Fact, fiction, or somewhere in between? Lauren Brill's take on Browns training camp

Posted at 9:21 AM, Aug 03, 2016

Throughout my career I have probably listened to more than a thousand interviews.  Sometimes athletes are raw, emotional and honest. However, most athletes and team personnel attempt to carefully craft their responses to questions. They often sugar coat the truth or avoid the truth all together. So it’s up to us, on the receiving end of these statements, to decipher fact and fiction, by interpreting the words and try to understand what’s really going on in a given situation. In training camp there has been a variety of topics that have been addressed in interviews thus far.  Here is my own interpretation of what's been said based on a combination of my personal opinions and daily observations.

One by one when players take the podium to address the media someone always asks about the recently reinstated and very talented wide receiver, Josh Gordon. He is returning from several suspensions, causing him to miss 27 of the last 32 games.  Now, his teammates are singing his praises, all saying in some form or another that he is focused on doing the right thing and determined to help the Browns succeed. They’ve commented on his heart, work ethic and positive attitude.  

My Take: I totally believe that Josh Gordon is not shooting spitballs during meetings. Do I think he is the hardest working person in the room? No, absolutely not. He is probably not even close. I do think he wants to succeed and start fresh, whether he can do that or not remains to be seen. While the players sound confident in him, I think they are just like Browns fans, crossing their fingers and hoping he can bring back his old game but leave his off-the-field bad habits behind.  The players understand their bosses are taking a chance on Gordon. Many of the players are friends with the troubled receiver. So the players are saying what they SHOULD say, not necessarily what they honestly believe to be true.

When you walk into the Browns facility in Berea, you’ll be shocked that there is no actual revolving door, even after all the renovations.  See, Hue Jackson is the fifth Browns coach in seven years. The way the player personnel and coaching staff changes so often, you’d think they would have installed a revolving door to make the constant state of transition a bit more convenient. However,  Haslam has said that he is going to give this current regime time to turn the organization around. After all, hiring and firing people more often than some people change their socks does not seem to be working out so well.  Committed to giving his current staff time to create a winning franchise, when asked what he would consider a “good” season this year, he evaded the question by responding,  “I don’t want to go there. That’s one of those trick ‘gotcha’ questions.”   

My Take: Good businessmen really have a knack for speaking a lot but saying very little. He did not reveal any expectations.  As for not answering the alleged “gotcha question,” well it is only a “gotcha question,” if the team fails to live up to the standard he potentially describes and everyone keeps their jobs regardless. His response tells me that he is accepting this season to be a transition year, where the young and younger get up to speed and begin to solidify their roles. Obviously, they will try and win but growing and laying a foundation for the future  appears to be the goal and expectation much more so than immediate success.

While the Browns entered the season with more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings, one area of the roster that the players say is now fully loaded is at the wide receiver position. They have a first-round pick in Corey Coleman and talented players with experience, including recently reinstated Josh Gordon.  Former Buckeye quarterback turned Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor recognizes the fact that he is among a special group, as he said  “The guys on this field, all 13 receivers we have, these guys, we can play. Guys can play. It’s exciting.”

My Take: Yes it is exciting… for the fans. I do believe Pryor is completely genuine in saying the wide receivers on this team have some game, but its also a very crowded room right now.  For some of the players, their concern is simply making the team. For others it’s finding a role or niche so they can get on the field. For Pryor, it is probably a little bit of both and the more talent they have in the room, the more stressful it most likely is for him along with the majority of the players who are trying to find their place.

Since the day the team hired Hue Jackson as their new head coach, I have heard how well-liked he is by the players and how well respected he is by personnel around the league. The compliments are picking up speed from the offseason and continuing to fly off players’ tongues, as the team immerses themselves in training camp. From the buzz that I have heard and the statements of players, Jackson would win homecoming king in a landslide if there was such a thing for adults in the NFL.  Browns veteran Joe Thomas is among the players praising the Browns new coach, as he said, “A lot of the guys are really drawn to his attitude. How he approaches meetings. How he approaches practice. Offensively speaking, it’s great having an offensive head coach because he is actually the one running the offense. He is in there right behind the huddle after every play barking orders, correcting guys, getting things lined up exactly how he wants.”

My Take:  I have been working in some capacity since I am 13 years old and I have had bosses I have loved and bosses that I have loved significantly less. Even so, there are always moments of frustration. I do think overall players respond well to Jackson. But it’s preseason and they are not a very good team.  My guess is he is pushing these players and he is nitpicking, especially with the young guys. While many of the players may like him as a person, I would bet there is at least a handful of players on the team who are frustrated with him as a coach. However, I think with any athletes that's pushed by his/her coach,  frustrations over time transform to appreciation, which accounts for Jackson’s many positive relationships throughout the league.

Veteran offensive lineman Joe Thomas was asked about Deflategate and Tom Brady no longer appealing his 4-game suspension for allegedly deflating footballs in the 2015 AFC championship game. Thomas told the media,  "I was disappointed that he didn't keep appealing, from a player's standpoint because it kind of gives the commissioner a little bit more power that maybe was not necessarily already negotiated or settled."

My Take: I think with a permanent smile on his face, Thomas had nothing but truth coming out of his mouth.  Thomas kept it real, being direct and honest, as he told the media exactly how he felt.