Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls… Your 2009 Cleveland Browns! World Champions!
Okay, maybe not. But wouldn’t that be nice? After that somewhat miraculous 4 game winning streak to finish the season, Browns nation is riding high and going into the 2010 off-season with high, high hopes. Recent front office signings of Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and the 2nd year of Eric Mangini, have all fans buzzing. But that is now, and the future. As for 2009, there were many highs and lows. Until the end of the year it was mostly low after low after low. The year of 2009 started with an abysmal end to the previous season and the crashing down of the Romeo Crennel era in Cleveland. It was the end of Derek Anderson’s reign as starting QB, we hoped anyway, as he was soon brought back into the fold after a bad start to the 2009 season. With that season, and a 4-12 record in the books, Crennel was quickly fired and Randy Lerner cleaned house, getting rid of Phil Savage, all the coaches and everyone who had been involved in personnel movement and decisions. There won’t be too much detail, but it will be a pretty good look back at the year that was for the Browns.
There was a lot of debate at the time about who would be hired, the dream candidate was of course Bill Cowher, but there was no possibility of him coming out of his “retirement” to come back to Cleveland. Not to mention, it is Cleveland after all and he would be quickly hated by all of his Pittsburgh fans that he had won over during his tenure there. But lets cut to the chase. This was the big crap flinging fest that we all expected when the coach and his staff was fired, there was speculation and more speculation, until Randy Lerner put an end to that almost as quickly as it started as Eric Mangini was hired the day after he was fired by the New York Jets. There was a blur of different reactions, many excited, many perplexed. I was a bit of both, as I was not sure about his track record, but new he was a good defensive coach and had a pretty good eye for talent and expected a lot from his players.
But there was no GM, he was the guy that Lerner wanted and he went and got him so fast that there was no possibility of instilling anyone in the front office that would check Mangini’s power. Mangini was Lerner’s dream coach as it was put at the time, and because of that mentality he went and brought in anyone that the new coach wanted. George Kokinis became the new GM. Merely in name only, as Mangini was the first, the last and the only decision maker when it came to personnel or team decisions. The Head Coach should never have all of that going on if they desire to be successful, it just doens’t work that way, as the franchise quickly learned as things continued to spiral to rock bottom.
Kellen Winslow Jr was traded. One of the first move that the new regimes made that rubbed a few the wrong way. Winslow’s talent is undeniable, but he was never a good locker room guy and was more concerned with his money and his stats then winning. Ridding the team of his presence was no doubt a good move. Then came draft day. Mangini worked, oh about, 25 trades in the first round to move out of the #5 spot, all the way down to the mid 20’s where he selected Alex Mack. Mack is now the starting center, he was all year long, and is a stud on the O-line. The 2nd round saw the drafting of a couple of wide receivers, Mohammad Massaqoui and Brian Robiskie. Both solid college producers with good ceilings in the NFL. Robiskie never really found the playing field due to bad performances and being in coach Mangini’s dog house all year long. Massaqoui became the #1 wideout on the team when Braylon Edwards was traded to the Jets in the first part of the season, for Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik and a few other of Mangini’s “Guys”. Another horrible locker room presence was no departed from Cleveland and the offense was truly without talented playmakers now. Outside of Josh Cribbs there was no go to guy in any way shape or form, and Jamal Lewis was continually being trotted out to get all the carries in front of the, now officially, talented Jerome Harrison. David Veikune and Kaluka Miava were 2 other names that we picked up in the draft to help at the linebacker position, who never really saw regular playing time. That is until D’Qwell Jackson and just about ever other defensive player got hurt.
The Injured Reserve list at seasons end was as follows, Ryan Tucker, Jackson, James Davis (looked very impressive at RB during the pre-season), Eric Barton, Dave Zastudil, Steve Heiden, Shaun Rogers, Brodney Pool, Jamal Lewis, eventually Brady Quinn, David Veikune, and countless other injuries. It was essential for the non-household name guys and rookies to step up and get playing time. Playing most of the year without D’Qwell Jackson and Shaun Rogers really hurt the defense, and the several concussions Brodney Pool keeps getting are putting his career in jeopardy, sad for any player, but he is truly one of the best players we have on the roster. Jamal Lewis announced that he was going to retire at the end of the season, and once he went on the IR before the Browns win on Thursday night against the Steelers and the Browns season really took off. That night the Browns witnessed the arrival of Chris Jennings, finally getting his shot at the NFL after working hard throughout high school and college, he seemed to always get the shaft. He burst onto the scene as Joshua Cribbs played an awesome, legendary game. Only adding fuel to the fire of the #PayTheMan theme we all got carried away with. But it was, and still is deserved, even with the early 2010 developments and his threatening, and actually cleaning out his locker with his agents leading the charge.
So there was a ton of injuries, Mangini got rid of bad characters, he made the players practice and practice and drilled them, and brought in his ‘guys’ who he could rely on to push his philosophy. The Browns were 1-11 until the 10th of December. On that day, the Browns turned their season around. Until then, they had barely been competitive in any of the 12 games. They were dead last in the league in just about every offensive and defensive categories. The players seemed to be giving up on Mangini and his fate seemed to be sealed, like that of the puppet GM George Kokinis who was fired over the bye week after a loss to the Chicago Bears. Things couldn’t have been worse, it was rock bottom. The fans, the team, it seemed, were expecting for that horrible football to continue and were counting down the days until Mangini was fired and we got a top 5 pick in the draft. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed like the group of players that were on the field put it together. It all seemed to click when the last distraction of the season, Jamal Lewis, a potent voice in the locker room was placed on IR and the team’s spirits picked up. There was something to play for even though there was nothing to play for. 4 wins to finish the year. 5-11. 1 game better then last year. Things were looking up. Jerome Harrison got it going big time, in his 4 starts where he was the feature back this season, he got over 100 yards in each. One game, 286 yards, 3rd best all time in a single game, franchise record for yards with 3 td’s. The next week against he set the franchise record for carries in a game and went over 150 yards. No matter how many people that were put in the box, the Browns running back could not be stopped, lead by lights out blocking from one of the best Fullbacks in the league, Lawrence Vickers, and the all of a sudden solid O-line lead by Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack. The strong left side and center, with a great blocking full back opened up big holes all 3 weeks for Harrison to take advantage of. Then there was that game where, while Harrison was setting records, Joshua Cribbs took 2 kicks back for touchdowns to set a all time record for kick return touchdowns, and with a 2nd kickoff touchdown he furthered his record. The Browns won in a tremendous shoot out. The Browns were playing dominant football, solid defense and moving the ball relentlessly on the ground with a lackluster passing game and pretty poor QB play. Maybe Mangini had gotten something going, maybe he wouldn’t be fired.
The Browns season ended on a 4 game win streak. 5-11 was the record. Mike Holmgren was hired around Week 15 as the new President of Football Operations. Things just kept getting better. Jerome Harrison almost ran for 1000 yards, basically playing in about 6 games where he got a substantial amount of carries. Impressive for anyone. Yet his contract is expiring this off-season, and while i foresee the team keeping him, you never know. Holmgren, Heckert and Mangini might have their eyes set somewhere else, but I really hope not. Lawrence Vickers, D’Qwell Jackson, Ryan Tucker, Rex Hadnot, Matt Roth, Jason Trusnik, Brodney Pool and Abe Elam are all no longer under contract, and with the uncapped year very possibly, even the restricted free agents might become unrestricted. It is unclear who the team will keep, no mention has yet been made with all the front office intrigue and the Mangini decision, but there is a good crop of guys that might potentially no longer be Browns players. Josh Cribbs has been asking for a new contract since before the season and things finally came to a head after he was a class act all year long and I think it had a lot to do with the meddling of his agents, as he has now walked away from the team as their $1.4 million per year offer did not match what he and they desired. Only time will tell about these matters, but we will all be watching very, very closely.
So in a pretty brief, but still long winded way, there was a synopsis of 2009. The future is beginning to look brighter, but for a team that just a month and a half ago could not get any worse and had nothing left to play for, that is saying ALOT. I wonder how many 4 game winning streaks the Indians could get this year, probably not as many as the Browns.