Big decisions to be made for Browns today

CLEVELAND – Progress often arrives slowly.

For the Browns it’s 15 years and counting. Just two winning seasons during that span of time has made fans become incredibly patient. Coaches and general managers aren’t afforded that luxury as they stand before the whims and wide-ranging emotions of owners.

First-year Browns coach Mike Pettine showed some patience Friday afternoon to the consternation of media representatives that had dialed into a teleconference call. Pettine was supposed to be on the other end at 3 p.m., but an important meeting delayed his appearance until 3:30.

If extending a conference call by 30 minutes gave Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer enough time to make the right moves in making final roster moves, then fans will be happy. Too bad it doesn’t work that easily.

Farmer and company have some interesting decisions to make before final cuts must be turned in no later than 4 p.m. today. Will three quarterbacks be kept? Will rookie free-agent running back Isaiah Crowell be retained or can he be slipped through waivers and placed on the 10-man practice squad? How many receivers will survive final cuts in the aftermath of Josh Gordon’s suspension, and which of a generally unproven lot will be on the roster when the season starts Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh?

The bigger question is whether or not the man that earned the nickname “Trader Ray” by opposing general managers during the NFL draft will begin wheeling and dealing? Probably so.

“Any of those options are on the table to us at this point,” Pettine said. “I wouldn’t preclude that.”

Most of the conjecture during preseason centered on the NFL’s most-discussed position battle quarterback Brian Hoyer versus Johnny Manziel. After that the center of attention was focused on Gordon, his inevitable suspension and how the receiving corps would look in his absence.

Lost in it all was running back, where Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West pitted their big egos and skills in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. Tate clearly won that battle – he told everyone willing to listen that he’s the best running back in the room – while West struggled trying to be too fancy in the one-cut, zone-blocking scheme.

Enter Crowell, an intriguing prospect from Alabama State. Crowell ended up at Alabama State after being dismissed from the University of Georgia after weapons charges were filed against him.

In one season at Georgia, Crowell was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, leading the Bulldogs with 850 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

Crowell put his skills on display in a 33-13 exhibition win over the Chicago Bears last Thursday. Granted, he was working against reserves buried deep on the Bears’ depth chart, but 102 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries is worth noting.

Farmer probably knows he’d lose Crowell if he waives him with the intention of placing him on the practice squad. If Crowell makes the 53-man roster along with Tate and West, there won’t be room for Dion Lewis or Chris Ogbonnaya.

“It’s no different than with the quarterbacks,” Pettine said of the decision at running back. “It’s a body-of-work thing from the time the player sets foot here. Live game reps are important. That’s why (Thursday night) was a good showing for Isaiah, but it’s not the entire body of work.”

The main quarterback question was settled earlier this week when Pettine named Hoyer the starter. Now the coach has to decide if he wants to keep Rex Grossman as a third player on the depth chart or cut him loose and go with just Hoyer and Manziel.

Connor Shaw, another backup quarterback, likely won’t make the 53-man roster, but he’ll probably be signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers. He showed in limited work during the preseason the ability to move the chains running an offense similar in style to what is most comfortable for Manziel.

Most of the cuts will be easy to make – minus the difficult task of delivering the news to the unfortunate players. Farmer has the final call, but he’ll work closely with Pettine, the coordinators and the position coaches.

“I’m enjoying my relationship with Ray,” Pettine said. “We see football pretty much the same way. We’ll have differences of opinion. I don’t know if it will be an exact match. We have tough choices, which is a good thing. I’d rather have to find a way to put a guy on the 53 against a guy being put on that isn’t deserving of it.”