December 19, 2014

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Browns: Mangini tries a ‘smart’ start by drafting a bunch of scholar-athletes

BEREA – Smarter better be better.
General manager George Kokinis and coach Eric Mangini are trying to rebuild the Browns through discipline, effort, concentration and intelligence. The thirst for knowledge was obvious in their first draft last month.
First-round pick Alex Mack, a center, was the Draddy Award winner at California as the nation`s top scholar-athlete. Second-round receiver Brian Robiskie earned his marketing degree from Ohio State cum laude, was a two-time Academic All-American and a Draddy finalist.
Fellow second-round receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was Academic All-SEC and graduated from Georgia with a psychology degree. Second-round linebacker David Veikune was Academic All-WAC, and sixth-round cornerback Don Carey was accepted at Yale but couldn`t afford it.
Even free-agent tryout quarterback Graham Harrell was a finalist for the Draddy.
“If you look at some of the guys we got, there are definitely some intelligent guys,” Robiskie said.
The accolades are great, but mean little if they don`t translate to the field. After rookie minicamp last weekend, Mangini was cautiously optimistic.
“It`s new people, new system, everything is brand new and you want them to get everything perfect the first time,” he said. “It`s just unrealistic to have that expectation, but what I do like is the way they are minimizing the mistakes they made the prior day.
“That to me is a good sign of their ability to process information.”
A high grade-point average doesn`t necessarily equate to a good football IQ, and it certainly doesn`t mean someone can run, block or tackle. But a good performance in school usually signifies hard work and the ability to retain information, a trait Mangini has stressed several times since the draft.
More smart guys should also mean fewer wrong routes by receivers, missed blitz pickups by the linemen and blown coverages by the secondary.
“When we`re up in the draft room, it comes down to the core characteristics, and that`s smart, tough, hard-working guys,” Mangini said. “The way that you measure intelligence isn`t just in terms of academics, although that`s somewhat of an indicator, but we also go through a process of what is their football intelligence. That comes through interviews and how they worked for the coaching staff.”
Mack seems like the ideal fit. He won the “Academic Heisman,” is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 307 pounds, has the versatility to play guard and passed Mangini`s rigorous job interview.
The Browns flew in Mack as the draft approached, gave him a crash course on their offensive system, put him through a series of interviews, then tested his recall.
“We test everybody that comes in,” Mangini said. “What type of retention is there going to be and how quickly can they pick up new things.”
How did Mack do?
“He did well. He did really well,” Mangini said.
Mack said he missed two questions when he forgot the terminology for certain blocks, and said the in-depth test separated Cleveland from the rest of the teams he visited.
“Being a smart player, knowing the playbook well and knowing how to communicate and how to get a play accomplished is important,” he said. “Offense isn`t simple. There are a lot of things you have to know.”
That was Mack talking during the draft. A week later, in the middle of minicamp, he was still adjusting to the thick playbook, new terminology and accelerated pace of the NFL.
“At Cal, you were a freshman and they kind of warmed you up to things,” he said. “Here, it`s jump right into it.
“It`s definitely an advantage to be quick-witted and know a lot about football, because they fly through things.”
Mangini never relaxes when it comes to preparation. He`s extremely thorough covering scenarios with his team, and quizzes the players – including a not-too-happy Brett Favre with the Jets last year – throughout the season on his game plan and the scouting report of the opponent.
He even plans to test the rookies through an interactive computer program while they`re away from the team facility.
“That`s some of the stuff the coaches are stressing, just knowing the game,” Robiskie said.

McDonald promoted

The Browns finally filled the final vacancy on their coaching staff.
George McDonald, who had been hired in February as offensive quality control coach, was named receivers coach Wednesday. He spent the previous two years as receivers coach at the University of Minnesota.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.