NFL Nation: Mike Pettine

Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Johnny Manziel USA Today Sports, Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are options the Cleveland Browns will consider with their top pick in May's NFL draft.
And then there was one.

The Cleveland Browns' busy offseason leaves them having addressed the possible loss of Alex Mack (he stayed) and the departures of T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson (Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby). They added a running back (Ben Tate) and they added depth at several spots, including the offensive line (Paul McQuistan), receiver (Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson), tight end (Jim Dray) and cornerback (Isaiah Trufant).

On Monday, they even added the long-lost fullback, a guy the team did not give Rob Chudzinski a year ago. Chris Pressley is coming off a missed season due to ACL surgery so he is not a lock to make the team, but if he can give anything at all it’s more than the Browns had a year ago.

All this does is set the Browns up to draft the way they want to draft, not the way they have to.

"[GM] Ray [Farmer] talked about that process of just stabilizing, leveling the ship," coach Mike Pettine told the gathered media at the NFL owners meetings.

Which basically leaves one spot to address: quarterback.

Yes, Virginia, there will be a new quarterback in Cleveland before training camp.

Probably two.

The team must add a veteran before the “voluntary” minicamp the end of the month. They can’t go into camp with only two guys, especially because Brian Hoyer will probably be limited as he comes off knee surgery. Given that the market of veterans left are the Rex Grossmans of the world, the Browns also will add a quarterback in the draft.

When is the million-dollar question.

If it’s fourth overall, the choices remain the same three: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. If it’s later, there is a bundle from which to pick.

"That's the position that needs to be addressed," Pettine said. "But we're not locked into, 'We're drafting a starter.'"

Which is good to hear.

Because if the Browns draft a guy to start and they force him in too quickly they'll be following the wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has contributed to so many problems since 1999. The challenge comes in managing the situation.

Because if the team selects a quarterback with the fourth pick, Hoyer will find out quickly what it’s really like to play for his hometown team. Assuming he starts, the first time he has a two-interception, one-touchdown game in a 23-14 loss, the clamor will start from fans and media about the guy drafted fourth.

If it’s Manziel, that clamor will be loud and ornery.

If it’s Bortles, folks might be a little more patient because the word on him is he will need a year or two.

If it’s Bridgewater, it’s anyone’s guess.

Then if the young guy plays the negativity will continue if he struggles.

This negativity has affected Browns quarterbacks since '99 – all the way back to Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. It’s unrealistic to think it didn’t, because quarterback is a confidence position. He who hesitates is lost. It may sound like an easy excuse, except it affects a player’s psyche.

The spiral is almost natural. Young guy has to learn, to grow, but because he’s learning he makes mistakes, which leads to criticism, which he says he doesn’t hear but he does. Which leads to self-doubt, which leads to tentative play, which leads to more mistakes and more questions and clamor – and soon enough, the environment to succeed is damaged, which only exacerbates the issue.

There is the Bruce Arians argument, which says a team needs to pass-protect and run the ball to help a young quarterback, but if the guy can play he can play. But Bill Walsh, the great quarterback guru and leader of the San Francisco 49ers, once talked about protecting a young quarterback from a damaging environment. He talked almost emotionally, as if the damage to the player was almost permanent.

The word he used: traumatic.

The Browns have to be aware of this, and if they’re not they need only look at their history since their return. The good thing is whoever plays will have a much fuller deck than many of his predecessors. That’s the result of the offseason work.

But the Browns have saved the most important position for last.

How they handle it not only in the next two months but also through the entire 2014 season could have as much impact on the team as the selection itself.
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.

"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.
Thirty teams -- as well as one former president -- attended the circus that was Johnny Manziel's Pro Day at Texas A&M.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Browns prefer a one-on-one audience with Johnny Manziel rather than sending a representative to his Pro Day.
The two teams that were missing were the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins have a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but the Browns' situation is more uncertain. Despite that, Browns general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have bypassed Pro Days.

Manziel said he was unfazed by the Browns absence.

"I'm not disappointed," he said. "If they wanted to be here, they had the opportunity to. I didn't think anything of it, I didn't even know that was the case so I'm sure they have their own standard or whatever it may be. I don't hold it against them and it is what it is."

In attendance at the Pro Day was George H.W. Bush, Manziel's personal quarterback guru George Whitfield and a bevy of coaches and scouts. Manziel impressed, though he was throwing only against Whitfield running at him with a broom and not against defenders. He even went to the point of throwing wearing football gear, which is not typical and which caused quite an "inside-football to-do." (Nike soon tweeted photos of the Pro Day Apparel Manziel wore).

But the Browns passed, preferring a private workout with the team's officials at a later date.

"You get a lot more out of a private workout when it's a little less scripted, or it's scripted the way you want it scripted," Pettine told the media at the NFL's annual meetings earlier this week. "Where you can kind of throw some curveballs at a player and see how they react to it.

"It's like the difference between a guy hitting home runs at batting practice versus live pitching. I think it's important you get that concentrated view of a player instead of something that's borderline artificial."
Quarterback is high on the Cleveland Browns' draft needs -- if not at the top of the list.

And coach Mike Pettine said Tuesday that the Browns won't rule out taking another quarterback after they have picked one, even if they take one of the highest-rated signal callers in the draft such as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater.

"It's funny how draft boards go sometimes, it really ends up running itself," Pettine told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. "If you know you're getting great value, I don't think we'd hesitate to add that player, whether it's a second quarterback if we've already taken one. I don't think (general manager) Ray (Farmer) would be against that at all."

Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan held the same position with the Redskins when Washington took Robert Griffin III with the second pick of the 2012 draft and also selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.

The Browns would be smart to consider taking two quarterbacks for a couple of reasons.

They have 10 picks in this year's draft, including three of the first 35 selections, giving them the luxury of taking two quarterbacks. Drafting a second quarterback would also allow them to hedge their bet assuming they address the position with one of their first three picks.

The top quarterbacks in the draft all come with question marks, making whoever the Browns take first a gamble.

The Browns will seriously consider taking a quarterback with the fourth overall pick, but Pettine said the organization is not locked into anything with its first selection in the draft.

"If that guy's not there at that pick, I don't think you force the issue and say this is the quarterback of the future," Pettine said. "So we're doing our homework on all these guys and we're gonna log a lot of miles here in the next couple weeks and hopefully we can find that quarterback that's gonna best serve the Cleveland Browns."
The Cleveland Browns have created a little bit of national buzz with the way they’ve approached the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

Instead of having the top brass attend the pro days of Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles to watch them throw, the team had its scouts do the work. Reportedly general manager Ray Farmer attended but did not not watch either throw. Coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains have not attended any of the quarterback pro days. (It will be interesting to see what happens with Johnny Manziel on March 27.)

Ah, there's more. At the combine, the Browns reportedly did not spend any of their 15-minute interviews with the quarterbacks.


This has created some buzz. To the point that the esteemed Tony Grossi of WKNR ESPN-Cleveland has the Browns taking an offensive tackle fourth overall. (Ugh ... Sam-my Wat-kins, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.)

How, the outraged say, can the Browns skip the workouts? Isn't that part of their job?

It’s led to questions ranging from whether they are disinterested in the quarterbacks or being deceptive in their intentions or are they flat-out incompetent (their past chases them in the case of the last question)?

Maybe they’re doing their job in a slightly different way.

Because really, what’s the big whoop?


• Scouts scout. That’s what they are paid to do. They watch players, break down their technique and provide evaluations. Scouts should be able to see a player's athleticisim in a workout. And the scouts have already spent months watching these players in the fall.

• The scouts, front office and coaches have reams of game tape and information to watch. If a guy is a player, he should show it better on the field rather than in the packaged environment of a pro day. Show me a team that changes its mind on a guy who struggles in games based on a pro day and I'll show you JaMarcus Russell. Game tape is light-years more important than a pro day; football is played on a field in mud and wind and rain, not in an antiseptic setting like a pro day workout.

• The Browns will only say they are evaluating every player, but the rules allow them to bring in the three quarterbacks for interviews and workouts in Berea. They no doubt will, and they can talk to them there for a day and have them throw. A 15-minute interview might be nice, but a day-long one is better. A pro day is interesting, but throwing in a less-controlled environment might even allow the team to better assess a guy’s fundamentals and skills.

In some ways, the Browns' approach is refreshing. They are letting people do their jobs, and Farmer isn't obsessing.

Can questions be asked? Of course. But questions always come up this time of year about a team, its approach and its decisions. The bottom line comes when players are picked.

The Browns have done plenty since 1999 to warrant criticism.

But it seems like jumping on the pile to criticize them over this issue.
Jim SchwartzAP Photo/David RichardDefensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived in Buffalo after five seasons as Detroit's head coach.
Even the Cleveland Browns haven't had it this bad.

The Buffalo Bills have run through more defensive coordinators over the past four years than any other team in the NFL, complicating their player-acquisition process through both free agency and the draft.

While their defensive schemes have changed each offseason since 2011, it's not all bad news. In hiring Mike Pettine last winter and Jim Schwartz to replace him in January, the Bills are sacrificing long-term coaching stability to help win now.

It's the right approach. Schwartz has extensive experience as a coordinator and head coach, while Pettine is a riser in the NFL coaching ranks, having recently been hired to lead the Browns. They're both talented defensive minds and better than the alternative, which would have been to promote from within or to poach an up-and-coming position coach from another team.

Schwartz is already putting his mark on the Bills defense. General manager Doug Whaley revealed last week that Kiko Alonso, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year award, will move to weakside linebacker as part of yet another defensive overhaul.

Replacing Alonso at middle linebacker will be newly signed Brandon Spikes. The Bills also signed Keith Rivers, a former first-round draft pick, to potentially start at strongside linebacker.

It will be a whole new look, but one that presents some challenges for the Bills.

It was only a year ago when Buffalo signed linebacker Manny Lawson to a four-year, $12 million deal. The lanky veteran proved a strong fit in Pettine's system, starting 15 games and posting his best statistical marks since 2009.

Now Lawson is a man without a home. Under Pettine, Lawson could play close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge against the run and blitzing on occasion. Things will be different with Schwartz, who rarely blitzes his linebackers and requires sturdier defensive ends than the 240-pound Lawson.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Bills' defense improved in a number of areas during Mike Pettine's lone season as coordinator.
With three years left on Lawson's contract, the Bills wouldn't have received much of a salary-cap benefit by releasing him. Instead, they paid Lawson his $500,000 roster bonus last week and will try to find him a place among their new furniture.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley told WGR 550 last week. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Translation: We like you Manny, but we don't really know what to do with you.

Lawson might find a situational role at defensive end, where Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are the top two options. It also could be a position where the Bills try to add depth in the draft.

What about Alan Branch, who started 13 games at defensive end last season? Pettine's system required three big bodies along the defensive line. At 325 pounds, Branch fit that bill.

Without waiting to see how things would unfold with Pettine, the Bills jumped the gun in late December and gave Branch a three-year extension worth more than $3 million per season, with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money.

Under Schwartz, Branch figures to have a lesser role. The Bills already have a pair of defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who both made the Pro Bowl last season -- and Branch will be a capable but likely overpaid backup.

The Bills were smarter in doling out contracts last week. Spikes received a one-year deal and Rivers signed for two years. Both contracts included little guaranteed money.

After all, who knows where Schwartz will be by next January?

It took Schwartz eight seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator to earn his first head-coaching job, with the Detroit Lions. He's known as a prideful coach who, when introduced in Buffalo, came off miffed about the way things ended after five seasons in Detroit.

"I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation," he said. "There are some great ones that have been fired."

At 47, Schwartz might not have to wait long for another head-coaching opportunity, but that doesn't make him a bad investment by the Bills.

The Bills gambled when they hired Pettine last winter. It was among the NFL's worst-kept secrets that Pettine wanted to become a head coach. He was on the fast track. Unusual circumstances may have led to his hire by the Browns, but the departure from Buffalo was inevitable.

Likewise with Schwartz. The Bills might rebuild and grow with Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel, but it's unlikely that Schwartz will stick around long enough to see that process through.

In Pettine and Schwartz, the Bills hired the best options on the market. Pettine boosted several areas of the Bills defense, helping it improve from 22nd in yards allowed per game in 2012 to 10th in 2013, while seeing the red zone defense jump from 31st to sixth last season. The Bills finished second in opposing QBR, second in sacks, second in interceptions and first in opposing completion percentage.

Meanwhile, Schwartz's defenses were typically strong in Tennessee, especially against the run. The Titans finished in the top six in rushing yards allowed in five of Schwartz's eight seasons as defensive coordinator.

Most important, both coaches are confident and experienced, allowing Marrone to focus his attention where it's needed the most: on offense. Had the Bills turned to a younger, less experienced defensive coordinator than Pettine or Schwartz, it would have created more continuity with scheme but also would have stretched Marrone thin.

Whaley and his scouting staff might get headaches trying to keep up with the defensive changes, but for a city that desperately needs a winning team, this is the right way to go.
Darrelle RevisAP Photo/Stephen BrashearIs Darrelle Revis worth the high draft picks Cleveland has accumulated?
It sounds extremely appealing -- Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden at cornerback for the Cleveland Browns.

One of the best veteran corners in the league and one of the best young corners in the league. What defense would not want that?

Revis is on the trade block, and's Adam Schefter and's Ian Rapaport both report the Browns are in discussions with the Bucs. Revis to the Browns has logic given his ability and his past association with new coach Mike Pettine when the two were with the Jets in New York.

If he's not traded, Revis may be cut Wednesday, which would reach another level of difficulty for the Browns to acquire him. If he is cut, Revis becomes the most attractive free agent on the market.

The surest way for the Browns to acquire him would be via trade. But do the Browns want to surrender many of the high draft picks they've acquired to build the team? Is Revis worth giving up two or three picks?

The pros are obvious. He's only 28. He's one of the best corners in the league. He was a Pro Bowler in 2013. And he's further removed from ACL surgery, which means he should be getting stronger. He fits in the pressure system that Pettine wants to run, too. In fact, he and Haden make the pressure system work, because they can handle receivers individually and allow the team to bring more in the pass rush.

The negatives are also obvious. Well ... let's call them issues rather than negatives. Because great corners don't bring a ton of negatives other than, sometimes, diva-ish attitude. Revis' contract calls for a $13 million annual salary through 2018. His salary-cap cost through those years is $16 million. The Browns want to extend Haden's deal, which raises the obvious questions: How do the Browns pay both Revis and Haden, and do they want to have that much of their salary cap eaten up by cornerbacks?

The pros state that if there is any position other than quarterback that might be worth lavish spending, it might be corner. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl with one shutdown corner in Richard Sherman. Revis and Haden would provide two.

The Browns are expected to sign safety Donte Whitner. If they could add Revis -- a gigantic if -- they would put a secondary on the field that Seattle might even admire.

Dreams grow big as free agency approaches, and this is a big one. It may be so big that it's preposterous when it comes to the Browns -- especially if Revis hits free agency, where his suitors will be many.

But if a team has a chance to acquire one of of the top corners in the league and doesn't at least look into it, it's not doing its ... wait for it ... due diligence.

The Browns have the cap room to add Revis, and the picks. Would one of the best corners in the league be worth the 26th overall pick as well as third- and fourth-round selections?

Revis and Haden actually sounds more than appealing. It sounds like a step forward, which for the Browns would be a very large step.
Say this about those who vote in Cleveland Browns polls: They speak with a united, loud voice.

After more than 4,400 votes about the Browns' selection with the fourth overall pick, 57 percent voted for receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson.

That’s an enormous result when five realistic options are presented.

Watkins received more votes than the other four combined.

The strength of the result is surprising. Though I’ve advocated for Watkins, I thought the feelings for the quarterbacks would carry the vote. In the business, this is called “having your finger on the pulse.”

Clearly there is fan concern about the top three quarterbacks, and clearly the voters feel much stronger about an offensive weapon than a pass-rusher.

Perhaps it is becoming a passing league.

The positives about Watkins are many. As coach Mike Pettine said, he’s a dynamic playmaker who can score any time he touches the ball. Like Josh Gordon, he’s big and fast. The combination of the two with Jordan Cameron at tight end would, in Watkins’ words, create nightmares for the defense.

The negatives: He’s not a quarterback, and with a draft rich in receivers, the Browns could still wind up with a good receiver later in the first round or early in the second or third if they choose to go with a quarterback first.

One potential negative was scoffed at by Pettine, who said the “last thing” he worries about is keeping everyone happy in an offense that would include Gordon and Watkins.

Clearly those who voted like the potential pairing of the two, a pairing that on paper at least could make any quarterback better.

The votes reflect the public feeling about the top quarterbacks. All have talent; all have questions.

Central Florida’s Blake Bortles finished second with 14 percent of the vote, even though he may take the longest to be NFL ready. Bortles’ size simply cannot be ignored.

He finished just ahead of Johnny Manziel (13 percent) and Teddy Bridgewater (11). Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney -- whose potential seems every bit as great as Watkins’ -- received just 5 percent of the vote.

Manziel didn’t even carry Texas, where Watkins had 42 percent to Manziel’s 19. Watkins carried 45 states and was tied in three others. The only states he didn’t carry were the great states of Montana and Delaware, where Bortles and Clowney received the sole vote cast.

The voters turned a deaf ear to the hype about Manziel and Clowney.

After going through the “next greatest thing” deal for so long, maybe Cleveland has become cynical to the chatter.

What it does not seem cynical about is the offensive potential with Watkins and Gordon lining up on the same team.

Sunday notes: Heard around the combine

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
INDIANAPOLIS -- Notes and observations from the NFL scouting combine:

1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.

2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.

3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.

4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.

4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."

5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.

6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.

6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.

7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.

8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.

9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.

10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine emphasized that he doesn’t believe the team absolutely needs to draft a quarterback in the Top 10 to win.

That and some glowing words about Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins highlighted Pettine’s meeting with the media at the NFL combine.

“We’re not locked into saying we have to take a quarterback early in the draft,” Pettine said Saturday. “Look at the final four in the NFL last year. You had s sixth-round pick, which is an absolute anomaly, in [Tom] Brady, and the first pick in the draft in Peyton Manning. Then you saw that the Niners and the Seahawks did it going another way. I think there’s a lot of different ways to win in this league.”

That being said, Pettine admitted that quarterback is a priority for the Browns (as is running back). Which leaves the Browns 10 weeks to decide if they want to take a quarterback or another position fourth overall. He said he wants an all-weather team with an all-weather quarterback, but he said the player doesn’t have to fit a mold.

“When I looked at Kyle’s background, he was able to succeed with a Matt Schaub and an RG III,” Pettine said, referring to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “I don’t think you can be further apart on the spectrum of a skill set. That gives me confidence that whoever we take, whoever ends up fitting that position, will be a player who gives us the best chance to win.”

He did not get into specifics about any of the quarterbacks, saying he hadn’t studied enough. But one player he did discuss was Sammy Watkins, the fleet receiver from Clemson.

“Explosive athlete,” he said “Any time you can add somebody to your team who can score points and make explosive plays, that’s what the NFL is all about. Being a defensive coach, you think about playing great defense and running the football. I don’t think you can win that way anymore in the NFL. You have to have players who when they get their hands on the ball are special, and I think he falls into that category.”

Does he worry about keeping everyone happy if Watkins were to join Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in the Browns receiving corps?

“That’s the last thing I worry about,” he said emphatically. “It’s the last thing. You can’t have enough explosive athletes that can score points for you. You can’t have enough. If that’s our biggest problem is worrying about it, then where do I sign up.”

Browns noise keeps on keeping on

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
PettineAP Photo/Tony DejakIn his short time with the Browns, new coach Mike Pettine has dealt with several distractions.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Friday afternoon, Mike Pettine learned the Cleveland Browns had tried in January to send draft picks to San Francisco to acquire Jim Harbaugh to be the team’s coach.

A team official called Pettine to warn him the story would break.

His initial response was to, as he said, shoot the messenger.

“I asked, ‘How does this affect my tenure as the Cleveland Browns' head coach? Has that changed?’” Pettine said Saturday morning at the NFL combine. “The obvious answer was 'no.' Then I think my next line had something to do with having the word flying in it, or it referenced a part of a rat’s body.”

So Pettine didn't care a flying fig or a rat’s patootie that the Browns tried to trade for Harbaugh.

“It doesn't faze me,” he said. “That’s noise to me.”

His words were strong, but the look in his eyes and his face didn't match the words. Pettine almost seemed to be rolling his eyes at yet another report, this one from

How close the Browns came to accomplishing a deal is up for debate. San Francisco owner Jed York posted on Twitter that the report was “not true.” Others said the Browns never asked the 49ers for permission to talk to Harbaugh, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the Browns and 49ers had serious discussions. Clearly the idea was discussed, and Harbaugh -- who led the 49ers to the past three NFC Championship Games -- was the mystery candidate then-Browns CEO Joe Banner declined to name.

The attempt to hire Harbaugh could be looked at a number of ways. The half-full view is they tried to find an established coach. The half-empty view says the front office really wasn't on the same page, that as it was talking to Pettine it was trying to hire Harbaugh.

Pettine could view it that he truly was an alternate choice, a guy the team settled on rather than the guy the team wanted. Now he could wonder how committed the Browns are to him.

Pettine does not look at it that way.

“What it tells me is that the Cleveland Browns have a desire to win and want to get this team back to a championship level,” he said. “To me it shows the commitment, but as far as how it affects me and my approach to how I’m going to coach this football team and how we are moving forward, it has zero effect.”

The Harbaugh deal was in the works when Banner and former general manager Mike Lombardi were in place with the Browns. Lombardi and Harbaugh have a close relationship, so the effort to bring Harbaugh aboard could have been his.

But just when the Browns seemed headed toward some sense of normalcy, the news broke and Pettine had to refer to a rat’s backside. In the short time he’s been with the Browns, the two guys who hired him have been fired, he’s working for a GM he didn't meet until the day he was hired (inside video on the team’s web site showed Lombardi introducing Pettine to Ray Farmer that day), and he's dealing with questions about a trade for another coach.

Quickly he’s learned what life can be like with the Cleveland Browns.

“A big thing about being a head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions,” he said. “Just add that one to the list.”

It’s hardly one that could have been expected, though.

The way he said it, Pettine seemed startled and maybe even weary of all the drama. He didn't hide that reality when he was asked if the drama in Cleveland seems more frequent than in other cities.

“That potentially is an accurate statement,” Pettine said. “I’d like to think that it’s going to get quieter. That’s my goal, to quiet the noise. The sooner I can get off this podium and go in there and find some players to help the Browns the better. I know a lot’s happened. But it’s my goal to get the staff I've hired moving forward, that we can quiet things down and go about the business of winning football games.”

To that end, one of the first things he showed the new coaching staff was a little bit of Browns history. He showed a PowerPoint with a slide showing that since 1991, the Browns have been to the playoffs twice and won once.

“In those 23 years, there’s been 141 coaches,” he said. “The challenge for them was ‘How are we going to be different?’”
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.
Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was confident that one day both he and quarterback Robert Griffin III would look back on their time together in a positive way.

“I’m really appreciative of some of the stuff he did for me,” Shanahan told Cleveland reporters Thursday, “and I really believe he’ll be appreciative of some of the stuff I did for him.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKyle Shanahan said that he has become a more well-rounded coach after working with dynamic QB Robert Griffin III in Washington.
Shanahan was introduced as the Browns’ offensive coordinator and the topic of his relationship with Griffin did not come up until late in the news conference. When it did, Shanahan said a couple times how tough it was just going through a 3-13 season and how it challenged their relationship.

The topic also arose in his initial interview with the Browns. Teams wanted to know about what happened in Washington, especially late in the season when one negative story after another leaked.

“When it was all said and done and we heard about it, it was nothing that I felt reflected poorly on Kyle,” Browns coach Mike Pettine told the Cleveland media.

And Shanahan talked to Pettine and others in the organization about Griffin’s second-year struggles.

“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.”

Shanahan, who had not spoken publicly since being fired in Washington, told the media that he was proud of his two years together with Griffin.

“He arguably had one of the best years in NFL history for a rookie quarterback,” Shanahan said. “I enjoyed coaching him. I had to do some things I hadn’t done before. I had to look at tape in a different way to put some things in. That improved myself. I’m able to see the game a little differently. I was able to do some things with Robert that I hadn’t been able to do with other quarterbacks. It was really fun to do.”

But Shanahan said Griffin’s injury made for a challenging second season. Then came a disastrous season.

“You go through a 3-13 season and it’s a challenge on your relationship,” Shanahan said. “It’s a challenge with everyone 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 and the thing I always did with him that we did with each other, when stuff would come out we’d address it and talk about it and make sure we felt good about it. Robert and I … 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 in the long run will make both of us better. Going through that, as hard as it was, will help me.”
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.”
Mike Pettine said he never told the Cleveland Browns he was thinking of withdrawing from the team’s coaching search.

Pettine said Thursday that he never gave the team an ultimatum and that the only time he expressed concern about the process was when he “vented” to his agent, Trace Armstrong.

“Not at any point did I say you need to tell me or I’m pulling out,” Pettine said.

The question was relevant in light of Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn saying he would have been interested in the Browns opening. The Browns chose not to wait, though, and hired Pettine. They said it was because they wanted Pettine, but when Pettine admitted he needed to know the team’s decision it indicated the Browns may have acted because of that.

“It was unfair to the Bills how long it was going,” Pettine said.

Armstrong was one of the league’s more respected players when he played, and he is a former president of the NFL Players Association. He might have conveyed Pettine’s feelings, but Pettine was not asked that, and everything he said indicated discussions stayed between him and Armstrong.

“It was putting [the Bills] in a tough spot,” Pettine said. “The loyalty there was a driving force, but it never came in the form of an ultimatum.”




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