Ryan Welton

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Browns on the rise, but Haslam ownership provides doubt

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Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns.

As a new Cleveland Browns fan, I’ve taken to consuming all-news Browns: I listen to WKNR when I can, online of course, and I subscribe to the Cleveland Browns channel on YouTube.

The firing of Hue Jackson seemed appropriate as did the dismissal of Todd Haley. For me, the firing of Haley, who appeared to be undermining his boss at every turn, was especially warranted. All of us Oklahoma Browns Baker Mayfield fanatics watched “Hard Knocks” and had come to appreciate GM John Dorsey, a proven winner.

However, I think many of us have yet to get to know Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, a man who made his billions with truck-stop chain Pilot Flying J and whose brother is the governor of Tennessee. By all accounts, as a new Browns fan, Haslam was progressive: he hired Dorsey and drafted the great Baker Reagan Mayfield.

But Jimmy Haslam also was behind the drafting of Johnny Manziel.

And he was also responsible for all sorts of chaos within the organization, as was documented this week by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. The author documented everything, from Haslam’s tendency to pit coaches against each other to his family’s own admission that they really don’t know anything about the NFL.

On one hand, I appreciate Haslam’s willingness to be vulnerable in that way. On the other hand, even with the drafting of Mayfield, the firing of the inept Hue Jackson and the hiring of the hopefully ept Freddie Kitchens, there isn’t much evidence that Haslam has for sure learned the error of his ways.

He must let John Dorsey run the football part of the business with zero meddling.

And he must be patient.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the digital marketing world is that you have to let campaigns play out before evaluating. In sports, it’s awfully easy to become impatient and execute a regime change before the plan gets a chance to bear fruit.

You’d think this is a lesson Jimmy Haslam can get behind. However, it hasn’t worked for Jerry Jones in the near three decades he’s owned the Dallas Cowboys, and they truly don’t look to be any closer to the promised land than they were 20 years ago.

So, as a new Browns fan, my confidence soars because John Dorsey appears to be in charge,

But, man, is that tempered by the fact that Jimmy Haslam’s history shows that Dorsey won’t be left alone for very long.

Cleveland Browns: These 4 characteristics make Baker Mayfield a winner

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Cleveland 21, New York Jets 17.

That was pretty much the most entertaining Thursday Night Football game in the history of #TNF. Or that I know of. I don’t know; I don’t typically watch Thursday Night Football, but damn if I’m not a fan of the NFL all of a sudden.

Thanks to Baker Mayfield.

Down 14-0 and having lost their quarterback to a possible concussion, Mayfield came into the game and immediately injected energy into FirstEnergy Stadium. He also led them to a FG to cut into the Jets lead before the half, 14-3.

And then we got the word that Tyrod Taylor was out for the game. Baker would start the second half.

Truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive about that prospect as an Oklahoma Sooners fan suddenly devoted to all-things Cleveland Browns. Bob Wylie’s offensive line had played like trash in the first half, forgive the frankness.

Baker might get killed out there.

But he didn’t. Mayfield’s passes were quickly released, crisp, and he didn’t even really have to stretch the field. Soon-to-be new daddy Carlos Hyde took advantage of the Browns’ success through the air, racking up 98 yards on 23 carries and two scores.

Mayfield caught his first score before he threw for his first, a 2-point conversion reminiscent of Oklahoma’s play against Georgia in last year’s Rose Bowl.

The Philly Special? Naw. This is the Oklahoma Special.

But then Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns on a 15-play, 75-yard game-winning drive that ate up 6:52 off the fourth-quarter clock. It’s a drive the likes of which we saw in Norman, Oklahoma, time after time after time.

Baker was clutch, effective and efficient, finishing the night with a quarterback rating over 100. And to his credit, Mayfield is not an all-heart sort of leader. His accuracy is uncanny. His release is quick. And his teammates would knock over a brick wall for him.

However, that’s not the thing that makes him a winner, and his recipe for success is centuries old.

Credit other people. You’ll regularly hear Baker take the focus off himself and praise his teammates and coaches.

Be situationally aware. It’s clear Mayfield was ready to play tonight despite the insanity of the Cleveland coaching staff giving him no reps during the practice week.

Be competitive. I don’t know that competitiveness has to be the polar opposite of contentment, which is a fine state unto itself, but I’d suggest that a nagging hunger to achieve or win is pretty much a standard characteristic of winners.

Exude positive energy, in public and in private. Brush off your shoulders and don’t let nothin’ affect you.

Will all that mean Baker leads the Browns to the Super Bowl, win Rookie of the Year and never lose again? Of course not.

Tap the brakes.

Not even Mayfield is perfect. We’ve seen the video from Fayetteville, Arkansas. That guy ain’t out-running an NFL defensive end.

But those of us Oklahoma Sooners fans also saw Baker admit his mistake, apologize, move on and not repeat it. Knock on wood. That’s part of the formula as well, to be able to overcome adversity.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying to Browns fans or anybody who will eventually get sick of an Oklahoma fan telling you that Baker Reagan Mayfield is a winner, it’s not about his Heisman Trophy or the big wins at Oklahoma (a-plenty) or the two trips to the college football playoffs.

It’s not because of the results that people say he’s a winner.

It’s because of the way he takes care of business and how he executes.

And the super sweet thing is that the winner part of this formula is something anybody can do with enough practice.

Beyond Baker: How HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ converted me to the Cleveland Browns

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When half of Oklahoma decided to become Cleveland Browns fans, we did so out of our loyalty to Baker Reagan Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and, arguably, the greatest college football quarterback of all time over the course of a career.

Stores in Oklahoma have Cleveland Browns sections now. Seriously. 

I’m a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan who has just grown apart from the franchise in the days after Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, Texas Stadium and the hole in the roof so God could see through it. I’d largely tired of Jerry and problem players and a lack of success on the field that made their troubles off it pretty unbearable.

Long story short, I started looking for other teams to support, and I landed upon the Rams, moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Aside from the remaining gold, I love their uniforms, and I love the fact that Joe Pendleton was a Ram. “Heaven Can Wait” was my late mother’s favorite movie, or one of them.

And I still support them.

But because of Mayfield and especially the HBO series, “Hard Knocks,” I fell for the Cleveland Browns. During the final moments of the Browns’ game versus Pittsburgh, I was white-knuckling it as if the Sooners were playing the Longhorns. And this week against the Saints, I was bemoaning every missed kick from Zane Gonzalez, while at the same time feeling completely sorry for him.

I’ve even made Browns friends on Twitter, which is cool particularly when you figure out that lifelong, die-hard Browns fans are at once bewildered why anybody would join their misery and completely welcoming of the commiseration.

It also feels good to start at the bottom. I don’t feel like I’m bandwagoning anything.

But I also figured out by watching “Hard Knocks” that the Browns organization appears to be fronted by good people. No offense, but I haven’t had that sense with the Dallas Cowboys for 20 years. My only gripe about the show is that all the guys we were pulling for got cut!

Devon Cajuste? Couldn’t there have been a spot for a TE who mostly receives and doesn’t block? Situationally speaking? He’s such a good soul; that kind of positivity with any inkling of ability is an asset.

Carl Nassib? As one of my new Twitter friends noted tonight, he’s got long arms and he gets after it. The 2-0 Tampa Bay Bucs know that now.

Nate Orchard? Not only are the guys not enjoying his wife’s cookies, he got picked up by the worst team in the NFL right now, the Buffalo Bills.

When I first started watching, I didn’t get the sense that Hue Jackson had the gravitas to lead an NFL team with success. By the end of the show, I figured out he had the compassion.

Two games in, and it doesn’t really matter how crusty Gregg Williams is. His defenses play hard, and the Browns have a pretty decent one.

I probably liked Todd Haley the least. Just thought he was unnecessarily mean at times. However, he sure dialed up some offense when the Browns needed it late versus his former team, the Steelers, and the Saints this past week.

And of course, I love that GM John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson saw what those of us who love the Oklahoma Sooners saw in Baker — a transformational winner. Truth be told, I’ve come to like Tyrod Taylor, too, indicative of the Browns looking for character above all else.

That showed today when they said goodbye to Josh Gordon.

Participating in publicity gimmicks such as “Hard Knocks” isn’t a dumb thing to do. I just wish they’d keep it going all season. It would turn the season into a season-long drama.

They’d hate it. I’d love it.

Besides, they accomplished what they set out to do: earned a new fan.

Go Browns.

Cleveland Browns 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 21: Recap + stars + disappointments

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Our first game as official Cleveland Browns was quite the experience, and we didn’t lose!

We tied.

Cleveland battled back from a 21-7 deficit against Pittsburgh to send the game into overtime, but then offenses stalled for both teams. Not helped by a rain that was steady for all four hours of Sunday’s season-opening NFL broadcast, the Browns had a chance to win at the end thanks to a Joe Schobert interception that caused an earthquake along Lake Erie.

And in northwest Oklahoma City.

Kristi and I were out of our chairs on that one, reminiscent of Torrance Marshall’s pick against Texas A&M back in 2000. (Oklahoma Sooners) Schobert’s pick should have sealed a win for Cleveland except for a block-in-the-back penalty on Myles Garrett.

Ugh.

Zane Gonzales’ field goal attempt from 10-12 yards back was blocked.

And the Browns would have to settle for a tie, and so would we, their new football fans in Oklahoma.

The reason so many Oklahomans are now Cleveland Browns supporters? Easy. Baker Reagan Mayfield.

He didn’t play a single down against Pittsburgh, and that’s OK. The weather was 58 degrees and rainy, not ideal conditions for a newbie signal-caller. However, I’ll present this: Tyrod Taylor’s box score.

Taylor went 15 of 40 for 197 yards for a quarterback rating of 51.8.

Just sayin’.

He showed some poise at times, and to be fair, he didn’t make nearly the mistakes that Ben Roethlisberger made. Big Ben went 23 of 41 for 335 yards with three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 60.5.

What Baker Mayfield could have brought was some downfield urgency to Cleveland drives at the end of the first half, fourth quarter and overtime periods. Mayfield was used to working super fast at Oklahoma, and his accuracy is uncanny. I get that he’s new, but I’ll stand on this until my dying day: the Cleveland coaches played this week to “not mess it up” today instead of playing to win.

Kudos to Gregg Williams and the Cleveland defense, and major kudos to new cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward signed a four-year contract worth a little more than $29 million, and I think he’s got the early clubhouse lead on Rookie of the Year honors, finishing the day with six tackles and two interceptions for 26 yards.

Todd Haley’s offense failed to capitalize on momentum, I thought. In the third quarter, running back Carlos Hyde went off, leading the Browns to a touchdown and a 7-7 game. While Taylor finished off the drive with a 20-yard run, Hyde accounted for 34 yards on four carries.

And then the Browns pretty much abandoned the run.

Pittsburgh immediately made it 14-7, and while Cleveland attempted a couple of Hyde runs, Taylor threw incomplete on first down deep to Jarvis Landry. Landry finished the day with seven balls for 106 yards. Hyde lost a couple on second down, and then Taylor was sacked by T.J. Watt, who had a monster game for Pittsburgh.

I don’t believe Watt is J.J.’s brother. I believe he’s a clone. Phenomenal player. Watt finished the day with 11 tackles, including four for loss.

The Steelers opened up a 21-7 lead, and Cleveland worked a little magic to tie it up. After a fumble was recovered and then nearly squandered by Jabrill Peppers at the goal line, Hyde rammed it home from the 1 to make it 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

After a pair of quick series, Taylor did his best work with a two-play drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon with 1:58 left to play. The first play of that series was a 38-yard pass to Rashard Higgins.

Zero complaints there, and from Haley’s perspective, it was the right play-calling at the right time.

Cleveland got the ball back one last time, but Taylor was intercepted on a deep ball to Gordon.

The story of the day was: nice comeback and plenty of chances for the Browns at the end. If there was a disappointment for me as a new fan who absolutely watched the “Hard Knocks” series on HBO, it was David Njoku. The TE from the University of Miami caught three balls for 13 yards, but it sure seems like he dropped a whole bunch of easy balls. I’d also cite end-of-period game management as a frustration.

No, we newbie Oklahoma fans of the Dawg Pound have nothing to complain about. We haven’t suffered like you guys in northeast Ohio, but I wish you would have seen us when Schobert intercepted that ball in OT. We damn near brought the house down.

And you’d best believe we’ll do it again for Cleveland-New Orleans next week.

Go Browns!

Featured photo by Erik Drost

 

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