Saturday, February 1, 2014
QB would be key for Shanahan in Cleveland
By Matt Williamson
Kyle Shanahan, center, utilized Robert Griffin III's skill set, but lesser athletes can thrive in his system.
The Cleveland Browns are rumored to be very interested in hiring Kyle Shanahan to be their new offensive coordinator. This would be a very good opportunity for Shanahan to get out of the shadow of his father as well as presumably develop a young, talented quarterback, which is a great path to take for a potential head coaching job in the future.
But let's discuss the scheme that Shanahan would be employing and how Cleveland's current personnel fits what Shanahan wants to do, as well as what the Browns would have to address on this side of the ball.
In the Shanahans' offense, everything starts with their zone-running scheme. As most know, this running game needs offensive linemen with great movement skills, and they can compromise size and to some degree, power, for agility, quickness and great body control.
This offense calls for a lot of designed quarterback movement as well as an extensive play-action package. Obviously Robert Griffin is an extreme athlete and with him the Redskins can do a great deal of read-option, but this offense has been successful with lesser, but somewhat underrated athletes, such as Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler. Being able to move is a must for quarterbacks in this scheme. Considering his familiarity, maybe Shanahan would have interest in trading for Kirk Cousins to be his starter in Cleveland, but the most likely scenario is the Browns drafting a quarterback such as Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr for Shanahan to develop. Brian Hoyer will be an excellent backup, but most likely, the Browns' starting quarterback is not currently on their roster.
On the offensive line, Joe Thomas -- an elite pass protector -- really fits any scheme. He is on pace for a potential Hall of Fame career, and most importantly should be able to secure the blind side of the Browns' new quarterback, which of course should make the new signal-caller's transition easier. At right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz isn't incredibly light on his feet, but that is not a weakness of his, either. He has entrenched himself as a quality starter, and the Browns have no reason to make a change at this position.
The interior for Cleveland is a different story. In the middle, Alex Mack is a free agent and will cost quite a bit to retain. But I think it is a move that Cleveland should make. While he isn't the most physical guy or a true mauler in the middle, Mack does move very well and having an established high-end anchor in the middle of this line to team with the pair of tackles should allow Shanahan and the new quarterback to succeed at a more rapid rate early in their development. Guard was a need when the season ended and would be exacerbated with the implementation of Shanahan's offense. John Greco is a quality starting guard overall, but is a questionable scheme fit, while Shawn Lauvao -- another free agent-to-be -- does not fit this scheme well at all. Letting Lauvao walk seems like an easy decision for Cleveland if Shanahan is indeed hired. Jason Pinkston is also in the mix and is a bit of a wild card considering his injury history. If the Browns keep Mack, adding a starting caliber guard in free agency or high in the draft would be wise. If Mack leaves, the interior of this unit will need plenty of work.
While the Shanahans have an outstanding history of turning mid-round draft picks into very productive NFL running backs, Cleveland, which might have the worst stable of backs in the league, definitely needs to address this position. Even before Shanahan was in the mix, the Browns were rumored to be interested in Ben Tate, who is an ideal fit. Edwin Baker also was impressive to finish the season and Dion Lewis will be returning from injury. That duo would provide quality depth, as Willis McGahee, a free agent, won't be brought back.
In terms of the receiving options, the Browns' cupboard isn't as bare as many would think. First off, this offense stresses getting the ball to a difference maker at the X receiver position, where guys like Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon have thrived and posted huge numbers as the team's top option. Josh Gordon is perfect for this role. The No. 2 wide receiver isn't a featured player in this offense. Shanahan demands his wide receivers to be good run blockers. Remember, everything stems from the running game in this offense. The blocking aspect and a new coach could favor Greg Little, who has the stature and after-the-catch skills required, but continues to be very inconsistent catching the football. While Little could rebound strong in this environment -- and with some stability at quarterback -- the Browns still need to bring in at least one more quality option at this position.
Of course much hinges on the development of the Browns' new young quarterback, but overall, there is a lot for Shanahan to work with here if he does in fact get the job. Not to mention, Cleveland has a lot of cap space and draft picks to fill these needs. This could be a much improved offense in 2014.