Cleveland Browns: Finding leaders, the big punter decision, the O-line -- Terry Plutohttps://www.cleveland.com/browns/2019/09...erry-pluto.html
By Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer
ABOUT THE LEADERSHIP
It’s obvious rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens is on the spot.
A recent USA Today story said the Browns are the No. 2 team picked to win the Super Bowl, behind the Chicago Bears. At least, that’s according to the wagering action in Las Vegas.
That’s a lot to ask of the lads in the orange helmets.
I’m going to operate on the assumption that Kitchens does a respectable job as head coach. He is surrounded with veteran coordinators, and that should help.
But as GM John Dorsey told me: “The great teams have always been self-regulated by the veterans in the locker room.”
That’s where it will be fascinating to watch the Browns.
This is not a team with a lot of players who have experienced much winning at the NFL level.
Consider some of the players mentioned by Dorsey who are emerging as team leaders:
1. QB Baker Mayfield.
2. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
3. Guard Joel Bitonio.
4. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon.
5. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
6. Safety Damarious Randall.
This was not a complete list, just guys Dorsey quickly mentioned. The Browns named three captains, one for each unit: Christian Kirksey (defense), Charley Hughlett (special teams) and Mayfield (offense).
Add it all up and that’s 10 total players.
They have played in a total of eight post-season games: Randall (5), Beckham (1), Vernon (1) and Landry (1).
“They (good leaders) set the bar incredibly high,” said Dorsey. “It’s driven by the locker room. I’m starting to see that here.”
Just because they haven’t been to the postseason before, they still can make it happen now.
Mayfield is a natural leader with high expectations. The Browns have been very impressed with the growth of Garrett. Both are young, driven players – and the most talented on offense and defense.
That’s also critical to success.
Dorsey wanted to bring in Vernon for a variety of reasons.
“We now have two defensive ends,” he said. “That takes the pressure off 95 (Garrett). They (blockers) can’t always slide to 95. They may end up having to slide over to Olivier Vernon. It balances off the pass rush.”
He also believes Richardson will bring toughness to the middle of the defensive line. To avoid a rush from the edge (Garrett and Vernon), QBs may step up into the pocket. That’s where Richardson and young Larry Ogunjobi will be waiting for them.
The Browns believe the defensive line can set the leadership tone for the team, the playoff toughness that is required for success.
The Browns have playoff-caliber talent. Now, they must have key players turn into playoff-caliber leaders as they face the challenges and pressures of the season.
THE PRIEFER INFLUENCE
When I interviewed Dorsey, he discussed the need to take lots of opinions into consideration.
The biggest training camp decision was veteran punter Britton Colquitt vs. Jamie Gillan, the rookie known as The Scottish Hammer.
The Browns brought in Mike Priefer to fix their dismal special teams, ranked last in the NFL by profootballfocus and other rating services.
Priefer came from the Vikings. While the front office can be intrigued by the strong leg and athleticism of Gillan, it is Priefer who has to live with the young punter every day. Most veteran coaches such as Priefer prefer veteran players.
But Priefer pushed hard for Gillan.
“It would have been very hard to let a guy like Jamie out of the building,” said Priefer. “He’s so talented and has such a big leg swing. The sky is the limit and we’re just scratching the surface with him.”
Priefer praised Gillan for learning how to hold for rookie kicker Austin Seibert.
The Browns scouting staff spotted Gillan at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Priefer went to the school to watch Gillan work out and was impressed. That continued ever since Gillan came to training camp.
Priefer said opposing special teams coaches have told him: “Wow! This guy is really good.”
Sunday, we’ll begin to find out if the Browns made the right decision.
Meanwhile, Colquitt signed with the Vikings – Priefer’s old team.
ABOUT THE BROWNS
1. You can’t find out about an offensive line until it plays for real. The closest thing to a significant test was in Tampa Bay, preseason Game 3. It didn’t look very good.
2. A year ago, Desmond Harrison opened the season at left tackle. He lost the job after eight games to Greg Robinson, the starter now. Ed Kush has taken over for excellent right guard Kevin Zeitler (traded to New York). The rest of the offensive line played all 16 games last season: JC Tretter (center), Chris Hubbard (right tackle) and Bitonio (left guard).
3. The point is the Browns have not made a big changes on the line, which allowed only five sacks in the final eight games. The difference is Kush for Zeitler. Dorsey on Austin Corbett: “Everybody progresses at a different pace. You have to exercise a degree of patience.”
4. I’m curious to see how Priefer handles the return game. It was hard to tell the best bets for punt and kick returns. Antonio Callaway showed some promise last year, but he’s suspended for the first four games in 2019. I’m guessing it will be Dontrell Hilliard.
5. I will be talking Cavs, Browns, Tribe and other things on September 10, 6:30 p.m. at the RODMAN Library in Alliance. The next appearance is September 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brunswick Library.