Category Archives: First and 10

First and 10: The rest of the story

First and 10 started here this week. Following is … the rest of the story:

11) Brandon Weeden’s play against Washington was a clunker. He’s on pace to perhaps have the second-most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history, but he’s thrown 17 interceptions and his rating ranks him 32nd in the league. He’s also 29, which changes that prism by which he’s viewed (at 22, these would be “young mistakes.”) But the Browns drafted Weeden knowing he’d be 29 during the season (four months younger than Derek Anderson). He had to be good, right away. At times, he’s shown he can play. At times he’s looked very good. That throw to Josh Gordon in Indianapolis stands out. At other times, he’s looked lost and slow-footed and indecisive. These are all symptoms of a rookie, but the Browns also said a few weeks ago that Weeden no longer should be looked on as a rookie. So … Weeden really needs a couple good games to end the season. Against some very real and meaningful competition.

12) What did one highly regarded personnel guy say about Weeden prior to the draft? It wasn’t pretty. He thought Weeden was a guy with bad footwork who did not react well to pressure. That he locks on a receiver, and can’t really move in the pocket. That he never got a lot of pressure at Oklahoma State and when he did he had Justin Blackmon to bail him out. These were the knocks that prompted one front office type to say the Browns wasted a pick when they took him. But there have been times this season when he was able to stand in the face of pressure and deliver a good pass — as in Baltimore and Indianapolis when Greg Little and Josh Gordon dropped touchdowns. There have been times Weeden has looked good. But there have been times when he’s really, really struggled. And struggling with the season winding down is the worst possible time.

13) Trent Richardson is a bit of an enigma. His per-carry average is way below expected, but he’s produced a bunch of touchdowns. He has made some super plays when fully healthy, but has really slowed down since taking that shot to the ribs against Cincinnati. He plows through people at the goal-line, but runs into them at the 50. Meanwhile, a guy like Alfred Morris of Washington — a late-round rookie — is bigger, seems quicker and runs with more fluidity than Richardson, who is all herky-jerky. Richardson has done far too much to be considered a bust, but it’s pretty lame for the Browns to publicize him as the all-time leading rookie rusher when he’s going to pass Jim Brown in 16 games while Brown played 12. How important is Richardson’s production?  If the playoffs were today, the NFL’s top five rushing teams — Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota and Houston — would be in the playoffs.

First and 10: The rest of the story

First and 10 started here this week … what follows is the rest of the story…

11) Joe Haden can’t have many games like he had against Baltimore if he wants to be among the elite of NFL cornerbacks. Haden is not elite, and that game showed he is far from it. The Ravens, according to Pro Football Focus, threw at Haden eight times and completed five — for 88 yards and a touchdown. A game-winning touchdown. What was more eyebrow-raising was that the Ravens showed no shyness about going after Haden. They simply threw right at him. That does not scream elite, but it does scream that if there are more games like this that maybe I’ve overstated his importance to the defense.

12) The Sporting News did a poll of players about teams and organizations, and the results called the Browns the worst organization in football. The poll included votes from 103 players on 27 teams, which isn’t exactly a huge sample size (where’s Nate Silver when you need him?). Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts, a Cleveland native, included this comment: “They don’t give anybody a chance. When I was growing up, they were getting rid of quarterbacks every two years. Coaches, too. You can’t do that. Most of the time when I was growing up, after the Browns came back in 1999, they were a sorry team. Under old management, they never gave those guys a chance. They let the fans dictate too much what was going on. I don’t know how it is now since I became a Jaguar (in 2011), but when I followed them, one bad game and they’d want to bench the quarterback. Cleveland is my city and my heart. It has the most loyal fans and a very rich history. I hope they can get back to winning.” The most interesting part of that statement: That there is a perception among players that the team responds to the laments of the fans. That is not good when trying to attract free agents.

13) Time for a look at the fourth down throw by Brandon Weeden, that much-questioned call on fourth-and-2 from the 28. The Browns lined up pretty clearly intending to throw — with one back, two guys wide left and one wide to the right. The only run would have been that lame inside handoff that works in Cleveland only slightly better than the screen pass:

At the snap Weeden did what he did against Indianapolis, look at the one guy he has zeroed in on. This would be Greg Little, matched up against Baltimore’s nickel back. He decided pre-snap that’s where he was going, and after taking the snap that’s where he’s looking:

Weeden is ready to throw pretty quickly. He’s already taken his step forward, and at this point Marcus Pollard of Baltimore sees it and has started leaning toward Little. This would eventually blow up the play:

Little looks open as Weeden is about to throw. At this point, there’s nobody else open. So he may as well try this pass, except Pollard saw the same thing:

Pollard at this point has undercut the route, and Weeden tries to adjust in mid-throw. It didn’t work. Pollard has taken away his throw, and even if he hadn’t, there’s no one else to throw to:

The ball sails well high. Weeden basically threw it to Yao Ming. But he did it because Pollard forced the throw.

And Baltimore is happy and the Browns are not:

The solution? For the second time on a key fourth down, Weeden locked on a receiver and missed him — Josh Cooper in Indianapolis, Little here. The routes were not complex, and there weren’t a ton of options. Perhaps Weeden could wait a little longer to see how the play develops. It would be nice to think he could have looked off Pollard and thrown to someone else. He had time. But nobody was open. The solution: Perhaps in this case Shurmur was right … Weeden needed a better play,

14) Pro Football Focus also reported that Terrell Suggs rushed the passer 29 times, hit Weeden once and hurried him once. That happened when he lined up on the left side opposite Mitchell Schwartz (who is playing some pretty good right tackle, by the by). On the 12 plays that Suggs lined up on the right “he got nothing,” wrote ProFootballFocus.com. Joe Thomas anyone?

15) It’s about the Ravens, yes, but if you don’t enjoy watching Ed Reed play the game, then you don’t enjoy the game.

Special First and 10 Thursday edition: The rest of the story

The bonus Thursday edition of First and 10 started here this week. This is … the rest of the story:

11) Pat Shurmur had to be touched. Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner each played the “progress” card in Wednesday’s news conference. Banner said overall, “I think fairly quickly people are going to see progress.” Haslam even said Shurmur was “making progress.” Can’t you just see the coach wiping a tear from his eye?

12) Hey. Lighten up. It’s a JOKE.

13) I noticed today that my spellcheck on this Mac program recommends change the word “Shurmur” to “charmer.” For some reason that seems interesting.

14) Let’s please put a halt to all the over-the-top excitement regarding the win over Cincinnati. It was a good win. It meant something. But the only reason fans were so excited was because the Browns had not won in so long that a measly win over the Bengals produced a reaction a touch out of proportion to the event. Think of a bottle of soda, with all those feelings of Browns fans kept under the cap. Then make it worse by shaking the bottle and then opening it. And doing that 11 times. Once it opens, it’s going to explode. That’s the way it was with the emotions last Sunday. Wins had been so long in coming the emotion shot out of the bottle.

15) The issue of continuity is out there. The one consistent fact about the Browns since 1999 is they’ve been inconsistent, changing coaches, regimes and approaches on the average of once every two years. But … if Shurmur continues to win (a gargantuan if) and if the Browns finish decently an argument could be made to keep him. That this was his first true season with an offseason and all that blah blah blah. That Brandon Weeden would not benefit from a change in coach and system. That continuity might be for the best. What did Banner say about that? “I don’t think you see any operations that are successful that don’t have continuity. So I view continuity as important. But you have to pick the right time to begin to talk of continuity. When you feel the organization is set up with the right people, then you have continuity. I want to be able to attract really good people and create an environment where they’re going to want to stay. But you may have to go through a process getting to the point where we have that in place.” Translation: We’ll have continuity when the guys I want are in the key jobs.

16) The final word comes from Jimmy Haslam, who shall be quoted without comment: “We’re going to be involved, but I think involved in the proper way. I’ve said this publicly. I have five people — or did have, that changed Monday — five people that reported to me at Pilot Flying J. They’re all smarter than I am, or better at their role than I am and we let them do their jobs. On the other hand, we question them, we push them, we challenge them, and we hold them accountable. I think we’ll use that same managerial style.” Yes, he does use the imperial “we” quite a bit. And yes, I guess I lied. Because that was a comment. But an Irish guy tends to notice that dadgum imperial “we,” cuz “we” know where it started. Alas, we digress. Focus on the quote, that a really wealthy person actually admitted he has folks working for him who are smarter than him. Now that’s something.

First and 10: The rest of the story

First and 10 started here this week.

Now for the rest of the story …

11) One factor that might have helped the Giants running game: D’Qwell Jackson left with a concussion and rookie L.J. Fort took his place. Did it matter? The Giants ran well before Jackson was hurt, but after they were an avalanche. Prior to the injury the Giants ran 14 times for 69 yards, 4.9 yards per carry. After Jackson’s injury, the Giants were 20 for 174 yards, an average of 8.2 yards per carry. With or without Jackson, the Giants ran; they just ran more without him. It’s sort of like Niagara Falls. It might slow down during a drought, but the water still drops relentlessly. And if you can figure how that applies to the Browns running game, you win a CD featuring Bob Vila discussing what to do with old barnwood.

12) I asked defensive coordinator Dick Jauron in training camp how he judges the run defense, and he said simply: “Wins.” Got it.

13) Guess we’ll find out how valuable Joe Haden really is this week, and how well he kept in shape during his suspension. Haden said all the right things in his apology, but now he gets welcomed back with A.J. Green, who is off to an historic start — Green is the first player ever to have 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns by his 20th game. If Haden is as good as he’s been made out to be by many folks (me included), then this Sunday is the time to show it.

14) Reminds me of way back when when Orlando Brown ripped a teammate named Scott Rehberg for not playing with the flu. Lomas Brown jumped on the pile by saying he had no problem with what the guy they called Zeus said, then added if Rehberg wanted to make things up to the team he could go out and have a strong game against Raylee Johnson the coming weekend in San Diego. Johnson had three sacks in a bad Browns loss, and Rehberg was the first Browns player to walk off the field. If Haden truly wants to make it up his teammates, well, Green is there this weekend.

15) You just can’t have enough Browns-since-1999 stories.

16) Won’t it be nice when that day arrives in the 22nd century when all we talk about after Browns games are normal old wins and losses?

First and 10: The rest of the story

The first 10 items of First and 10 are here.

We start the rest of the story with some numbers:

11) At the quarter-pole of the season, Brandon Weeden has thrown 167 passes. Only Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford have more attempts. Weeden is averaging just under 42 passes per game. That’s a lot of passes, especially when Weeden’s 60.4 rating is factored in — a rating that places him 32nd in the league. But that rating is skewed a bit by the opener, which was 5.1 Since that game, Weeden’s rating is 77.2, and he’s thrown for 879 yards in three games with three TDs and three INTs.

12) While Weeden is racking up attempts, Trent Richardson has 64 carries, 16 per game. So Weeden is averaging 26 more passes per game than Richardson has carries. Richardson was coming off a knee injury when the season started, and Baltimore plays good run defense. But at the quarter pole the Browns have 167 passes and 75 runs. Richardson is the Browns leading receiver, with 15 catches. That says plenty by itself. But the half-full view also says those 15 catches mean he is touching the ball 16 times per game instead of 14. Yes, it’s come to numbers like that. Already.

13) Why Richardson was not on the field at the end of the game in Baltimore is something I cannot explain. When he was drafted, Richardson was touted as an every-down back who could block, catch and run. He showed against Cincinnati that he can break a big play at any time. Yes, he may need a rest now and then. But what the Browns gain by playing Chris Ogbonnaya on third down or late in games seems negated by what they lose by not having Richardson on the field in the game’s most important plays. Especially in the final minute of a game when the team needs a touchdown to tie. Sigh … On to the Giants.

14) Personal note: Sat down with Medina’s Scott McGurk to talk about the loss of his son Scott two years ago. That story appeared elsewhere on this esteemed web site today. It’s a personal story of tragedy mixed with triumph about a special young man. Yes, it’s blatant self-promotion, but for the family’s sake I recommend giving it a read and offering them a comment of support. The story on Thomas McGurk and the McGurk family is here.

First and 10: The rest of the story

First and 10 started here this week. Follows are five bonus items. I expect the iPad under the tree in December to be white:

11) The Browns are so young that many of them have no idea what they’re in for in Baltimore on a Thursday night. The atmosphere will be intense, they’ll see Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on the other side of the ball and they’ll have to defend Flacco in the no-huddle, an offense defensive coordinator Dick Jauron preferred running when he was coach in Buffalo. “To some degree,” Jauron said, “it puts the defense on edge.” Baltimore will be running said no-huddle against a defense that gave up 58 points the last two games. Sheesh.

12) Back to the scabs … err … replacement refs. Browns players are predictably weary of the situation, especially after watching that Monday night call. “It’s a joke what the league is doing,” said linebacker Scott Fujita, who has to choose his words carefully because he’s still contesting a three-game suspension. Sheldon Brown said the call that gave Seattle a win was “terrible.” Then he added: “The New England game was terrible too (on Sunday night).” And Josh Cribbs pointedly said: “I just think the integrity of the game is now in question.”

13) Cribbs’ statement was based on a few facts. First is the call in Seattle. “I disagreed …” Cribbs said. “It was a bad call.” Then he elaborated. “We don’t have the best refs out there,” he said. “We got the best players but not the best refs. That’s a problem for me because it means so much to us. We got our contract dispute done before the season started. It just seemed like they could have done on that end as well.” Cribbs actually said he feels sorry for the replacement guys, that it’s asking too much of them. But ask if you’d go to a replacement doctor? “How easy do you think it is to give all these guys a crash course and say they’re ready?” Brown said. “In this game? Man, this is tough. It’s fast. There’s stuff going on. It’s crazy man. You have to do this for a while.”

14) Cribbs also pointed out that guys are pushing the envelope to get away with as much as they can because they know the replacement guys don’t know the rules (see Golden Tate’s shove of Sam Shields before he caught the interception for a game-winning touchdown). “That’s why I keep saying the integrity of our game,” Cribbs said. “You got guys saying, ‘I know that ref don’t know about this call.’ Then they’re gonna try to get away with it and they will. For the simple fact that they’ll try, that’s the integrity. It shouldn’t be allowed. For us to know more rules than the refs right now …” He pointed out the league has rules about socks and uniforms, but wondered: “Who holds the NFL accountable?” While some think the bad call in Seattle might prompt the league to give in negotiations, Fujita was not sure: “The league is known to be pretty stubborn on things. They might just dig in even more.”

15) Finally, I asked Brown what the general player feeling is about commissioner Roger Goodell. He thought, then said, and I quote him directly: “I would assume they all love him. Smile.”

First and 10: The rest of the story

First and 10 started here this week … and now it finishes here with two bonus items. You may thank me later:

11) Greg Little had a pretty nice game for himself Sunday, playing through a shot to his hip to catch five passes and score a touchdown. After the score, Little did an end zone dance, then signaled “2” and “3” to honor Joe Haden, the Browns suspended corner. After the game, Little tweeted photos of his 2-3 tribute, and of his posing like Usain Bolt. There’s nothing wrong with supporting a teammate, but in this case it’s a little … curious. Haden might have cost the Browns a win with his suspension, and if his suspension really was for a one-night Adderall high then you really wonder if it was worth it to him. It’s costing Haden a lot of money and does nothing for his reputation. With Haden out the secondary’s play changes (and yes, I’m well aware my good friend and longtime blog follower Terje disagrees with that premise … nice to have Terje back). Yet Little chose to pay tribute to a guy whom the league saw fit to suspend for using “performance enhancing drugs.” Curious. It’s also curious that he’d dance and celebrate during and after a loss. Folks seem to shrug this off as “today’s players,” but I’m not buying it. Since when is acting like a pro a generational thing? Either you do or you don’t. It was like T.J. Ward celebrating a tackle after BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained seven yards on third-and-1. What was to celebrate? Until guys truly understand it’s about the team and not their individual achievements, it seems that this team will struggle.

12) Last season I kind of wondered at D’Qwell Jackson telling Phil Taylor he had played a great game when Taylor commited a huge blunder on a key down against Baltimore. It’s almost unfair to Jackson, who is off to a fabulous start and who plays hard every play of every down of every game. Sunday, when Ward signaled incomplete after a seven-yard gain was another time when perhaps a pointed, veteran voice might have come in handy. One that might have said, ‘Excuse me Mr. Ward, but the guy just ran FOR A FIRST DOWN. So please … let’s go easy with the posturing.’ Same with Greg Little’s touchdown dance. Perhaps at that point a veteran might go to him and say, ‘Mr. Little, I too am excited about your score, but this really isn’t the time to celebrate yourself. Not when we as a team, as a 53-man group, are losing.’ A foot in the backside could have followed either statement. Instead Pat Shurmur basically said he doesn’t care what his guys do as long as they don’t get a penalty. One wonders if Jimmy Haslam believes this represents the team well. Those actions did not hurt the Browns or cost them the game, but they are emblematic of an attitude that says individual success is more important than team success, especially when the individual achievement is after the other team had a successful play. I still remember Corey Fuller in one training camp practice getting beat for a touchdown by Quincy Morgan. After crossing the goal-line, Morgan flipped the ball away. Fuller ran, grabbed the ball and chased Morgan 40 yards downfield and shoved the ball in Morgan’s gut. What did he say: “I told him to hand the ball to the ref,” Fuller said at the time. “Got to get them right.” Evidently the process continues.

First and 10: On the Eagles, and the cone of silence

1) Mike Holmgren danced the very delicate dance a team must dance (like that word?) when a player returns from injury after missing the entire preseason. Especially if said player is a key player the offense needs rather badly. Trent Richardson had arthroscopic surgery Aug. 9 and was not seen on the practice field for the Browns until Monday. Will he play in Sunday’s opener? Can he play? How much will he play? Those are all questions the Browns must answer. On the one hand, the Browns have a coach who believes if a guy can play he should play, so put him out there. Pat Shurmur does not seem inclined to ease a guy back in. But Holmgren danced the dance, mentioning “number of touches” and adding Richardson “hasn’t practiced in a while and I’ve been in this situation before with players.” He said with a full camp, Richardson was going to touch the ball a lot. “Now, you have to be careful,” Holmgren said. “Because he hasn’t practiced. The worst thing we could do is rush him before he is ready. So, that’s a medical, training decision. They’ll help us with that one.” Holmgren was not contradicting his coach. Shurmur admitted the Browns “still have to be smart” (!) about how they use Richardson. What both guys were doing is illustrating the difficulty of the decision the Browns have ahead of them. The last thing this team needs is a bad start, but the last thing the team needs to do with the third pick in the draft is take a chance on losing him by rushing him back. Nothing, it seems, is ever simple with the Cleveland Browns.

2) It’s also possible the Browns are sandbagging by keeping Richardson under wraps until the season opener. This would not seem to gain the Browns any edge against the Eagles defense. Either the Browns run or they don’t; it’s not like the Eagles will decide tackling is optional if it’s Montario Hardesty or Brandon Jackson. Holding Richardson out merely keeps him fresh. Perhaps the Browns made a judgment to let him take two extra weeks to get ready, and they’ve declined to reveal their intentions. This would mesh with the “new secrecy” approach in Berea.

3) Example of said secrecy: On Saturday coach Pat Shurmur said of Richardson practicing: “We’re hopeful that he’ll be out here very soon. I keep saying that, but that’s where it’s at.” Monday after Richardson practiced, Shurmur said: “I knew he’d be out here today.” Which sort of brought to mind the cone of silence form the old Get Smart TV show, because it seems appropriate for the situation. If the Browns knew Richardson would practice Monday, why not say so a couple days ahead of time? Is it that big a deal to keep it secret? Shurmur could say he knew Sunday, but if there was a plan to bring Richardson back on Monday, why not say Saturday: “He rode the bike today and the plan is he practices on Monday.” Is that really all that difficult? Or would the cone malfunction and smash through the desk and leave all participants sitting cross-legged and bent over on the floor?

4) Don’t remember the cone of silence you say?

5) The sooner this Joe Haden drama ends one way or the other the better. Early Tuesday Mike Holmgren spilled the beans on 92.3 The Fan that Haden had indeed been suspended and filed an appeal, but an NFL spokesman said there was nothing to report on the matter. Bottom line: A suspension hurts the Browns defense because Haden can actually cover people. If he plays, the defense gets a boost. If he doesn’t, the defense has problems. Mike Vick could show just how meaningless the preseason is for veterans. Vick missed the final two games and threw a grand total of seven passes as he dealt with two injuries. If Vick comes out and plays well, all this drivel about the importance of preseason games is just that. Of course, Richardson could show the same thing for rookies as well. Provided he escapes the cone of silence before Sunday.

6) If the Browns aren’t paying a lot of attention to the right side of their offensive line as Sunday approaches then it’s time to get some secret information through the shoe phone (sorry about that Chief … note the theme?). Because the Browns have a rookie right tackle lining up to face Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks a year ago. Sliding help to the right side seems possible because the Browns have Joe Thomas on the left side, but in the third preseason game against Philadelphia both Trent Cole and Darryl Tapp took advantage of Thomas. Then the Eagles roll in backups like Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham, both of whom have the ability and the quicks to get to the quarterback. This in essence is why Sunday’s opener is so tough: The Eagles rush with relentless speed, and don’t need to blitz to bring the heat. Aside from Thomas and Phil Dawson, it’s honestly tough to find an individual matchup in this game that favors the Browns. Not that they can’t win, just that it’ll take some serious cone-of-silence planning to get it done.

7) It’s tough to grasp the Browns attitude toward the third preseason game, especially from the offensive line. Thomas didn’t shrug it off, but he did shrug it off, saying: “It was a pretty vanilla game, from both sides of it.” His point: Because the two teams play in the opener, neither team did much other than run basic plays and focus on individual matchups. So Thomas said he would learn a lot more about the Eagles from watching tape than by watching that game. “Both sides basically used it as a scrimmage,” he said. Schwartz was asked if he learned a lot from that game, and he said: “You learn from everything you do, not just the games.” O-K.

8) The take from GM Tom Heckert: “It wasn’t good. I’m not going to lie. … It wasn’t a good game. I’m hoping to just throw that out because we’re way better than that.” The key word there might just be “hoping.”

9) Conversely, the Browns are paper thin at linebacker as they try to defend Vick and LeSean McCoy, who ran for 1,309 yards and had more than 1,600 total yards a year ago. With Scott Fujita suspended and Chris Gocong hurt and James-Michael Johnson hurt, the Browns are down to Craig Robertson or L.J. Fort or newly acquired Tank Carder at outside linebacker. “You have young people that are going to have to stand up and play,” Holmgren said. “That’s just the way it is.”

10) Why does this opener seem like such a mismatch?

And, since it’s the opener, a bonus …

11) Hard to say what’s more eyebrow-raising. The fact that the Browns kept 15 rookies (second to the Rams in the NFL)  or the fact that everybody who was involved in the decision seemed surprised by the number. Bad teams usually have a lot of turnover, but for 15 rookies to be on a roster in the third year of a regime is really unusual. “In this locker room, my three-year-old is old,” said tight end Ben Watson. “I mean, goll-lee, we are a young team.” Holmgren used the word startled about the number, and Heckert said he wasn’t aware until he was told. Bill Walsh once won a Super Bowl with three rookies in the secondary, but he also had a guy named Montana at quarterback. Heckert put an … interesting … spin on the benefits of so many rookies. “Not that veterans aren’t, but these guys know — and I don’t want to be callous — but they know if they’re not performing we can make changes real quick,” Heckert said. “The veteran guys sometimes that’s probably less likely to happen, but these guys are enthusiastic. They’re excited about playing and its fun.” O-K.

First and 10: Yet again, the Browns treat the last preseason game like a (full-priced) glorified scrimmage

1) Here we go again. The fourth preseason game comes and the Browns plan to play their starters very little, if at all. Colt McCoy will start at quarterback. The offensive line probably will play one series, if that. So the final practice game comes down to backups and backups for the backups competing to fill out the bottom half of the roster. Given how sharp the Browns have looked, I guess it’s silly to get the starters on the field for a half.

2) The argument in favor of this approach: Avoid injuries with the starters and get guys to the regular season healthy. But that argument holds a lot more water when the team a) has made the playoffs in recent memory and b) has a veteran quarterback and veteran players around him and c) has played together for several years. Scott Fujita, Ben Watson and even Josh Cribbs might not need this game, but when a team has a rookie quarterback who will be 29 during the season and has a bunch of young receivers, it seems like said starters could use as much work as they can get. Brandon Weeden has yet to throw a touchdown in preseason. He’s fumbled three times in five quarters. Josh Gordon is growing. Greg Little looked lost last Friday against the Eagles. These guys need time to work together, to play together. Yet they won’t play as a unit in the final preseason game.

3) Yes, guys can get hurt. And that is a risk. But that risk is there in every play, every practice, every workout. Phil Taylor got hurt lifting weights. Miami lost offensive tackle Jake Long in a practice. Same with Chris Gocong. Protecting them when they’re so young and need so much work sends a message of entitlement and arrival way before anyone on this offense has arrived. Sit Tom Brady in the preseason and it doesn’t matter. Sit Brandon Weeden in the finale and it doesn’t seem to help anyone. Yes, the argument can be made that a coach’s job is at stake and if he loses a key player it could cause further problems with job security. But if a team isn’t ready for the opener and struggles because of it, that is just as damaging.

4) Meanwhile, fans keep paying full price for this fourth game, which makes the outrage over preseason football even more outrageous. Imagine the money paid to see a bunch of guys who will not play again the rest of the season. What a pleasure for the paying customer.

5) Pat Shurmur’s comment on Weeden’s readiness for the regular season? He addressed it Tuesday. “I think,” Shurmur said, “(Weeden’s) very prepared. I think he’s had an outstanding camp. I thought he had an outstanding offseason. Really he’s kind of improved every day. For a guy that’s going through this for the first time as a pro, I think he’s very ready.” Of course we’re all pleased he had such a good “offseason.”

6) Several rookie quarterbacks have played a lot this preseason, and only two have yet to throw a touchdown pass:

The above chart is pure number without perspective. It does not say approach, the opposition or philosophy. But those are the numbers.

7) Fujita said he remains “very confident” he will play in the opener against the Eagles. Fujita had been suspended three games for his alleged contributions to the Saints bounty program. Fujita declined to go into more detail, but the argument from the suspended players has them believing they can at least get a temporary restraining order staying the suspensions. The players and their attorneys believe that going ahead with the suspensions could cause them irreparable harm, which is why a judge would grant a restraining order putting the suspensions on hold until it’s decided if the commissioner acted properly. The players believe they should have the chance to argue in court that Roger Goodell went too far. If there is a court case, the NFL would be compelled to go to discovery, which would force them to reveal the evidence they had when they decided on the suspensions. The players have long maintained — and Fujita has gone on record — that there was never a pay-to-injure program with the Saints, and the league has no evidence there was.

8) Predictions are what they are, so take them that way. But the Browns are getting murdered nationally. The image of the team combined with its schedule has folks thinking this will be one looong season. “ESPN: The Magazine” came out this week and predicted a 1-15 finish, with the only win coming Week 15 over Washington. In talking with a league insider this week, he suddenly blurted out: “Oh-and-16 is a very real possibility there.” To which I wittily responded: “Seriously?”  He said: “Let’s put it this way: There is a higher probability of that than 5-11.” Ouch, ouch and double ouch.

9) The NFL can be a cold world sometimes. A few years back in a previous life while covering college football at Florida, I watched as safety Louis Oliver dislocated his elbow in a game. He was in so much pain after the game he was shaking. Trainers had to put his clothes on for him, and he could barely step to put on his pants. He actually came back to play two weeks later, but the sight of him shaking and shivering in complete agony lingers. Friday night Browns defensive lineman Marcus Benard dislocated his elbow on a goal-line play. Monday,  Shurmur was asked about Benard and he said: “He dislocated his elbow and they fixed it. We’ll just see how quickly he’ll progress.” Benard then was waived/injured on Tuesday — once he clears waivers he’ll either go on injured reserve or the team will come to an injury settlement with him. Evidently they didn’t “fix it” completely. I get that Shurmur’s approach is to avoid injury talk until he absolutely has to address it, but that just didn’t sound all that sympathetic.

10) On the flip side, Shurmur continues to say he’s “optimistic” running back Trent Richardson will face the Eagles in the opener. There has been no visual evidence to the media to support that optimism, though. Other than making a brief appearance to sign an autograph, Richardson has not been seen on the practice field since he was sidelined in early August. Not even to watch.

First and 10: Oh what a game it’ll be Friday night

For those who missed it earlier … repeated on the blog, because there simply is never enough …

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. (Of course it’s all about where his father attended high school.) 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 (who peers right through you on the right). 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.