Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lingering Items--Preseason Opener Edition

Generally speaking, the less said about preseason games, the better. It's easier to understand the underpinnings of the movie Inception than it is to draw conclusions about most preseason games.

So when the Cleveland Browns beat the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night 27-24 thanks to a quick start and the able leg of Phil Dawson, the knee jerk reaction of most fans likely fell into one of two themes: hmmm and start printing the playoff tickets.

It's early so let's just say that Saturday night was more of a hmmm.

What struck most was the opening series. When it was over it was a head slap moment that said "so that's what a real drive looks like."

Indeed it does. Who knows how much is left in quarterback Jake Delhomme's tank? But so long as there's something, you get the feeling that there will be more drives like this down the road.

For most of last season, the Browns offense looked like it did in Saturday night's second half. That's no knock on Colt McCoy. He's a rookie. But neither Derek Anderson nor Brady Quinn ever seemed like they could calmly go through their reads and then find the open receiver like Delhomme seemed to do so casually in his one series.

The contrast was that dramatic.

Meanwhile, Seneca Wallace looked like an interesting option should Delhomme get injured. Not exactly a run first quarterback, Wallace is still  clearly more comfortable using his scrambling ability and strong arm as his choice of weapons than he is dropping straight back.

Wallace's strong throw on the run to Brian Robiskie for the Browns' second touchdown was a thing of beauty. But in the NFL a quarterback has to learn when to restrain that kind of bravado.  Throw late over the middle too often and you'll find yourself on clipboard duty faster than you can say "Tim Couch."

Nonetheless watching Wallace gave good insight into exactly why head coach Eric Mangini suggested that Wallace will see game action even if Delhomme is healthy. Wallace is an excellent change of pace whose abilities should actually open up the running games as teams attempt to utilize extra defensive backs to counter his scrambling.  

McCoy, as mentioned, looked every bit the rookie as he played more than most fans anticipated. But if he does develop he'll actually be a nice blend between Delhomme and Wallace. Barring an injury in preseason, Brett Ratliff will be the odd man out.

It was actually fun to watch a professional quarterback like Delhomme in action. It gives fans hope that the days of one stuck in the mud drive after another will be a distant memory. That alone is reason to celebrate.  


The defense on the other hand looked to be still in fire drill mode, just like most of last season.

With Eric Wright out and two rookies, TJ Ward and Joe Haden, starting it looked unsettled. It was deja vu all over again.

Brandon McDonald showed once again that he's at best a minor talent, prone to occasional good play and long stretches of mediocrity. His future depends on injuries to others.

The best case scenario is for Haden to develop quickly so that McDonald at most can be relegated to nickel and dime situations. He just can't consistently cover a receiver and spends much more time than he should with his front facing the opposing end zone.

Haden didn't do much in his first game to either impress or disappoint but then it won't take much to break in the starting lineup. Meanwhile Ward could be one of the better draft picks in recent Browns' history. He's fast and plays physical. When he learns that running backs in the NFL need to be wrapped and not tapped, he'll be a force.

The linebacker and line play was just so so, which means not much has changed there either. Overall, about the only conclusion worth drawing Saturday night is that the offense is ahead of the defense, which actually might get people to pick up the phone and buy some tickets.

I really thought we were done with Braylon Edwards but he's the gift that keeps on giving.

His interview with the New York Times last week was like tossing a cup full of food into a pond full of carp. So I'll take the bait.

At the very least, the interview was one of the more fascinating reads you’re likely to come across when it comes to understanding the psyche of the professional athlete.

Running through Edwards’ mind, certainly, was that this interview would somehow further establish his brand and rehabilitate an image that to this point is more poser than accomplished. Instead, all he did was cement the notion that he’s a misanthrope with an ego that no matter what he may ultimately accomplish will always run 100 steps ahead.

I’m sure he felt comfortable trashing Cleveland given the hits its taken lately because of James. In that portion of his diatribe there wasn’t much new. There’s nowhere to have fun, the people are boring, blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard worse from better.

But the further insight surrounds Edwards’ need to build himself up by tearing others down. Not able to stand on his own very limited merits, he found a convenient straw man as if all that stands between him and worldwide acknowledgement of his awesomeness is to place his Cleveland years in the proper context.

Edwards has done this before, it’s just that he’s expanded his game a bit. It used to be that the people in Cleveland didn’t like him because he was from Michigan. That’s still there, according to Edwards, but it’s also because he had the audacity to show up to training camp in a Bentley! The gall of the fans to begrudge a young, successful athlete.

The only thing Edwards didn’t trot out to make his case is the race card. I suspect that will come with the next interview. But for now Edwards wants Cleveland to be viewed as a town that can’t handle a player with a New York attitude.

Actually, there may be something to that. Cities like Cleveland tend not to like loudmouth athletes, particularly loudmouth athletes that don’t perform. Basically Midwestern in its sensibilities, Cleveland and its kissing cousin cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, place a premium on results. That’s why players like Joe Thomas will always fit in and players like Edwards will not.

If I’m counting correctly, this is at least the 5th time that Edwards has tried to shape his brand and none to this point have worked and for reasons that aren’t all that complex: he simply can’t hold on to the damn ball. For all the introspection that Edwards feigns every time one of these profiles comes out, he still is remarkably clueless as to what he really needs to do in order to be successful.

Edwards can hang out in the clubs of New York where he feels most comfortable, though that doesn’t sound like it’s gone all that well for him, at least when it comes to trying to send champagne over to the Rihannas of the world. But until Edwards actually becomes a complete receiver, someone who blocks and someone who can be relied on to catch the ball, he’ll always be far less than the sum of his parts.


The Browns are clearly in upgrade mode, which leads to a question to ponder: Who will be cut first, McDonald or Ratliff?

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