One theme that is pervasive throughout the Browns OTAs this week is “leadership.”
Eric Mangini got the ball rolling last year when he purged the roster of “me first” malcontents by discarding talented, clubhouse cancers such as Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Dante Stallworth. In Stallworth’s case, it was more by self-inflicted wound than anything Mangini did.
The ship was rudderless in Romeo Crennel’s last season as the Browns’ head man in 2008. But it is obvious that new head honcho Mike Holmgren values leaders along the same lines as Mangini.
Despite Mangini’s efforts, there was still a lack of team first attitude at the beginning of camp in 2009, largely due to the quarterback situation.
Derek Anderson had a tendency to sulk when things were not going his way, while Brady Quinn displayed an air of self-worth that did not necessarily match his on-the-field accomplishments.
Both had the ability to rub their teammates the wrong way, but for different reasons.
While I have my doubts about Jake Delhomme’s current physical abilities at the age of 35, I am beginning to warm to the idea that he is a good fit for the team right now.
He is the veteran presence that Cleveland was sorely lacking in 2009 – especially at the important position of quarterback.
Mike Holmgren went out of his way this week to praise him for his leadership skills. He compared him to Brett Favre, not in the way Favre plays the game, but in the manor in which he motivates those around him. That is high praise indeed.
Thus far, Delhomme appears to know his role. He understands at his age that there are only a few more years left in the tank. He plans to make the most of them, but not at the expense of teaching the younger players on the team (that includes both Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy).
It just doesn’t end with Jake Delhomme. Holdovers such as Eric Barton, Josh Cribbs, Joe Thomas, David Bowens are now joined by the likes of Scott Fugita, Ben Watson and Sheldon Brown to not only lead by example, but to be vocal leaders who will give the ‘kids’ a kick in the pants when they need it.
Brown, in particular, is keenly aware that the future is Eric Wright and first round pick Joe Haden (along with T.J. Ward and Larry Assante) in the defensive backfield. He has fond memories of how Troy Vincent helped his career as a youngster, and has made no bones about wanting to follow down that path now that he is the veteran.
Football in the NFL requires a lot of talent. But to stick around...you need more than talent. Conditioning, film study, how you carry yourself on and off the field, and even nutrition are habits that must be learned.
Having role models to teach players those ropes is an unappreciated, but necessary variable required to build a winning tradition. It appears that the Cleveland Browns finally have acquired that variable.
Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert did not make a lot of “splashy” moves in the offseason, but it is obvious to anyone paying attention what their priorities were:
Find some veteran leaders who understand what it takes to be a professional football player to mesh with talented younger players who have the intelligence to take direction.
The jury is still out, but on the surface, it appears that they accomplished that mission.