Q&A with Waiting for Next Year

This week, Dan Parker of Cleveland sports blog Waiting for Next Year was kind enough to asnwer some questions to get us ready for the upcoming game against the Browns.  In return, I provided a response from the Seahawks’ perspective for the upcoming next installment of his excellent  “The Browns Will Win If…” article series, which should be available on their blog in the next day or two.

Thanks again Dan, and may the best team from the Pacific Northwest win!

1)  The Browns, much like the Seahawks, appear to have committed themselves to rebuilding, as evidenced by the new coaching staff and very young roster (the average age of the players on both teams hovers just below 26 years old).  What’s your opinion of the rebuild effort so far?  Are the Browns contenders now, or do they need another season or two to get their ducks in a row?

Well, I think the biggest problem is one of perception: it’s hard to sell a full-on rebuild for a team that was technically never really “built” in the first place. The Browns have played–and lost–exactly one playoff game since returning in 1999. The nuts and bolts is that Holmgren came in as Czar, took a year to review the roster, and then cleaned house. If I’m honest, I’d say that a lot of fans knew it was needed, that the Browns weren’t so much a ship in need of a captain as they were a cruise line in need of an entirely new boat. Early returns on Tom Heckert’s two drafts have been positive, and it’s clear the Browns elected to build up the defense first. So far, there are four legit players that have come from the top two rounds of the past two drafts: CB Joe Haden, SS TJ Ward, DT Phil Taylor, and DE Jabaal Sheard. Of those four, Sheard is the least polished right now, but all have made an impact early on in their careers. So, on one side of the ball, it looks like it’s going well. On offense, well, that’s another story. No WRs, a RB whom the new coach refuses to use, and a QB that looks to have regressed. Ooof.

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2) During his time in Seattle, Mike Holmgren was an excellent coach, but a poor general manager.  How well is he doing in his second stab at running a team’s front office?  Has he been able to keep his hands out of the coaching end of things?

As far as we know, he’s doing well to let his people do their thing. Tom Heckert is comfortable in the GM chair, and his drafts have been solid so far. It’s unclear in public as to how much Pat Shurmur is doing it on his own (if you watch the offense, you’d guess that Holmgren is nowhere near it), but the irony is that a lot of people didn’t want Holmgren to name himself coach, but are now ticked that he’s nowhere to be heard from when the offense is scuffling.

3) Judging by the team’s stats, the Browns appear to be better this year at passing the ball and defending against the pass than they are at running the ball and defending against the run.  Is that an accurate assessment, or are the stats not telling the whole story here?

I would say that, on defense, the numbers are right on. When fully healthy, the Browns have some good young talent in the defensive backfield, and they’ve been able to get some pressure with their D-line at times to help in the passing game. Their linebackers are still their weakness, which is why the run defense has struggled. On offense, I don’t think it’s fair to say the Browns do anything “well”. Their inflated passing stats have come from two straight games in which they’ve been behind by double-digits, and Colt McCoy has set franchise records for attempts (60 throws in the Titans game… 60!). Also compounding the issue is that Shurmur appears completely reluctant to use Peyton Hillis AT ALL in the offense, which is a huge blow to our running game. Yes, their passing numbers are higher, but it’s mainly because Shurmur doesn’t like to run, and they’re usually playing from behind.

4) Beyond the usual suspects like Josh Cribbs and Colt McCoy, are there any Browns players we should be keeping our eye on this Sunday — overlooked stars, key role players, etc.?

Well, on offense, there’s some potential. Rookie WR Greg Little is a physical specimen, but he doesn’t always see the field and will occasionally drop the ball. Hybrid TE/WR Evan Moore does nothing but catch the ball, and then finds himself right back on the bench. His height and receiving ability make him a mismatch for both CBs and LBs at times, but he’s used so infrequently that it’s maddening. Second-year RB Montario Hardesty shows flashes here and there, but he’s also basically a rookie coming off a major knee injury. Defensively, if he plays, CB Joe Haden is a beast, and rookie DT Phil Taylor and DT Ahtyba Rubin combine to form a great gap-clogging force on defense.

5) This last isn’t really for the blog, but I feel the need to satisfy my own curiosity.  When my younger brother was attending Washington State University, his favorite player to watch by far on their football team was Jerome Harrison.  What was your opinion of him while he was playing for Cleveland, and why do you think they shipped him off to Philadelphia?

My opinion was that he never really got a fair shot, but when he did play he was electric. The perception was that he must have pissed in Eric Mangini’s Cheerios at some point, and the knock on him was his size and ability to pick up blitzes made him not suited to be an every down back. But, all he ever did when he played regularly was produce in his last full season. A lot of people were bummed when he got sent out, but that was during Eric Mangini’s “Change of Culture” movement, so who really knows what happened?