: The Bengals are starting to win over fans. The sellout crowd for the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium pushed this year's attendance to 489,504. That's an average of 61,888 per game, a 24 percent increase from last season, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier. The Bengals averaged just more than 49,000 fans a game in the 2011 season. This season, the Bengals sold out six of their eight home games. Last year, six of Cincinnati's eight home games were blacked out.

STEELERS: Coach Mike Tomlin gave a strong vote of confidence to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "I think everyone is aware I'm happy with the work of Dick LeBeau," Tomlin said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's a special guy." Last week, LeBeau said he doesn't plan to retire even though he'll be 76 at the start of next season but the decision ultimately rested with Tomlin. The Steelers were the top-ranked defense for a second straight season.

BROWNS: The Browns braintrust plans to hire a coach first and the general manager after that. The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes head coach is a critical hire but the Browns shouldn't downplay the importance of a general manager. "This approach always makes me nervous," Pluto wrote. "That's from watching the Lerner family become so desperate to hire their favorite coaching candidates that the importance of the general manager position was neglected." Under the Lerner family, two coaches -- Butch Davis in 2001 and Eric Mangini in 2009 -- were hired before general managers.
The Browns made an announcement that caught reporters off guard Monday when they revealed that a head coach will be hired before the personnel director/general manager.

In the football world, that is typically opposite of what many teams do. But owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner have a reason for doing so.

"We think that the head coach is going to play even a bigger role in where we go from here," Banner said. "That will create a better situation for us to identify what role the GM, potentially director of player personnel, whichever it ends up being, exactly what qualities do we need in that person, so when we fit everybody together, we’ve got real strength in every area that we think we need to be strong in.”

In other words, the Browns are setting their sights high when it comes to the first head coach under the new regime and are willing to give as much power to that new coach as it takes to land him.

This isn't the first time that the Browns have done it this way. Under the old regime, the Browns hired Eric Mangini as coach before bringing in a general manager (which later became George Kokinis).

“This is a reasonable line of questioning," Banner said. "It is something we discussed a lot. It isn’t an obvious answer and not everybody does it the same way. We made the determination that the greater impact on our future was going to be the head coach, that we need to make sure we find two people that fit together well and complement each other well and that we wanted the skill set of the head coach to kind of drive what we’d be looking for in the position that we would hire after that."

Banner added, "Time will tell if that’s right and if we can find the right two people that are both high quality and fit together as well as we hope. This was maybe the first decision we made in terms of kind of moving forward here was, ‘What’s the right order? Are we doing them together, one first, one second?’ So it’s a totally valid line of questioning, but the decision we, in the end, made was to find the head coach first.”
There are mixed feelings about the Browns getting rid of Mike Holmgren as team president, based on the results of the SportsNation poll. Of the 7,053 votes, 42 percent say it was the right move and 41 say it was not.

Here are some comments from the AFC North blog readers:

Tony from Columbus, Ohio: Mike Holmgren should have been the coach, not the de facto owner.

Michael from Cincinnati: At a time the Browns were in need of a decisive leader, Holmgren proved to be indecisive from the start. From keeping Eric Mangini as coach to failing to even muster up a legitimate offer in the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes, Holmgren should never have been.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren
AP Photo/Mark DuncanPoll voters were mixed in their opinions of Mike Holmgren's time with the Cleveland Browns.
Joe from Columbus, Ohio: The people who voted to keep Holmgren must not be Browns fans. He is building at a glacial pace. He had no defined job, no passion and let his rookie coach hang himself. Why be here if you're not going to use your coaching experience to help the guy and the team out? He was overpaid, underworked, and underachieved. In Jimmy (Haslam) we trust.

Rich from Charlotte, N.C.: Yes, I'm excited about the new owner. However, here we go again with more turnover. The GM and head coach will soon be gone and with that a whole new phylosophy of the game will come in. New offense, maybe back to the 3-4 defense. So that means starting over with new players. At most there should be turnover at the coaching level. The Packers and Seahawks didn't start winning overnight. It took at least, If I recall, it took three or four years before they were contenders in games. I wish they would have given Holgrem and the GM at least another year.

Aaron from Cleveland: No, the Browns did the right thing by letting Holmgren go. His role with the team under Randy Lerner was as de facto owner. Under the new regime, the owner will be active in the operation of the team. Further, Holmgren was never good at being a GM or president of a team. When he had the dual role of GM and coach in Seattle, he was quickly stripped of the GM role. Lerner never wanted to be involved with the Browns and was terrible at making personnel decisions relating to running a football program. Holmgren was his last, best testament to that failure as an owner.

Mark from Fredericksburg, Va.: I think that you can see that the Browns are on the right path to becoming relevant in this league. I think we can thank Mike Holmgren and the personnel he brought in for what looks to be bright days ahead for the franchise. However, Jimmy Haslam absolutely has the right to bring in the personnel he feels comfortable with leading his franchise. If the Browns turn this thing around with the players they have in place right now, then all credit can go to Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Sustaining it will be the job of Joe Banner.

Paul from Lake Helen, Fla.: No, Mike failed. He should not have been kept on because of three big mistakes. 1. Waiting too long to fire Eric Mangini and then re-booting and installing a new system. 2. (The Cleveland fans called this right away) Hiring Pat Shurmer, a rookie head coach. The Browns have had way too many inexperienced head coaches. Cleveland has been Coaching 101. 3. Not attracting any high-profile free agents to fill holes and not drafting any Pro Bowl talent with their high draft picks. Goodbye Big Show, time to close the curtain on the No Show.

Matt from California: I'm really split on the Holmgren firing. On one hand, we definitely started to develop a good defense under him and drafted very well. I'm still holding out hope Heckert stays, but I really think Pat Shurmur was just not the right choice as coach. That was Holmgren's biggest decision and has not worked out well at all from a win perspective.

Kevin from Chicago: Holmgren's record speaks for itself. No one expected him to turn the Browns into a Super Bowl contender immediately, but a 10-30 record is indefensible. He made a number of critical mistakes, including bringing Jake Delhomme in as the starting quarterback, and neglecting the wide-receiver position. Pat Shurmur often appears befuddled on the sidelines, and is on his way to cementing his reputation as one of the worst head coaches in the franchise's history. Mike Holmgren was paid king's ransom to turn a long suffering franchise into a winner, but his actions and questionable work ethic have instead further relegated the Browns to irrelevance. Jimmy Haslam demonstrated to the team and the fans that losing will no longer be tolerated in Cleveland.
Mike Holmgren came to the Cleveland Browns in 2010 with a Super Bowl pedigree and aspirations of changing the losing culture of the Browns. According to ESPN, Holmgren will retire at the end of the season and leave the organization before his five-year mission was complete.

Since Holmgren took over, the Browns have the second-worst winning percentage in the NFL (.263). The Browns finished in last place in 2011 and were the last team to win a game in 2012.

Shortly after the sale of the Browns to Jimmy Haslam was announced, Holmgren said he wanted to fulfill his five-year deal. He is still owed $8 million a year through the 2014 season. "I've never quit anything in my life," Holmgren said in early September.

Those plans obviously changed after Haslam decided to name Joe Banner the team's CEO/president.

Here's a look at Holmgren's biggest decisions with the Browns:

COACHING: Holmgren's biggest mistake was keeping Eric Mangini around for the 2010 season. It essentially was a wasted year. He then turned around and hired Pat Shurmur, who shares the same agent. Shurmur has appeared to be overwhelmed at times after being put in a tough situation, beginning with the lockout in his first season. Where Shurmur has fallen short is calling plays that his players aren't ready to make. Shurmur's record is 5-17.

GENERAL MANAGER: This was Holmgren's best move. Tom Heckert has restocked the Browns with young talent. His fingerprints are all over a rebuilt defense with cornerback Joe Haden, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (who is currently injured). He also made a shrewd move in taking wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of the supplemental draft. This is one person that Haslam should strongly consider keeping around.

QUARTERBACK: Holmgren ultimately chose the package of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson over Robert Griffin III. He acknowledged that the Browns spoke to the Rams about moving up for RG3 but decided the price was too steep. Holmgren then urged Heckert to take Weeden late in the first round when he could've been available in the second. RG3 has the look of a superstar with 1,343 yards passing, 379 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns (five on passes and six on runs). Weeden has thrown for 1,519 yards with seven touchdowns and an NFL-leading 10 interceptions. While Weeden could develop into a decent starter, the Browns may end up regretting this decision.
Two former AFC North coaches are visiting U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf this week as part of a USO tour. Bill Cowher and Eric Mangini are among the coaches who will celebrate the Fourth of July with the military.

As the Browns head coach, Mangini invited a contingent of Green Berets from Fort Bragg to attend the Browns minicamps and participate in a team-building event.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and incredibly flattering, to have the chance to spend time with our troops," said Mangini, who is now an ESPN analyst. "We did a lot of different things both in New York and Cleveland with the military because of the example they set in terms of selflessness, discipline and teamwork. We can’t thank the troops and their families enough for the sacrifices they make to ensure our freedom.”

This is Cowher’s second trip on an NFL-USO Coaches Tour. He participated in the inaugural Coaches Tour in 2009.

"I am really excited to spend time with the men and women who protect our freedom each and every day,” Cowher said. “Anything I can do to brighten their day and show my appreciation is a huge honor for me.”

Past participants of the tour have included Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

November tough on Browns coaches

November, 2, 2011
11/02/11
11:07
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The month of November hasn't given Browns coaches many things to be thankful for over the years.

As Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository pointed out, the last coach to finish with a winning November record for the Browns was Marty Schottenheimer, who was 14-8 in this month but was last seen on the Cleveland sideline in 1988. That's 23 years ago.

It's been a tough month for the coaches who have followed him: Bud Carson (2-4-1), Bill Belichick (6-15), Chris Palmer (2-6), Butch Davis (5-10), Romeo Crennel (7-10) and Eric Mangini (2-6).

This doesn't inspire much hope for the Browns, who have fallen to 3-4 after losing three of their past four games. For first-year coach Pat Shurmur, his November opponents are: at Houston (5-3), home against St. Louis (1-6) and Jacksonville (2-6) and at Cincinnati (5-2).
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is dealing with a knee injury and is considered questionable "at best" for Sunday night's game at Indianapolis, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Keisel sustained a grade-one PCL strain to his right knee during the shutout of Seattle. "We will see where the week takes us," Tomlin said.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review estimated that a grade-one PCL strain can take a recovery time of four to six weeks. Ziggy Hood, a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, would likely replace Keisel.

Hensley's slant: Nothing to panic about because there's not been a drop-off when Hood comes into games. This is nothing new for Hood, who started 13 games last season (including playoffs) when Aaron Smith went down with an injury. The only difference this time is Hood will be switching from the left to right side.
  • BENGALS: It's been mixed results with punt returner Brandon Tate, who has looked tentative at times but also has two returns for 15 yards or more, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I am trying to be careful for us to not press him," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "With him, you get a guy who has some talent and ability." Hensley's slant: Any production would be a welcome change from last season, when Cincinnati ranked 25th in the NFL in punt return average. Tate hasn't been a primary punt returner in the NFL before, so it could take time for him to get into a groove. He showed flashes of being a dangerous kickoff returner when he was in New England.
  • BROWNS: Starting center Alex Mack told The Cleveland Plain Dealer that the team is much more positive under new coach Pat Shurmur than the former one, Eric Mangini. "To come to work and not be dreading it from what's going to happen and how you're going to get yelled at or what's going to show up on the screen and just knowing that like, 'Here, guys, we made mistakes, and let's get better,' and have a kind of lighter atmosphere is going to help guys stay upbeat," Mack said. Hensley's slant: My guess is Mangini did a lot of yelling after watching the Browns' performances in 2009 and 2010. Players, though, prefer to have their errors addressed in smaller groups, where their position coach can give more details on how to correct the mistake.
  • RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens didn't go into a two-minute offense in Tennessee when they trailed by 13 points (23-10) with 12 minutes remaining because the team wanted to be patient and make the right calls. "The bottom line is to get down the field and score," Harbaugh said, via The Baltimore Sun, "so we don’t want to rush in there and be off the field and be punting again either." Hensley's slant: When it comes to rallying from large deficits, the Ravens also need to find someone willing to step up. Last season, Joe Flacco could throw to Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. This season, younger players like Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson have to come through in pressure situations, especially with Lee Evans being banged-up.

Morning take: Pouncey's leadership

August, 17, 2011
8/17/11
8:00
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is taking a leadership role on the offensive line.
Morning take: Pouncey is already the team's best offensive lineman in his second season. But the Steelers need to surround him with other pieces to make the unit complete.
Morning take: The top players are signed, but there are still several players around who may help a team. Look for Baltimore to make another small push once Haloti Ngata's extension frees up cap room.
Morning take: The vibes in Cincinnati are not good after an abysmal start to the preseason. But it's too early for any team to hit the panic button.
Morning take: Brown had the big fumble return for a touchdown last week against the Green Bay Packers. Brown played in Cleveland under Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Now, Brown hopes to impress rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.
BEREA, Ohio -- Few teams have more ground to make up after the NFL lockout than the Cleveland Browns.

With a new offense, a new defense and fresh faces on the roster and coaching staff, the Browns are a team in transition. Rookie head coach Pat Shurmur has a difficult task ahead of him. He is trying to overhaul the Browns after back-to-back 5-11 seasons under former coach Eric Mangini.

This is the second year for Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. But in many ways, 2011 feels like the year they officially hit the reset button.

Most of Cleveland's first week of training camp focused on instruction and installation.

"We're working with the players, we're getting used to their mannerisms and how we have to communicate with them," Shurmur said. "They're getting used to us, especially if we're getting a little anxious, a little uptight. It's been good. I think the key part to coaching is that there is a solid interaction. I feel like that's going on, and I'm seeing guys improving."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Tony DejakColt McCoy has solid intangibles, but it's questionable whether he has the size and arm strength to succeed.
1. Is QB Colt McCoy the long-term solution?

It's unfair to judge a player on one week of practice. But I paid a lot of attention to McCoy this week, and I have some concerns.

The second-year quarterback was inconsistent. On Tuesday, McCoy had a poor practice. On Friday, he was better. There is a good chance that this is what you'll see from McCoy during the regular season.

McCoy has only eight starts under his belt. He is essentially halfway into his rookie year. He's also learning his second offense in two years.

Although McCoy isn't making excuses, expect some growing pains.

"You come out here and you have to be ready to play," McCoy said. "I feel like I'm in good shape. I felt like the guys around me -- offensive line, receivers, running backs -- I feel like overall everybody was in good shape and ready to work. For me, that's good. I need all the work I can get."

McCoy has intangibles and natural leadership ability. But no NFL quarterback wins on intangibles alone. McCoy's size and arm strength are two question marks he must overcome.

The Browns are "all-in" with McCoy this year. If he has a solid season, the Browns could exceed expectations. But if McCoy falls apart, it could be another long season in Cleveland.

2. Can rookies make an immediate impact?

The Browns have the potential to start as many as four rookies in Week 1.

Rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, receiver Greg Little and fullback Owen Marecic are all vying for starting jobs. Barring injury, Taylor, Sheard and Marecic are virtual locks for the starting lineup. They already are working with the first team. Little is working with the first- and second-team offense behind starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie.

This could be a blessing and a curse for the Browns. Holmgren and Heckert believe they drafted solid, NFL-ready players for the second consecutive year. But the fact that this many rookies can start right away also is an indictment of Cleveland's thin roster.

Taylor has been the most impressive of the group. He arrived in camp four days late because of a contract dispute. But Taylor made his presence felt later in the week with his size, strength and ability to get up field. He could be a force next to fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

"I am still learning and taking it all in," Taylor said. "I am learning every bit I can from the guys like Rubin. The guys that were behind me were helping me out as well."

3. Is running back Peyton Hillis a one-year wonder?

Hillis doesn't look like a one-year wonder. He was the steadiest player in Cleveland's camp this week. He's still running hard and catching the ball well out of the backfield. He's also not making mental mistakes in Cleveland's new offense.

Last year, Hillis exploded on the scene with 1,177 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He instantly became Cleveland's most popular player. A heavy push by Browns fans put Hillis on the cover of "Madden NFL 12."

Production has never been an issue for Hillis. Injuries are the only concern.

"He's a pro, and pros -- especially at running back -- it's very important for them to hear it, see it and feel it," Shurmur said. "He's done a good job of getting in there and getting his reps. Make sure he's getting his work, try to eliminate any kind of little injury in there and then give him the ball. I think that's the important thing."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Because veteran free agents were unable to practice until Thursday, rookie fifth-round pick Buster Skrine received a lot of reps as the nickel corner this week. Skrine displayed good speed and playmaking ability. He jumped a route in team drills Tuesday and got a pick-six off McCoy, his best play of the week.

Skrine is competitive and looks like a mini-Joe Haden. He probably will make the team as a late-round pick.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Massaquoi missed the entire first week of camp because of an ankle injury. The injury happened before the lockout was lifted. Therefore, the team and Massaquoi have been quiet about it.

Massaquoi is missing valuable practice time in Cleveland's West Coast offense. He has a lot of pressure as McCoy's No. 1 receiver. Timing between Massaquoi and McCoy will be vital this season.

Massaquoi caught 36 passes for 483 yards and two touchdowns last season. He needs much better production for Cleveland to be successful.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeD'Qwell Jackson
    AP Photo/Mark DuncanD'Qwell Jackson, who has battled injuries the past few seasons, has been making plays in camp.
    The Browns are a slow football team. Cleveland has decent size but definitely not enough blazers and game-changing athletes. I thought the Browns would be more aggressive in free agency to close the talent gap with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. But that wasn't the case. Keep an eye on team speed during the regular season. I think it will be an issue.
  • Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is dominating Sheard in practice. Cleveland's coaching staff is putting Sheard, a rookie second-round pick, against Thomas to get him ready for the regular season. But Thomas is stonewalling Sheard at nearly every turn and had a pancake block in Friday's practice. Cleveland hopes Sheard will gradually improve by facing arguably the NFL's best left tackle.
  • Second-year running back Montario Hardesty isn't all the way back from knee surgery. The former second-round pick tore his ACL last year and missed the entire season. The Browns are counting on Hardesty to spell Hillis this year. But the team has been very cautious with Hardesty in practice. Hardesty has a lengthy track record of injuries in college and the pros.
  • A player who does look to be back from injury is linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. He's missed the past two seasons with back-to-back pectoral injuries but is active and making plays again in camp. When healthy, Jackson was one of Cleveland's top defensive players. He also has experience in a 4-3 defense and is seeing the field well. Jackson intercepted passes from McCoy by reading the quarterback's eyes in back-to-back practices.
  • Little's drops are a concern. He has good physical tools. But by my count, Little dropped at least five passes in practice this week. He had a reputation in college for drops. It's too early to say if it's lack of concentration or bad hands. Perhaps rust also is a factor. Little was suspended at the University of North Carolina all of last season.
  • Haden looks really good. He breaks up a lot of passes in team drills. Haden moves well and stays in good position. Last year, Haden had a slow start at training camp as a rookie. That wasn't the case this year.
  • If Tony Pashos is anything, he's huge. The projected starting right tackle is expected to protect McCoy's front side this season. Pashos missed most of 2010 with an ankle injury. But the Browns are still high on him and hope he can patch up the right side of the offensive line, which is Cleveland's weakest area up front.
The Cleveland Browns were projected to target high-profile defensive ends Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson in free agency. Instead, they settled on re-signing Jayme Mitchell.

Is this the right move for the Browns?

Mitchell, 27, has been a mystery player in Cleveland. The Browns' front office is very, very high on Mitchell and acquired him in a trade last season with the Minnesota Vikings.

But Mitchell didn't see the field at all for the Browns in 2010. Former Cleveland coach Eric Mangini wasn't as impressed as the front office and deactivated Mitchell for 12 games. Now, Mangini is replaced by rookie head coach Pat Shurmur, who says Mitchell is the favorite to start.

Barring injury, it looks like Cleveland's starting defensive ends are Mitchell and rookie second-round pick Jabaal Sheard. This is arguably the most important position in a 4-3 defense, and Cleveland is putting a lot of stock into two unproven players.

Mitchell has just five career sacks and one in the past three years. Cleveland's front office, led by president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, has done a good job so far. But their abundance of confidence in Mitchell is risky.
This week marks the return of the "Hope and Concern" series in the AFC North blog. But this time, we will examine certain positions.

On Thursday we start with the much-maligned Cleveland Browns receivers.

Biggest reason for hope: West Coast offense

It's hard to describe the style of offense the Browns were running the past two seasons under former head coach Eric Mangini and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Archaic and simplistic are some words that come to mind. Cleveland's passing game was very conservative and it was a big reason why president Mike Holmgren made the coaching change to an offensive mind in Pat Shurmur. The Browns believe running a better system -- in this case the West Coast offense -- will make Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie better players. Neither starter could get open consistently, but better routes and play-calling might help this upcoming season. The West Coast offense also plays much better to quarterback Colt McCoy's biggest strength, which is his accuracy.

Biggest reason for concern: Lack of athleticism

The Browns are one of the slowest teams in the NFL, and it shows in their receiving corps. Neither Massaquoi nor Robiskie is considered a speed burner who can get behind the defense. That makes it easy for opponents to defend Cleveland's offense and stack the line of scrimmage against standout running back Peyton Hillis. In my opinion, the ceilings for Massaquoi and Robiskie are not very high. Although the pair certainly can play better and work on consistency, what we've seen from them athletically the past two seasons is pretty much what the Browns have. It would help if Cleveland found a legitimate No. 1 receiver to take the pressure off Robiskie and Massaquoi. The Browns are high on second-round pick Greg Little, who could help but might need time to develop after missing all of 2010 via suspension. Little is not a deep threat, but he's big enough and athletic enough to fight defenders for jump balls and can break tackles after the catch. Little potentially could bring the type of athleticism to the offense Robiskie and Massaquoi both lack.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin says tailback Rashard Mendenhall should have thought twice about revealing his thoughts via Twitter on the death of Osama bin Laden and the events of 9/11.
Morning take: This is Tomlin's first public comments on the matter and he's in agreement with the majority. Mendenhall should have thought about the situation more in-depth before tweeting.
Morning take: Few players have a similar combination of size, power and athleticism. The Ravens are expected to make Ngata one of the NFL's highest-paid defenders and he is worth every penny.
Morning take: Mangini was very big on offseason workouts and minicamps during his tenure in Cleveland. So his take shouldn't be shocking to anyone.
Morning take: It may be a challenging position but one that has to excite Dalton. He's projected to be one of the few rookie starting quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski (3-0) is slated for his third professional boxing match this offseason when he faces Blake Warner (1-2) Saturday in Oklahoma.

Since Zbikowski is getting back in the ring this weekend, the AFC North blog has put together another boxing card we'd like to see, along with predictions.

Bout No. 1: Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Browns CB Eric Wright

Boldin
Boldin
Wright
Wright
Analysis: Boldin's footwork is too much for Wright early. The Ravens' receiver runs circles around Wright and spins him around like a top. With Wright getting dizzy, Boldin catches the Cleveland corner and floors him three times in the first round for a quick TKO.

AFC North blog pick: Boldin TKO in Round 1

Bout No. 2: Steelers LB James Harrison vs. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

Harrison
Harrison
Analysis: An angry Harrison enters first and lays down pillows all over the ring before the bout. Goodell comes in looking nervous, because he knows he's made life miserable for the linebacker this past year. As soon as the bell rings Harrison rushes Goodell -- Mike Tyson-style -- and shows his one-punch knockout power with a right uppercut that puts Goodell on his back. The pillows soften the fall but the NFL commissioner is out for the count. The following week Goodell fines Harrison $75,000 for hitting too hard.

AFC North blog pick: Harrison KO in Round 1

Bout No. 3: Browns president Mike Holmgren vs. Eric Mangini

Holmgren
Holmgren
Analysis: Both of these boxers have two very different styles and philosophies. Holmgren trained on the West Coast and his offense is sharp and crisp. Mangini has virtually no offense and relies more on his defense. As a result, these two go the distance. But Holmgren picks Mangini apart in every round with more tools in his arsenal and more experience.

AFC North blog pick: Holmgren by decision in Round 10

Bout No. 4: Bengals QB Carson Palmer vs. Bengals owner Mike Brown

Palmer
Palmer
Analysis: Palmer wanted another opponent for this bout, but Brown refused to let Palmer out of his contract. It turns out this is an awful style matchup between two counter-punchers. Palmer and Brown enter the ring and both are unwilling to throw the next punch. They simply circle each other for 10 rounds waiting for the next move, which results in a draw. After the fight, Palmer retires.

AFC North blog pick: Draw

Main event and bout No. 5: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens DE Terrell Suggs

Suggs
Suggs
Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger
Analysis: Thanks to Suggs' trash-talking, this high-profile rematch has been hyped for weeks. Suggs is dominating the first half of the fight, knocking Roethlisberger down three times and peppering him with strong jabs that back the quarterback into the corner and make him wish he could throw his gloves out of bounds to stop the onslaught. But Roethlisberger sticks with it and finds his rhythm in the second half of the bout. In the final two minutes, Roethlisberger finally knocks Suggs out with an unexpected haymaker in the 10th round. Afterwards Suggs' trainer, John Harbaugh, tells the media Suggs should've won, but gave the fight away at the end.

AFC North blog pick: Roethlisberger KO in Round 10

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