Going on the Offensive

By Michael Reghi

Watching the Browns approach in their preseason debut against Green Bay, it becomes readily apparent how a head coach’s pedigree, and his body of work on a particular side of the ball becomes so influential in player development. Mike Holmgren knows that. He’s spent his entire coaching life in the NFL adhering to that belief. You have a young quarterback with skills to hone. You give him a head coach, and complimentary staff with the expertise to put him in an advantageous position. That’s why Pat Shurmur was the choice to oversee the nurturing of Colt McCoy. The last two Browns head coaches had heavy defensive backgrounds. Holmgren had to flip that switch. Shurmur, heavily attached to the Philadelphia Eagles offensive success during the Donovan McNabb ride, as the quarterbacks coach, and the first year development of St. Louis rookie qb Sam Bradford, as the offensive coordinator, now goes about crafting and devising a system that McCoy could potentially thrive in. A breath of fresh air, Browns fans!

While the science project is just stepping into the laboratory, I like the chemistry mix. Not only is Shurmur’s West Coast playbook McCoy friendly…so is his demeanor. Both are ultra competitive, achievers, used to winning. The first showing gives reason for optimism, wanting to see more from the two ‘scientists’. What I saw was this.

* A rhythm…a tempo…a pace, and you’re going to hear those words plenty from me, attached to the Shurmur creation. Go ‘no huddle’ at times, be proactive, and attacking…making a defense react to your aggressiveness.

* A system designed to create, and take advantage of mismatches in the secondary… the football out on time, and accurately to receivers. Saw just that with a pair of McCoy strikes to Ben Watson in the seam, with linebackers and a strong safety in coverage.

* Making all the throws the West Coast demands…. note the Browns first drive of the game.

-McCoy drills Josh Cribbs with a strike on a 3rd & 7, as Cribbs cleared linebackers and settled in front of a safety. First down.

-McCoy off a play fake… throwing on the move as the pocket rolled right, hitting Greg Little out of the slot for 12 yards. First down.

-McCoy from the gun.. sets up screen right to Peyton Hillis. 8 yards.

-McCoy zips a ‘deep square in’ to Brian Robiskie, who continued route after being covered initially… 27 yards. First down.

-McCoy on the sideline fade… football traveled 35 yards in the air, on the back shoulder properly, to Cribbs. Touchdown.

That’s five diverse throws, two of them not to the primary receiver, with accuracy, all staples of the West Coast.

I bring this to the forefront to further solidify the strong belief I cemented in December of 2010, after watching McCoy through 8 starts, operating an antiquated offensive system that had little creativity or vision…. he brings a presence, command, and yes, enough skills to the party to be a very good, winning NFL quarterback. How successful? That’s where the Shurmur/McCoy tandem comes into play. Mike Holmgren knows the pair is ‘philosophically aligned’. What they ultimately achieve, or don’t, is now attached to the head coach/quarterback who bring a very refreshing, NFL friendly, offensive approach to a city that’s been thirsting for more drinks from the ‘ Touchdown Browns’ glass!

A Week’s Worth!

By Michael Reghi

…Of observations as the Indians survive the heat, and the bats of the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, while the Browns look to take measurable steps forward in preparation for Saturday’s preseason opener with Green Bay.

While the two losses in Texas were especially galling, following a pair of Boston walk off wins that were excruciating, you have to be pleased with the Indians’ approach with the bats, and how markedly improved they were. While the 3-4 mark should have been at least flipped, if not 5-2, the Tribe showed aggressiveness at the plate, compiling 38 runs over the 7 games, an average of 5 and a half per, while drilling 12 home runs, with 30 total extra base hits. They hit .266 on the trip. And .265 with runners in scoring position. They’ll need to continue at this type of clip, as the next 12 games are in the AL Central. 6 of them with the division leading Detroit Tigers. In fact, 37 of the final 50 are inside the division, giving them ample opportunity make up the 4 games they stand back of Detroit, or fall out of contention all together.

Speaking of hitting, and this has nothing to do with numbers – I repeat, nothing to do with their numbers, I feel VERY confident that youngsters Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall will be just as advertised….. very fine major league hitters! You can see it in both of them…short, explosive strokes, the willingness to go deep in counts, and hit with two strikes, excellent bat speed, and the ability to drive the baseball! The big league stage isn’t too large for either, as the ‘approach’ they take to the plate with each at bat is very refreshing. Mark this down. They both will be 15-20 home run types, with gap power, and strong run producers, beginning next season! You can ‘hear’ sweet swingers; I know the ‘sound’. And both of these young Tribe hitters have it. Combine them with a rising Michael Brantley, and Carlos Santana, to swing in the lineup with Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo, and at least another season Travis Hafner dh’ing, and I like how the Indians will build offensively. Granted, both Kipnis and Chisenhall have improvements to make defensively, yet Indians fans will live with developing glove men at second and third base, as long as the bats are potent.

The Tribe debut of Ubaldo Jimenez was uneven in the 8-7, 11-inning loss to Texas. Yes, Jimenez could have escaped with the win, as he, and the Tribe bullpen let a 7-2 lead disintegrate. Jimenez couldn’t throw his two and four seam fastballs for strikes in the first 3 innings, relying on his slider and breaking ball to find the strike zone. 108 pitches tells the tell, and his command must get better, beginning Wednesday night as he starts against the Detroit Tigers. He did fan 7. Without command and location, and pitching behind in the count, as he did all night in Texas, Jimenez and most starters are just another guy. The Indians need him to be a dominant mound presence in his 10 starts left, not only to have any shot at catching Detroit, but to make all feel that he will be a top of the rotation winner to team with Justin Masterson for the next couple years, if the Tribe are to be serious about winning al Central crowns. They can’t, and won’t…unless Jimenez is that imposing presence.

I spent four days with the Browns last week, three in Berea, and at the Stadium Saturday. He are my impressions.

1. Colt McCoy showed improvement after a few unsteady practices. You can see more comfortability within the offensive flow, as the West Coast pass game evolves. He missed a few reads, and a couple of subsequent throws, yet I liked his red zone session Saturday, firing td darts to Greg Little, Evan Moore, Peyton Hillis and Ben Watson. He’ll figure it out. Of that I am confident.

2. Greg Little is extremely skilled. Large body, not afraid of contact, and showing vast progress while being force-fed the system with large reps in Mohammed Massaquoi’s absence. Little is being given the stage to shine, and privately, the Browns offensive coaches feel he can do just that. Little wants the football in traffic, and that type of receiver is very valuable in the pass game.

3. Evan Moore and Jordan Cameron will both be used as ‘hybrid’ wide receivers in the system. Both 6-6, and with strong hands…. they have caught everything thrown their way. Moore couldn’t work with the team until Thursday, while Cameron took advantage of his absence until getting dinged and missing Friday and Saturday’s work. I expect them to be valued ‘weapons’ for McCoy as things progress, with both being on the field together in certain sets.

4. D’Qwell Jackson looks completely rejuvenated! Flying around, active, and stepping into the ‘A, B’ gaps, and hitting ball carriers. He thoroughly enjoys being flanked by vets in Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, who know the ins and outs of the ‘3-4′. Stay healthy Mr. Jackson!

5. Phil Taylor is impressive! Can slide up and down the line, and play any technique the Browns desire. Would expect Dick Jauron to take advantage of how he and Atyba Rubin will ‘fit’ in those gaps along the line. The man can move, and not just in tight quarters. Can use that 338-pound frame in many fronts in the Browns ‘d’ line.

6. Rookie corner Buster Skrine also has a shot at getting playing time in the secondary. He gets to the football, can fly, and can play physical at times. Not afraid to take a chance, and you have to like that confidence in a 5th rounder.

7. Pat Shumur appears comfortable with the surroundings and what the job entails. He can get help when necessary, from a Dick Jauron, Gil Haskell, Mark Whipple, and Mike Holmgren himself. How will he handle adversity, and if it happens early will be a huge determinant in the beginning of NFL head coaching career.

8. On the negative front, the assorted injuries haven’t provided Shurmur with anything close to a full compliment of players. He may to make some tough decisions without having ample time to assess playing personnel. Massaquoi’s foot setback is glaring. Needs all kinds of time to sync with McCoy for obvious reasons.

The preseason evaluations may have to be tempered somewhat. Time is of the essence, and the Browns realize an NFL fan base, especially in Cleveland, is not considering patience as a high priority option!

 

Window is Now

By Michael Reghi

Make no mistake, from Paul Dolan on down to the clubhouse attendants, the Indians deal for Ubaldo Jimenez over the weekend proclaims loudly the need, want, and desire to win today. And in the next two seasons. Yep, 2013 is now your line of division Indians fans. I’d venture to say a strong 80% of you are completely on board with that. For six weeks, as the Tribe has stumbled following the 30-15 start, you, the fan base, have been very vocal about your desires for Chris Antonetti to be bold, be aggressive and go after an American League Central Division crown that might need just 85 or 86 wins to capture.

I have many questions attached to the decision to jettison back-to-back first round draft choices in Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, who virtually all of baseball, every organization in the game rates as ‘top of the rotation major league starters’ going forward. To be clear, that translates into 2’s, with a possibility of Pomeranz being a ‘1’. Again, point to all the failed ‘potential’ you want in Indians lore, and that’s easy to do today. Just be clear that the evaluations of White and Pomeranz run universally throughout baseball, not solely by the Indians organization. To say the vast majority of major league teams coveted them tells you all you need to know.

Who in this deal makes me pause more then any of the players involved? Dan O’Dowd. Sharp, shrewd and highly valued throughout the game, and a man who is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Tribe front office executives, having worked for years with Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. He certainly feels strongly that White and Pomeranz will be impactful at the top of his Colorado rotation in the next season or two, doesn’t he? He stated he’d need a ‘Herschel Walker type deal’ to part with Jimenez.

They believe they got that overload in their favor.

Why was Dan O’ Dowd so quick to rid himself of Jimenez, coming off the 19-8 season in 2010, a 2.88 era, with a start in the All Star game? He’s come nowhere near approaching that, winning just 10 of his last 36 starts dating back to the middle 2010. A 15 game winner in 2009, just 27 years of age…and MOST IMPORTANTLY…UNDER CONTROL through 2014????? Realize how important that is, please!! And Dan O’Dowd wanted rid of him, WHY????

O’Dowd became increasingly disenchanted with Jimenez’ mound makeup, and his resistance to making the changes necessary that the Colorado staff suggested he adjust. Yes, some mechanical, some motion and delivery related, yet mostly the approach. Will the Indians get him back on track? Have to. Not maybe, have to. He must be the unequivocal ‘1’, the ace, the shutdown dominant pitching leader for this to make sense. He seemingly brings that type of stuff to the party. You, as Indians fans, need to be celebrating, and having winning parties, with Jimenez at the forefront of success.

The Indians are now ‘ all in’…for today, and the next two seasons, 2012, and 2013. I genuinely like the work that Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti do. I’ve applauded the last three drafts under the direction of Brad Grant. I’m the one who told you in February this 2011 season would have you ‘excited and pleasantly surprised’ by the Tribe’s on field performance in a division that screams of being mediocre. They were ultra aggressive, proving to you that indeed, they want to win today, now, and in the next two seasons.

They parted with plenty, make no mistake. They know that. They need Jimenez to jump off the pages, and produce in a grand fashion.

While they might succeed in the short term, with Jimenez a top of the rotation starter and in the majors today,  I believe the long-term favors Dan O’Dowd and Colorado in this deal with White and Pomeranz UNDER CONTROL of the Rockies for five full seasons. It’s going to stimulate plenty of conversation.

And now, the Indians have to raise at least an AL Central Division flag, if not greater, in the next two baseball seasons. They said so with this deal. Anything less will be an abstract failure.

Third Guesses, Anyone?

By Michael Reghi

Immediate approval? The Cavaliers had to realize that wouldn’t be part of the equation with their fan base upon the selection of defensively tough, rebounding strong, Texas Big 12 freshman of the year Tristan Thompson with their second selection, fourth overall, in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Young fella is nowhere near a finished product, nor offensively gifted at this stage of his development. Yet, I felt confident enough that this very well could be their guy, that I brought it up to you on ‘R and R’ Tuesday and Wednesday, and solidified it with my blog here early yesterday morning. Simply put, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert spent extensive time with him this week, and became very enamored with the kid. Both what he can deliver on the court and off going forward. Very, very important to the culture they look to present in tandem with top choice Kyrie Irving. Please be aware in the past week, that Thompson had become a top ten consensus on the board in everyone’s eyes, shooting up considerably after meeting with teams, and workouts. So, the Cavaliers weren’t the only organizations with a gleam in their eyes over Tristan Thompson.

Let it be known that Enes Kanter, the powerful, ready to contribute, 6-11 center from Turkey, by way of Kentucky, was the organization’s consensus choice at 4. They wanted to team him up with Irving right out of the gate, to reprise a Mark Price-Brad Daugherty tandem that was so successful on the offensive end of the floor 25 years ago. They attempted to make something work to flop picks with Utah when it became clear to them the Jazz were going with Kanter. Couldn’t make it work. You still have to have a dance partner. That’s when they swung Thompson into motion, over the contractually restrictive, and not ready to play now in the league, Jonas Valenciunas, the European big. I applaud the Cavaliers for realizing a young big, who you won’t have with you to develop for a year, and maybe two, was not the way to proceed.

Now the caveat to all this. And man, was there a ‘buzz’ about this as we held our ESPN Cleveland draft show last night at Around the Corner in Lakewood. And yes, a ‘Third Guess’ here… would the Cavaliers in this scenario, been better served by selecting Derek Williams with the top overall choice, and coming back with Kentucky’s pro game ready combo guard Brandon Knight at 4? Intriguing food for thought, and fun to mull over! Two offensive players, who are explosive, attacking talents, both with some flair and spice to their games. The majority of those asked last night said yes…better suited for what the Cavaliers desperately need. As you know from listening to ‘R and R’, this is the way I wanted the Cavaliers to proceed early in the process, after securing the 1 and 4 choices. I did switch over to Kyrie Irving as the Cavaliers choice a few weeks back. I certainly know this, you, as Cavaliers fans, will closely monitor the games, development, and careers of Williams and Knight, in relation to Irving and Thompson.

Bottom line. I do feel strongly the Cavaliers will be fine, and then some, with Irving and Thompson. Irving, not afraid of embracing the role as the linchpin, the face of this franchise, and making those better around him with his play and leadership, and Thompson, already rebounding proficient at both ends of the floor, tough on the defensive end, and willing to work diligently to improve offensively. He’ll be a solid starter in the NBA at worst. However, they MUST find offensive players at the ‘2’ and ‘3’ slots…and soon! Critical to them being relevant again in the league. They don’t have it. Must, Must get it. That was a disappointment on draft night. Were they completely stonewalled in every attempt they made to get a third first round choice? If so, that tells how the rest of the league views their assets, doesn’t it?

Irving and Thompson. Will it ever have the Price-Daugherty impact from the draft of 25 years ago? Let’s watch the development with anticipation, and the hopes the duo gets somewhere in the ‘same neighborhood’ as the pair of Cavaliers legends.

 

At Four? Stay Close!

Some draft morning intel leads me to believe that Texas “tough guy” freshman, 6-8 Tristan Thompson has wowed the Cavaliers, and specifically owner Dan Gilbert this week, and may now be in play for the wine and gold with the 4th overall selection, should Turkish big man Enes Kanter be off the board at 2 or 3. Unfortunately, I believe he will be. Kanter heads their desired list, yet they might have to get creative by moving up to Utah’s spot at 3, if not Minnesota’s at 2, to grab him.

Thompson is a rugged defender, who has tremendous upside at 19…there’s that phrase again, huh? He does show excellent skill in the paint offensively with a variety of jump hooks, explosive moves to the rim, and short jumpers, yet shoots just 48 percent from the line, and could struggle against bigger fours around the hoop. That having been said, he brings a nasty demeanor and strong desire to excel to the party, which has Gilbert intrigued.

I still believe the Cavaliers will start to wheel and deal at four with Kanter off the board. Houston, Washington, and Charlotte have multiple first round choices. Yet do not be surprised if they take a shot with Thompson, who most certainly has come into play for not just the Cavaliers, but others in the top 10.

Vindication, Cleveland?

By Michael Reghi

While my greater sense of Cleveland civic pride tells me most who call this fine city, and surrounding region home, had long since put LeBron James in our rear view mirrors, the Dallas Mavericks spanking of James and the Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship, after trailing two games to one, and reeling off three consecutive victories, has brought a sense of redemption to thousands here in Ohio, who simply didn’t want to stomach what would have been the ‘primp and preen’ show, had James and the Heat actually won something of substance…a championship. Instead, Clevelanders, scorned and snubbed by James eleven months ago, now feel validation, knowing they were right to question his ‘ultimate winner’ capabilities, after the failures of the last two seasons here, as James and the Cavaliers entered the playoffs with the best regular season records in the NBA.

After watching James turn timid, desiring to blend into the scenery, as he so readily did in games 4 through 6, while Dallas was sensing his retreat, can you convince yourself a James led championship was destined to be here in Cleveland? I can’t. James can deflect the criticism all he likes, pointing to the inabilities of his teammates, and coaching, as the reason he stalled with the Cavaliers. Fact is, he’s yet to prove he won’t shrink when the stage is the brightest. Call it whatever you like, disconnecting, choking, quitting, lacking heart and confidence, all of the above, which has been attached to James the past few playoff runs, he has yet to prove he can be the catalyst to which titles are won. He thought that would equate much easier in Miami. Of course he did.

From a basketball perspective, two things I’ve discussed with you for the past three years on shows continue to be constant regarding James game. 1. He does not play well without the ball. And, 2. He still has yet to learn how to be effective on the blocks, virtually no post-up game. Great basketball minds will be asked and debate if these are ‘learned’ skills. Going into year 9 in the league. Does he have the desire to do either for the betterment of his team? Didn’t in Cleveland. Didn’t see anything change in Miami.

Yes, Cleveland, he provided magical basketball, and sporting moments here for seven seasons. There was a price though, that went with that. Strapping this organization with complete uncertainty heading into the future, unable to make the moves necessary while he was here, to provide for multiple championship runs due to his lack of commitment. Maybe there is a ‘Cleveland payoff’ from the basketball gods initially. And it comes in the form of a championship denial to James. Redemption? Validation? A nod to Cleveland?

Call it whatever you like. There’s not a basketball championship here in Cleveland yet. And there isn’t one where LeBron James plays either. Sweet dreams, Cleveland!

 

 

Front Office Kudos

By Michael Reghi

The wrath of Indians fans, with loud, angry voices attached, have been directed at now President, then General Manager, Mark Shapiro, and current GM, then Shapiro assistant, Chris Antonetti, virtually daily since the dealing of Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia in July of 2008. Oh, how the anger intensified a year later, when in a forty eight hour period, near the trade deadline in late July, a second Cy Young Award Winner, Cliff Lee, and the face of the franchise, Victor Martinez were dealt in separate deals.

The deals were bold, universally unpopular, and resulted in back-to-back 90 plus loss seasons, that saw you, Indians fans staying away from Progressive Field in droves.

On the contrary, those moves, and a couple others before them, have set up this 2011 version of the Tribe in a most advantageous position now, as they approach the 50 game mark of the season with the best record in Major League Baseball, yet more importantly, going forward with a volume of young talent, all under Indians control for the next four to five seasons. Yes, Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti took the blasts and hits, criticized loudly at every turn. The duo deserves every bit as much of the credit for the Tribe’s on field success as do manager Manny Acta, and the players themselves. It hasn’t been lost on me, and it shouldn’t on you.

I’m sure many of you have forgotten the the two deals in a months time beginning in late June of 2006 with Seattle. Shapiro fleeced the Mariners GM Bill Bavasi, obtaining first Asdrubal Cabrera, then Shin Soo Choo, minor leaguers at the time, now Indians core mainstays, for, you ready for this? Eduardo Perez, and Ben Broussard! Point is this. Shapiro and Antonetti, carefully crafted this rebuild, and that’s exactly what it had to be going back five seasons ago. Sabathia and Lee were NOT going to stay. Martinez would have. When presented with the opportunity to acquire both Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone for Martinez, they pulled the trigger. You could argue that the deal for Lee could have waited until 2010, his free agent year. While true, the dye was cast with Lee. He wasn’t going to take the Indians offer to stay and was becoming more of a distraction, then a driving force, on a team that was in the midst of a 90 loss season. Difficult, unpopular decisions. Bold strokes needed. Shapiro and Antonetti didn’t waiver in their beliefs. They felt strongly many of the young minor leaguers obtained in the deals could be developed and form the nucleus of successful Indians teams. More ‘hits’ then misses, to be sure.

In addition to Asdrubal Cabrera and Choo, Michael Brantley and Matt Laporta are everyday fixtures in the lineup. Brantley a future All Star, LaPorta beginning to be the run producing bat needed at first base. Carlos Santana, acquired in the Casey Blake deal, while experiencing some 2011 growing pains, also carries All Star potential both defensively and with the bat. Justin Masterson seems to be fast tracking to staff ace and Carlos Carrasco has become a starter in the rotation. While Chris Perez, obtained in 2009 for Mark DeRosa, is a most effective closer. Lou Marson, tremendous defensively, is one of baseball’s valuable backup catchers, while the veteran additions of Orlando Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, and Adam Everett have stabilized an infield defense, greatly helping the pitching staffs effectiveness.

Shapiro and Antonetti know how fragile deals can be. They certainly aren’t the types to beat their chests and bark out, ‘ How do you like us now’? Not their styles, nor should it be. Stay understated gentlemen! You might be looking to do business with a few more unsuspecting GM’s in the next six to eight weeks as the Tribe pursue their first postseason since 2007. Still work to be done, sure. The Tribe are by no means a finished product, yet even most of you naysayers should be in recognition of a front office that carefully crafted the restructuring of their organization in a most efficient, very effective manner. Gotta’ like what’s going on between the lines everyday! With all of professional sports problems off the fields and courts, isn’t that a breath of fresh air in watching Indians baseball flourish far sooner than most skeptics and pundits projected? Well played, front office, well played!

My thoughts and prayers are extended to friend and colleague Jim Donovan, who continues his battle to beat leukemia. The longtime WKYC-TV3 sports director, who was diagnosed eleven years ago with the disease, will undergo a bone marrow transplant in the weeks to come. I’ve been aware of Jim’s condition for some time, yet he made it public last night during his sportscast. Jim and I both began our Cleveland careers as weekend TV sports anchors in the early 1980’s, he at Channel 3, me at Channel 5, and through our love for, and longstanding play-by-play endeavors, developed a strong friendship and bond that has endured the test of time in our industry.

Jim is a battler, a fighter, and a devoted husband and father. Now that a donor has been located, Donovan will beat the leukemia that has strapped him in recent years. He mentioned to me that during one of my many visits to the the Indians booth to chat with him and Rick Manning in 2008, was a period where he realized that he might require more than just the medications that seemed to be colliding. Thus the beginning of the search that has now provided a donor.

 With God’s good graces, and a corp of tremendous specialists at his side, Donovan will be back in the Browns booth, calling the action with passion and energy, as he has since 1999, when the 2011 season begins. Keep Jimmy D. in your thoughts and prayers, please. A consummate professional, and even better man! Fight the strong fight, Jim! Cleveland is with you each step of the way!

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