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Browns adjusting to disciplinarian Mangini in offseason of change

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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BEREA, Ohio -- Under a slate-gray sky and a steady rain, the Cleveland Browns on Thursday went about the business of trying to put back the shattered pieces of the tremendous hope that they had on the very same practice field 12 months earlier.

There's nothing pretty or fun about such a process, just as there was nothing pretty or fun about all that had taken place since the end of last offseason.

Back then, the Browns were the darlings of the NFL. They offered the promise that they were, finally, going to escape from their perpetual malaise. A 10-6 finish in 2007, plus a batch of Pro Bowl performances, gave the distinct notion that, for the first time in a long while, they were about to become relevant.

Browns' offseason moves
It's been an offseason of turnover for the Browns. Here are the additions to the roster since the arrival of new coach Eric Mangini:

Free agents:
LB Eric Barton (from Jets)
LB David Bowens (from Jets)
OT George Foster (from Lions)
WR Mike Furrey (from Lions)
RB Noah Herron (from Bucs)
CB Roderick Hood (from Cardinals)
CB Corey Ivy (from Ravens)
DT C.J. Mosley (from Jets)
WR David Patten (from Saints)
DB Hank Poteat (from Jets)
TE Robert Royal (from Bills)
OT John St. Clair (from Bears)
OT Floyd Womack (from Seahawks)

Trade:
DE Kenyon Coleman (from Jets)
DB Abram Elam (from Jets)
QB Brett Ratliff (from Jets)


Draft:
C Alex Mack
WR Brian Robiskie
WR Mohamed Massaquoi
DE David Veikune
LB Kaluka Maiava
CB Don Carey
CB Coye Francies
RB James Davis

» Free agency: Browns' moves
» 2009 draft: Browns' selections

After going 4-12 and firing coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage, the Browns are trying to reinvent themselves. They have a new coach, Eric Mangini, who brought a sea of change to the team's culture with an approach that is far more disciplined than that of his ultra-mellow predecessor. They have yet to pick a starting quarterback, who will run a new offense that players are still trying to learn.

One of their most recognizable players, tight end Kellen Winslow, was traded to Tampa Bay. Another, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, came close to being shipped out as well.

What's a little rain on a minicamp workout for a club already flooded by so much change?

"It's a lot of discipline," running back Jamal Lewis said. "It's just finding out who the players are and who's going to come out here and give hard work and effort because neither one knows the other. The coaching staff doesn't know a lot of the players, the players don't know a lot of the coaching staff.

"On the coaching staff part of it, it's all about trying to get the guys on the same page as the coaching staff, and for the players, it's all about just going out there to let the coaches know that you're ready to work and you're ready to buy into what's going on."

It hasn't been the easiest sell for Mangini, whom Browns owner Randy Lerner was quick to present with Mangini's second NFL head-coaching chance after he was fired by the New York Jets at the end of last season.

Mangini runs a highly structured, precise operation that leaves very little room for anything that doesn't have to do with the chore at hand. Other than adhering to NFL rules that prohibit pads to be worn and contact to be made, his offseason practices are no different than those run during the season. Rain isn't going change the routine, even though there's a perfectly dry indoor facility right next to the outdoor fields.

Not all of the players were happy to be getting soaked in June while running on a slippery surface. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas happened to love it, but he was as surprised as anyone that the session wasn't moved inside.

"All the coaches that I've ever had, from college on, if it's raining, we're inside," Thomas said. "That's something that's different for me. Some guys will say it's good, some guys will say it's bad, but it's just different."

So, too, is having members of the Green Berets, the special forces of the United States Army based in Fort Bragg, N.C., assist with the coaching of each position group during minicamp drills. The idea, according to Mangini, was to give his players a chance to learn all that they can from being around an elite group of men in another profession.

"For these (soldiers), the selection process to even be considered to be a Green Beret is intense," Mangini said. "They have to distinguish themselves individually and then, once they get into a group, the intense level of teamwork and communication and focus and things they have to do to function as a unit is incredible. The other great lesson is, no matter how hard you may think our practices are or the things we're asking our players to do, it gives you a sense of perspective of what they're asked to do and what they're asked to sacrifice."

The fact Mangini is a stickler for detail is also something new for incumbent Browns players. They were used to Crennel's more casual style.

Now, they must adjust to the fact that there is nothing too small to escape Mangini's attention.

"Something as trivial as maybe picking your tape up at the end of a practice instead of just throwing it on the field," Thomas said. "The little things are very important to him, and I think that's a lot of times the difference between a good team or an average team and a great team."

Edwards, who was the subject of rampant speculation of a trade that would send him to the New York Giants to replace Plaxico Burress, has never been known for being all that big on discipline. Crennel had a high level of tolerance, but even he had his limits when it came to Edwards' free-wheeling tendencies that sometimes ran counter to team rules. Crennel would occasionally pull the receiver aside to set him straight.

Browns' offseason spotlight
What happened to Braylon Edwards in 2008? More to the point, what can the Browns expect from him in '09? Charley Casserly and Solomon Wilcots offer their takes. More ...

» Fantasy: Is Edwards an elite WR?

Surprisingly, Edwards has kept himself on the straight and narrow for Mangini. He has not complained about being on the trading block, choosing instead to take it as a compliment that the Browns wanted more than the Giants were willing to offer in a trade.

"If you allow your personal feelings to interfere, especially in a negative way, it's going to hurt the team and it's going to hurt yourself," Edwards said. "So you really have to approach it from a business standpoint. You have to do your job. Be on time; that's not hard to do. Take notes in meetings. Have a positive attitude."

That hasn't always been easy this offseason. For instance, Mangini sent some shockwaves around the league in the final weekend of May when he arranged for his rookies to take a 20-hour bus ride round trip from Cleveland to Hartford, Conn., to take part in his charity football camp for children from low-income families. The trip was billed as "voluntary," although all 19 Browns rookies made it, presumably because they thought failing to do so might jeopardize their standing with Mangini.

None of those who went on the journey complained publicly, but there were some private complaints from veterans as well as from rookies. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported that the NFL Players Association was looking into the matter.

"I was happy to have (that) weekend off," Thomas said with a laugh.

By most accounts, everyone has gotten over the flap and has moved on.

But there are other key unresolved issues, the largest of which is who will start at quarterback: Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson.

Regular media observers say that none of the quarterbacks on the roster, including Brett Ratliff and Richard Bartel, has looked particularly impressive through most of the offseason workouts. However, Quinn did throw some of the better passes of the offseason this week.

Quinn and Anderson have been careful about what they say to the media about the competition. They've been down this road before and seem extra cautious not to do anything that might not play well with the new coach.

"It's an opportunity to go out and win or lose the job," Anderson said.

That could apply to many incumbent Browns players who are trying to figure out what to do and what not to do to remain on the right side of Mangini.

It isn't easy.

"It's a change and it's tough for different guys," Thomas said. "But I think, overall, guys have taken it pretty well and they're going to adapt pretty well."

"Everybody starts off with a clean slate, I believe," said Edwards. "If somebody tells you something, you believe it for what it's worth until they give you reason to believe otherwise."

Translation: If the Browns start winning, the new regime will continue to have everyone's undivided attention; if they don't, they won't.

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