Hard Knocks 2018; Cleveland Browns Episode One

A brief description of this blog: I write this each year and look at these episodes from a psychological standpoint. This is not a football analysis, but a look at all aspects of the communications and the psychological environment that is created. I do not follow pro football at all and typically my only knowledge of players and coaches is if they were in previous episodes of Hard Knocks – or based on my very limited knowledge of college football – this means mainly LSU football, where I got my undergraduate degree. I try to review these episodes in the same way a football analyst will go over a play in slow motion and break down why the play did or did not work.

I look not only things that are said or done – but also things that are not said or not done – both the verbal and non verbal communication of both the coaches and the players.

If you look closely there is already something wrong in the first couple minutes of this first episode of Hard Knocks. Why was Nick Chubb, the 35th pick in the draft, not met by someone from the Browns organization at the airport? It looked like there were three people there to greet Baker Mayfield, yet Chubb was standing there waiting for his luggage like everyone else.

Obviously, this may be seen as a minor detail, yet it is noteworthy. It would have been simple to have ANYONE from the Browns at the airport to greet Chubb, help him get his luggage and escort him to where he needed to go. Think of the difference it would have made to Chubb if even one of the staff members high school kids met Chubb wearing a Browns shirt and hat, said “Hi Nick, welcome to Cleveland, I will take you to the baggage area, and then drive you to the practice facility.” A greeting like this would have made Chubb feel he was being treated as a professional. He seems to be glancing around and wondering what is going on. Look at Chubb’s non verbal communication – he seems to be saying “Is someone here to meet me?” This seems to progress to “Why isn’t someone here to meet me?” These subtle things add up in the creation of a professional environment.

I know nothing about Josh Gordon, but having worked in substance abuse treatment since 1995, I would suggest the Browns cut or trade him. This may sound harsh, but someone who missed 43 out of 48 games has had plenty of chances to make the changes in his life that he needs to make. It would be better for the team to move on without him. This seems to be the same mistake that the Browns made with Johnny Manzel.

It sounds like Gordon is still in treatment. I would suggest that the Browns need him to be clean six months to a year before including him with the team. It is very hard for professional athletes to make the serious, hard and complex changes that are required for sobriety, and bringing him back without him having long term clean time – not only will not work in the long run – but is not best for Gordon personally. This seems to be a replay of the same type of story every year. Addiction is a beast that destroys lives and kills people. Knowing what someone needs to do – and doing what they need to do – are two completely different issues. The coaches seem to think that Gordon has learned his lesson and will be fine.

Head Coach Hue Jackson’s comments to Baker Mayfield during practice are great. Jackson is clearly talking about what he wants to see – and the progress he sees in Mayfield. Statements like: “That’s improvement,” and “Way to stay in there.”(referring to Mayfield staying in the pocket longer) are great. Also it is impressive the way Mayfield encourages and talks with the other offensive players. Again, this is one of those little things that really add up to help create a good psychological environment.

Jackson also talked with Mayfield alone and suggests he “Start his career how you want to.” He is suggesting Mayfield come in early, as Tyrod Taylor does, and do some extra work. It was nice that this was done individually in a way that is non-confrontive.

I have real concerns with Gregg Williams, the Defensive Coordinator. When I look back at my Blog from the Rams in 2016, I pointed out that as the Rams Defensive Coordinator, Williams never seemed to teach or instruct, he yells and says things that anyone can say, like: “Impose your will” and “Trust others to do their job.” Basically he says to the players, that he was “An asshole” last year cause he had to be – that they made him act this way – and he will not be that way this year – unless they make him act that way again. Already it seems that Williams is acting the same way as he did in 2016. He does not take personal responsibility for the psychological environment he is creating.

It will be interesting to see if Williams has changed at all since 2016. Many people in life either blame others for their behavior or say “That’s just the way I am.” With too many people there is little or no personal growth. Has Williams coached for 30 years? Or, has he coached one year 30 times?

The only player on the Browns I am familiar with is Jarvis Landry. Landry went to LSU. He was at LSU at the same time Odell Beckham Jr was there. I remember videos that the two of them made of the many hours they practiced not only one handed catches, but catches in various positions, such as lying on the ground, or over their heads. They would both spend hours with a ball machine practicing catching the football in a variety of ways. Many people look at Landry and focus on the end result – he is great at catching the football. It is clear to me this is a skill that he has worked very hard to develop in the past ten years or so.

Once again, I point out the same thing that seems to come up every season with Hard Knocks series – Why is Landry working out by himself? Why aren’t ALL the other receivers in there working out with him? Landry and Beckham taught themselves to make these one handed catches – it probably took the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of experience. As we see later in the episode, many of the receivers are dropping passes. Where are the coaches in all this? How come they are not having the players doing drills to work on catching the ball?

There are two sides to this issue- the players could be doing more on their own, and the coaches could be instructing the players and running the players through catching drills.

Other than from Jackson, there was little – if any- specific instruction from the coaches. The coaches made comments like “How can you miss?” Referring to a missed block on Myles Garrett. Garrett is perhaps the best pass rusher in the NFL. What the coach should be doing is teaching the player how to block a player like Garrett. How will that lineman do when he is faced with a great pass rusher? The coach needs to help the player to work on developing his skill set. He needs to TEACH and SHOW the player what to do. Everyone knows he needs to block Garrett, but without specific instruction the player will not improve.

The coaches comments “Where is our intensity?” And “We are way too soft,” are statements anyone can make. These are general statements, and are not helpful at all. The coaches need to single out the player and point out what they are doing, what they need to do, and exactly HOW they need to do it. Again, this is like a boss telling an employee to “do a better job.”

Compare what the coaches said during this whole episode to what Willie McGinest said and did in less than one minute after his interview with Myles Garrett. McGinest instructs Garrett on a couple of different moves and suggest Garrett “keep adding.” This is the best teaching example in the whole episode. As I stated in 2016, some of the best instruction in all of Hard Knocks came from Mike Singletary working with the linebackers for the Rams. McGinest does the same type of instruction with Garrett. Here is an interviewer doing great coaching. Think about it, if Garrett can improve his skill set, so can every other player on the team.

The comments from Jarvis Landry to the receivers and from Christian Kirsey to the other linebackers were great. However, these comments should come from coaches – not players at this stage of the season. The coaches need to set the mood and the tone for what they want to see.

There already seems to be a deep psychological fracture with both the players and the coaches about the issue of players not dressing out for practice. This is very serious and will only get much worse and create very deep problems on this team. Landry was concerned with players not practicing, yet Jackson says he held some of these guys out due to fears or injury. Again, the players may not have been able to participate fully in practice, but perhaps they could have done something, like practice catching footballs in different positions.

Additionally, when both Running Back coach Freddie Kitchens and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley express their concerns about players not practicing, these concerns are not addressed by Jackson. It seems clear from the body language of all the other coaches – that they all agree with Haley and Kitchens. Jackson needs to handle this situation better – rather than just saying that it is his call. He could do a better job at making the coaches feeling heard – and looking at other options. Kitchen’s suggestion that the players dress out and not participate sounds very reasonable. He is concerned with the overall message this sends and the psychological environment this creates when some players are practicing and other are standing around in street clothes watching. These are both excellent points.

Many of the points I have made in this first episode may seem like minor points. This point is cancer. This will destroy the team psychologically in the long run. Some players will quit trying as hard, others will take a more self protective approach. The coaches are already upset with the situation and Haley seems to be speaking for all the coaches. This means the assistant coaches have already talked about this issue on their own, and Jackson does not seem to understand the depth and seriousness of this issue.

Clearly, Jackson’s point is well taken, he needs to keep the players as healthy as possible for the long season ahead. Also, the coaches point is important – How are we going to get better if the players are not practicing and working on improving? There needs to be some middle ground here. This issue will reach a boiling point, and could destroy this team by mid season.

My prediction in the next two episodes – Gregg Williams will yell, point out that someone is going to get cut if they don’t change, yet not give meaningful instruction, communication or direction to his players.

Overall, there are many serious concerns about the Browns. This team should not be talking about championships, winning the division or anything like that at all. In addiction treatment we have people focus on doing “the next right thing.” If the Browns focus on doing the next right thing – good changes can happen – if not – it will be another long season for the Browns – because untreated this cancer will spread and destroy this team.

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