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Sweet, home ... Cleveland?

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Now, we’re currently three years into the joint venture of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert (president and general manager, respectively), the “honeymoon” period is well and truly over between both fans and management. Current quarterback Colt McCoy is in a make-or-break season and some people are already circling in anticipation of picking over the carrion that could be forthcoming in Cleveland.

I have to say I’m not one of them.

What they’ve done I’d agree isn’t sexy, romantic or exciting. It’s been methodical, planned and a case study in evolution over revolution. Rather than any car or train wreck around the bend, I think I’d be more inclined to tip my hat and applaud where they are taking the franchise.

The NFL is a passing league. We all get that. There are exceptions to every rule however, and, as any tailor will tell you, you have to cut your cloth according to the material you have.

And that’s exactly what the Cleveland Browns have set about doing this off-season.

The Browns F.O. have made the frugal decision to "zig" when other teams are "zagging". They’re going to run where others pass.

Is this a permanent feature and the new identity of the franchise? I doubt it. I think given the choice they’d rather have had Robert Griffin III and names like Michael Floyd or Alshon Jeffery on the roster. But they have been sage enough to recognize where they are, that they already have solid foundations and they don’t need to force square pegs here. They can take another step forwards, albeit a different one from the rest of the pack.

Some of you may have seen my post on Trent Richardson in the Main Tank a couple of weeks ago. For those of you that don’t follow college football, I think if you were to put on a few games of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the 2012 Cleveland Browns and look at the plays and schemes you’d be hard pushed not to see some striking similarities.

Offensive Line

It’s hard to be critical of Colt McCoy for me. He is exactly who he was drafted to be, an intelligent guy who can manage a game if given the opportunity to do so. Sadly he's had a transitional offensive line to deal with last year, a running game that hiccupped, coughed and spluttered badly, no wide receiver that any defensive coordinator would (or indeed should) ever feel compelled to gameplan for. For my money, you could’ve put alot of QB's under center there last season, and - unless you were playing an option offense - they would’ve struggled mightily, too.

In September, the Browns lost Eric Steinbach early with a serious back injury and had to re-jig the line. Ordinarily this shouldn’t prove a problem and most franchises should be able to deal with one offensive line injury, but they also had a revolving right tackle situation early in the season with Oniel Cousins, Artis Hicks and Tony Pashos – the latter of which played with an injury throughout the season for the Browns, which have since cut him for a failed medical because of the same injury.

Rookie Jason Pinkston started at left guard in place of Eric Steinbach, and second-year pro (first-year starter) Shawn Lauvao started at right guard. Needless to say, it was a steep learning curve, and were it not for the presence of such talents as Alex Mack and Joe Thomas this could easily have devolved into the steaming pile that was the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line in 2010. Those first-year starters now have a vital year of experience in the bank to draw on in 2012.

Offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz is a great draft pick this year.

With Pashos gone and the Browns edging ever closer to an elite zone blocking scheme (ZBS – more later) geared running game, here is a guy who had the ability to keep both Quinton Coples and Nick Perry subdued, played in a ZBS at the University of California, was used to lead blocking and goes 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds with a bruising style of play. It wasn’t just a position of need, it could be a home run as well as another cog in an offense that is looking more and more like a smash mouth, one-back power football team.



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