CLEVELAND -- The Browns' revamped offensive coaching staff is complete as the team is hiring former New England Patriots quarterback Kevin O'Connell as quarterbacks coach and former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as a senior offensive assistant, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Fox Sports first reported the news.
O'Connell, 29, was a third-round pick in 2008 who eventually lost the backup Patriots job to Brian Hoyer, the Browns' starter for much of 2014 and a pending free agent. O'Connell was a private quarterbacks coach who worked extensively with Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel leading up to the draft in May.
Manziel struggled in his rookie year, completing 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards, two interceptions and a 42.0 rating.
The Browns feel O'Connell's work with Manziel doesn't hurt but didn't consider that relationship a huge selling point in the interview process, according to a source, believing O'Connell was the most qualified candidate regardless of who leads the offense.
Between O'Connell and 36-year-old offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the Browns bypassed the retread route and are betting on up-and-coming coaches to fix the team's quarterback woes. Roper was Duke's offensive coordinator before taking the job at Florida, which fired coach Will Muschamp last year.
Jordan Cameron back, and I don't think Cameron is inclined to come back. This could change of course, but the Browns saw they won when Cameron was injured last season, so I think it's unlikely the team would spend the money it will take to bring him back. I think that's a shame because I think Cameron is a very good player who "plays like a Brown." But it's what the tea leaves read right now.
Josh Gordon: The Browns would have him under control through 2017 at a relatively low cost (assuming Gordon did not get an accrued season in 2014 thanks to his last-game suspension). They could figure they have nothing to lose by hanging on to him to see if he will change.
Alex Mack and nobody. The Brandon Weeden-Trent Richardson first round will be debated for a long time. But I might go with 2001, when the team took DT Gerard Warren even though it had Richard Seymour ranked higher (Warren grew into the "finest, nicest man" Pittsburgh police ever arrested), WR Quincy Morgan, RB James Jackson (who once said publicly, "Coach Davis done lost his damn mind"), CB Anthony Henry (a fairly good player and the best of the bunch), LB Jeremiah Pharms (arrested before he ever visited Cleveland), S Michael Jameson, OL Paul Zukauskas and WR Andre King. That is my personal lowlight.
Johnny Manziel never showed signs of the "significant" injury the team described. He didn't limp, didn't have trouble moving in the locker room and didn't have the hamstring wrapped. That doesn't mean it was not significant in terms of doing what Manziel had to do to play football, though.
CLEVELAND -- I was in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl when the Cleveland Browns hired John DeFilippo and held a news conference introducing him, so perhaps it's not too late to share a few thoughts on the hire and where the Browns' offense might go:
- No retreads: In a game with coaching staffs more repackaged than Tupperware, I can respect the Browns taking a chance on an up-and-comer. DeFilippo is 36, open-minded to new ideas and did good work with Oakland's Derek Carr last season (3,200-plus yards, 21 TDs, 12 INTs as a rookie). DeFilippo will be less set in his ways than a coordinator that's been fired elsewhere.
- That said, this better work: Make no mistake, this is classic risk-reward for the Browns and coach Mike Pettine, who seemed to lean heavily on past relationships in the interview process. The Browns had a good shot at Marc Trestman if they wanted him. They basically picked DeFilippo over Trestman. That's fine -- if it works.
- Won't matter who's the OC without better QB/WR play: With the staff almost finalized, the Browns should focus on a five-point offseason plan -- 1) Hope Johnny Manziel develops in the next seven months, 2) explore potential quarterback trades for Sam Bradford or Nick Foles, 3) Look at Brian Hoyer, Mark Sanchez and Jake Locker in free agency. 4) Make at least one big-money push for a top receiver in a loaded class (Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, etc.), 5) Get a playmaker with one of your first two picks.
- Mixed messages on Manziel's role: The Browns will find a quarterback or die trying. That was basically the message last week, from DeFilippo to Jimmy Haslam. Searching for a quarterback suggests you don't have one. But the hiring of DeFilippo, coupled with the interview of former Manziel consultant Kevin O'Connell as quarterback coach, says maximizing Manziel's potential is a top priority for the Browns. Regardless of whether Cleveland signs a quarterback through free agency or the draft, Manziel will be in training camp to compete.
- Expect more zone blocking: The Kyle Shanahan era ended poorly, but he leaves the Browns with something -- encouragement that the zone scheme will best suit a talented offensive line. The offense was humming with nearly 150 rushing yards in five games with a healthy Alex Mack. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West should grow in their zone-running roles, though the Browns could add another back for insurance.
And yet nothing reflected his value more than the one game that Bell missed.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense struggled in a 30-17 AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens with Bell watching helplessly on the sidelines because of a hyperextended knee.
The Steelers could only wonder what might have been had Bell been healthy enough to play against the Ravens since he excels as a runner and receiver and is also adept at picking up blitzing linebackers.
Bell’s all-around game earned the second-year man a truckload of accolades, and he has been voted the AFC North’s Most Valuable Player.
Bell beat out Roethlisberger, who tied New Orleans’ Drew Brees for the most passing yards (4,952) in 2014, for the honor, which was voted on by ESPN reporters who cover AFC North teams.
“The things that he can do in all three phases of the game to run, to catch the ball, and to block are some of the most special things I’ve ever seen a running back do,” Roethlisberger said during Bell’s breakout season.
Bell set numerous Steelers records, including the one for most yards from scrimmage (2,215) in a season. He also joined the late Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history with at least 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games.
Payton accomplished the feat in 1977. Bell matched it with 711 yards from scrimmage during a three-game stretch that bridged November and December.
“When they were talking about me and Walter Payton being the only ones having that (record), it kind of hit me a little bit,” Bell said, “like, OK, all the hard work I’ve been putting in for 17 years playing football and all the hard work I’ve been putting in is paying off. Being looked at as one of the better players in the NFL is something that I take pride in.”
And Bell only turns 23 when he celebrates his birthday Feb. 18.
"This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement,” Bell said. “There’s still a lot of things I can work on and get better at.”
AFC North Most Valuable Player voting: Le'Veon Bell, 12 points; Ben Roethlisberger, 8; Joe Flacco, 4; Justin Forsett, 3; Antonio Brown, 2; Jeremy Hill, 1.
Panel of voters: Scott Brown, Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon.
2. I’m the kind of guy who goes upstairs specifically to get one thing, then comes back down with nothing and forgets what I went upstairs for in the first place. The point: I’m neither qualified nor inclined to judge whether Gordon is an addict. That is up to him.
3. Gordon explains much about himself and his past, but in his explanation he also makes clear he was responsible for failing the substance-abuse tests. Whatever the reason, he failed the tests, and the league makes it very clear it looks at the test results, not the reasons or explanations. Barring a miracle, there will be no Gordon in Cleveland this season.
The situation: Manziel tweaked his hamstring on a throw to Josh Gordon, then injured it further on a designed run left that went nowhere.
The reason it mattered: It ended Manziel’s rookie season and ended a miserable experience for him as the Browns' starting quarterback. Manziel had success when he replaced Brian Hoyer in Buffalo, but as a starter against Cincinnati and Carolina he had a miserable time. In his first start, he was the first Heisman Trophy winner to be shut out since 1997, as he converted just 1 of 10 third downs and had five first downs. In six quarters, the Browns scored three points and had four non-penalty first downs with Manziel as the quarterback. The injury ended a stretch that had the Browns wondering what they would do with their first-round quarterback.
A DWI, three NFL suspensions and one team suspension in three years -- that’s a lot to pin on a capricious nature. Gordon is authoritative at the top of the story -- yes, I have a "problem" -- but teases the reader by not delving into that problem other than stating that he "messed up" and describing his rough upbringing in the Houston area.
Gordon isn’t making excuses for his behavior. It’s just that the explanations of his incidents with the league still require more details. Gordon hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt to ignore them. "Inadvertently" inhaling secondhand smoke and not knowing his zero-drinking stipulation might stretch into the first few days of the offseason don't seem like things that just happen. (If the second part is true, shame on Gordon’s camp for not reminding him 100 times over about the end date. Wonder how many of his teammates knew about the stipulation on the way to Vegas.) Missing team activities doesn’t just happen. There are rumblings from the team's office that Gordon's timeliness was an issue more than once late in 2014.
And it’s still unclear from Gordon's letter what concrete steps he plans to take to curb poor decision-making.
Good for Gordon for speaking out. He has every right to combat those who brand him as an NFL outcast. The letter strikes with conviction. You’re right, Josh, we don’t really know you. This letter helps, in spots.
But if your only "problem" is being young, that paints with the same broad strokes that your critics used on you. Perhaps Part II can dive deeper into this area.
After a growing number of incidents in three NFL seasons, Browns fans hoping for the best could use more to go off of here.
Sorry, guys, I wasn’t thinking, I’m only 23 -- that isn’t enough, especially when you start the letter throwing footballs at targets.
Fewer Charles Barkley rants, more energy pointed toward staying suspension-free.
Gordon's first-person letter was posted on a website called Medium.
He directs it to his critics, especially Charles Barkley, and ESPN analysts Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter, all of whom have expressed serious concern for Gordon's future and well-being, with Barkley saying Gordon's actions could lead to a premature death.
Gordon continued on the offensive at the end of his letter with a message for his critics who said his life would end badly if he maintained a reckless lifestyle.
"If you see me someday, Chuck, Stephen A., Cris, or any other well-intentioned person to whom this letter is directed, please come on over, shake my hand, and say hello," he wrote. "I won't be holding a grudge, but I will expect you to admit you were wrong about me."
Gordon explained his conditions for alcohol testing and his failed test in the letter, saying it came on a flight he took with teammates and former receivers coach Mike McDaniel on Jan. 2.
Gordon wrote: "On Jan. 2 of this year, just days after our season ended earlier than we all had hoped -- and yes, my actions during the prior offseason definitely contributed to our failure to make the playoffs; it killed me seeing our guys fight so hard when I wasn't out there with them -- I boarded a private flight to Las Vegas with several teammates. During the flight, I had two beers and two drinks. It was the first time I had consumed so much as a drop of alcohol since July 4, 2014, the day of (his DWI arrest in North Carolina)."
Gordon explained his 10-game suspension by saying eight games was for a failed marijuana test caused by "inadvertently inhaling second-hand marijuana smoke" last offseason.
He said the league agreed to reduce a four-game suspension for DWI to two because his blood-alcohol level was .01 over the legal limit.
But as a condition of being reinstated in Week 12, Gordon agreed to abstain from drinking the rest of the season and to submit to ongoing alcohol tests.
"Did I think that was excessive given I had never had any issue whatsoever with alcohol?" Gordon wrote. "Yes. Did I think it was hypocritical that a professional league making hundreds of millions of dollars off beer sponsorships was telling me not to drink? Yes. Did I so much as blink at the condition? No."
He said he was given notice he had to take a drug test as soon as he landed in Las Vegas.
"I failed the test, obviously, and the rest is history ... colored by media speculation and faux outrage," Gordon wrote. "In the end, of course, I failed myself. It doesn't matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn't confirm whether or not that was the case. Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career."
A spokesman for the Browns said the team had no comment on the letter.
Teammate Phil Taylor
But only one would be named the AFC North's Rookie of the Year.
Out of the pair, Hill is the only one up for the NFL's Rookie of the Year award that will be announced this weekend in Arizona. He's the only AFC North representative, contending with a group made up of all offensive players. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Mike Evans and receiver Sammy Watkins also are up for the honor. No defensive player has earned the award since 2010, when Ndamukong Suh received it.
Mosley was seemingly everywhere for the Ravens this season. He had 129 tackles, the eighth-highest total for any defender in the league. He also was part of a defense that ranked eighth in the league.
In addition to the 129 tackles, Mosley also had three sacks, two interceptions and forced and recovered a fumble. The Alabama product also had 19 tackles in the Ravens' two playoff games, including 10 in the divisional-round loss to the Patriots. In a Week 5 loss at Indianapolis, he had a season-high 14 stops.
Hill became a threat for the Bengals starting in Week 9 when he rushed for a season-high 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-23 win against the Jaguars. It was his 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped ice the win, and firmly put him in his fan base's consciousness. That week, and for the two after it, Hill started in place of Giovani Bernard. The third-year running back was resting after experiencing a series of injuries following hard hits in previous games.
Also during Bernard's absence, Hill rushed for 152 yards in a homecoming game at New Orleans. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native and LSU product went on to become the Bengals' top option at running back after Bernard returned. Across the final nine weeks of the season, Hill rushed for 929 yards, more than any other back in that stretch.
In addition to their Rookie of the Year award, ESPN.com's AFC North reporters voted on four other honors for the division (Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player). We've been handing out the awards daily since Monday.
Mosley finished third in the division Defensive Player of the Year voting, and Hill finished third in Offensive Player of the Year voting.
AFC North Rookie of the Year: Mosley, 12 points; Hill, 11; Joel Bitonio, 8, Cleveland; Martavis Bryant, 1, Pittsburgh.
Panel of voters: Scott Brown, Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon.
Two Cleveland Browns players came to the defense of Johnny Manziel this week following criticism of him in an ESPN.com report that chronicled his rookie year.
Cornerback Joe Haden, who played in last week's Pro Bowl and is appearing at the Super Bowl festivities as part of his Global Ambassador role for the Special Olympics, told Cleveland.com that Manziel is "definitely not a joke." Linebacker Karlos Dansby also said from the Super Bowl that Manziel practiced well during the season.
"It's not true at all that Johnny's teammates think he's a 100 percent joke," Haden said. "There's a lot of players on the team that do [love Manziel]."
One Browns player told ESPN for a story published last week that Manziel throughout the 2014 season was a "100 percent joke," a reference to his lack of preparation and the Johnny Football persona affecting his work life as a rookie, a sentiment echoed by many sources interviewed for the story. Manziel has become a lightning rod for criticism from many outlets after his struggles as a starter late in the Browns' season.
"When opportunities present themselves you've got to take advantage of it," Dansby told Cleveland.com
Episode No. 42 will review ESPN.com's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.
The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.
Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.
Poyer was an ascending NFL punt returner, a second-year Brown brimming with confidence, before a muffed punt return made him the subject of easy laughs on social media video loops.
"If I could have anything back in my football life, that might have been the play right there," Poyer said.
Instead, the ball bounced off his facemask at the 2-yard line, the Jaguars convert the turnover into a touchdown and the Browns lost.
Try living with that for the next 10 weeks. Poyer was the starting punt returner that week, replacing the struggling Travis Benjamin. He never fielded another live-game punt after that Jacksonville trip. The Browns played veteran safety Jim Leonhard before Poyer because of his sure hands, even if Leonhard was no threat to break more than 5 yards.
For a guy used to having his way as an Oregon State punt returner, the forgettable moment was a Vegas-level luck change.
"I'm itching for another chance," Poyer, a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in 2013, said by his locker late last month. "I've got a bad taste in my mouth. Definitely next time I'm in a situation like that, it will be different."
Poyer admits he was shaken up for a few days. He came to work like he always had, then headed home to hole up and regroup. After the game, he resorted to blank stares out of the bus window. That's when special teams coordinator Chris Tabor provided some timely coach speak.
"He told me on the bus, 'Jordan, you're a good football player and we're going to need you the rest of the way,'" Poyer said. "Teammates really encouraged me throughout it. Once I turned the page on that day, I was determined to make an impact whether blocking on Sunday or making tackles."
Poyer had plenty of chances for that, recording 21 tackles and two forced fumbles in special teams coverage and as a backup safety. He played meaningful safety snaps late in the season, finishing the year with 21 tackles and a forced fumble.
His punt return line stayed the same for the final two months -- seven returns for 28 yards -- but he's glad to get his first ugly NFL mistake out of the way.
That doesn't mean he'll laugh off the blooper, though. He knows the play cost his team points.
He still believes he can be a great punt returner, and he's aiming for that chance in Cleveland.
"I've been moved on from it," Poyer said. "I still want the ball in my hands. Waiting for the opportunity when it comes."
The situation: While blocking for a simple run, Mack’s left leg was caught in a pile. The result: A broken leg that sidelined him for the season.
The reason it mattered: The ripple effect from the injury was stunning. The Browns tried three different centers after Mack, none with any level of success. As a result, the Browns' offense suffered -- for two reasons. First, the Browns lost a Pro Bowl center. Second, the front office was not adequately prepared for the possibility of injury. Two of the centers the Browns used had never played the position before and the other hadn’t played in more than a year. Mack was important because of his unique ability to make line calls and because of his prowess in the run game. The Browns' offense was run dependent, and when Mack was injured the Browns couldn’t run. Mack’s injury was crippling and showed the value of a Pro Bowl center.
What Joe Thomas said: “The two most important positions for stability are your center and your quarterback because those are the two guys that kind of get everyone else organized on the offense.”
The Cleveland Browns will hire former University of Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips as their wide receivers coach, a league source confirmed to ESPN. The Browns still need to hire a quarterbacks coach and an offensive quality control coach.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier on Wednesday that the Browns are interviewing former NFL QB Kevin O'Connell for the quarterbacks job. Others confirmed to have interviewed for the quarterbacks job were former Bills QB coach Todd Downing (now Raiders QBs coach) and Glenn Thomas (Falcons QBs coach). A league source told ESPN that former NFL QB Steve Walsh interviewed for a job on the Browns offensive staff.
My thoughts: If the Browns are looking for experience, Phillips has it. Since 1991, Phillips has coached wide receivers at Kentucky (where he also was head coach), Cincinnati, Minnesota, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Florida. This is Phillips' first experience in the NFL but he should adapt just fine.
First thing Phillips should do on the job? Show Browns brass a list of free-agent wideouts, then pick out a few names. The free agency list is loaded -- Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Kenny Britt, Cecil Shorts, Eddie Royal. Some of those names will stay put via the franchise tag or otherwise, but plenty of impact players are worth exploring here.
The Browns' top-three returning receivers -- Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin -- combined for six touchdowns. No one from that group is taller than 5-foot-10.
The impact of Phillips will be felt, one way or another.