AFC North: Kyle Shanahan

MOBILE, Ala. -- Bring up the Cleveland Browns to NFL people at the Senior Bowl this week and a common theme emerges.

The Browns can’t seem to get the culture right. Berea is where well-meaning people get chewed up by the dysfunction.

Recent headlines lend ammunition to those talks. In less than a month, the Browns have fined their maligned rookie quarterback for missing team activities, suspended their top receiver, let their offensive coordinator walk for a lateral job and two years left on his deal, and fielded calls from NFL investigators over allegations that non-coaching staffers suggested play calls via text to the sidelines during games.

From Mobile to Cleveland, it looks like a magma-hot mess.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakGM Ray Farmer on perceived friction in the organization: "Part of being a good, healthy organization is people feel free to have those kind of conversations and speak candidly."
General manager Ray Farmer isn’t providing details on Kyle Shanahan’s departure, but isn’t hiding from any perceived problems, either. He seems to welcome the chaos. He started that conversation when talking to Fox Sports Ohio earlier in the week, which made me wonder:

If a GM acknowledges internal friction on the record, even in general terms, isn’t in bubbling 10 times as strongly beneath the surface?

I asked Farmer whether that assumption is fair. Here’s what he said:

"I know the word friction keeps coming up. It’s not friction. It’s conversation," Farmer said. "Those exist in every organization I’ve ever been in. People want to turn that into a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative. I think it’s a positive. Part of being a good, healthy organization is people feel free to have those kind of conversations and speak candidly. At the end of the day it’s about coming out with a decision and a plan that’s best for the Cleveland Browns."

Farmer is right that healthy debate internally can help strengthen the Browns. But consider the strongest franchises in the league, either now or in the past decade. The Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers, Ravens and Giants. You would never hear about those teams losing a coordinator to a lateral job amid leaks about text messages and roster discord. What Farmer witnessed in previous employment with the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs (not exactly teams on the list above) doesn't necessarily blend with the NFL model for success.

Coach Mike Pettine’s answer to why Shanahan left salary on the table to pursue a lateral job makes some sense -- keeping Shanahan would create a 'dark cloud' over the Browns since he didn’t want to be there. Holding him hostage isn’t always effective, especially when a disgruntled employee could cause trouble.

Shanahan’s decision might have less to do with culture and more with what he sees on the Browns’ roster. Put a top-15 quarterback with the first-string offense and Shanahan’s still under contract. That simple. You are only as good as your options.

But weren’t Farmer and Pettine brought in to help curb the storylines that have plagued the franchise, to work in harmony?

Farmer says his working relationship with Pettine is healthy.

"It’s going to be our decision -- not my decision, not his decision, our decision," said Farmer about the decision-making process internally. "Our culture is a good culture. Coach Pettine and I work hand-in-hand. (Disagreements) have to happen in order for you to make accurate decisions."

That logic might explain why Farmer has a 25-person personnel staff, known as one of the biggest in the league. He’s not afraid of perceived chaos.

"Sustainable success over time. That’s what we’re focused on," Farmer said. "You can always glean something when you talk with somebody."

He might’ve gleaned something from talking with Shanahan -- the problems will persist until the Browns find a solution at quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens offensvie coordinator Gary Kubiak will interview with the Denver Broncos for their head coaching job this weekend, according to CBS Sports.

Kubiak told the Ravens that he was not pursuing any head coaching jobs this year, and the Ravens released a statement late Sunday night that Kubiak was remaining with the team. But that was a day before the Denver Broncos and coach John Fox parted ways.

Many consider Kubiak to be the frontrunner for the Broncos' job considering his long history and friendship with general manager John Elway.

So, who are the Ravens' contingency plans if Kubiak leaves? Here are three names to keep an eye on:

Rick Dennison, Ravens quarterbacks coach: He should be at the top of the Ravens' list for Kubiak replacements. Dennison has been Kubiak's right-hand man for years, and no one knows his system better. Dennison also has offensive coordinator experience with the Broncos (2006-08) and Houston Texans (2010-13). The biggest question is why would he stay with the Ravens when he could have the same title in Denver with Kubiak? If Dennison is still under contract, the Ravens wouldn't have to let him go to Denver.

Brian Pariani, Ravens tight ends coach: Most assume Pariani will go to Denver with Kubiak just like he followed him to Baltimore. But the lure of becoming an offensive coordinator could keep him with the Ravens. Pariani knows Kubiak's system, which is key considering the Ravens' success last season. He was Kubiak's tight ends coach in Houston for eight seasons (2006-13) before serving the same role with the Ravens in 2014.

Kyle Shanahan, former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator: He was one of the finalists for the Ravens' offensive coordinator job before the Ravens decided to go with Kubiak. I actually thought the Ravens should have hired Shanahan before Kubiak entered the picture. The Ravens were looking to add Shanahan to the staff before he went to the Browns, which hinted that he could've been the coordinator-in-waiting. Shanahan is familiar with Kubiak's offense. He was on Kubiak's staff in Houston for four seasons, including two as the offensive coordinator (2008-09). Shanahan has experience calling plays, serving as offensive coordinator for the Redskins and Browns as well.
CLEVELAND -- Former Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo are expected to be involved in the Browns' offensive coordinator search and the team could start interviews early next week, according to sources.

Several names surfaced in media reports Saturday morning, inluding 49ers coordinator Greg Roman and Raiders coordinator Al Saunders, according to NFL Network.

Forte
Trestman
The Browns are taking this week to evaluate the offense in light of Kyle Shanahan's departure amid whispers of dissatisfaction with the Browns' personnel department and the quarterback situation. Wide-ranging meetings with personnel execs and coaches evaluated the team's quarterback situation and Johnny Manziel's place in it.

The Browns formally announced Shanahan's resignation and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains' firing, saying Shanahan's departure is "in the best interest of the Cleveland Browns" after conversations with him this week. Moving on from Loggains was difficult but necessary, coach Mike Pettine said in a statement.

"Our focus quickly turns to finding an outstanding coach to lead our offense and I am confident we will bring in highly qualified individuals to help us develop, improve and achieve the success we are all seeking," Pettine said.

Shanahan said in the Browns' release that he regrets how "the inner workings of the organization were represented publicly over the last few days," likely referring to a Cleveland.com report on Tuesday that Shanahan was willing to accept a lateral job to get out of Cleveland, and that at least one non-coaching staffer was suggesting play calls via texts to the sideline. The NFL is investigating the matter.

DeFilippo, who talked with coach Mike Pettine about the offensive coordinator job last year that went to Shanahan, has acquitted himself well after working with Derek Carr, who threw for nearly 3,300 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie.

Trestman, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Browns in 1988-89, is known as a good offensive mind, but his Bears limped to a 5-11 finish despite elite playmakers, though it's noteworthy Jay Cutler wasn't his style of quarterback. He prefers a quarterback suited for his West Coast system, of which the Browns have principles from Shanahan's offense.

Candidates for the job might be asked these two things:

1. Can you make Manziel better?

2. How well can you work with different styles of quarterbacks, Manziel or otherwise? This gives the Browns flexibility with the position.
CLEVELAND -- Jimmy Haslam better pay up.

That’s the only way to lure a top-shelf playcaller to a place that will host six offensive coordinators in as many years and lost its latest, Kyle Shanahan, over reported dysfunction internally.

The Cleveland Browns' new OC will inherit an offense that could be losing its two most recognizable pass-catchers (Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron) and has a quarterback who hasn’t proved he’s the answer.

Manziel
Johnny Manziel is most affected by Shanahan’s departure. The Browns were banking on continuity with the second year in Shanahan’s system. That Shanahan left might say as much about how he views Manziel’s long-term prospects as it does about the need to seek a new atmosphere.

Wasn’t Shanahan hired in part because of his expertise with athletic quarterbacks?

Well, if the Browns are committed to playing Manziel -- and that’s not certain -- they need to hire a coordinator who will open up the offense and be tough on Manziel.

For the most part, Shanahan did a good job with what he was given, which wasn’t much after injuries and suspensions. His offense looked prolific in a blowout win at Cincinnati, and at home against Pittsburgh.

But Manziel looking unprepared in his two starts must fall at least partly at the feet of Shanahan. Whether the coaches thought Manziel was ready or not, the offense functioned as if plays were drawn in the sand at a family picnic game. Players didn’t know where to be. They looked uninspired around Manziel.

Perhaps Shanahan simply had better synergy with Brian Hoyer than Manziel. Heck, I’ve heard several whispers that Shanahan was high on Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Savage in the draft. Both are straight dropback guys. Shanahan seems less intent on molding athletic quarterbacks and more so on promoting pocket presence.

The next guy must speak Johnny Football -- either that or it’s time to move on, because what’s the point? If you don’t tailor the offense around Manziel’s skill set, then you’re wasting the things he actually does well, making clear and decisive throws with an above-average arm or scrambling for yards without having to make three reads on one play. Manziel wasn’t asked to do that at Texas A&M. Give him more as you go, but bring the game to him first.

Then get on him if he's late to a walk-through. Challenge him to maximize his ability.

Manziel isn’t the only player affected by Shanahan's departure. The offensive line seemed to thrive in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. How the Browns ran the ball with a healthy Alex Mack teased the kind of bruising offense this can be with Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio leading the left side. Look for the Browns to find a zone-scheme coordinator.

I’ve heard former Bears coach Marc Trestman’s name. He’s interviewed for two offensive coordinator jobs and could make it a third. He runs West Coast principles that wouldn’t require an overhaul. But the way Chicago’s offense fizzled despite elite playmaking talent could be a concern.

Mike Pettine can crack open that short list, but Haslam must crack open the wallet, too.

Good, well-meaning coaches will notice how Cleveland chews up good, well-meaning coaches and call Jacksonville instead.

The Browns must comb two pools -- the up-and-coming-with-nothing-to-lose pool and the once-heralded-retread-that-needs-a-second-chance pool.

Bring your floaties.
CLEVELAND – Ask around about this Kyle Shanahan story to folks in NFL circles and the responses are similar.

[+] EnlargeKyle Shanahan and Johnny Manziel
AP Photo/Mark DuncanIf reports are correct and Kyle Shanahan (left) is looking for an escape route from Cleveland, it would likely be another reboot for Johnny Manziel and the Browns.
Dysfunction in Cleveland? Isn’t that more ritual than eye-opener? A yearly rite of passage? Just another Friday night? The franchise that rivals the Raiders in coaching turnover and lack of continuity knows internal strife as well as it does bad quarterbacks.

But the most significant, and potentially alarming, nugget to the Cleveland.com report that Shanahan would consider leaving Cleveland for a lateral move is this – that a noncoaching staffer would suggest play calls via text to the coaching staff on the sideline during games.

I have not verified that nugget, but if true, that would define dysfunction and would tempt any coach to feel uneasy about the Browns’ staff stability, even before evaluating the muddy quarterback picture.

Logistically, coaches aren’t exactly checking their cell phones during games. Perhaps messages are sent through lower-level staffers. Or maybe two execs texted each other frustrations and word got out. Semantics are important here.

Each new regime vows to be different, to change the same-old-Browns narrative. Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer really do seem intent on redirection through sound player evaluation and accountability. Pettine hasn’t been unafraid to punish Josh Gordon and Justin Gilbert for missing meetings.

Stories like this, however, suggest that process has a long way to go. Successful organizations undercut the internal bashing. Only a united front, publicly and privately, will shake the perpetual stink that has figuratively permeated the team’s facility.

Steady quarterback play can always erase internal problems. After all, reports of dysfunction only surface in losing locker rooms. Everything was fine when Cleveland was 6-3 and Brian Hoyer's free agency was buzzworthy.

Quarterback issues test the internal strength of the organization, which in Cleveland's case was clearly divided between playing Hoyer or Johnny Manziel late in the season. The Browns really had no good choices because Hoyer was struggling and Manziel wasn't ready.

The Browns want Shanahan to help fix that, hoping continuity in the second year of his zone-blocking scheme will pay off in 2015. But if he's willing to make a lateral move to get out, that says a lot about his feelings on Manziel. Leaving for a head coaching opportunity is different. Becoming the Raiders or Jets or Bears' offensive coordinator would suggest he believes he can't win with either quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns have acknowledged that Sunday did not go well for Johnny Manziel, but their public plan for addressing Manziel questions this week seems to be a strategic one.

Opt for a confidence boost over tough love.

Manziel
This week's company line has been the entire offense must improve; that Manziel, despite struggling, didn't get the necessary help. This is coming from coach Mike Pettine, players and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who on Thursday said Manziel's a "real dude" who has the mental makeup to respond.

They've acknowledged Manziel looked indecisive at times, but that usually comes with the follow-up that the offense had similar problems.

Perhaps the tough love comes behind the scenes, but the Browns seem to recognize that now is the time for building Manziel up, not tearing him down.

This feels like a sound strategy -- the Browns had better hope it works.

Either Shanahan is an eternal optimist or he saw enough encouragement from Manziel through the nuances of studying the 38 offensive plays Sunday to suggest Manziel's problems are fixable.

Stepping into throws with conviction was Manziel's biggest issue, and Manziel has been earnest about improving in that area this week.

I said this three weeks ago and I'll say it again: It doesn't matter whether Manziel or Brian Hoyer are the quarterback if the Browns can't run the ball. Cleveland has hit its second run-game dry spell of the year, averaging 3.2 yards per carry in the last three weeks (242 yards on 75 tries).

That number is survivable if your offense is built on the pass. The Browns' offense is not.

The missed details in the running game are all around left guard Joel Bitonio. He sees guard-center double teams when it should be tackle-guard. He sees failure to account for a safety creeping up or "not quite making it to the linebacker" up the middle, he says.

This has been life for the Browns' offensive line, which Bitonio said actually graded out well Sunday. But when they missed assignments, they missed big.

"One play, one guy gets beat and it's a tackle for a loss, Then he does his job great and another guy gets beat -- it just looks terrible," Bitonio said. "We need to be on the same page every day...That’s the whole goal so Johnny has more time to be back there to throw the ball. We don’t want defenses teeing off."

For the factors Bitonio described, Pettine is right when he says it's "unfair" to judge Manziel on one game. But considering all the circumstances -- the timing, the Browns' chances at a winning season unraveling, the critics quick to bash -- now is the perfect time for the blocks to be tight, the tailbacks to be instinctive and Manziel's decisions to be crisp.
BEREA, Ohio -- Johnny Manziel reads interviews.

Because the Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback clearly knew what general manager Ray Farmer told ESPN.com’s Jim Trotter last week, as Manziel prefaced his growth in the preseason by saying: “You look at what Ray had to say ...”

Farmer said this: “I think he is right where he’s supposed to be. I laugh because it’s four weeks into his first training camp, and everyone is waiting to see Steve Young run out the tunnel. I don’t know where the reality in that lies.”

Manziel
Manziel appreciated it. He said he thought he took a step forward against St. Louis and he hopes to take another step forward against Chicago.

But he also said he never expected to walk in and be ready for everything immediately, that the only people who can do that have to know where they will be taken two months before the draft.

“I think they’re happy with my progression through the time I’ve been here so far,” Manziel said of the team. “I think they knew what they were getting when they took me, that it would be a process. It’s not a spread-the-field out and run, pick-a-side concepts like we did at A&M.”

The Browns are committed to the Kyle Shanahan system, so rather than change the system for Manziel’s talents, they are force-feeding him the system. He accepts it.

“It’s just different what we do here and what the NFL game is all about,” Manziel said. “I think they knew that, they were smart enough to watch the tape and (to have) known and heard enough about our system to know how it was.
“I think they knew it would take some time for me to get adjusted to everything.”
For the first time in several days, there were very few questions about the Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation at Mike Pettine’s media get-together.

Pettine will decide who starts the second preseason game in Washington on the team’s off-day on Thursday, though he was clear that Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer would get the same amount of time with the starters. As the competition continues, with each quarterback getting time with the starters on alternating days in practice, other questions linger. Let’s take a stab at some of them:

What does the signing of Rex Grossman mean?

[+] EnlargeDowell Loggains
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will be part of the group that decides between Brian Hoyer (6) and Johnny Manziel (2).
Grossman stepped into the offense, directed players on where to go, made signals to motion receivers and dropped passes into receivers’ arms. He clearly has the advertised knowledge of the system. But Grossman’s signing had the bees buzzing locally and national that it’s not good for Brian Hoyer, that Grossman isn’t needed if Hoyer starts but he is needed if Manziel starts. Hoyer might not be the best mentor if he doesn’t start, and Grossman would be, so the thinking goes. This led to wild speculation that the Browns might trade Hoyer to Houston, where Bill O’Brien is a Belichick guy leading the ship. Radio chatter was prevalent, and some stories even appeared. “Stories is a good word for them,” coach Mike Pettine said, before adding: “I addressed that yesterday.” That is when he said “absolutely not,” when asked about Hoyer being expendable with Grossman on the team. One other factor: Grossman was the third quarterback in Washington the last two seasons; he’s at the point where he’s happy to be on a roster. Maybe Grossman is simply an upgrade over Tyler Thigpen.

What if nobody wins the job?

The two quarterbacks presently are in the muck. That means they are mucking around together, with neither seizing the job. Kyle Shanahan said early in camp that he fully expected someone to make the decision easy, but that hasn’t happened. They’ve both had good moments and bad moments. If this continues through Monday’s game, the Browns have to decide: Does neither winning the job mean that Hoyer gets it by default, or does it favor Manziel because he’s the hot-shot, first-round draft pick?

What if it’s a tie?

In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. In basketball a tie (up) is a jump ball. In football, a tie goes to overtime. But there is no overtime possible in this competition if Pettine sticks to his plan to name the starter before the third preseason game. If both Hoyer and Manziel play well Monday and they’re both relatively equal the way they were the first game – Hoyer had 92 total yards, Manziel 90 – then does the tie go to the veteran because he’s better able to read defenses like Pittsburgh’s, or does it go to the rookie because he’s the hot-shot, first-round pick.

Does the early schedule matter?

The Browns open at Pittsburgh and at home against New Orleans and Baltimore. It would be tough to find a tougher opening series of games, and Pettine admitted it had to be kept in mind. Would the Browns be reluctant to throw a rookie into that buzzsaw of games?

What about Josh Gordon’s situation?

Take the biggest playmaker out of a lineup and the entire offense suffers. When the biggest playmaker is a receiver, the quarterback suffers. When the remaining receivers play the way the Browns remaining receivers have played the past week or two, the ripple effect is very bad. Defenses can stack the box to stop the run and pressure the quarterback because they don’t fear a playmaker on the outside. Some would say this favors Hoyer because a veteran would be needed to stabilize what’s left of the offense. Other would say Gordon’s absence favors Manziel because the Browns will need someone to create plays, which is his skill.

What matters most? Pettine has said it over and over again: Who gives the Browns the best chance to win?The definition of “best chance to win” will be made by quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pettine.
After waffling back and forth for the better part of a day about the performance of Johnny Manziel in Saturday’s Cleveland Browns scrimmage, it’s time to get off the fence.

What Manziel did mattered.

Manziel
And it changes the conversation about the starting quarterback job. It doesn’t change the entire dynamic, but Manziel took advantage of his first real chance to alter the discussion a bit.

The usual caveat applies: Nobody but the coaches and players know where the throws were supposed to go, or how the play was supposed to be run. So in a sense, everyone is going on guesswork.

But results are results, and what Manziel did has to mean something. Why have a scrimmage if it doesn’t?

A few years back, when Steve Spurrier arrived at Florida, he had an incumbent quarterback by the name of Kyle Morris and a young one in Shane Matthews. Through all of spring practice, Spurrier said Morris was ahead. But in the spring game -- i.e. scrimmage -- Morris was OK and Matthews was good. Spurrier immediately elevated Matthews, who had an excellent career at Florida.

The reason one afternoon wiped out a month of work?

“That’s when the silks are on,” Spurrier said.

That’s when it matters.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel showed some glimpses of potential in Saturday's scrimmage, perhaps setting him up for some first-team work.
Browns coach Mike Pettine made no secret prior to the scrimmage that it would mean more than practice, and the games would mean more than the scrimmage.

Manziel had a productive scrimmage -- not so much in terms of numbers, but in terms of the way he played and what he got done. He ran around, he moved, he threw what should have been a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge and shortly after threw another that should have been a touchdown to Charles Johnson. Barnidge was incorrectly ruled out of bounds, and Johnson could not handle the throw as he was hit.

Manziel squeezed in two throws to receivers on the sidelines as he ran out of bounds, and he ran the read-option plays he was given well. He ran for first downs, threw for a first down on a fourth down, and made a lovely throw to Barnidge for what should have been a score.

Perspective matters here -- both positive and negative.

Manziel started slow, turned the wrong way on a handoff, and admitted he's adjusting even to hearing plays called from the sidelines. Pettine admits Manziel can't run every time and has to choose his spots, so he has much growth to do in terms of standing in the pocket, making a read, and completing a throw. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive coordinator who wants discipline, and he's already warned that teams will hem in Manziel, and his strength could easily become a weakness.

But Manziel also is a rookie running an offense far more complex than he was used to in college. "Cleveland Browns Daily," the team’s radio show, said one play might have as many as 16 words. That’s a tough adjustment for a guy used to a quick call and quick read and quick throw.

Now he’s doing pre-snap reads, calling protections and going through progressions.

So when he can make something of nothing while he learns, it’s meaningful.

What we don’t know is whether Manziel ran around with a purpose, or whether he ran around a la Colt McCoy, who seemed to scamper to his right frequently when his first read wasn’t there. If Manziel is running without a purpose, he has some growing to do. If he’s running with a purpose because that’s his game, well then have at it.

Brian Hoyer has been steady and solid in practice. He made a very large leap from Day 1 to Day 2 of training camp and has been consistent since. The one thing he’s not done, though, is improve tremendously since that day. He’s been right at or around the same level.

Criticizing the guy would be absurd given his attitude, professionalism and approach. He’s what every team needs in its players.

And when a Joe Thomas compares his competitiveness to Tom Brady, it’s worth listening and giving him time to progress.

It would still make sense for Hoyer to start the opener. Manziel remains a rookie, and the Browns do open at Pittsburgh.

But Manziel no doubt will start to get reps with the starters this week (it hasn’t happened yet), which will increase the attention and scrutiny. And when Pettine kind of off-handedly says that they started training camp with Hoyer as the starter “because we had to have someone out there with the 1s,” it raises eyebrows.

In theory, Manziel should get better as he learns the offense.

In theory, his plays with his feet should help an offense that will need help.

In reality, he’s a highly ballyhooed first-round pick who did some noteworthy things in a scrimmage.

He took advantage of his chance in the scrimmage, and he’s changed the conversation a bit.

If Manziel does the same things in Detroit, the conversation might just become a full-fledged discussion.
BEREA, Ohio -- Joe Thomas has reached the point in his career where he is given days off during Cleveland Browns' training camp.

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP PhotoVeteran tackle Joe Thomas runs sprints during a conditioning test at the Browns' training camp facility in Berea, Ohio.
It's a sign of respect, and in Thomas' case it's respect for sustained and consistent excellence in each of his seven previous seasons in the league, when he's made seven Pro Bowls and never missed a snap.

Thomas remains ever dedicated, ever courteous. He also is unfailingly humble. But as his career progresses, he has become more and more insightful about the game's nuances and games within the game.

So when he speaks, it's worth listening. There will be no outrageousness, and no fudging of the truth either. Monday, Thomas spoke with the media for the first time since training camp began, touching on two issues of interest -- the running game and Brian Hoyer (he was not crusading for Hoyer, merely answering questions).

Thomas spent most of last season talking about the running game being an NFL dinosaur and saying that to win in the modern age teams had to throw the ball. He even went as far as to say he'd never draft a running back in the first round. Now, though, he plays for a team that (assuming Josh Gordon is suspended) will have to run the ball effectively to win.

Thomas acknowledged the irony, but added the Kyle Shanahan system -- an offshoot of his father Mike Shanahan -- would have the Browns closer to a 50-50 run-pass split than at any time in his career regardless. He said Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme is dependent on the run because it relies heavily on play-action.

"You need to be able to run those wide zones, even if it gets one or zero yards, to keep the safeties up," Thomas said. "It's when they're trying to fill in the run game that you can hit those big plays over the top."

Thomas said the Browns and Baltimore (with Shanahan disciple Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator) are the only two teams to run the zone-blocking system, which requires lateral movement from linemen and a back who can read the hole, plant and hit the hole with authority. Thomas said the zone-blocking scheme is drastically different than anything he's done, but it fits the skills of the team's offensive line better than any system in his career. That's because the Browns have guys who can move in Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz.

"This is in my opinion one of the only schemes that you can run the ball consistently," Thomas said, "because you make those defensive linemen run sideline to sideline. And it does set up the passing game that we run very, very well."

Regarding Hoyer, Thomas had nothing but praise. He was careful not to compare Hoyer to Johnny Manziel, or to say that one or the other would start. He simply praised Hoyer as "every bit one of the best competitors in the NFL."

"No matter if we drafted a quarterback No. 1 overall, I knew that in his mind he expected to win the job," Thomas said.

He added Hoyer is never hesitant or afraid to challenge teammates on the field, and he is much more vocal than it might appear.

"He has less starts than probably any guy but a rookie who's out there starting right now," Thomas said. "He commands a level of respect because of the way he goes about his business doing things the right way and acting like he's the starting quarterback that's taken us to five playoffs.

"I think it's that attitude and that swagger that demands respect, and he also goes out and he backs it up on the field where he throws the ball to the right person, he's doing the right things, he's getting everybody on the same page. That's just as much the role of the quarterback as throwing touchdown passes."
AURORA, Ohio -- Monday was coach Mike Pettine's turn to calm the frayed nerves of Cleveland Browns fans.

"We do have a plan," Pettine said about the team's receiver situation.

He would not detail the plan or hint at it, but he confidently stated the team has a plan to address a perceived need at receiver for the Browns.

The talk about the spot has raged in Cleveland since the report broke that Josh Gordon would miss the season due to a failed drug test, a report Pettine could not address specifically. But he did address the receiver position, and the fact that the Browns did not draft a receiver even though they were aware of Gordon's failed test, as reported by "Outside the Lines."

"This situation didn't call for panic," Pettine said.

Which is always a positive.

Gordon's teammates expressed strong hope that Gordon still can play. All admitted losing him would be a serious blow.

"He is a key player to us," linebacker Jabaal Sheard said. "It's important that we have him. Hopefully that's not the situation."

"He's a great player, that's the bottom line," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "One of the best receivers in the league."

Pettine, though, echoed the thoughts of GM Ray Farmer, who said the Browns have to be a team that can withstand the loss of a player.

"Losing players for extended periods of time is part of the game," Pettine said. "Successful franchises are the ones with enough depth built and enough options scheme-wise, coaching-wise to account for it."

The issue is what happens when the Browns lose this particular player, as it certainly seems they will. Players leaned on the "next man up" theory, and said they believe they still can win.

Depending on what happens, tight end Jordan Cameron could be most affected by Gordon's absence.

"You have to pay extra special attention to [Gordon] when he's out there," Cameron said. "Obviously that takes eyes off of me. But I feel like [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] will figure out a way to make things happen. He'll find ways to get guys the ball and be creative."
ESPN’s Todd McShay was talking about the quarterbacks in the draft last week when he said he’s never heard as many varying opinions about players as he has this year.

Everyone he talks to in the NFL, it seems, has a different way to look at them, and a different feeling on them.

So it is especially with Johnny Manziel, the most polarizing and potentially exciting player in the draft, a player coach Mike Pettine said can be “galvanizing” for a team.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsWill Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel's improvising ways make him an NFL success? Opinions vary.
Pettine also said he would defer to his experts on picking a quarterback -- which would be offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

“I can say what a good one looks like, but there are times where I don’t know if I can say why he’s good,” Pettine said.

He then declined to discuss specifics about Manziel, saying he’d simply prefer not to.

Shanahan said he has his players in order, that he doesn’t like to sit on the fence. He’s expressed his opinion, and said there are several quarterbacks who can play.

He even offered his thoughts about the feeling that Manziel’s free-wheeling style might not translate to the NFL.

“If you can make those plays in college, you can do it in the NFL,” Shanahan said. “The one thing about the NFL is there’s a lot of tape out there. You have to be able to do everything. Eventually what you do very good, they’re going to eventually shut that down and you’re going to have to do something else.

“He’s going to be able to make plays in this league, and eventually when you try to contain him he’s going to have to do things he didn’t always have to do in college.”

Barkevious Mingo played against Manziel in college, sacked him once.

“It was hard to get your hands on him,” Mingo said. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring that same thing, if a coach allows him to, wherever he goes. He’s tricky whatever he does. You really have to prepare for him.”

“I think Nick Saban said it best,” linebacker Quentin Groves said. “He’s the hardest guy to prepare for.”

The question is whether Manziel can do the same scrambling and freelancing in the pros, where the guys chasing the quarterback are bigger, stronger and faster.

“Some of the stuff maybe not, but you can’t take away what he does well,” Mingo said. “And that’s he makes people miss. At the end of the day quarterbacks get paid to stay on their feet. If he can do it better by running outside the pocket, then people upstairs are going to be happy.”

“You have to realize this,” Groves said. “It takes defensive coordinators a year to catch up with what’s new."

There is also the factor of “Johnny Football” joining a team. Whoever drafts Manziel accepts the circus with him that will include national media attention and celebrity glitz. Not many college quarterbacks have ex-Presidents at their workouts.

Groves said he believes the Browns can handle it because they’re a mature team, but he also hedged when asked if the team was ready for all that Manziel brings, including the hype.

“If you want to sell tickets it would be good for that,” he said. “If you’re trying to sell jerseys, it would be good for that. The business side. But ... football. I’m not sure. I can’t comment on that.”

As McShay said, the comments are all over the board.
Derek Carr's workout for the Cleveland Browns showed why the Browns are skipping players' pro days.

The Browns were able to send their coaches to or near Fresno State and have Carr make throws they wanted to see, not the ones he wanted to do. GM Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got to watch Carr up close and personal.

Carr said on SiriusXM NFL Radio after the workout that it was definitely driven by the Browns.

Carr
"Everyone was standing there, talking, of course, giving their input, things they wanted to see," Carr said on "Late Hits," hosted by Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt. "We do their drills. They really want to tire you out. When you do individual drills, they want to tire you out, see how you're feeling, really grind you a little bit. And then you throw routes when you're really tired, like a football game. Then some bootlegs, they want to see how you move on the run when you're tired. Then we do some reads that they have."

The Browns also had dinner with Carr the night before.

Lo and behold, in two days they got a longer, more in-depth and more personal interview than the 15 minutes they'd have had at the combine, and a longer, more focused workout than they would have seen at the pro day.

Johnny Manziel's pro day may have set new standards. His turned into more of a sideshow than a revealing workout. The apparel that Manziel wore for his workout were soon put on sale by Nike after the pro day -- and here we thought he wore football stuff to simulate football conditions -- and Manziel made a show to thank all the scouts and team officials for finding their way to Texas A&M, a place he called hard to find. Never mind all in attendance had probably been to College Station several times before.

Rest assured, though, Johnny Football has gone away. #sarcasmfont

Carr told SiriusXM that the workout went exactly as he hoped, which is to be expected, but he also said doing it for just the Browns was "a great experience."

There's nothing wrong with the way the Browns are going about this scouting process.

The only thing that would be wrong would be getting the pick wrong.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine disputed reports that there was any problem with Kyle Shanahan’s interview to be the offensive coordinator, and in the process gave a little lesson in journalistic ethics.

“I was in there with Kyle for the interview part,” Pettine said Thursday, “and I think it shocked both of us that it came out that he was ‘blunt force trauma’ in the interview and things didn’t go well.”

Pettine was asked about a rumor making the rounds that Shanahan was very direct with Browns CEO Joe Banner about the firing of Rob Chudzinski after one season, and that Shanahan was unimpressive in his interview.

“To my knowledge it did not happen,” Pettine said of the discussion with Banner.

[+] EnlargeKyle Shanahan
AP Photo/Alex BrandonKyle Shanahan has spent six years as an offensive coordinator, most recently with Washington.
He added that he did not believe Shanahan and Banner had a separate, private meeting.

Pettine said Shanahan did impress. The new Browns coach had a lengthy list of positives that Shanahan brings, but the most important trait was his experience. Pettine is a defensive coach, and he liked the fact that Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator for six years, with an offense that ranked in the Top 10 in four of the six years.

“It would have been very difficult to have a first-year coordinator on the offensive side,” Pettine said.

He and Shanahan said the important task of evaluating players will start now, and that the offense will be tailored to the skills of the players on the team.

The successes and struggles with Robert Griffin III also were discussed, including the fact that Shanahan and his father Mike Shanahan played Griffin in the playoffs as a rookie when he had an injured knee. Griffin was obviously hobbling, and he wound up tearing his ACL in that game, which set him back in 2013.

“When it was all said and done and we heard about it, it was nothing that I felt reflected poorly on Kyle,” Pettine said.

Shanahan also talked with the Browns at length about Griffin’s struggles in a 3-13 season in 2013. Griffin wound up missing the final three games.

“I didn’t feel like I needed to be assured (about it),” Pettine said. “He opened up about it and talked about it at length. It was something that I didn’t think was an issue at all. He was very passionate about it, and he talked about the relationship in similar terms.”

"Any time you go through a 3-13 season, it is a challenge," Shanahan said. "It’s a challenge on your relationship. It’s a challenge with everybody in the building. You’ve got to deal with a lot of stuff, a lot of negativity, and the thing I learned going through that, especially with a high-profile guy, there’s a lot more stuff that comes out.

"The thing that I always did with him, and that we did with each other, is when stuff would come out, we’d address it. We’d get into our room. We’d talk about it and make sure we felt good about it, and I think Robert and I -- through a very tough time -- we managed to keep our relationship through the year.

"I’m not going to say it was easy. Nothing’s easy when you go through something like that. But I do believe going through it, Robert and I in the long run, it’ll make both of us better."

Pettine said negatives are exaggerated when things go bad with a team. He said the narrative when he left the Jets and Rex Ryan to work in Buffalo was that he had a falling out with Ryan.

“It’s absolutely not true,” Pettine said, “but I think people try to fill the gaps in that, ‘That must be the case because he left.’”

Which circled back to his comments on the reports that Shanahan had a bad interview and was not impressive.

“Some stuff was either prematurely reported or was reported wrong,” Pettine said, referring to other reports that Cam Cameron might join the Browns. “I know the difficult job that people have. It’s get it right and get it first, and I know that’s a priority, but sometimes I think get it first is taking top billing over getting it right in some situations.”

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