Berea—One of the first free agent signings made by Eric Mangini was the signing of tight end Robert Royal. The longtime Buffalo Bill had caught Mangini’s eye while coaching against him.
“What I liked about Robert is, I thought he did a nice job in his route running,” he said. “I thought he was a good run blocker. I saw him working in the backfield some on sub situations and pass protection from that position.
“I really liked the guy when I got to meet him and talked to him,” he said. “He was always one of those guys that, as you were preparing for Buffalo, sort of an understated guy, but would do some things in the game to hurt you. You appreciate those guys. To see him in the multiple roles, he was even in the backfield a little bit as, like a lead blocker sometimes. You knew from how they moved him around that he also had to be pretty smart to play those different spots.”
Kellen Winslow had 43 receptions last season, but had nearly double that the previous season. The tight end position from the receiving side is projected to be a plus as the main duties are in the blocking game. Mangini said it might be a cumulative effort to replace him, at least in the passing game.
“We always look at it in the context of where we think we can add players to add value,” he said. “Sometimes, you get two or three guys at one spot because that’s how it falls, sometimes, it’s one guy.
“You try to balance free agency with the draft,” he said. “You try to look at it as much from the big picture of what do we need? What are our musts? What are our resources to do it? Resources in free agency, resources in the draft, how do we address that, resources in claiming players. You, ideally, attempt to maximize them all to keep infusing good players in the locker room.”
Royal is in his eighth season and he has caught 112 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career. He played his first four seasons with the Redskins before going over to the Bills for the last four seasons. In 2008, Royal caught 33 passes for 351 yards with one touchdown.
Besides Royal, Steve Heiden and Martin Rucker are the leading candidates to fill in at the position.
“There have been some positive things from the group,” Mangini said. “I’ve seen more from Robert than Steve because of his injury. With Robert, his ability to play in line, off the line and sometimes in sub packages has been beneficial. You can put him in the backfield for protection.”
Royal and Heiden are more viewed as blocking tight ends, while Rucker is similar to Winslow, viewed as a receiver. Mangini said Rucker has improved on his blocking.
“Rucker has come on and he’s going through the learning process,” he said. “With (John) Madsen and (Aaron) Walker, they have been competitive through camp. I talked to Rucker before the last game and think he has made some solid progress in that area. “
Old Friends: New Lions coach Jim Schwartz was part of the Bill Belichick coaching staff that has went on to become a head coach in the NFL. Mangini and Schwartz were entry level coaching assistants on Belichick’s staff with the Browns in the early 1990's.
“It will be nice to see Jim again,” Mangini said. “We spent some time together here in the 1990's and in Baltimore. I’m sure he’ll do a nice job in Detroit.”
When asked if he and Schwartz ever talked about some day being on opposite sidelines as head coaches in the NFL, Mangini said “That didn’t really come up because there were so many projects and things to do back then.”
Mangini Still Mum on QB: Keeping with his MO, Mangini said he’ll tell the quarterbacks who will start on Friday, just like last week.
“I’ll think about that today and let the guys know tomorrow (Friday),” he said.
There is no media access on Friday.
“How long the starter will play depends on how many plays he gets,” he said. “We want each guy to be able to see what he can do.”
Cornerback Competition: Heading into training camp, it was thought that the trio of Eric Wright, Brandon McDonald and Rod Hood were the top three cornerbacks and the one who didn’t start would be the slot cornerback.
Mangini said that’s not necessarily how it might work out.
“You have to look at each guy because playing in the slot is different than playing on the outside,” he said. “It is a different skill set in the slot.”
Currently, Wright and McDonald are listed as the starters with Hood behind McDonald and Hank Poteat behind Wright.
Mangini was asked if he thought if DL Shaun Rogers, OL Ryan Tucker or RB Jerome Harrison would be practicing on Thursday.
“I think Tuck will be there, but will have to check with the trainers.”
Moves: The Browns announced the release of OL Brandon Braxton and WR Edward Williams. To replace the pair, they signed OG Pat Murray and LB Robert McCune.