| Cribbs and crew are getting a heavy dose of Mangini's rule-driven approach.
|Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI|
20 at Denver
27 at Baltimore
11 at Buffalo
18 at Pittsburgh
25 GREEN BAY
1 at Chicago
16 BALTIMORE (M)
22 at Detroit
29 at Cincinnati
6 SAN DIEGO
10 PITTSBURGH (T)
20 at Kansas City
Jerome Harrison, Running back: Watching the 5' 9", 205-pound Harrison take a handoff is a bit
like watching Laird Hamilton catch a monster wave. Just after the snap it's all
frothing chaos, and you momentarily lose sight of him. Then suddenly he
emerges -- you're not sure from where exactly -- smooth and under control and moving
awfully quick. "He's supremely talented," left tackle Joe Thomas says of
Harrison. "It's a shame he hasn't gotten on the field more to this point,
because when he does get touches, it's magical."
Last season, his third with the Browns after they drafted him in the fifth
round out of Washington State (where he was second in the nation in rushing as a
senior, with 1,900 yards), Harrison averaged a robust 7.2 yards per carry
and 9.7 yards per reception, but he was handed the ball only 34 times and had
just 12 catches. Now, though, he's got a new coach in Eric Mangini, who during
his time with the Jets made productive use of a similar player, the 5' 8",
195-pound Leon Washington, and who will likely call upon Harrison frequently as
a change of pace from bruising starter Jamal Lewis.
"He has a great chance to achieve what he wants to achieve, and what we want
him to achieve," says Mangini in his typically inscrutable style. Translation:
It's Harrison's time.
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
It'll take a Mangenius to fix all the mistakes by the lake -- and the floundering franchise hopes it has one in its new coach.
Around and around they ran at the practice facility in Berea,
Ohio -- players doing one Eric Mangini-mandated lap of the field for each mistake
they committed. Drop a pass? Take a lap. Commit a penalty? Take a lap. Miss a
block? Get running.
Quarterbacks and linemen, stars and undrafted rookies -- they all ran
counterclockwise, as if to turn back the clock to a time when the Browns seemed
to be full of promise. Such as this time last year, when they basked in the glow
of a surprising 10-6 finish in 2007 and looked forward to five prime-time games
in '08. But the season started badly, with three defeats, and ended much, much
worse. Cleveland lost its final six games, failing to score an offensive
touchdown in any of the six, an NFL record for futility. The nadir came in the
finale, a 31-0 thrashing at Pittsburgh that marked the Browns' 11th straight
loss to their supposed archrival. Cleveland fired general manager Phil Savage
that night and coach Romeo Crennel the next day. "The easy answer is to say we
had a lot of injuries," says Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. "But when things
are going bad like that, it's top to bottom."
Enter Mangini, whom the Jets fired in December after three seasons and a
23-25 record, and whom the Browns a week later gave the task of remaking a team
that had become rudderless and sloppy. The 38-year-old Mangini's attempt to
instill discipline and toughness wasn't manifest only in the punitive laps. He
has banned talking on cellphones and playing music in the locker room. He holds
players accountable for parking their cars in their assigned spots. He requires
that they memorize motivational phrases that he has mounted around the facility.
(By the locker room's entrance: the will to win is nothing without the will to
prepare.) His practices often exceed their scheduled two hours and sometimes
include more hitting, players say, than a week's worth of Crennel's
"There was all this talk about Mangini coming in and tearing up a happy home,
but I'll tell you what: It's been nothing but good for all of us," says
fourth-year linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the NFL in tackles with 154 in
'08. "What we were doing wasn't enough. We're buying in."
Says Pro Bowl return man Josh Cribbs, "He let us know that things were going
to change by moving Kellen" -- Mangini traded tight end Kellen Winslow to the
Buccaneers in February -- "and with the rules. We needed discipline, and he brought
it to us."
Sitting in his office in early August, Mangini -- who keeps information such as
his depth chart and the status of players' injuries not just close to the vest
but deep within its lining -- explained his philosophy. "The one thing I learned in
New York is the importance of explaining why I'm doing things," he said,
sounding close to admitting that he'd been too despotic in his first
head-coaching gig after nearly a decade at Bill Belichick's knee. "The rules are
there for one reason. We've got white, black, old, young, East Coast, West
Coast, all different types in one locker room. But on Sunday we have to be
Browns. The rules are designed to let this diverse community operate
A day later receiver Syndric Steptoe suffered a season-ending torn labrum
during what was scheduled to be a walk-through but became a full-speed practice
in a heavy rain. Steptoe's agent publicly blamed the injury on the coach, which
could be a sign of things to come. If the Browns -- who'll be quarterbacked by
either the unproven Brady Quinn or the regressing Derek Anderson, and whose
schedule includes four games against the stacked Steelers and Ravens -- don't
improve significantly upon last year's disaster, Mangini could quickly turn from
discipline-instilling savior into overbearing scapegoat.
-- Ben Reiter