First and Ten - week 3 of the NFL preseason
1) Friday's preseason game between the Browns and Eagles may turn out to be the most meaningless ever. Because the Eagles and Browns open the regular season 16 days later, both teams will go to extremes to avoid doing anything that might reveal what they will do in the opener. Which means both teams will be more vanilla than vanilla itself. Think Tecmo Bowl. And don't expect to see Mike Vick; he bruised ribs Monday night. Most of the Eagles starters will get limited time. Browns coach Pat Shurmur said he'll play his starters a half, which is good because they need the time. But he admits the vanilla aspect will show as a "scheme thing" more so than time played. Translation: Defense will rush four, play basic cover two. Offense will run off tackle left and right and run four basic pass patterns. It's only a slight exaggeration.
2) It's old news, but this game is the ultimate example why full-priced preseason games are the biggest ripoff this side of personal seat licenses. Both teams admit this is basically a scrimmage, just like the fourth game. Yet the NFL in its arrogance makes fans pay full price and forces season ticket holders to buy the tickets as part of the season ticket package. The solution the league has proposed is to add two games to the regular season, something the union opposes. The real solution -- reducing ticket prices in preseason -- will never be discussed. Because teams know they have the fans by the proverbial scruff (thought that was going to be something different, didn't you?), and they won't give up that revenue. What exactly did society at large do to have preseason football foisted on it? Is this repayment for the Foreman Grill or The Clapper or something?
3) Fans entering the stadium will be subject to metal detectors. Hand-held wands will replace the old "pat down." Of course, the old "pat down" was always an annoyance. So now there's the wand, like at the airport. Which is always an enjoyable experience. Pittsburgh folks had the system in place Sunday, and things went swimmingly. Being wanded isn't fun -- they've been wanding media felons on their way into games for years -- but it becomes a little easier to understand and take when people lose their lives simply because they attended the premier of a movie at midnight.
4) It can be interesting when a coach explains things about practice. Recently the Browns worked on the two-minute drill, and the drives ended in field goals. That led to a question about the drives "stalling out." Shurmur explained that the drills were set up for situations. In the first, the offense needed a field goal to win. "We got into position to kick a field goal two of the three times," Shurmur said. Monday, he ran a difficult two-minute: 50 seconds left, no timeouts and a touchdown needed to win. The defense, predictably, won. "As the head coach, I'm looking at both sides of it so that if we stop them -- it's a we thing -- that's a good thing too," Shurmur said. Coaches must spend hours coming up with these situations -- Chris Palmer once practiced what to do if the field goal unit only had 10 guys on the field. But there are reasons. The other night in Pittsburgh, rookie Andrew Luck ran a two-minute drill when the offense took over at its 34 with 42 seconds left with one timeout. He was able to get the field goal, stopping the clock on a spike with one second left.
5) Luck, by the way, could hardly have been more impressive. Yes, he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, which wasn't impressive. And yes, he spent a good portion of the second quarter facing Pittsburgh's backups. But he handled himself so well after the interception it had almost everyone talking how good he was. One league insider who's been around compared Luck's ability to feel the rush to Dan Marino's, and Marino's was rare. Luck has Reggie Wayne on his side, which helps. But he also was playing with two rookie tight ends, and with a bunch of receivers out to prove themselves. Guys like LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen, T.Y. Hilton. Luck made them look good. This was a classic case of the quarterback making the rest of the team better. Luck's interception can't be dismissed, but when a rookie goes 14-for-17 after the interception with one of the misses a drop and another a spike he's doing a lot right. Luck will have to play behind a suspect offensive line, but that October game when the Browns go to Indianapolis looks a little different now than it did a month ago.
6) What will happen with the Browns backup quarterback position? Thing will start to sort themselves out after this weekend. If Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson come out of Seattle's game healthy, the Seahawks are expected to trade Tarvaris Jackson. If Jackson winds up in Green Bay as backup to Aaron Rodgers, that takes one trade partner away from the Browns. Other teams that might need a quarterback include Arizona, San Diego and Minnesota. None of those teams would seem to be too interested in adding Colt McCoy or Seneca Wallace, which pretty much shows the market for the Browns quarterbacks. That means the team then has to decide if it will keep four quarterbacks. That's unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
7) News about it broke a week ago, but the settlement of LeCharles Bentley's lawsuit against the Browns shouldn't be minimized. The Browns fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bentley lost his career to a staph infection and was not going to back down. But as the two sides prepared for discovery, Bentley went up to former owner Randy Lerner and asked if the two could talk. His message: Why are we doing this? Lerner agreed, and from that point the two were able to work out a settlement of a contentious case. "The terms of the agreement are confidential," said Browns and prominent Cleveland attorney Fred Nance, "but I'll say this: The personal relationship between Randy Lerner and LeCharles Bentley overcame the conflict and confrontation that normally is associated with contentious litigation. When the two were in the same room as part of the proceedings, they got together and were able to get it completed by themselves." Lerner and Bentley also agreed that a major part of the settlement be a 20-year commitment to provide scholarships to needy Cleveland kids to attend St. Ignatius High School, Bentley's alma mater. If the cost of the annual education is $12,000, Lerner and the Browns have committed $1.44 million for the entire scholarship program (and it will be higher because tuition will go up). "That was one of the issues," Nance said, "that they instinctively saw eye to eye on."
8) Josh Gordon seems to be a flashpoint with Browns fans. Perhaps it's their hope that he can come through, perhaps it's their starvation from good football. But the feelings for Gordon are strong. I'm not as sold on him as many, because it seems like his climb is steep. He can get there, but it's going to take a lot of work to do it. And the change from not playing for two years (except for practices at Utah) to the NFL is sort of like going from reading this to reading Melville. Shurmur actually put it well when he said: "I think Josh is a good example of somebody trying to get it right because there are a lot of things for Josh running parallel right now - the grind of training camp, the newness of playing the game again, of course learning our system and then facing competition."
9) The most impressive under-the-radar rookie on the team this camp? Linebacker Craig Robertson. He just seems to have a knack for things, and looks very comfortable. I really wonder if the way he plays makes draft pick Emanuel Acho's position tenuous. As for draft picks, the selection of John Hughes (aka, "Old Stack and Shed") was widely pilloried on draft day. But the guy looks like a player.
10) When a bunch of rookies start, it's always a question whether the rookies are that good, or whether the team is so bad the rookies have to be on the field. This season, the Browns are looking at five rookies starting -- one because of the injury to Phil Taylor. They will be Brandon Weeden (quarterback), Trent Richardson (running back, assuming he's healthy), Mitchell Schwartz (right tackle), Hughes ("Old Stack and Shed") and James-Michael Johnson (linebacker). Add that to the previous draft, which included Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Jason Pinkston and Eric Haag (with Phil Taylor and Jordan Cameron) and Tom Heckert's drafts will have produced more than half the starters. This is called either a) building a team or b) rebuilding a team that needed rebuilt from the previous roster decisions of Eric Mangini or c) both.