The Redskins host the Cleveland Browns tonight and there are a lot of storylines the media will be latching on to before the game even starts. The return of the duo of Rex Grossman III and Anthony Armstrong to Washington. That Kyle Shanahan guy is also rolling back into town, and Johnny Manziel will be the second Heisman winning, first round QB he will usher into the league. Former Browns starters Shawn Lauvao and Colt McCoy are playing against their former team. Kirk Cousins was almost traded to the Browns during this year's draft. The Browns were the the other team trying to trade up with the Rams to acquire Robert Griffin III(or Andrew Luck if the Colts magically passed on him). I reached out to Chris Pokorny to ask him a few questions before tonight's game and he answered a few of my questions here.
1. What has been your impression of Kyle Shanahan so far? Now that he has his bro Rex Grossman on the team, does he ever slip up and call Mike Pettine dad?
It's been quite difficult to form an impression of Kyle Shanahan thus far because of how little we've seen of him. One of the primary things that has changed for the Browns' offense is the installation of the zone-blocking scheme on run plays. There has been much debate as to whether or not Cleveland has the right personnel for that -- right now, it sounds like the first-stringers are comfortable with it, while the second-stringers don't know what the hell they are doing. In terms of the passing game, until we have a definitive answer as to who will start at quarterback between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, or what is going to happen with Josh Gordon, it's tough to judge him on that front.
Even though we are coming off of having the much-respected Norv Turner in 2013, I am looking forward to Shanahan, as I see him as more of an "innovator." Mike Pettine is very much respected as the head coach of this team, but with him having a defensive background, it seems like Shanahan is a head coach in his own right, except on the offensive side of the ball.
2. The Browns reportedly offered a 4th-round pick for Redskins backup QB Kirk Cousins during this year's draft. What would your reaction have been if former college teammates Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer were competing for the starting QB spot and Manziel wasn't taken in the 1st round? Also who would you have drafted in the 1st round (and 3rd round) if the Browns had already acquired Cousins?
I like Kirk Cousins, but I thought it would have been a waste for the Browns to acquire him. Why? Essentially, I think Cousins and Hoyer have very similar skill sets. I think a competition between those two would have been too close to call, leading to questions throughout the year as to whether or not one guy should replace the other. If it had happened, though, I was on board with the Browns taking a wide receiver, such as Marqise Lee. My desire for the Browns to take Lee came prior to the news of Josh Gordon's potential suspension.
In the third round, the Browns actually worked another trade to get running back Terrance West, and they got my other draft interest in the fourth round, cornerback Pierre Desir. Therefore, it's tough to say in hindsight who I wanted them to take, because they probably would have just taken West had they kept that third-round pick.
3. How much faith do you have in the Browns receiving group if Josh Gordon is suspended for the full year? How have former Cowboy Miles Austin and former Redskin Anthony Armstrong looked this offseason, and are there any young WRs who could help early?
The eternal optimist could tout of all of the accomplishments that our veteran receivers had, and the potential that a guy like Andrew Hawkins has. However, there's a real good chance that without Josh Gordon, the Browns would have the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL. Austin has had a decent camp, primarily because he's stayed healthy. You didn't mention Nate Burleson, who was signed before Austin, but he's practically missed all of training camp with various injuries, so it's hard to say what he can offer. Armstrong was the final veteran receiver to be signed, and he turned out to be the "star" of the offseason programs (OTAs and minicamp). At the beginning of training camp, he stayed hot and it looked like he could get a lot of playing time this year. Over the past couple of weeks, though, he has faded a bit and is merely just another name in a long list of receivers trying to prove they are good enough to make the team.
In terms of young wide receivers who could help out early, look out for Taylor Gabriel and Charles Johnson. Gabriel is an undrafted free agent waterbug who has worked his way up the depth chart by catching everything, while Johnson is a second-year receiver who has the same build as Gordon and has been coming on the past few weeks of camp.
4. Who have been some of the training camp stars that we might not know much about yet? Joel Bitonio was a pre-draft favorite on Hogs Haven, is he pretty much guaranteed to start Week 1 and how good has he been?
Besides the two wide receivers I mentioned in the previous question, we honestly haven't had many of our non-starting younger players thrive in camp. We have two young, backup safeties -- Jordan Poyer and Josh Aubrey -- who both have good ball instincts, and one of them could get some nickel work against the Redskins this week because a lot of our defensive backs are nursing minor injuries. Bitonio is 100% a lock to start at left guard to begin the year, and it's been that way since well before training camp.
Being between two Pro Bowlers, left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack, isn't a bad way to be introduced into the NFL. Bitonio has reportedly been picking up on things well in camp, and in his first preseason game, he did not appear to be a liability. There are high hopes that Bitonio can finally stabilize a guard position that has been lackluster for years in Cleveland.
5. If you had to play a game tomorrow to decide your playoff fate, which quarterback would you start and why? Is it a different answer if it is just the season opener?
That's a very interesting question, and a good spin on it, because all everyone has been asking is about the opener and/or our bye week. First, I should note that my opinion is that Brian Hoyer should start the season and I would like to see him play the entire year, but I would not be turned off or upset whatsoever if Johnny Manziel ends up starting. If we're contending for the playoffs, then that means that the rest of our team is good enough to contend, so I think we can stick a game-changing quarterback like Manziel in and roll with him to start.
6. Assuming he starts the year, what are the expectations for Johnny Manziel this year? A RGIII-like rookie (of the year) year or a Russell Wilson-like rookie year with a slow start before the offense is really opened up for him?
A lot of that hinges on the Josh Gordon situation -- if Gordon played, I think Manziel would be a favorite for rookie of the year, simply because I don't see many other offensive rookies being in position to have the type of impact that Manziel could have. Statistically, if Gordon is out, I think Cleveland turns their attention to the running game more often, which would lower the statistical expectations for Manziel.