Random thoughts on the Cleveland Browns

Thoughts, observations and rambling incoherencies on some matters related to the Cleveland Browns:

Item: Jimmy Haslam told reporters at the Cleveland Sports Awards Thursday night that a decision on re-signing placekicker Phil Dawson would be up to new GM Mike Lombardi and the coaching staff.

Thought: What’s to decide?

“(The new coaches) are just now starting to look at our team,” Haslam told the assembled throng. “So those decisions will be made over the next few weeks.”

The obvious followup: When it comes to Dawson, what’s to look at?

He has been the pro’s pro in Cleveland since 1999, persevering through lousy team after lousy team. He’s not just an all-time great Brown, he’s an all time great kicker — he’s made 84 percent of his kicks in some of the worst conditions in the league.

And it’s not a question of age, either. As Dawson ages, he gets better. The past two seasons he’s 14-of-15 form 50 yards plus, and 53-of-60 overall. He is on the verge of becoming the Browns all-time leading scorer, ahead of a guy named Groza.

It’s not a money issue either, not with the Browns a reported $48 million under the cap. If they’re going to spend the money on anyone, how could it not be Dawson?

Seriously … what in the world is there to think about with Dawson, for even one second?

Item: Haslam also said of Dawson: “That’s the kind of people we want here in Cleveland, people who are great on and off the field, and Phil’s that kind of guy. No doubt about it.”

Thought: OK, he has the chance to prove that statement.

Item: Haslam said the same thing about Josh Cribbs, that the decision would be made in the next few weeks.

Thought: This one is worth discussing.

Cribbs has given superhuman effort to the Browns over the years, and he’s been a dedicated and loyal player. But his forte — returns — could be affected by age, and the new rules that make the kickoff return a lost art. Even with that, Cribbs’ kickoff return average in 2012 was his best in four seasons, and his punt return average was the second best of his career.

Cribbs is an incredibly valuable special teams cover guy, but the Browns have to decide if they want to put the money in a special teams guy who will be 30 when the season starts.

It’s a tough discussion given what Cribbs has meant, but it’s a legitimate discussion.

Item: Joe Banner’s track record on re-signing veterans is …

Thought: … worth asking Sheldon Brown, Brian Dawkins, Lito Shepherd and Troy Vincent in a moment when they are being truly honest.

Enough on that one.

Item: New defensive coordinator Ray Horton told a radio station in Phoenix that the Browns will be running a three-four.

Thought: Didn’t the Browns run a four-three last season?

Teams can make the transition, but it’s not always smooth. And the Browns have built the past three drafts for the four-three.

Item: Speaking on 910 AM in Arizona, Horton said of the defense: “It won’t be a hybrid, not unless you’re playing golf.”

Thought: Wait, didn’t the head coach say it would be a hybrid?


Item: Horton promised an attacking defense similar to what Dick LeBeau plays in Pittsburgh.

Thought: Great, bring it on.

Horton said the Browns and Steelers will be “mirror teams” defensively.

“We’re going to look exactly the same,” he said. He said the Browns will be a “sick ‘em” defense.

“Go get ‘em,” Horton said on 910. “That’s what we do.”

Sounds great, and the way Horton talks sounds great as well. He sounds like an up-front guy willing to be candid. Too, he understand that aggressiveness serves defensive players well.

The Steelers consistently lead the league in defense with their clever variety of blitzes and coverages. They play things like a “reverse cover two” (safeties blitz, corners drop) and a zone scheme. Nothing disrupts an offense faster than a guy bearing down on the quarterback.

That being said, the Steelers have been building for that scheme for years, and it doesn’t appear the Browns have Brett Keisel, Lamar Woodley, James Harrison or Troy Polamalu on the roster.

Arizona blitzed a lot last season and Horton’s aggressiveness is welcome, but the Cardinals gave up 27 points per game the final nine games, including 58 to Seattle.

It’s great and welcome to play Pittsburgh’s scheme, but it takes time to get the players to make the results great.

Item: It seems if the Browns switch full-time to the three-four, they’ll need outside linebackers, three-four ends and another cover corner

Thought: True.

The Browns lack impact outside linebackers, which is what Pittsburgh has always had. They have some young guys who played well in spots last season, but they need impact guys.

Jabaal Sheard might be able to stand up in rush situations, but given his size it’s tough to see him playing two gaps with his hand down. Ahtyba Rubin is an outstanding four-three tackle who might be able to move to a three-four end. Phil Taylor and John Hughes could play the nose (though he is, as we all know, a stack-and-shed guy), and Billy Winn might even be able to play end.

They also need another cover corner to go with Joe Haden because the zone-blitz scheme often leaves corners on an island.

Clearly the Browns major focus in free agency and the draft could be shoring up this side of the ball.

Item: The Browns did not have coaches at the Senior Bowl.

Thought: This is interesting.

But it’s not the end of the world. The Browns had their staff of scouts present.

What’s interesting is the scouts have been working for months preparing for a four-three team.

Now they have to prepare for a three-four team.

A hybrid team.

As the Browns world turns