We chatted with Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature to get some insight on the Cleveland Browns.
You can use this as tonight's pre-party Open Thread. Have fun!
1- Looking at the Browns front office, you've got a lot of new people and new roles. Tell us about the blending of Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown, and Hue Jackson and what that dynamic is like.
Chris: Although we don't know very much about Paul DePodesta's influence in the front office just yet, the blending seems to be going very well thus far. Cleveland took the somewhat-bold approach to being an analytics-driven front office this offseason. Over the past few years, Sashi Brown has been the team's general counsel. I knew that he had a role in contract negotiations with players too, but I didn't even know what he looked like until he was promoted to Executive VP of Football Operations, which means he's basically the head honcho now. Perhaps his best attribute is that he's a people-person, which was desperately needed after the previous regime's in-house disagreements. The previous regime had plenty of guys who knew their stuff, but they each had varying opinions -- nobody was aligned along the same goal.
Brown and DePodesta both went to Harvard and are heavily in to the thought of incorporating analytics into football, whether it be through scouting players, compiling a roster, or gameday strategy. When both of these guys were put in charge, it was good that a head coach wasn't already in place, because there obviously could have been a major disconnect. At the same time, the analytical reputation of Brown and DePodesta left us wondering, "Are all of the good coaching candidates going to be turned off to this idea?" The fact that Jackson, a top coaching candidate, accepted the job knowing full-well what he was getting himself in to speaks volumes about the comfort level he had with both of them during interviews. Brown will ultimately decide the 53-man roster, but it's not a dictatorship -- everyone will communicate what the team needs, including Jackson, and then Brown will make the "final" decision should there be an area where the team can't reach a conclusive decision.
2- Who is a rookie or two that could really make an impact for Cleveland this year?
CP: Corey Coleman is a bit of a given offensively. This team let their best receiver from a year ago walk in free agency (Travis Benjamin), so Coleman will be the team's new No. 1 receiver with plenty of opportunities. Therefore, I'll pick the two other rookies who will make the biggest impact -- outside linebacker end Emmanuel Ogbah (second round) and defensive end Carl Nassib (third round). When the team drafted both players, there were two veteran leaders on the roster at each respective position: Paul Kruger at outside linebacker and Desmond Bryant at defensive end. Kruger was just cut for underperforming, and Bryant suffered a season-ending injury right before the start of camp. That means Ogbah and Nassib will both be practically elevated to the starting lineup. Both players are known as pass-rushing specialists. Even though Cleveland's defense is supposed to be pretty terrible in 2016, a ray of light will shine on the season if both of them can get their motors going.
3- What about a sophomore that you guys are excited about?
CP: I don't know how "excited" we are about him because he doesn't have a large body of work, but I want to see how safety Ibraheim Campbell performs in the regular season. Presently, he is the team's starting strong safety. He was a fourth round pick in 2015, but only saw 1-2 games worth of work that year because the previous coaching staff was clueless when it came to player utilization. The entire defense struggled last year, but during Campbell's 1-2 game stretch, he played at an above average level and turned some heads, only to be benched for the rest of the year when Donte Whitner was healthy again. With Whitner cut and Tashaun Gipson going to Jacksonville in free agency, Campbell has basically won a starting job by default. Can he continue upon that limited success from a year ago, or will he be exposed for his inexperience at the NFL level?
4- What will be the team's biggest strength and biggest weakness for 2016?
CP: The biggest strength will be when Robert Griffin III is feeling the long ball and can pick-and-choose who he's going to throw to between Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, and (when he returns in Week 5) Josh Gordon. Griffin has already connected with Pryor on two deep passes (one for a touchdown) and Gordon on two deep passes (one for a touchdown). The combination of speed, size, and strength for Pryor and Gordon is ridiculous. Coleman has a tremendous start to camp, but really hasn't played much in the preseason due to a hamstring injury, but the expectation is that he will create a lot of yards after the catch.
The biggest weakness will be the team's run defense. The run defense was awful in 2015, and to fix that, Cleveland drafted three pass-rushers in 2016! While I'm excited about the thought of getting to the opposing quarterback, there is no indication that Cleveland's run defense will have any form of success this year, especially since last year's first-round pick, nose tackle Danny Shelton, has not looked good this camp.
5- The Browns have had one winning season (2007) in the last 13 years. What has the fanbase been like during that stretch, and what keeps them coming back year after year supporting the team?
CP: Renewed optimism keeps us coming back. No matter what happens, we'll find something to get excited about (i.e. like the thought of RG III leading a high-powered offense to overcome defensive woes). Of all the years I've been blogging at Dawgs By Nature since 2006, though, this is the most subdued I've ever seen Browns fans. In a strange twist, other Cleveland sports have had a lot to do with that. When the Cavaliers broke the streak and won a Championship in June, this city was overjoyed and still haven't gotten over it. The Indians have been in first place in our division for most of the year. Meanwhile, Browns fans have understood and accepted the fact that Cleveland is rebuilding. We're still going to pay attention and enjoy the season, but because the other sports have been so good, there's almost a feeling of, "OK, Browns, take your time -- we know the Cavs and Indians will keep us entertained for the next couple of years while you finally get your act together."
You can see their version of this post HERE.