AROUND AND aroundthey ran at the practice facility in Berea, Ohio—players doing one EricMangini--mandated lap of the field for each mistake they committed. Drop apass? Take a lap. Commit a penalty? Take a lap. Miss a block? Get running.
Quarterbacks andlinemen, stars and undrafted rookies—they all ran counterclockwise, as if toturn 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--6finish in 2007 and looked forward to five prime-time games in '08. But theseason started badly, with three defeats, and ended much, much worse. Clevelandlost its final six games, failing to score an offensive touchdown in any of thesix, an NFL record for futility. The nadir came in the finale, a 31--0thrashing at Pittsburgh that marked the Browns' 11th straight loss to theirsupposed archrival. Cleveland fired general manager Phil Savage that night andcoach Romeo Crennel the next day. "The easy answer is to say we had a lotof injuries," says Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. "But when thingsare going bad like that, it's top to bottom."
Enter Mangini, whomthe Jets fired in December after three seasons and a 23--25 record, and whomthe Browns a week later gave the task of remaking a team that had becomerudderless and sloppy. The 38-year-old Mangini's attempt to instill disciplineand toughness wasn't manifest only in the punitive laps. He has banned talkingon cellphones and playing music in the locker room. He holds playersaccountable for parking their cars in their assigned spots. He requires thatthey memorize motivational phrases that he has mounted around the facility. (Bythe locker room's entrance: THE WILL TO WIN IS NOTHING WITHOUT THE WILL TOPREPARE.) His practices often exceed their scheduled two hours and sometimesinclude more hitting, players say, than a week's worth of Crennel'ssessions.
"There was allthis talk about Mangini coming in and tearing up a happy home, but I'll tellyou what: It's been nothing but good for all of us," says fourth-yearlinebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the NFL in tackles with 154 in '08."What we were doing wasn't enough. We're buying in."
September 6, 2009
Says Pro Bowlreturn man Josh Cribbs, "He let us know that things were going to change bymoving Kellen"—Mangini traded tight end Kellen Winslow to the Buccaneers inFebruary—"and with the rules. We needed discipline, and he brought it tous."
Sitting in hisoffice in early August, Mangini—who keeps information such as his depth chartand the status of players' injuries not just close to the vest but deep withinits lining—explained his philosophy. "The one thing I learned in New Yorkis the importance of explaining why I'm doing things," he said, soundingclose to admitting that he'd been too despotic in his first head-coaching gigafter nearly a decade at Bill Belichick's knee. "The rules are there forone reason. We've got white, black, old, young, East Coast, West Coast, alldifferent types in one locker room. But on Sunday we have to be Browns. Therules are designed to let this diverse community operate effectively."
A day laterreceiver Syndric Steptoe suffered a season-ending torn labrum during what wasscheduled to be a walk-through but became a full-speed practice in a heavyrain. Steptoe's agent publicly blamed the injury on the coach, which could be asign of things to come. If the Browns—who'll be quarterbacked by either theunproven Brady Quinn or the regressing Derek Anderson, and whose scheduleincludes four games against the stacked Steelers and Ravens—don't improvesignificantly upon last year's disaster, Mangini could quickly turn fromdiscipline-instilling savior into overbearing scapegoat.
WITH 2008 STATISTICS
23--25 in NFL, first season with Browns
John ST. CLAIR
Alex MACK (R)
Derek Anderson(142 for 283, 1,615 yards, 9 TDs, 8 INTs) competes with Quinn at QB; rookie WRsBrian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi will vie for snaps.
Backup LB AlexHall contributes on passing downs (3 sacks).
(R) Rookie:College statistics
TTD: Total touchdowns
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2008 RECORD 4--12
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 26 > 31 > 31
DEFENSE 28 > 14 > 26
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
NFL Rank: 25
Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .449
Games against playoff teams: 6
The Browns went from 10--6 in 2007 to 4--12 in part because they played onlythree teams that wound up with losing records. This year's schedule is moreforgiving, though the offense figures to be up-and-down. Pittsburgh, Baltimoreand Minnesota were Nos. 1, 2 and 6, respectively, in total defense; but indrawing the NFC West, Cleveland will play three of last year's worst D's.
Jerome Harrison, Running back
WATCHING THE 5'9", 205-pound Harrison take ahandoff is a bit like watching Laird Hamilton catch a monster wave. Just afterthe snap it's all frothing chaos, and you momentarily lose sight of him. Thensuddenly he emerges—you're not sure from where exactly—smooth and under controland moving awfully quick. "He's supremely talented," left tackle JoeThomas says of Harrison. "It's a shame he hasn't gotten on the field moreto this point, because when he does get touches, it's magical."
Last season, his third with the Browns after theydrafted him in the fifth round out of Washington State (where he was second inthe nation in rushing as a senior, with 1,900 yards), Harrison averaged arobust 7.2 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per reception, but he was handed theball only 34 times and had just 12 catches. Now, though, he's got a new coachin Eric Mangini, who during his time with the Jets made productive use of asimilar player, the 5'8", 195-pound Leon Washington, and who will likelycall upon Harrison frequently as a change of pace from bruising starter JamalLewis.
"He has a great chance to achieve what he wants toachieve, and what we want him to achieve," says Mangini in his typicallyinscrutable style. Translation: It's Harrison's time.