AFC North: Mike Lombardi

When a head coach is hired before a general manager, the head coach usually wields the most influence with the team.

Think Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He was hired immediately after the Bucs fired Greg Schiano, and his imprint and approach will be all over the team. In the more extreme sense, think former coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. He convinced former Browns owner Randy Lerner to hire George Kokinis as GM, then Mangini ran the team.

But with every rule there are exceptions, and thus it is with the Cleveland Browns of 2014, where neither the GM nor the coach will have the most influence with the team. That influence appears to be shared, with guidance coming from owner Jimmy Haslam.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony Dejak"I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed," GM Ray Farmer said.
GM Ray Farmer will be in charge of football operations, but he and coach Mike Pettine will share authority and work together in this latest incarnation of Browns' rebuilding. Farmer ultimately will be in charge of the 53-man roster and Pettine will be in charge of the roster on game days.

“(Picking players) will be a collaborative effort,” Haslam said. “I think that we’ve got a great group of scouts, and I think that Pett and his coaching staff -- we talked about this at dinner last night -- will participate, and I think that we’ll all work together to get the best players we can.”

It’s not an unusual setup. In fact, it’s very much like the setup in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert handles personnel, Mike Tomlin handles coaching, and Art Rooney runs the team. Tomlin can go to Rooney at any point, and though Colbert has a lot of authority, it’s tough to call him Tomlin’s boss. The structure can work.

What is unusual is the timing. In most cases, the owner would want the new GM involved actively in choosing the new coach. That did not happen, through no fault of Haslam.

It seems the owner entered the coaching search without plans to make an overhaul. It actually seems that the coaching search contributed to the decision to make the overhaul.

Which means Farmer becomes GM at what could be an awkward time, but doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be if those involved don’t want it to be awkward, and don’t let it be awkward.

The job for Pettine and Farmer is to win. To set aside egos and win.

The way to win is for Pettine to let Farmer know what kind of players he wants, and for Farmer to find those players. That process has started.

“(Pettine) has already kind of set forward the players and how they kind of stack up for his scheme, the importance of one position versus another,” Farmer said. “As we work through those, I’ll get a better idea of what he needs to be successful.”

Pettine and Farmer have been impressive since being hired. Pettine is firm, straightforward and honest. Farmer has hit a lot of right notes in a couple of days since he was named GM. He’s personable, bright, answers a question, and does so without a lot of ego. He gets the idea of being on a team because he was a player, and seems to have a little something-something, a presence, that gives reason for hope. He’s also respected by many throughout the league.

None of that will draft a Pro Bowler or win a game, but it’s a good starting point.

In a recent radio interivew on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Farmer was asked what kind of team he would build. He said tough, because that’s the kind of team Pettine wants to build.

Farmer said Tuesday that the Browns already have multiple draft boards, but they would change as he consults with coaches. He said the draft is about preparation, that by the time players are picked “the hay is in the barn.”

“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”

If that sounds like it had a good dose of humility, it’s because it did.
Jimmy Haslam’s remake (i.e. streamlining) of the Cleveland Browns front office was a major bombshell.

But according to league sources familiar with the way things went with the Browns in 2013, the decision was a culmination of Haslam, the Browns' owner, coming to grips with several factors, primarily that the structure CEO Joe Banner convinced him to build was not working.

Whether that was because of the personality of the people involved or because of the structure itself is a matter of opinion.

Haslam spoke highly of Banner even as he was announcing his departure.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
AP Photo/Tony DejakTrading star WR Josh Gordon would likely have been a PR disaster for the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Haslam said. He then called former general manager Mike Lombardi a great friend who has “great football acumen.” Haslam added that he and Banner had been discussing this streamlining for two weeks. It would be tough to find a higher road for the owner, which is admirable.

The sources said the change in the team’s structure with both coach Mike Pettine and new GM Ray Farmer reporting directly to Haslam is a fallout from the former system, which had everyone providing information to Banner.

The owner prefers more direct channels.

The sources also addressed several reports of what happened with the Browns last season:

• One source said Lombardi favored trading Josh Gordon. On the day Gordon was selected in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012, Lombardi -- then an analyst with NFL.com -- criticized the selection. Former coach Rob Chudzinski, aware his receiving corps would have been left with Greg Little and Davone Bess and who knows, worked hard to keep Gordon. Eventually, Banner did not like the offers he received. Gordon went on to lead the league in receiving yards. He averaged 97 yards per game before the trade deadline in late October, 133 after.

Lombardi would not comment on his position on Gordon, and declined comment on other matters related to the team and season. Chudzinski now works for the Indianapolis Colts, who make their assistants available only at certain times of the year. Now is not one of those times.

• Banner did not ask Chudzinski to cut Little and guard Shawn Lauvao. However, Banner’s personnel moves did leave Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner frustrated. Bess was brought in by Lombardi to be the dependable third-down guy. He was anything but. At one point the Browns had Bess starting ahead of Little, an indicator of the coaches’ frustration and “what are we supposed to do” thinking. There was ongoing frustration about the running back position. Farmer was asked Tuesday if Banner was a good judge of football talent, and he thought a moment before answering: “I could tell you that Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation.”

• The only time the team seriously discussed acquiring a back after the Trent Richardson trade was when the possibility of trading Gordon was discussed. When Richardson was traded, there was no other immediate plan to acquire a back.

• Banner tried to exert control over much -- from personnel to offensive system, which galled the former coaching staff given the experience of Turner.

• The coaching staff considered the draft a near waste. Barkevious Mingo at the sixth pick was a situational pass-rusher, and Leon McFadden was drafted two rounds earlier than the team’s scouts projected. The team also traded two picks in 2013 for picks in 2014. Those picks will benefit the new coaching staff at the expense of the old. “Ridiculous,” said one NFL coach.

• The mesh between the scouts held over from former GM Tom Heckert to Lombardi was difficult. No scouts were in the Browns' draft room during the ‘13 draft. Many transitions with a front office and scouts are tough; this one seemed tougher.

• The free agents and acquisitions were much touted, but league insiders point out that only Paul Kruger started with his former team. Quentin Groves, Desmond Bryant and Dion Lewis were backups. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well and earned the respect of everyone, but there were very few coaches in the league who saw him as a starter when the Browns acquired him.

• In the news conference after Chudzinski was fired, Banner called Groves, Bryant and Lewis “excellent additions.” Haslam sat to Banner’s left as he spoke. All six of the team’s Pro Bowlers, though, were brought in by either Heckert, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage.

• Haslam gained much of his insight on the team from Banner, who was the voice between Lombardi, the coaches and Haslam.

• There is a belief that Haslam’s eyes were opened to how his team was viewed around the league as the 25-day coaching search took place. In talking with people from other teams, Haslam learned firsthand of the reluctance of some coaches to work in the Browns' old structure, and of the difficulty in dealing with the Browns in terms of trades. Peter King wrote on SI.com that the first question Ken Whisenhunt asked when the Browns interviewed him this year was why he was not hired a year ago. Banner told Whisenhunt he did not believe Whisenhunt was putting together a championship staff. “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship staff?” Whisenhunt snapped.

• It may have meant something or nothing, but one of the last things Haslam said Tuesday was: “I think we got the best coach we could get.”

Piece everything together and it’s evident why Haslam preferred a more streamlined operation.

He wants people working together, reporting to him, with no filter between the voices.

The structure seems almost as clear as the reasons that prompted it.
Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner and Mike LombardiAP Photo/Mark DuncanBrowns owner Jimmy Haslam, right, is parting ways with Mike Lombardi, center, and CEO Joe Banner.
BEREA, Ohio -- If what Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam did on Tuesday was streamlining, it would be downright frightening to see his overhaul.

The coffee cups might not even be safe.

Haslam blew up not only his front office structure on Tuesday, but also blew out the people he initially hired to run it. CEO Joe Banner will transition out of the front office over the next two months, and general manager Mike Lombardi is gone. Both were said to be shocked at the moves, though Haslam said he and Banner discussed streamlining the team’s structure two weeks ago. If those realities sound implausible, well ... hey ... it’s the Browns.

Ray Farmer is the new GM, promoted from assistant GM. Alec Scheiner becomes a true president, in charge of business operations with no CEO over him.

They, along with coach Mike Pettine, will report directly to Haslam.

Haslam chose not to dump dirt on the folks who are leaving, praising them effusively for the jobs they did and thanking them over and over. But it’s pretty clear the NFL-arranged marriage between Haslam and Banner didn’t work, and Haslam wanted to regain charge of his team.

He called it a streamlining that he and Banner discussed and agreed to, which would make it one of the few times in history that an NFL CEO streamlined himself out of a job.

Haslam explained it by saying Banner was adept at building a new organization, and he had done that. His work in Cleveland, evidently, was over.

“Jimmy just corrected a mistake,” one league coach said.

Haslam spoke in his news conference in a way that would have made the governor of Tennessee proud, a man who just happens to be Haslam’s brother.

But this streamlining sure seemed to carry a ton of accountability with it. Though Haslam again denied there is a negative public perception of the Browns, there is no denying the team has been buffeted about in heavy seas without a sail in recent months.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakRay Farmer was named Cleveland's GM on Tuesday.
There were puzzling personnel decisions during the season, the distasteful leaks as Rob Chudzinski tried to coach the season finale, Norv Turner’s emotional reaction to the coaching change (the thought alone of Turner being let go by the Browns is mind-boggling), the Davone Bess trade and contract extension, followed by his bizarre behavior after the season and his even more bizarre tweets and news that he had similar issues prior to his trade.

There was the extended coaching search, with coaches declining to take the job -- including Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen. Wisconsin admitted Tuesday that he had interviewed but decided to stay with the Badgers.

There was Josh McDaniels pulling out, after Chip Kelly chose Philadelphia over Cleveland a year ago, after Nick Saban chose not to interview. Their common denominator is they were all said to be in Lombardi’s circle.

There was more, and as time goes on more will come out. Banner always ran a team with a firm hand, leading, some said, by fear and intimidation. It can work, but it wasn’t popular. At last year’s draft, the team scouts rated cornerback Leon McFadden as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and the Browns took him in the third round. Future draft picks were traded away. Tony Grossi reported on ESPN-850 radio in Cleveland that he spoke with two NFL insiders at the Super Bowl, two Lombardi guys, and they both said Banner was to blame for what was wrong in Cleveland, that Banner was calling the shots.

Banner was deep into analytics, numbers, while old-time football guys would favor old-time scouting. Lombardi perfected the “box test,” which supposedly tested player agility. Old-time football guys favor how a guy tackles and closes on receivers. Lombardi never met with the media, a decision made by Banner, who handled personnel questions and decisions.

Asked if Banner was a good judge of football talent, Farmer said this: “Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I’d say that’s a good representation."

Banner did secure $30 million in funding from the city of Cleveland for stadium renovations, and he did bring Farmer to Cleveland from Kansas City and juggled titles so Farmer could join the team.

But the Browns did not resemble a team working together. In the past month they resembled a team eating its own, with folks struggling to protect their fiefdoms.

An owner who came from the Steelers' tradition had to look at his structure and wonder what was happening. Because hiring a coach into the same structure was not going to change the operation.

Haslam now has taken a drastic step ... err ... has streamlined to put a guy in charge who garners near universal respect around the league. Farmer hit all the right notes in his news conference, saying “It’s time to make people proud of the Browns again.” That won’t help him select a quarterback, but there almost seemed to be a breath of relief from the fandom following these changes.

A business guy is running business.

A football guy is running football.

A coach is coaching.

All report to the owner.

Imagine that. A respected longtime football guy running football. As anyone in Cleveland can attest, it doesn’t guarantee wins. But it’s something.

For team and a fan base that has had little reason for optimism the past many years, something is meaningful.
At the risk of developing a relationship with everyone in the Twitter-sphere -- admit it, it's a scary thought -- today marks the debut of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag, named partly in honor of David Letterman.

Post your Browns questions on Twitter. Just send them to me @PatMcManamon with #BrownsMail on the post. I'll sort through and find the best and give as honest an answer as I can, time and space and legalities permitting. Your tweets will be embedded in the post, so please, keep them appropriate.

This wouldn't be me if I were entirely serious, so quirky questions are welcome, provided they pass the personal taste test, standards enacted by Sir Laurence Olivier and me.

On to the first edition of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag.

Owner Jimmy Haslam talked about hiring a proven winner to replace Rob Chudzinski, so it was odd when the first names that surfaced in the Cleveland Browns' coaching search were coordinators.

Then on Sunday, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the Browns were interested in two college coaches: Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. These names could fall under the category Haslam described.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Browns are reportedly interested in Gus Malzahn, who led Auburn to the BCS title game in his first season as head coach.
Malzahn's name is interesting. He's this year's Chip Kelly, the guy the Browns did not get a year ago. That failure stung, especially after Kelly initially indicated he'd return to Oregon but then joined the Eagles and led them to the playoffs. The timing isn't good for Malzahn, who is preparing his Auburn team to play Florida State in the national title game. But if Malzahn's goal is to be in the NFL, the timing won't matter.

Malzahn was Cam Newton's offensive coordinator when the Tigers won the national title. He spent a year as head coach at Arkansas State before returning to be the head coach at Auburn this season. Like Kelly, he has been tied to the read-option offense.

Franklin is a former Packers assistant who had success in one of the toughest places in the SEC to have success, Vanderbilt. He has also been rumored to be on the list of other NFL teams with openings, and his name has been floated in relation to Penn State, which needs a coach after Bill O'Brien left for the Houston Texans.

The college names are interesting, because it's tough for NFL coordinators to have proven records of winning. College head coaches can.

While most in the league shook their head at the firing of Chudzinski after one season, almost as many are interested to see who is hired. In the structure the Browns have, Banner is in charge of football and personnel. A coach would have to accept that structure.

Other names that have surfaced include:

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. At first glance McDaniels would seem to be a front-runner. He's from Northeast Ohio and went to college at John Carroll in suburban Cleveland. But sources have said Banner must be convinced, and that could be a challenge. McDaniels would seem to want control over personnel the way Belichick has it in New England. Given the Browns structure, that demand might be tough to meet.

Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Good guy, respected coach. He worked for the Browns from 2001 to 2004 as defensive backs coach before moving on to the Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles and Cardinals, where he was Bruce Arians' choice to coach the defense. It's tough to find anyone who will say much negative about Bowles. He also would fill the league's Rooney Rule mandate.

Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He will also interview with the Vikings. Under Quinn this season, Seattle led the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed and interceptions. He spent two years as the Florida Gators' coordinator, and has been an assistant with several NFL teams.

Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Every year there's a young coordinator who garners attention. It appears this year it's Gase, who had the benefit of working with Peyton Manning. That sure helps a coach look good, but it also helps a coach gain knowledge. Don't discount the recommendation Manning may have given on behalf of Gase; Manning and Haslam are friends. Gase, though, could hurt his chances by deciding not to interview until the Broncos' postseason run is over. It's an admirable stance, but the Browns may not wait.
The Cleveland Browns are officially on the clock. The Browns must deliver a franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft, or the next excruciatingly painful 14 weeks will be an utter waste.

The white flag was raised on the Browns' 2013 season Wednesday afternoon when they shocked the football world by trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick. I initially thought someone had hacked Adam Schefter's Twitter account when I read the news. Trading your top player for a draft pick after two games? This is strange even by the Browns' standards. The Browns received a pick that will likely end up in the bottom half of the first round and are left with no offense for the rest of the season. This is a bad trade, and the only way the Browns can save face is by finding the new face of the franchise.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/James CrispThe Cleveland Browns will surely take a hard look at taking Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 draft.
Browns CEO Joe Banner, general manager Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski are pushing all of their chips into the 2014 draft, which is 232 days away for those wondering when the Browns can become relevant again. The Browns have multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds, giving them the means to draft the quarterback of the future that they want.

Will it be Teddy Bridgewater? Johnny Manziel? Or how about Tajh Boyd? I have no idea right now. All I know is the Browns had better be right after mortgaging this season so quickly.

“Right now, based on how we’re building this team for sustainable success, we’re going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins," Banner said in a statement.

Browns fans, who have enjoyed just two winning seasons since the team rejoined the league in 1999, don't want to hear about "building." They want some assurance that this team is headed in the right direction. Right now, hope and offensive talent are in short supply in Cleveland.

The day began with the Browns announcing Brian Hoyer will replace the injured Brandon Weeden at starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Minnesota. It ended with Cleveland announcing Willis McGahee is coming to town to replace Richardson, if McGahee passes his physical. McGahee for Richardson? Even the worst fantasy football owners are snickering about this.

Richardson hasn't lived up to the hype of being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012. His career average of 3.5 yards per carry is less than pedestrian. It's easy to say the Browns lost with Richardson and can lose without him. That's not seeing the big picture. If that's the case, the Browns should trade Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, too.

All you have to do is watch Richardson to see his potential. He played most of his rookie season with broken ribs. He was running behind an offensive line this year that doesn't get any push off the ball. Richardson is a powerful and versatile runner who has the talent to be a top-five back in this league. The Colts will give him the opportunity and carries to prove that.

This is the latest move showing the Browns' new regime wants its own players. Of the 27 players drafted by former general manager Tom Heckert from 2010 to 2012, only 15 are currently on the 53-man roster, with Richardson being the latest to go. Now, the decision-makers can set their sights on getting their own quarterback.

My question is who's going to take the handoffs from the new quarterback? Young quarterbacks in this league had reliable runners. Matt Ryan had Michael Turner, and Joe Flacco has Ray Rice. Richardson would have been an integral part of the supporting cast for a rookie first-round pick.

I understand the need to get the quarterback position fixed. That has to be a priority for a franchise that is on its 19th starting quarterback since 1999. Weeden knows he has no future after hearing of the Richardson trade. Hoyer is merely a stop-gap.

The pressure is on the new regime to get the right franchise quarterback in 2014. If not, it could be the one getting sacked in a few years.
Cleveland Browns coach Rob Chudzinski made it clear that he isn't ready to name a starting quarterback just yet, describing the competition between Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell as "close."

Do I understand why he said it? Yes. Do I believe him? Definitely not.

Weeden
Weeden has taken every single snap with the first-team offense in training camp. He showed progress in the Browns' new offensive system in the preseason opener, when he completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.

It kind of reminds me of the duck test. If Weeden looks like a starting quarterback and plays like a starting quarterback, then he is probably the starting quarterback.

If I were in Chudzinski's situation, I wouldn't have named Weeden the undisputed starter just yet either. You don't want Weeden to rest on one good start, and you don't want Campbell to stop putting pressure on Weeden. There are still three and a half weeks until the Browns start the season, and Weeden hasn't earned anything so far.

What I don't agree with is Chudzinski calling the quarterback battle "close." I'm sure even Campbell doesn't believe it. This comes across as a silly mind game. Chudzinski should have just stuck with his opening answer: "There's a point where I will name a starting quarterback. I am not ready to do it yet."

When asked how he could describe the competition as close when Weeden has worked exclusively with the starters, Chudzinski said, "There's still three preseason games left so there's still a lot of work to be done, and we've still got plenty of practice time as well. Every day is an evaluation and they've each done well and shown good things along the way."

Continuing to challenge him in this manner is another example of the Browns' tough love with Weeden. This new regime didn't draft Weeden with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and this new regime probably wouldn't have used that pick on him if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi were calling the shots a year ago.

But Weeden is seen as a good fit in Chudzinski and Norv Turner's offense because of his strong arm. Many feel Weeden has 16 games this season to convince the Browns' decision-makers that he can be the team's franchise quarterback. Based on Chudzinski's comments Tuesday, it will take a while for Weeden to find out where he stands.

Links: Big jump for Bengals' A.J. Green

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
8:35
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Baltimore Ravens

Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun continues his opponent previews with a look at the Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens are well represented on NFL Network's top 100 list.

Cincinnati Bengals

Wide receiver A.J. Green made a huge jump up the rankings this year, coming in at No. 16.

Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com: "The run of productive undrafted backers that began with Dan Skuta in 2009 during defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's second season with the club not only highlights his coaching powers, Zimmer's eye for development with former position coach Jeff FitzGerald and current linebackers coach Paul Guenther, and the depth of scouting by player personnel, it also reflects an area of expertise in the head coach's office."

Cleveland Browns

Matt Florjancic of the team's website goes in-depth with an early preview of Cleveland's matchup with the Chicago Bears.

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora: "If we weren't already convinced that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a major undertaking ahead, well, one look around now closes that case. Make no mistake, none of this has anything to do with the Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi/Rob Chudzinski regime now in place, but after this spring it's increasingly clear just how little they inherited from preceding drafts. And Turner -- maybe the NFL's best offensive play-caller -- will need all of his creativity to overcome a dramatic lack in talent on that side of the ball."

Pittsburgh Steelers

Safety Ryan Clark has made it known he would like to end his career playing for the Steelers.

Should the NFL draft leave New York City, team president Art Rooney II would like to see the Steelers considered as a possible host.
By now, everyone knows the Cleveland Browns agreed on a two-year contract with quarterback Brian Hoyer. The question that remains is Hoyer's role.

Hoyer
My take on Hoyer is he's a notch below backup quarterback Jason Campbell but probably better than most teams' No. 3. Unless Brandon Weeden struggles mightily in training camp and the preseason, the only spot Hoyer is competing for is the backup one.

Do I know this for certain? No. There's reason to think Hoyer will be given an opportunity to have a significant role, based on an old quote from Browns general manager Mike Lombardi when he was an NFL Network analyst. It was dug up by The Plain Dealer.

"I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters," Lombardi said in December 2011. "I've said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I'd rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he's got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team."

Before there is a buzz about Hoyer battling for the starting job, you should consider two points: Head coach Rob Chudzinski will decide the starting quarterback for the Browns and this quote is 17 months old. Since Lombardi said this, Hoyer has made one career start and bounced from New England to Pittsburgh to Arizona.

His career numbers are one start, a 59.4 completion rate, 616 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Not exactly starting-quarterback statistics there. Also, if the Browns wanted Hoyer to be the starter, they would've traded a late-round pick for him during the draft (which was the speculation) instead of hoping he would get released.

Right now, the Browns are proceeding with Weeden, who took snaps with the first team for the second minicamp in a row.

"This means a lot to me," Weeden told reporters Thursday. "This is my job. I take it seriously and I want to be the guy."

If Weeden fails to be "the guy," I believe the next quarterback up is Campbell and not Hoyer.
Cleveland Browns general manager Mike Lombardi recently spoke about the team's focus on building first-half leads.

"If you can't effectively throw the ball, if you can't get the lead ... early in the game, if you can't rush the passer, then you're going to have a hard time winning," Lombardi told The Plain Dealer. "One of the most critical statistics in football today is first-half point differential. The top five teams that lead at halftime ... typically are always going to be playoff-caliber type of teams."

This goes back to the old Indianapolis Colts strategy of jumping out to a big lead on the arm of Peyton Manning and then unleashing pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on the quarterback. The Browns have certainly done their part on the defensive side of the ball. They stocked up on pass-rushers this offseason, signing Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves in free agency and drafting Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick. The challenge for coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner is jump-starting Cleveland's offense.

Cleveland didn't score a touchdown in the first quarter until the fourth game of the season and finished with 50 points in the first quarter for the season, which was the fifth-fewest in the NFL last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only the Philadelphia Eagles (31), Oakland Raiders (35), Dallas Cowboys (36) and Kansas City Chiefs (42) had fewer first-quarter points than the Browns.

Those struggles can be traced back to quarterback Brandon Weeden. As a rookie, he threw for 730 yards in the first quarter (an average of 45.6) with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His 39.3 Total QBR in the first quarter ranked 28th in the NFL.

As a result, Cleveland managed five leads at halftime and was just 3-2 in those games. The Browns' biggest halftime lead was 13-0 at Dallas, and they ended up losing that game in overtime. Overall, the Browns were outscored in the first half, 180-139.

In other words, Lombardi wants to turn a major trouble spot for the Browns last year into a strength this year.
The first post-draft chat not surprisingly had a lot of questions about the newest rookies in the AFC North. There was also a question about the most popular quarterback who has yet to find another job in the NFL. Here are some highlights from the chat ...

cp (reno): I was surprised the Steelers took Le'Veon Bell that early (second round). What do you think?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I was surprised, too. They had medical concerns with Eddie Lacy and had Le'Veon Bell as their top-rated back. There have been a lot of varying opinions on him. He is really the key to the Steelers' draft.





dan (lynchburg va): What was the biggest draft surprise from the AFC North?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Hands down, TE Tyler Eifert in the first round to the Bengals. I don't believe anyone saw this coming. But it showed that the Bengals weren't going to pass up a player with so much value even though he didn't address a need.





vince, nj [via mobile]: Would Tim Tebow fit in on the Browns? He has a playoff win (over a Browns division rival and Norv Turner saw what the kid could do first hand twice two years ago). Is he worth the media parade?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I know new Browns general manager Mike Lombardi liked him coming out of college (he talked about him when he was with the NFL Network) and he's close friends with Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow in Denver. But I just don't see the Browns inviting that drama to Cleveland.





Andrew (Cleveland): I know it's early, but how many wins will the Browns have next season? Although they didn't draft a lot of players, I think an improved coaching staff and aggressive schemes make them a .500 team in 2013.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Best possible scenario is 8-8. But I would bet against it.





Lewis (Miami County, Ohio.): Hi JH, Do you think Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga can step his game up this year or have we seen all that Rey has to offer?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I think he'll play better than last year. He seemed too distracted by the contract year.





Aaron (SLC): Do you think Cleveland is planning on trading [Jabaal] Sheard to get a veteran cornerback or free safety, or do the Browns think Leon McFadden and Jamoris Slaughter are the answers at those positions?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Browns officials said at the draft that there were no plans to trade Sheard.





Ben (Afton, Va): Is Jared Gaither a possibility at left tackle for Ravens or is his return to Baltimore as unlikely as Ray Lewis coming back next year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Gaither won't be here as long as John Harbaugh is coach there.





Martin (London, England) [via mobile]: Hi JH, if Shamarko Thomas shows well as a rookie do you the think the plan is to let Ryan Clark walk next year when his contract runs out?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): That's what the Steelers are hoping. They need to get younger and cheaper at that position.





Frank (beirut Lebanon): Are the Ravens a top-five defense this year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): With the moves they've made, they'll definitely be better than No. 17 from last year. Top 10 seems realistic.





Ed (Baltimore): Does Tandon Doss have the ability to fill the void left by Anquan Boldin?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Nothing I've seen from him over the past few years tells me that he can.





J.D. (Cleveland): Have you heard any rumblings of a Kerry Rhodes-Ray Horton reunion in Cleveland?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): That wouldn't surprise me. In fact, it makes sense. Browns have the cap room to do it. And they have a need.





Chris (Texas) [via mobile]: Do you see third-round wide receiver Markus Wheaton working his way into the starting receiver rotation this year for the Steelers?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Steelers have raved about how polished he is. Based on that, I would say he has a chance to be No. 3 or No. 4. He will likely contribute more on special teams than Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery, which will help him be active on game days.
There's increasing buzz that West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith will land with the Cleveland Browns, a team that has feigned interest in drafting a quarterback with their top pick for months.

In their latest mock drafts Wednesday, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock and Sports Illustrated's Peter King both have the Browns taking Smith, the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft. The Browns had been linked more to Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner because chief executive officer Joe Banner said a couple of times this offseason that quarterback wasn't the focus for the No. 6 overall pick.

The Browns, however, have done their homework on Smith and the rest of the quarterback class. Smith had a private workout with Cleveland, which was attended by coach Rob Chudzinski. Is this a matter of the Browns doing their due diligence, or are the Browns really interested?

"There are quarterbacks in this draft that are intriguing," Banner said at last week's pre-draft news conference. "We will have to make an evaluation between now and Thursday on just how intriguing. Other teams will be doing the same thing, so you will see what is available where. We are not going into it with a focus other than trying to build the team, especially at key positions that we think really, really good teams are strong at, and move forward that way."

It's known that general manager Mike Lombardi isn't a fan of Brandon Weeden based on his comments as a NFL Network analyst a year ago. What isn't known is the coaching staff's thoughts on Weeden, a first-round pick in 2012.

Asked about Weeden at the pre-draft news conference, Lombardi had neither good nor bad to say about the quarterback through three days of minicamp.

"I've been really busy," Lombardi said Thursday. "I've watched the tape (of Weeden). I am really studying on the draft at this point and watching the tape of the practice."

Only one team has drafted quarterbacks in the first round in consecutive years -- the 1982-83 Baltimore Colts (Art Schlichter and John Elway). Could the Browns become the second to do so?

Mayock certainly believes so: "When I look at Geno, I see a kid who's got everything you want to see in a franchise quarterback, but there's just too much bad tape. I would not take him this early; I would go for an edge or a corner. However, I really think Joe Banner might pull the trigger on the quarterback from West Virginia."

King has the Browns selecting Smith after trading with the San Diego Chargers to No. 11. "Don't let the smokescreen acquisition of Jason Campbell, a backup, fool you: the Browns want a QB in this draft, and they get one," King wrote.

My prediction? I still consider it a long shot that the Browns will take Smith at No. 6, although there is a better chance of them taking that gamble if they trade back. We'll find out what the Browns are really thinking when they're on the clock Thursday night.
Baltimore Ravens receiver-returner Jacoby Jones did the Cha Cha Cha -- at least that's the wife told me -- on his "Dancing With The Stars" debut Monday night. There was also a quarterback shuffle, Matt Hasselbeck went to the Colts, Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Titans, and that left the Browns and Bengals without a veteran quarterback. Now, let's move onto the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Owner Steve Bisciotti told the team's official website that his expectations for quarterback Joe Flacco haven't changed since giving him the biggest contract in NFL history. "Your expectation is that he’s going to be a solid, top-10 quarterback and keep us where we want to be, and that’s with a chance to get hot," Bisciotti said.
  • It appears that the Texans are willing to commit more money to safety Ed Reed, according to The Baltimore Sun. Although the Ravens would like Reed to return, the paper reported that the Ravens aren't willing to pay him $6 million per season.
  • The Ravens are among four teams who are interested in Raiders free-agent safety Michael Huff, according to The Baltimore Sun. The Packers, Cowboys and Titans are also looking at Huff.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Linebacker Rey Maualuga, who re-signed with the Bengals on Monday, told the team's official website that coaches informed him that he could stay at middle linebacker. There had been speculation that he would move to the outside and Vontaze Burfict would shift to the middle. "I would prefer to play MIKE (middle linebacker)," Maualuga said. "It just felt right and I think I know the defense in and out."
  • The Bengals' priority remains to re-sign offensive tackle Andre Smith and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Newman indicated he will have a deal done with the Bengals or Raiders by the end of the week.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Jason Worilds is considered the heir apparent to James Harrison at right outside linebacker, coach Mike Tomlin told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I believe that Jason Worilds is chomping at the bit to prove he is capable of being that," Tomlin said. "We will see what Worilds is capable of doing." Tomlin then added with a laugh, "No pressure."
  • The Steelers' cap constraints continue to limit the team's pursuit of free agents. "We desire to assemble the very best team we can assemble, but obviously we deal in a world of realism -- we have (constraints) from a salary-cap standpoint that could limit some of those thoughts,” Tomlin told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I'm not a big dreamer in that regard and (don't) spend a lot of time looking at things that aren't practical."
  • Tight end Matt Spaeth returned to the Steelers after officially signing his two-year, $2 million contract. "I told some people I left here with tears rolling down my face and I returned with a big smile," Spaeth told the team's website. Since the late 1970s, Spaeth is the 10th player drafted by the Steelers to rejoin the team for a second time, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • The Browns' private workout with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is simply an act of "due diligence," according to ESPN Radio in Cleveland. Chief executive officer Joe Banner reiterated Monday that the team isn't focused on taking a quarterback in the first round right now.
  • The competition committee used video replays of Trent Richardson’s hit on Eagles safety Kurt Coleman to illustrate what it believes should be an illegal play during a presentation Monday at the owners meeting, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. The NFL is considering a rule change this week that would penalize runners for lowering their helmets into tacklers.
  • Banner told The Plain Dealer that general manager Mike Lombardi is being shielded from the media spotlight because he's "a little bit of a lightning rod." Lombardi hasn't spoken to reporters since being promoted to GM on March 5.
  • Recently signed defensive lineman Desmond Bryant is being sued for his criminal incident last month, according to The Plain Dealer.
It's now less than a week away from the official start of free agency. Can't you just feel the tampering already? Actually, teams can negotiate with potential free agents beginning Saturday this year, but the deals can't be signed until Tuesday. For now, let's see what the wake-up call has in store ...

RAVENS: The Ravens are expected to address Joe Flacco's contract prior to the 2016 season, when the fourth year of his record deal has a $28.5 million salary-cap hit. "Depending on the salary cap, that's what will determine when we get to the fourth year, what they're going to have to do," Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, told The Baltimore Sun. "We really viewed this as sort of a three-year deal to make sure the first three years Joe was paid accordingly with the top guys in the league." Flacco will earn $62 million in the first three years of his six-year contract.

BENGALS: Sirius XM Radio tweeted that Dashon Goldson, the 49ers safety and soon-to-be free agent, is interested in playing for the Bengals. Before you picture the two-time Pro Bowl defender in a Bengals jersey, Goldson started out the radio interview by saying San Francisco is "home" and hopes it works out with the 49ers. Still, when told that the Bengals would be a good fit for him, Goldson said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer, "They’ve got a good football team down there. They’re on track and they’ve got a good quarterback and receivers. I will have to consider all my options and we’ll have to see whose interested in me.”

STEELERS: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he has fully recovered from a sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib that affected his play late in the season. "Not one person in this locker room ends the season 100 percent," he said. "I didn't end the season 100 percent but I felt healthier and better than I have in a long time. I'm working out earlier this year. I took one week off, one week. I have no issues." Roethlisberger did acknowledge for the first time that he didn't have the arm strength to make sideline throws -- which led to key interceptions against the Cowboys and Bengals in December -- after he came back from those injuries.
BROWNS: On the same day that Mike Lombardi received the title of general manager for the Browns, it looks like Kevin Costner will have the same role as well. According to the Buffalo News, the movie "Draft Day," which was originally set in Buffalo, will be shot in Cleveland. The reason: It's $3 million cheaper to film in Cleveland. The movie will now depict Costner as a fictitious Browns general manager trying to restore his team to past glory. That's been a familiar storyline for the Browns since the team returned to the league in 1999.

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