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Monday, December 29, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2013

Banner key to success of new Browns

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Browns fans that were maybe a tad less than dazzled by the hiring of Rob Chudzinski as head coach have to be overwhelmed by much of what has happened since.

Norv Turner, despite running his course as a head coach, is considered a sharp offensive mind and will oversee that unit. Ray Horton interviewed for several head coaching jobs, including Cleveland’s, and when he failed to land one was brought on board as defensive coordinator. Chris Tabor, who earned high marks as special teams coordinator, was retained.

And, of course, the big front-office move was luring Mike Lombardi back to Cleveland as head of player personnel. Those with long memories, and it seems all Browns fans have them, associate Lombardi with releasing quarterback Bernie Kosar and moving the team to Baltimore, although I doubt he had much to do with either. I imagine, however, he had a lot to do with a considerable number of mundane draft picks.

He and one-time Browns coach Bill Belichick developed an evaluation system that the latter has perfected in New England and that many franchises have tried to mimic. Nobody was trying to impersonate it back in the early-1990s, though.

Joe Banner, the Browns CEO who seems to have gained full throttle of owner Jimmy Haslam’s franchise, said he realizes he went out on a limb. Lombardi most recently was an armchair analyst with the NFL Network and has been critical of many players on the Cleveland roster.

So he may have to mend some fences. Then he’ll have to prove he’s not just a yes-man because there are plenty of observers concerned that Banner, who never really had final say over personnel with Andy Reid pushing around considerable weight in Philadelphia, seems eager to put his hands too squarely on the football in Cleveland.

The coaching staff, meanwhile, does seem formidable.

If Brandon Weeden is to be an effective NFL quarterback, then the vertical game favored by Chudzinski and Turner should give him the best chance. And if I’m Trent Richardson, I would take note of Turner’s background with Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, and LaDainian Tomlinson, all of whom led the league in rushing under his tutelage.

With Arizona this past season, Horton led a defense that was tops in passer rating (71.2) while ranking second in interceptions (22) and third-down efficiency, third in red zone defense, and fourth in takeaways (33).

The Browns’ defense is promising with young talents like backs Joe Haden and T.J. Ward, linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Whether Horton runs the 3-4 alignment he was part of both as a Pittsburgh assistant as well as in Arizona, or the Browns’ current 4-3, it will surely be an aggressive, attacking unit.

“As excited as we were about Rob a week ago, we remain that excited, in fact more excited a week later after we’ve had a chance to watch him work and see the staff that he’s put together,” Haslam said Friday.

So the focus shifts back to Banner, who oversaw the hiring processes and, incidentally, picked a coach and general manager who were not interviewed by other teams and, critics suggest, will have a tendency to defer to him.

Lombardi says he is more mature and more comfortable in his own skin now, and Cleveland fans had best hope so. Because if Chud and his all-star staff are to have a chance at making headway in the tough AFC North, it will all start with the draft and free agency. Those must be collaborative, not deferential, efforts.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at:dhack@theblade.comor 419-724-6398.



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