BEREA, Ohio – In the push and pull that goes on between players and coaches in the NFL, sometimes it's better to give a little.
Flashback to Saturday afternoon, as cool rain pelted Cleveland Browns practice for two hours. As the Browns went through a practice that emulated game-type situations, the team's field house was only 50 feet away. As quarterback Derek Anderson(notes) went back to pass once, the ball slipped out of his hand. At other times, passing was rudimentary, at best. The speed of practice slowed as players became careful. At one point, wide receiver Syndric Steptoe(notes) suffered what is believed to be a season-ending left shoulder injury.
While coach Eric Mangini said Sunday that the conditions at practice on Saturday were "irrelevant" to Steptoe's injury, perception sometimes is reality. If players think that Steptoe's injury was because the team practiced in the rain, that's fact.
"Sometimes you just run into a coach who wants it his way and that's it," said one Browns veteran, requesting anonymity. "Yeah, the practices are harder [than under previous coach Romeo Crennel], but that's not the problem. It's little things, stuff that shouldn't mean much in the big picture."
"Eric wants things done a certain way," Bowens said. "He's trying to establish the foundation. I understand it from being in New York. He's a young coach, trying to show people what he wants."
If you listen to Mangini for a couple of days, what he wants is hard work, intelligence and discipline. Those three things play on a loop for Mangini, who has perfected the didactic speech pattern of mentor Bill Belichick. Even in private moments, when Belichick will often let down his guard with people he knows, Mangini measures his words as if using an atomic scale.
While hard work, intelligence and discipline are fine virtues and certainly necessary to success, there's one thing that Mangini seems to overlook or at least not place in as high regard: talent.
More specifically, how to deal with it.
But, said another former Jets player: "His problem is that he doesn't know how to relate to the really talented guys. … It's like he thinks everybody is exactly the same and should respond the same way. In this league, you have to know how to push the right buttons with certain guys. The players really run the show and a lot of the really good players, they're going to test you. The great coaches know how to push back on those guys."
In Cleveland, that situation is already playing out. Talented and enigmatic tight end Kellen Winslow(notes), seeking a new contract at the time, has been traded away. Mangini butted heads with defensive tackle Shaun Rogers(notes), who is buying in more now but is hardly completely on board. Finally, there's wide receiver Braylon Edwards(notes). Once on the trade block, Edwards is now in an almost perpetually testy mood.
With Rogers, the situation is almost amusing. Mangini has a rule that players must run a lap every time they make a mental error. Rookie Alex Mack(notes) has "run so much that he should be in great shape," Mangini said with a light smile Sunday.
Rogers, who is part goof with his array of one-liners and this gigantic, jewel-encrusted Incredible Hulk medallion that hangs off a long chain around his neck, has taken to "running" laps in a mocking way. He actually walks the laps while pumping his arms hard to simulate running.
"You're going to have to ask coach Mangini about them laps," Rogers said.
As for Edwards, he was decidedly curt Sunday. Edwards had been seeking a new contract this offseason. After that didn't pan out, he wanted to be traded and the Browns were willing to oblige, but the New York Giants weren't willing to meet the price … at least not yet.
When asked if he was willing to go the route of Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White(notes), who held out recently to get a new deal, Edwards said: "Why are you asking me about Roddy White? Roddy White doesn't play for the Browns. Ask me about somebody who plays for the Browns."
As Edwards walked away, he was asked to assess the quarterback battle between Anderson and Brady Quinn(notes) (a battle neither is winning in a decided fashion through the first two weeks of camp). Before the question was finished, Edwards snapped: "I'm not talking about Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. We've had a quarterback controversy here for three or four years now. Whatever Coach Mangini decides, that's it."
Mangini also has his Tom Coughlinesque side. There is no grace for making weight. Where many coaches won't fine players for being two, three or even five pounds over their prescribed weight, Mangini fines guys for every pound. Throw that on top of Mangini's continued treatment of rookies (he made this year's class take a 10-hour bus ride to and from a youth camp and continues to enforce offseason curfew) and you have a coach who tends to push people in ways that aren't always considered very productive.
"Guys will get used to it," Bowens said. "The second year, he eases up. He's just trying to establish himself."
Perhaps, but in the fine line between discipline and punishment, it often pays for a coach to get players to buy into the system a little more.
"If he'd just lighten up a little once in awhile, he'd probably get guys on his side," one player said. "Just something, just a little bit."
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