Karl Kimbrough (pictured), Cleveland Urban News.Com Sportswriter (email@example.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio-Last year at about this time during training camp Jimmy Haslam suddenly appeared on the scene of Browns Town as the team's new owner. He would immediately begin to patrol the side lines in Berea, Ohio where the team practices. By his mere presence on a consistent basis in contrast to previous owner Randy Lerner, fans, players and management know there is a new sheriff in town. By his optimistic expectation to establish a winner, Haslam has reinvigorated Browns fans.
So when the season 5-11 record drew to a merciful end last year and Haslam began to work his magic, fans did not have to wonder if changes would be made, they just had to access just who and how many would be changed.
Haslam moved into action swiftly with his new CEO Joe Banner in tow and they relieved head coach Pat Shurmur of his duties, and almost his entire staff too. But did the new sheriff jump the gun by firing Shurmur and most of his staff? Did Haslam bring in the right deputies to coach his team?
Looking back in retrospect at the beginning of the 2012 season and even in training camp, Shurmur and his team were destined to struggle early and often. In the NFL these days the sun rises and sets with each team riding the shoulders of their quarterback . It is a quarterback driven league, and many of the rules shade the game in favor of the offense.
If you are going to get a rookie quarterback ready for the season then he needs to play at least into the second half of each game to get acclimated to play with new receivers and the speed of the game. Shurmur was more interested in giving his second and third teams playing time than trying to figure out who his last five or six roster spots would go to.
A big mistake that showed in game one of the regular season against the Eagles last season was when Weeden threw four interceptions in that game and many of his other passes were nowhere near the receiver. Weeden looked like a foreigner driving on a New York city freeway for the first time. He didn't know which way to go with the ball, and everything was coming to fast and furious. He would finish the game with a quarterback rating in single digits. This inauspicious beginning would get better, but Weeden would never look or feel comfortable in the “ West Coast Offense.” He would have 23 passes batted down by linemen after a three step drop. Also, Shurmur put him in the shot gun more and more as the season went on. As a result, Weeden threw more touch downs (8) from the shot gun than from under center (6). This is even though he took 75 more snaps from under center than in the shot gun.
Weeden also rarely threw deep down field. Certainly Weeden needs to show more consistently and improve his ability to read defenses. But coaches need to put their players in the best position to win or be successful and Shurmur and his offensive staff clearly did not do that. Some will say it was only one season last year that Shurmur had to transform Weeden into a “West Coast” quarterback. But in Cleveland we don't have time for that. Going forward would be to hire another young first time head coach be the right move, or would it? In comes Rob Chudzinski for this season to lead the Browns team. After Haslam brought in Rob Chudzinski as his new head coach you could hear a loud “oh no” around Browns Town.
The fact that Chudzinski had great success mentoring young quarter backs such as Cam Newton, a star quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, had to play a part in Banner and Haslam's decision. As mentioned earlier, this is a quarterback driven league. But the significance of the head coach and coordinators are high on the list of importance as well.
An even bigger asset was to bring in legendary offensive coordinator Norv Turner to the Browns team, who has a legacy of being a great quarterback coach himself and has mentored some of the best players to play the game. Turner helped usher in the 1990's, the era in which the NFL became known as a passing league. He had a large hand in turning Dallas' Troy Aikman's career around. The season prior to Turners arrival to Cowboy camp Aikman threw 20 touchdowns, but had 36 interceptions. In 1991, Aikmans third year in the league he passed for a career high 3,445 yards 23 touch downs and 14 interceptions and Dallas finished that season with a 13-3 record.
Aikman, Turner and the Cowboys went on to when two straight Super Bowls. Phillip Rivers had two consecutive 4,000 yards seasons with Turner as his coach. When Turner came to San Diego in 2001 after coaching for the Washington Redskins for seven years Turner lead their offense from 28th in 2000 to 11th in ranking in one year. During Turners seven years as head coach in Washington they had winning seasons four times and went to the NFL championship in 1999.
Over his career Turner helped other quarter backs like Brad Johnson and Gus Freotte develop. Each made the Pro Bowl under him. Doug Flutie had a 3,000 yard passing year in 2001 with Norv Turner.
Coach Turner not only had a dramatic affect on quarterbacks, but also on receivers such as Michael Irvin, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Curtis Conway. He also produced 1,000 yard rushers during those receivers sparkling years. Hall of Fame inductee Emmitt Smith began his career in the NFC with with Turner, La Danien Tomlinson, soon to be in the Hall of Fame played under him in San Diego. Norv is known to have high powered explosive offenses, throwing several deep passes down field which features Weeden's strong arm. He also uses a ground game to balance his passing game. Troy Aikman has called Turner “ a great play caller” as well which sometimes goes over looked. The legendary G.M. Of the Cowboys, Gil Brantt said earlier this week that“ I don't know if there is a better play caller in the NFL than Norv Turner.
A great play caller is one who understands the greatest assets of each player and how to use them at the right time to move the ball down the field and score. This is why quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs have so much success under Turner. When we turn our attention to defensive coaching it is also important to get the most out of each player to effectively disrupt what the offense is trying to do.
Comparing last years Browns defensive coach Dick Jauron to new defensive coordinator Ray Horton is like comparing the old and efficient to the new and very improved. Jauron has had a long fairly successful coaching career and is a more than competent coordinator. Last year running the 4-3 front seven defense Jauron had average talent at best to use to shutdown offenses. In game one against the Eagles Jauron did a great job shadowing and putting pressure on quarterback Michael Vick. As a result, the defense played good enough to win.
But he got very little help from the offense and caved in at the end of the game. As the season wore on Jauron did not show the same ability to put consistent pressure on the quarterbacks and again their run defense was poor. The lack of talent is not Jauron's fault but in today's NFL you have to be innovative and use different schemes to keep the quarterback guessing and out of rhythm by attacking with more than the defensive linemen.
This is where coach Horton has shined. It has been said that Horton will run a 3-4 base front seven, but that's not what you can expect on any play. His scheme can range from five defensive linemen two linebackers and four defensive backs or two defensive backs.
Then sometimes five defensive backs with two linebackers and four linemen. Sometimes linemen will drop back in pass coverage.
It may seem to be ineffective to some but with each line up change it is difficult to determine where the pass rushers are coming from.
By changing up the rush defense it is not as important to have dominant defensive end rushers and you can bring the rush up the middle in the face of the quarterback. Horton, like Turner, comes with an impressive resume. He honed his coaching skills under legendary defensive coordinator Dick Le Beau in Cincinnati for five years and then in Pittsburgh from 2004-2010.
Horton was defensive backs coach while in Pittsburgh and finished each of those seven years with one of the top ten defenses. Three times in those seven years Pittsburgh was first in defense. Horton has three Super Bowl wins, one as a player and two as a coach.
In 2011 he took over a poor Arizona defense and quickly turned them around. In 2011 Arizona led the NFL in opposing passer rating (71.2), interception percentage, ranked second in third down defense, third in red zone defense and fourth in takeaways.
With accomplished coordinators like Horton and Turner putting players in position to get the most out of their talent coach Chudzinski will only need to manage the team and keep them humbly motivated. The rest of the Browns regime will find its easier to put a round peg in a round hole.