Monday, August 10, 2009
Mangini running Browns his way
By John Clayton ESPN.com
BEREA, Ohio -- Details, details, details. Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini is a master of getting down to the details of pro football.
On Sunday, he turned the Brown and White Scrimmage into a simulated Sunday at Cleveland Stadium. How detailed was Mangini's game plan? He had NFL officials count off TV timeouts. He had replay challenges, pregame officials meetings and postgame news conferences.
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Educated in the Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick coaching tree, Mangini has gathered teaching tools for years, and continues to fine-tune what he teaches his players and what he does for schemes. The Browns are Mangini's team now. Owner Randy Lerner is letting Mangini run the Browns his way. Players are schooled in technique and how those techniques fit within particular plays.
Coming off a 4-12 season, the Browns obviously have a lot to work on. Derek Anderson said the radio receiver in his helmet wasn't working Sunday, so he had to work with hand signals. Anderson said Brady Quinn, who was quarterbacking the White team, schooled White defenders on those hand signals, which made it harder for Anderson to work a drive filled with short passes. Details, details, details.
1. Who will be the QB? The Quinn-Anderson starting quarterback battle is too close to call, and Mangini insists the job is wide open, even though most people figure Quinn is the favorite. Quinn opened the scrimmage by hitting Lance Leggett on a 51-yard touchdown pass after he drew in deep coverage with a perfect play-action fake. Anderson showed some improvement on his short and intermediate throws, a problem that has nagged him over the past two years. Because Anderson has such a strong arm, he tends to throw fastballs in the short and intermediate range that are hard to catch. Once those problems were noted, Anderson started to hesitate before making the throw. Now, he's not hesitating, and that has improved his efficiency. Anderson made one fatal mistake Sunday by throwing into double coverage at the goal line; linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted his throw. After the game, Quinn tried to dismiss thoughts that he's making a big effort to throw deep. Anderson is the long-ball specialist on the Browns, but Quinn can complete deep throws when he executes play-action fakes. Years of weightlifting have made Quinn one of the most "ripped'' quarterbacks in the league. His forearms are masses of swelling muscles, and his upper body looks more like a linebacker's. Surprisingly, Quinn said he spent more time running than lifting during the offseason, which allowed him to enter camp at 230 pounds, eight pounds lighter than last year.
2. The Browns will run: Because Mangini is a coach who believes in details, you get the feeling the Browns will be more of a running team at the start of the season. Mangini believes in learning the basics before trying to do the tricky things. For example, he won't let his defensive linemen do more than play their gap responsibilities until they show they've mastered the technique. He wants his offensive linemen heavier, which hints that the plan is to run the ball more. That works. Jamal Lewis looks trim at 240 pounds, and he's motivated to have a good season. He's happy Mangini kept fullback Lawrence Vickers and plans to keep the fullback on the field to help with the run. Lewis does his best work when he runs behind a fullback. At age 29 with 10 years in the league, this is an important season for Lewis. The Browns lost powerful guard Rex Hadnot for several weeks because of a knee sprain, but they still have Eric Steinbach and enough veterans to have a quality group of starting blockers.
3. Edwards is fired up:Braylon Edwards is excited about the 2009 season. He should be. He's in the last season of his contract, and he just watched fellow wide receivers Roddy White and Greg Jennings get contracts worth slightly less than $9 million a year. But football is a team game, and there are some serious concerns about the Browns' receiving corps. One of the most noticeable problems Sunday and throughout camp has been dropped passes. Edwards had a horrible time with dropped passes last season, but the rest of the receiving corps has to show it can catch the ball as well. Mike Furrey could help. He's a solid slot receiver. The Browns have two promising draft choices -- Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Massaquoi caught three passes Sunday and seems to be a little ahead of Robiskie. If the rookies aren't ready to start, the Browns could try David Patten at the flanker spot. Furrey works better out of the slot, but the Browns have to find a flanker who can take some double coverage away from Edwards. What encourages Edwards is that the current coaching staff should do a better job with game adjustments on offense. Edwards felt the Browns didn't make adjustments on offense as games progressed last season.
4. Familiarity breeds success: Mangini made sure he brought in players who knew his defense. The acquisition of defensive end Kenyon Coleman was interesting because the Browns traded a second-round choice a year ago to acquire end Corey Williams. Williams is running the second team this summer; Coleman is starting. Eric Barton and David Bowens were brought over from the Jets to beef up the linebacker corps. Abram Elam will start at safety. That's four probable starters from the Jets who know Mangini's system. Cornerback Hank Poteat and defensive lineman C.J. Mosley will be key backups coming from the Jets. Even though former coach Romeo Crennel taught the Browns the Belichick system, Mangini has added his own variations. These six acquisitions should speed up the adjustment.
5. Less may be more: Rookie center Alex Mack should have a tough time in practices going against nose tackle Shaun Rogers. That was quite noticeable during Sunday's scrimmage. Mack was drafted to anchor the offensive line in the same manner Nick Mangold did for Mangini in New York. Rogers abused him Sunday, which shouldn't be a surprise, because Rogers is basically unblockable. There were times last season that Rogers was triple-teamed and still got into the backfield. It still amazes me that Rogers was so dominant at nose tackle last season but the Browns surrendered 151 yards a game on the ground. One of the problems apparently was that Rogers was playing too much. He played 82 percent of the snaps, leaving him vulnerable to wearing down later in the game. Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins played 55 percent of the snaps last season and was equally dominating. Expect a slight cut in the number of plays for Rogers so he can provide better production later in games.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.