Editor’s note: Beacon Journal Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich and sports columnist Marla Ridenour were recently in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, which wrapped up Tuesday. Below are some of Marla’s thoughts about the Browns and the combine
1. Browns rookie coach Mike Pettine couldn’t have been more impressive handling questions Saturday morning about the team trying to trade for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Pettine was straightforward, honest and hard-hitting, unlike previous Browns coaches who sometimes danced around big issues. Not only did Pettine give insight to his gut reaction by admitting he used the words “flying” something and referenced “part of a rat’s body,” when he received a phone call from communications director Zak Gilbert about the soon-to-be released report, but he said such things are “noise” and his goal is to quiet the noise in Cleveland. Not many of his predecessors have been able to put aside and work through the unbelievable goings-on in Berea, but Pettine might have that capability, which he might need as the Pilot Flying J investigation continues. The language and manner he used to address the Harbaugh story, even though it further illustrated how far down he was on the front office’s search list, could resonate in the locker room as well.
2. Watching the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl showed the huge gap the Browns must make up in the speed department, especially on defense, and Pettine seems to agree. When I asked that question Saturday, Pettine immediately brought up the Browns’ linebackers as an illustration, which might not bode well for the future of eight-year veteran D’Qwell Jackson. “You look for run-and-hit guys who can go sideline to sideline,” Pettine said of the linebacking corps. While he said Barkevious Mingo is a keeper, in my mind, this position is the Browns’ weak link on defense and a top priority, even if Jackson restructures his contract.
3. Two college cornerbacks who showed they could think quickly on their feet were Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner, the Seminoles’ first consensus first-team All-America since 2000, addressed the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s proposal that players should be penalized for using the N-word on the field. “I’m not trying to say I’m Jesus Christ up here, but I don’t use that kind of language,” Joyner said. “If your game is good, you don’t need to be talking [trash].” Joyner, only 5-foot-8, gave one of the best interviews I heard. Roby knew nothing about athletes attempting to unionize at Northwestern, but he agreed with them. “Being a college athlete is very hard on you. You’re not getting any compensation, but you’re seeing new stadiums being built, big flat-screens being put everywhere,” Roby said. “You’re like, ‘Man, where’s all this money coming from?’?” Roby didn’t think a scholarship was compensation enough. “At the end of the day you can have a scholarship and still not have food,” he said.
4. Special teams is apparently an NFL fraternity. On Wednesday night, that specialty’s coaches from all over the league gathered at an Indianapolis sports bar and it might not have been because it was all you can eat wing night. While they were seen fraternizing all week, that gathering included the Browns’ Chris Tabor and former Browns who are assistant special teams coaches or coaching assistants — Steve Heiden (Arizona Cardinals), Nick Sorensen (Seattle Seahawks) and Brant Boyer (Indianapolis Colts). The closeness was not only among those who have worked together and seemed to transcend rivalries.
5. Running back Trent Richardson has soured me on picking players from the University of Alabama, where a star-studded roster causes some to be overrated. For that reason, I can’t advocate the Browns choosing quarterback A.J. McCarron. But I loved that McCarron isn’t obsessing over where he’s going to be selected. “I don’t worry about money. I was raised without any money,” McCarron said. “Being broke, I’m used to it. If you’re money-hungry, it’s not going to come to you. If you go with the flow and let the chips fall where they fall and [rely on] God’s plan, everything will be fine in the end.” I wish all the invitees shared McCarron’s view.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.