Leonard's Law: Revelation Weekend Approaches
Robaire Smith
OBR Columnist
Posted Apr 23, 2009


Long-time OBR blogger Mark Leonard brings his unique view on the world of Browns and NFL football. This week, Mark looks at what the Browns actions this weekend might suggest about the team's new brain trust and the health of DL Robaire Smith (pictured)...

 

One thing about an organization stingy with information-sharing is it leaves to landmark moments the sudden revelation of a multitude of subjects. Fans of the Cleveland Browns can expect to experience such a landmark event—this weekend’s NFL draft proceedings.

The newly-appointed leadership regime of GM George Kokinis and Head Coach Eric Mangini have done little to illuminate their visions for the club or to imprint lasting marks on a franchise in need of discipline, direction, development and serious talent infusions.

There is much more that is not known than is crystal clear, at least at this point. But clarity will begin to materialize with what does and does not occur throughout the two-day extravaganza. Some of the answers will be addressed with definition, while others will simply be surmised with relative certainty.

For example, this is one spring when the club’s initial pick cannot be predicted. Too many variables remain in play. But, were a DL to be the choice, as so often has been the case whenever a Belichick disciple is drafting, it could be justifiably interpreted as an indication something may not yet be right with in-house returnees.

Just a few days ago, this space carried a celebratory passage that veteran DE Robaire Smith must be doing well in his recovery from his September Achilles tear. It was mentioned how such an injury has often precipitated the end of a player’s career, much as it did for Jamir Miller, since it is so difficult to come back from because the affected area is so critical to an athlete’s burst and acceleration.

But based upon what, exactly, was it I’d deduced Smith’s re-hab must be proceeding well? Frankly, it was an idiotic comment to make, as I have no idea other than that the public had not heard otherwise. Wouldn’t the public somehow know if Robaire remained career-threatened?

But that presumption was quaintly innocent, oblivious to that this is not a typical NFL front office, though similar approaches are becoming increasingly commonplace in the sport. This front office is tight-lipped and secretive about all matters of football, none more so than what deals with injury.

Fact is, we are all completely in the dark about Robaire’s viability as a continued NFL regular. He is not a youngster at 31, after all, and his injury is especially challenging for a big man (320).

Were the Browns to select BC NT BJ Raji at five, as some sources speculate they will, it could be a significant suggestion Robaire is not being counted upon to return to his slot as starter alongside Shaun Rogers and Cory Williams.

Then again, it could be an indication that Mangini feels the urgency to protect himself against Rogers’ petulance, inasmuch as the Pro Bowler just a few months back leaked word he no longer wished to be a Cleveland Brown.

At any rate, the weekend figures to shed uncommon light upon the Kokinis-Mangini personnel visions held for the 2009 Browns. In addition to the uncertainties surrounding the DL, similar vagueness revolves around QB, S, WR and LB both inside and out. Trades are rumored as possibilities at both offensive positions listed, while the defensive ones can expect draft focus, as should the interior of the OL.

There may not be another team in all the league with as many uncertainties at as many key positional units. Since it is an expressed desire on the part of the new administrations to preserve the competitive advantages resistance to disclosure provides, the new regime should be commended for its success. There is so much we fans do not know.

Which QB will remain standing at the end of the weekend? Will both return, as the company line maintains? Will something profound occur at WR, such as the subtraction of the club’s sole remaining pass-catching threat, Braylon Edwards? Will he and/or one of the QBs be moved to generate the additional draft selections the regime desires? Who will be the much-needed pass-rushing hope? Can a tone-setting ILB be secured to finally spearhead the organization’s annual need for run-stuffing? What might happen along the OL to indicate the coach’s longterm vision? Will vet stopgaps remain the formula instead?

Maybe we’ll even learn if Josh Cribbs and/or Allen Patrick are working these days at safety.

With this much potentially resolved in a single weekend’s activity, it is understandable it might be termed Revelation Weekend.

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Something that can be considered certain is that the team would love to still have control of choice 69, surrendered last spring by then-GM Phil Savage to Dallas for a shot at Missouri TE Martin Rucker.

Several of the trade rumors have shared the intention of bringing to the Browns at least one opportunity in the third round. Otherwise, the team will be forced to endure an extended (and probably painful) wait  between choices 50 and 104, a period during which a great many intriguing CBs and Ss will come off the board.

Cleveland owns but five choices overall, in fact, also missing selections in rounds five and seven.

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Most fans understand the club’s best-case scenario would find Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry available at five. But a strong second would be for another team to covet the Browns’ pick, permitting the Browns to deal-down to more affordable contracts and assemble additional draft selections in the process.

Probably with those goals in mind, the club has made considerable noise about having interest in QBs, WRs, OTs, NT Raji and LSU DE Tyson Jackson, another prospect whose arrival might reflect on Robaire’s status.

It is probably not only this writer who suspects the player the team would most like to come away with after a Round-One deal-down is USC ILB Rey Maualuga, an aggressive, attacking, physical and inspirational competitor whose contagious attitude and violent playing style figure to do wonders for whichever club he joins.

In fact, the Broncos, one of three NFL teams to be converting from the 4-3 to the 3-4 this offseason, are thought be lusting for Jackson and Maualuga with their two choices in Round One, 12 and 18, respectively.

It is strongly suspected the Browns want Maualuga second only to Curry, but not so much as to invest the fifth-overall choice in him. Hence, it welcomes a means to select him, but in a greater-value snag, accompanied by additional compensation.

The rumored deal of Brady Quinn to the Jets for choice 17 might be about bringing in Rey just ahead of Denver’s second first-round opportunity—assuming SD does not snatch him at 16 and that Brady could bring such a return.

Next best for the team’s needs among ILB, by the way, could be UVa’s Clint Sintim, who might remain available until Cleveland chooses at 36.

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With the additional 3-4 clubs entering the personnel fray, certain component parts experience elevated value for their rarity. For that reason, Raji and Jackson figure to go earlier than they might otherwise. The same will be true for Raji’s collegiate teammate Ron Brace, who is even more so a NT-type, and USC DE Fili Moala, who could go in Round One.

This modest population comprises the upper-reaches of 3-4 DL candidates. All should be gone by mid-Round-Two. Some publications link Moala to the Steelers at pick 32.

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The anticipated positional runs should be easy to predict. First, of course, to leave the board will be the top-two QBs, followed almost simultaneously by the four OTs. By that time the run of pass-rushers, especially those also able to defend the rush, will commence, probably before a single RB, CB, S, TE or interior OL is tabbed.

With few exceptions, WRs won’t go til the mid-to-late 20s, by which time the OLBs and CBs will begin disappearing. It would not be at all surprising were not a single S, C or G  to go before round two, as such is characteristic.

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Picking tenth is SF, whose recent draft history carries a lesson for clubs in pursuit of edge-rushing solutions. The Niners fell all over themselves when they acquired NC State DE Manny Lawson in Round One (choice 22), with the intention of converting him to an OLB in then-Head-Coach Mike Nolan’s 3-4 alignment. Late in Round Four, Tennessee DE Parys Haralson was also attained.

Four seasons later, it is Haralson who reigns as the Niners’ pass-rush king, while Lawson is an after-thought, available for a song, never having successfully transformed himself into a 3-4 viability. A complement to Haralson remains a SF target, with Texas’ Brian Orapko the latest rage.

Conversely and ironically, SF has yielded more sacks over the past two years (110) than any NFL outfit.

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Imagine  being a seven-time playoff participant during the course of the past decade, including multiple appearances in conference title games, having 12 draft picks (including four fives) and nearly $37 mil in cap space.

Such was the condition of the Philadelphia Eagles at the start of the free-agent season, the cap space partially explained by the less-than-ceremonial subtractions of longtime loyalist leaders Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas and Brian Dawkins

No wonder QB Donovan McNabb is holding off on signing an offered contract extension, demanding first to see what the team will do with its new-found riches.

Against that backdrop, the Eagles managed to steal tackle replacements for Runyan and Thomas, exploiting the inability (or unwillingness) of the Bengals and the Bills to pay to retain them. First it was Stacey Andrews migrating from Cincinnati in free agency. Then it was two-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters in a mockery of a trade with Buffalo.

While both of the mentioned rustbelt losers must now hope to draft suitable substitutes from among the raw and untested draft members, the Eagles seamlessly transition from Runyan-Thomas to Andrews-Peters, perhaps poised next to land for McNabb a playmaker in the passing game.

Incidentally, Jeffrey Lurie’s Eagles organization is considered among the sport’s elite, second perhaps only to Robert Kraft’s Patriots, who possess a next-best total of 11 draft picks.

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Kudos to Jax for signing WR Torry Holt for its needy offense, especially for the veteran influence he’ll likely have on the development of third-year Central Florida wideout Mike Walker and whomever else is added this weekend. Would not Jax also seem to be a reasonable landing spot for former Colt Marvin Harrison?

Though neither Holt nor Harrison is the player he’d once been, together and joined by a rising talent like Walker and whatever is gotten to join the rotation, they might give the Jags the type of passing excellence highly-drafted youngsters Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Earnest Wilfork never approximated.

In the interest of thoroughness, Dennis Northcutt and Troy Williamson—a draft bust chosen seventh overall for his straightline speed—also inhabit the Jag WR corps.

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It is often said in professional sports that the best trade is the one not made. That may apply in the Edwards-to-NYG situation. There are some good reasons to consider moving Edwards, foremost among them his unreliability as a go-to WR.

Probably more than any single Cleveland performer, Edwards was responsible for much of the club’s collapse in 2008, dropping to four from the ten wins of the prior campaign. Edwards repeated pass-drops denied the offense collectively—and confidence-shaky QB Derek Anderson specifically—any sense of momentum last season.

Yet it must be acknowledged the only times the club looked exciting and promising was when Edwards was on his game, usually teaming with Anderson—as the duo had done so well and often in ‘08—as downfield threats.

Just as the marching orders for what became a 10-6 2007 had to be that the coaching staff and organization found for themselves a QB able to maximize the pass-catching potentials of then-TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Edwards, it would seem the quickest and easiest way for this new regime to establish the Browns as an immediate and dangerous contender—at least on the offensive side of the ball—would be to again synchronize and unleash the Anderson-Edwards passing combination. 

When the two are performing with confidence and consistency, few tandems in the sport can match them for potency, evidenced by their presence together (along with Winslow) in Hawaii at the end of that ‘07 season. The seam route attacking the left hash 18-22 yards upfield became a trademark weapon in their arsenal, one that seemed mysteriously absent last year. The threat their combined potentials posed forced back oppositional safeties and opened both the running lanes and the underneath patterns.

So long as NY clings to its offer of a two and a five—rather than a one and a three—Edwards should not be dealt, as even the better return does not assure as capable a talent succeeds him. Anyone much less able would do too little to generate as much concern as Braylon creates in a defense.

Similarly, any passer less capable of hurting a defense downfield diminishes Edwards’ value and invites a crowded box.

While the braintrust is wise to keep itself open to any and all trade possibilities—if for no other reason than to communicate to the entire roster that no one is indispensible—it might be best to again construct heavily around the passing combination of Derek Anderson to Braylon Edwards, two young professionals just scratching the surface of their collective potentials.

Maximizing what these two have to offer must be Job One for the new offensive staff. That it is a contract year for Edwards and that this might constitute Anderson’s last chance to start—at least in this town—combine to create as advantageous a motivational situation for the players involved as possible.

Then again, one of the most essential challenges for any coaching staff is the full development of its personnel, something at which the former regime seemed to come up short. Whether Mangini and his assistants are up to that particular challenge with this particular roster is a revelation that will not be disclosed for months to come.


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