Training camp is over, and the Browns’ season-opening 53-man roster for 2012 — Year 3 of the Holmgren/Heckert regime — contains 15 rookies and 12 second-year players, leaving more than half with one year or less of NFL experience. In a rambling column at ESPNCleveland.com that’s otherwise littered with nonsense, legendary Browns beat writer Tony Grossi does make one obvious point on this that’s worth repeating:
“Anybody can gut a roster and replace it with rookies and first-year players,” Grossi says. “Really, anybody can do that.”
Which of course is 100% true, and of course, raises another obvious point, which is that an optimal NFL roster is a balanced mix of young, old, and in between. Of course, on an optimal NFL roster, the younger players learn from the older players, the latter carrying more responsibility for maintaining the team’s culture and helping to instill it in the youngsters. Folks commonly attribute the strong veteran core as crucial to the recent success of the Steelers and the Ravens, as an explanation for why it seems so easy for those teams to reload.
Of course, not every franchise will have a veteran core as strong as Baltimore’s or Pittsburgh’s of recent years, but the installation and maintenance of a winning culture can depend on other sources as well; like an experienced ownership group, and/or a good head coach who might himself have experience in another winning NFL culture and who might come in with his own clearly defined core values that he works to instill in his team. In any event, it’s certainly nothing that’s built overnight, and in most cases would depend on some combination of the aforementioned factors.
For instance, if you were starting from scratch, or from way below scratch as would be the case with the Cleveland Browns, it would make sense for a head coach with experience in another winning NFL culture to bring in a group of veterans with similar experience, and/or who embodied the clearly defined core values and core characteristics that the coach is seeking to instill. From there, each annual infusion of youth is integrated with the veterans — who, while they won’t generally be Pro Bowlers if you’re starting from scratch, will at least have some wisdom to impart regarding longevity and winning in the NFL — and they work together to make progress as a unit with the core values as a guide. As this happens, the results should eventually show up on the field, giving the unit experience to grow on.
Like: “Remember when we gave the fans their first win over the Steelers in almost a decade by kicking the shit out of the double-digit favorites in sub-zero weather? And then went on to win the rest of our games by pounding the ball down our opponents’ throats, shattering team rushing records even though they knew we were playing without a quarterback?”
Or: “Remember when we destroyed two double digit favorites in two consecutive weeks, including the defending Super Bowl champs, with a rookie third round quarterback who wasn’t supposed to play that year at all? Remember the things we did to win those games? And how we stayed in pretty much every game that season, also, basically without a quarterback, or even a roster as good as the University of Alabama’s?”
As talent continues to be infused into the roster, these winning experiences multiply, and the young players who were a part of it replace and outdo the veterans who showed them the way, with the best and most talented becoming the team’s leaders, hopefully along the lines of the Steelers and Ravens. In theory, anyway.
But the 2012 Browns? There’s no telling what kind of core values are being instilled, but for winning experiences to build on in the Shurmur Era, we’re stuck with last minute wins against Chaz Whitehurst and Blaine Gabbert so far, with the horizon looking as desolate as ever. And what it all looks like more than anything else is a front office under the gun, with the most incompetent head coach in the NFL, loading up the roster with a bunch of kids because it has no culture and it has no real plan for building one other than to bring in guys who look like the ones who play for the Eagles.
So throw a bunch of kids in the room and see what sticks. At the end of the year, you might not have any winning experience to build on, but at least you’ll have an excuse, as much as it’s an excuse that any team in the NFL could have had.
Anybody can gut a roster and replace it with rookies and first-year players, even the Cleveland Browns, which is where we are now in Year 3 of Holmgren and Heckert.
The Hey Mary Kay! letter of the week is from Rusty Stoner of Columbus, OH:
Q: Hey, Mary Kay: Can you tell me if either Billy Winn or John Hughes have the type of ability to supplant Phil Taylor as the starter when he’s back? Also, I’ve got the feeling Emmanuel Acho had a disappointing camp. Am I wrong? – Rusty Stoner, Columbus
A: Hey, Rusty: Winn and Hughes have both shown great potential and figure to be part of the rotation, even when Taylor returns. If they play as well as the Browns hope, Taylor can take all the time he needs to recover from the torn pectoral muscle.
Haste makes waste, Phil. Take two years. You are in the presence of great potential.
Which is all for today, but stay tuned for more NFL preview-type stuff all week. Also, especially given the special lightly weighted Week 1 scoring, as well as certain impeccable sportsmanship displayed by certain of the week 1 participants, there’s still plenty of time for you to be a part of the Cheddar Bay Reality Football season. Those already in should look for an introductory email in the next day or so, and hope everyone’s week gets off to a great start either way.