With the hiring of Pat Shurmur as head coach, team president Mike Holmgren cemented his status as the Browns’ organizational leader. Or, the former Super Bowl winning coach merely finished the work he began a year ago in laying out his vision for the team’s future. In many ways, the marriage of Shurmur to the Browns can be traced through last year’s arrival of general manager Tom Heckert, who has a great deal of experience in finding players qualified to run the West Coast version of offense that Holmgren has envisioned.
The same can be said for decisions made along the defensive side of the ball, as veteran coach Dick Jauron has been tapped to revamp, or possibly reinvent a traditional Browns’ weakness. While not exclusively a Holmgren disciple, Jauron will likely install a defense that is more familiar to Heckert than Eric Mangini’s 3-4 scheme. After all, Heckert’s contributions to recent Philadelphia drafts focused on finding more traditional 4-3 types of defenders.
Of course, aligning all the major components of an NFL franchise was the easy part. And yes, after more than a decade of futile front office direction in Cleveland, this is perhaps the greatest understatement ever uttered. Finally, the overall direction of the Browns has been set in place and more importantly, it appears that a clear chain of command exists.
But now comes the hard part. Despite the presence of what appears to be some badly needed front office unity, success in the NFL is decided by the talent on the field.
In the Browns’ case – particularly among the defense – a talent upgrade is badly needed. Heckert’s recent thoughts seem to foreshadow some offseason changes.
"It's gonna be a challenge, no question," Heckert said. "There's gonna be some turnover. We have some age on the team. We have to get younger."
While many Browns’ followers are lamenting the decision to “blow up” the team’s defense after some modest gains in 2010, the on-field and injured reserve evidence is overwhelmingly apparent. The numbers may have inched forward, but last season’s Mangini-built defense simply lacked playmakers. Built for power, the defense wore down as the season progressed, thanks to a combination of age and injuries.
In a hypothetical sense, the same types of roster turnover would have occurred for another season with Mangini at the helm. Regardless of scheme, the Browns’ front seven is littered with players either ready to test free agency or dip their toes in the waters of retirement.
In fact, it’s possible that only three of the team’s regular front seven starters will return next season.
Along the front line, injuries again short-circuited veteran Robaire Smith’s season. Smith suffered a serious back injury early in the season, which hurt the team’s run defense. Across the line, Kenyon Coleman played on a shaky knee for most of the season, while Shaun Rogers was largely invisible. The only consistent performance found along the defensive line was the play of Ahtyba Rubin. However, thanks to the limited depth around him, Rubin fell apart in December.
Behind Rubin and the veteran starters on the depth chart are a collection of unknown players such as Travis Ivey, Ko Quaye, Brian Sanford, Jayme Mitchell and the scrappy, yet underwhelming Brian Schaefering.
A similar story can be told regarding the team’s linebackers. A midseason injury to Scott Fujita significantly contributed to the defense’s second-half decline in 2010 – particularly against the rush. Fujita’s injury forced Matt Roth into more of a run defense role, which hampered the team’s pass rush. While Chris Gocong played well inside, his veteran counterparts – including Eric Barton and David Bowens – could not be counted on to play significant roles.
Moving beyond the 2010 starters, the rest of the linebacking corps includes situational pass rusher Marcus Benard and a host of special teams players, including Jason Trusnik, Titus Brown, Eric Alexander and Blake Costanzo. Former starter D’Qwell Jackson and 2009 draft pick Kaluka Maiava both ended the season on injured reserve.
Looking ahead to 2011 and a move towards a 4-3 alignment, it’s possible that only Rubin and Fujita are locks to return to the starting lineup. Gocong and Roth are both free agents, while Smith, Coleman, Barton and Bowens will likely not be part of the new regime’s plans. Perhaps the same can be said for Rogers, who is still owed a sizeable chunk of money for next season.
As it stands now, Rubin could greatly benefit from a shift towards a more traditional four-man line. Despite his considerable size, Rubin was often pushed around as a nose tackle. The addition of another defensive tackle could also reduce the wear on Rubin’s body in 2011. As for the linebackers, Fujita should prove capable as a 3-4 outside linebacker – a position he has played in the past – while Gocong could be brought back to play inside. The rest of the roster’s current prospects don’t offer much beyond Benard possibly shifting to defensive end, which in reality, is what he mainly played for most of 2010.
Basic math would tell you that retaining only three to four potential 2011 defensive front seven starters is a frightening proposition. However, I suppose none of us should be too surprised. After all, the 2010 Browns’ defense was largely comprised of veterans on their last legs.
Perhaps even more frightening is the idea that only Rubin, Jackson and Maiava were original Browns’ draft picks.
Suddenly, Heckert looks like a prophet … one who has a lot of work to do.
Here are a couple of whispers we've heard recently from around the AFC North:
• One position of need for the Browns: finding a back to complement the bruising Peyton Hillis in Pat Shurmur's version of the West Coast offense, the way we hear it. The return of Montario Hardesty, who missed the 2010 season with a knee injury, will improve the club's RB depth, but he's a physical back like Hillis, and a quicker back would be a good addition to the offense.
• After the Ravens' offense finished a disappointing 22nd in yards gained in the regular season and was largely shut down in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh, there was speculation about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's future with the team, but the Ravens are sticking with him. Owner Steve Bisciotti explained the decision thusly: "I know that there's been a lot of heat on Cam, and I talked with (head coach) John (Harbaugh), I guess, (for) four hours over the three days, the last few days. Probably two hours one time, an hour and an hour in three straight days, and a lot of it was directed at the offense. And John's feeling is that we like Cam under fire as our offensive coordinator next year. Sometimes it's easier to replace them, and the fans, their frustration can't lead us to offer somebody up for sacrifice for the things that went wrong, because I have a litany of examples of our defense letting us down, too, that caused a lot of these things. And I'll speak specifically to the Atlanta game, when (QB Joe Flacco) came back on the road and drove through two touchdown passes and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter against a very good team, and the defense gave up a touchdown in the last 65 seconds. So, if you want to go through things, every position group had a failure, every coach had a failure, and it all added up to 13 wins and five losses."
The Cleveland Browns today named Chris Tabor as special teams coordinator, the team announced. Tabor brings 18 years of coaching experience between the high school, college and professional levels, including the last three as the Chicago Bears’ assistant special teams coach.
“I believe that Chris is one of the up and coming special teams coaches in this league,” said Browns head coach Pat Shurmur. “He is smart, enthusiastic and has a true passion for this area of the game. In Chris’ three years with the Bears, they consistently boasted one of the best special teams groups in the league, in just about every facet. Having faced them in 2008 and 2009, I know what a challenge it was to go up against their unit. He will be a valuable addition to our coaching staff.”
During Tabor’s three years working with the Bears’ special teams units, Chicago consistently ranked among the league leaders in numerous departments. The Bears ranked in the top-five in no less than nine different special teams categories combined over that three-year period. Chicago led the NFL in total return yards (6,570) and kickoff return yards (5,415) and posted the second-best kickoff return average (25.1), ranked third in punt return defense (7.1) and produced the fifth-best punt return average (10.4). The Bears registered six total kick returns for touchdowns in that time, tied for the second-most in the league.
Also during Tabor’s tenure, the Bears tied for fifth in the league in punts inside the 20-yard line (90) and tied for seventh in field goal percentage (86.2). Since 2008, Chicago is one of only six teams in the NFL to allow one or fewer kick return touchdowns as that total is tied for second in the league over this span.
Tabor also has helped shape some of the NFL’s top return specialists. In 2008, Danieal Manning led the NFL in kickoff return average (29.7). In 2009, Johnny Knox finished second in the league in kickoff return average (29.0) and earned a Pro Bowl selection as a kick returner. In 2010, Devin Hester led the NFL in punt return average (17.1) and punt return touchdowns (3) en route to earning a Pro Bowl nod as a kick returner.
In 2010, the Bears ranked first in the league in punt return average (17.1), second in kickoff return average (25.4), second in average drive start after kickoffs (31.5) and ninth in punt return defense (7.8).
Prior to Chicago, Tabor spent two seasons at Western Michigan University (2006-07) as the running backs and special teams coach. He spent four seasons at Utah State University, where he was the running backs and special teams coach in 2005 after being the Aggies’ assistant head coach in charge of wide receivers from 2002-04.
Tabor spent four seasons at the University of Missouri, first as an offensive graduate assistant (1997-99) before moving into the role of running backs and special teams coach in 2000. Tabor was also the head coach at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo. in 2001.
From 1993-1996, Tabor built experience at the community college and high school levels, coaching at Central Methodist College (1995-96) in Fayette, Mo., Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College (1994) and Benton High School (1993) in St. Joseph, Mo.
Tabor graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he played four seasons as quarterback. He earned a master’s degree in education from Columbia (Mo.) College.
Chris and wife, Nikki, have two daughters, Paityn and Lainey.
Chris Tabor’s Coaching Background:
1997-99 University of Missouri, offensive graduate assistant coach
2000 University of Missouri, running backs and special teams coach
2001 Culver-Stockton College, head coach
2002-04 Utah State University, assistant head coach in charge of wide receivers
2005 Utah State University, running backs and special teams coach
2006-07 Western Michigan University, running backs and special teams coach
2008-2010 Chicago Bears, assistant special teams coach
While contemptuously watching those vile, inbred, disgusting, dirty, hated Pittsburgh Steelers and their toothless hilljack fan base celebrating the team’s 24-19 victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, thus earning their second trip to the Super Bowl in the last three years and third career trip for Ben “No Means No” Roethlisberger, I got to thinking about the last time things were this bad for the average Cleveland sports fan.
It has been quite awhile.
In the 1990’s we had the Indians dominating the American League, though never winning a World Series title. Even without a ring to show for it I will never forget watching that team. Albert Belle was the most dangerous right-handed hitter in the game and Carlos Baerga was destined to collect 200 hits and drive in 100 runs, with 20 home runs, every year for the endless future. Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome were up-and-coming sluggers we watched grow up in the system before our very eyes, and we stole Kenny Lofton, the best leadoff hitter and defensive centerfielder in the Majors, for virtually nothing.
And that pitching staff…The Bulldog, El Presidente, Charles Nagy, Mark Clark and a young Chad Ogea with Assenmacher and Plunk setting the table and Jose Mesa slamming the door. Man, that was fun.
So we had something to root for in the 1990’s.
In the 80’s there were the Kardiac Kids early and Bernie’s Boys late. Browns football was fun to watch in the Decade of Greed, but no Super Bowl championship was forthcoming. I still have the Divisional playoff game against the Jets, the double-overtime game, on tape and pull it out about once a year to watch. That game inspired me to buy scalped tickets for the AFC Championship Game against the Broncos (at the healthy sum of $40.00 for a ticket on the 20-yard line…can you even park for that anymore?), and I sat with my buddies in sub-zero weather, drinking homemade Hungarian tomato wine to keep warm and watched as Elway ripped out our hearts. What I would give to have the Browns in that kind of position again.
The Browns were our team to root for in the 80’s, and we even had a couple of flashes from the Indians in ’85 and the Cavaliers in the early part of the decade. World B. Free was acquired via trade and, to be honest, is the only reason we still have a reasonable facsimile of NBA basketball in Cleveland. World put fannies in the seats and carried that team to the playoffs, but that was a long time ago.
There were quite a few bad years to choose from in the 1970’s, but I settled on one year that, for certain, was a horrible year for Cleveland sports fans. The year 1974 should be wiped from the record books.
There are quite a few parallels. In 1974 the Browns were abysmal, and we had to start the calendar year by watching Warren native, Ohio State alumni and former Cleveland Browns receiver Paul Warfield win a Super Bowl with the Miami Dolphins. The Browns traded Warfield to the Dolphins in 1970 for the draft pick that brought them Purdue All-America quarterback Mike Phipps. Warfield should have been a Brown for life, but he got his ring with someone else.
Then, after the team drafted Billy Corbett, an offensive tackle from Johnson C. Smith (College? University? High? I have no idea) with its top pick in the draft, a second-rounder, the team lost five of its first six under Nick Skorich and never recovered – finishing 4-10. The Browns lost to the Steelers twice and finished last in the AFC Central, six games behind Pittsburgh. By the way, the hated Steelers would go on to win the first of their four Super Bowls in the decade.
How about the 1973-74 Cavaliers? In the team’s last season in the dark, sweaty bandbox known as Cleveland Arena, the Cavs under Bill Fitch finished 29-53. The team was last in the NBA in scoring (at 100.3 points per game) and had a bunch of players in their first or second year, with 13-year veteran Lenny Wilkins running the show. The Cavs would move to the Richfield Coliseum the next season and, within a couple of years, miracles would happen. But after the 73-74 season things looked pretty bad for the Cadavers, as Pete Franklin called them.
And, finally, the Indians. Under Ken Aspromonte the final record, 77-85, wasn’t exactly terrible…but the Indians did finish 14 games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East and were never serious contenders in the division. Two things stand out from this season; this was the year, on June 4, when infamous Ten-Cent Beer Night took place (we all have heard the story a million times) and, second, the Indians made the following trade with the Yankees: Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw went from Cleveland to New York in exchange for Fritz Peterson (best known for trading wives with Mike Kekich), Steve Kline, Fred Beene and Tom Buskey. I would say we didn’t get nearly enough, wouldn’t you?
Here we are, in 2011, in the following situation: The Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA after being spurned by a local kid that never grew up, the Browns have hired yet another head coach after a pretty bad season, the Indians had a rough year, signed Austin Kearns as their only free agent and are asking fans to have faith in them. Oh, and the toothless hillbillies from a couple hours east of the city are going to the Super Bowl again.
Please, take a moment and think about things. Then drop me a quick email explaining why I should have any hope as a Cleveland fan. Which franchise is headed in the right direction? Why should I have faith that things will turn around for the Cavs, Browns or Indians?
Meanwhile, I think I am going to make an appointment with my doctor to see if I can get on some kind of medication for the dark despair I am feeling. But, then again, is Paxil or Zoloft strong enough to get me to put on a happy face and see the bright side of things? I have no idea where the bright side is, or how to find it.
By the way, go Packers. However, I’m pretty certain you have no chance because the entire world of sports is set up to make one town, our fair city, Cleveland, Ohio, suffer.
Has anybody ever farted on a first date ? if so who did you blame ? was there a dog around or maybe a duck . or did you blame her / him .
stay away from pasta on a first date if your lactose intolerant .
Has anybody ever farted on a first date ?
Could be worse, you know. Your date could take it as a challenge and "reply" with a window-rattler of her own.
That TD Drive blows my prediction of Phil Dawson kicking 5 FG'S To win today ....KEWL
More TD'S I Could get used to this