|Browns doing business as usual|
|Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:14 AM|
BEREA — The legal entanglement of Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam is not tying up his NFL franchise, the team’s top executive says.
On the eve of training camp, CEO Joe Banner said the federal investigation into fraud at Haslam’s Pilot Flying J truck-stop business has not hindered the club’s daily operations or impacted the owner’s vision for turning the Browns into perennial winners.
And as for the possibility Haslam will sell his team, Banner does not envision that happening.
“I don’t see that scenario but you know,” Banner replied before trailing off.
In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, Banner spoke openly about Haslam’s situation, which hangs over a team that has had just two winning seasons since its rebirth in 1999. Banner tried to ease the concerns of some nervous Cleveland fans, who fear the ongoing federal probe will derail the team’s plans and lead to further turmoil.
Haslam, who bought the Browns last year from Randy Lerner, recently reached a settlement with some Pilot Flying J customers who were cheated out of rebate money. Haslam has professed his innocence since FBI and IRS agents raided the company’s Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters on April 15.
While Banner appreciates there are those who worry about the team’s future, he said nothing has interrupted the plan Haslam launched last August.
“It really hasn’t affected us at all,” he said. “We have a team we put together here of really, really good people, whether we’re talking the coaching staff, the business side, even our foundation. We’re really excited about the team we put together.
“Jimmy really had a vision. He spoke about what his priorities were around creating a phenomenal fan experience and being focused on winning fans again. He hired me. We put together a team on a day-to-day basis to accomplish that. We’re free and clear to do all that. Nothing has happened to impact our ability to do that or frankly given us any reason not to be successful. Jimmy’s here and incredibly supportive and a huge asset to us.”
Banner spent 14 seasons in Philadelphia’s front office before coming to Cleveland.
Haslam is expected to be on the field today when coach Rob Chudzinski holds his first practice.
The league has reserved any comment on Haslam’s off-field issues until the situation is resolved. Still, Banner believes commissioner Roger Goodell is satisfied the Browns are running smoothly.
Banner acknowledged the investigation was “a surprise” but that it didn’t sway his opinion about Haslam or give him any second thoughts about joining Cleveland. Banner remains confident and supportive of Haslam.
Based on his years in the league and knowing how it functions, Banner has always felt Haslam’s arrival would change the outside perception of the Browns. Despite the legal case, Banner doesn’t think much differently.
“Well, I think it’s not as pure as it was but I don’t think it’s spoiled,” he explained.
On other Browns-related issues, Banner added:
— Wide receiver Josh Gordon has some work to do to earn back the team’s trust after being suspended two games for violating the league’s drug policy.
— The Browns have sold more season tickets this offseason that at any time since 1999 and their renewal rate from last season was 94 percent.
— Plans for major renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium will be announced in the near future but the team has promised a cleaner facility this season and fans will have improved cell phone service.
— Discussions have taken place about using artificial turf at the stadium but the preference is to maintain a natural surface.
The Browns have signed free agent fullback Brock Bolen and Justin Cole one day before opening training camp.
The team also waived offensive lineman Dominic Alford and wide receiver Kennan Davis.
The 6-foot, 212-pound Bolen has played in 20 NFL games, all with Jacksonville. He spent all of last season injured reserve. Bolen has rushed for 14 yards, gained 21 on three receptions and recorded 16 tackles on special teams. He signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Cole spent two seasons with the St. Louis Rams, appearing in 20 games. The 6-3, 243-pounder signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He spent five weeks on the Chiefs’ practice squad as a rookie. He has two career tackles on defense and seven on special teams.
Miller offers little on case, 4-game suspension
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In many ways, it was the same Von Miller: Diamond stud earrings, the retro, 70s-style sunglasses, a casual way of breaking the ice as he sat down inside a suffocating semicircle of about 60 reporters and cameramen.
“Howdy; how’s it going?” he asked.
Aside from those superficialities, the normally free-flowing Broncos linebacker never sounded more stilted and scripted than he did Wednesday, on the eve of Denver’s training camp.
Reporters directed 18 questions toward Miller, each angling at a different way of trying to get him to offer a detail — any detail — about the drug case that will cost him the first four games of the season if he doesn’t win an appeal.
But the All-Pro, Denver’s leading sack man for the past two years, never budged.
“Out of respect for confidentiality and out of respect for this being an ongoing situation, I can’t really touch on further details about it,” he said.
He repeated the scripted remarks about respecting the confidentiality of the process four more times and used the phrase “business as usual” three times.
He learned from one of the best, the amiably insipid John Fox, who walked into the head-coach’s news conference knowing precisely what he’d be asked but acting almost as if there wasn’t anything to discuss.
“We are aware of the reports,” Fox said. “Due to confidentiality, we can’t report. But I can sit here and tell you here, as of right now when we start camp, every one of our players is eligible, there are no suspensions and that is the way we will start the season.”
Meaning, Fox added, that Miller will practice with the first team until the NFL offers official word about his appeal.
If Miller does not win the appeal, he can practice with the Broncos through their last preseason game, Aug. 29, after which he would be banished from the team for the next four weeks.
If he does win the appeal, no official announcement will come and Miller will be on the field for the opener, Sept. 5 against Baltimore.
Either way, the man who recorded 30 sacks for Denver over his first two seasons promised that “when this is all done and resolved, I will sit down with all you guys and be candid about everything.”
In the meantime, he confirmed as true a statement from the union asserting Miller’s positive test had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs.
If Miller does miss time, the first option to replace him would be Shaun Phillips, the 10-year veteran the Broncos signed during draft week as a potential replacement for Elvis Dumervil. Miller and Dumervil accounted for 29 1/2 of Denver’s league-leading 52 sacks last season.
Other candidates to move into Miller’s strongside linebacker spot, considered the fulcrum of a Jack Del Rio-coached defense, include middle linebacker Nate Irving and fifth-round draft pick Quanterus Smith, who led the nation in sacks during his senior season at Western Kentucky despite missing his last two games with a torn left ACL, which has healed.
Bengals RT Andre Smith not ready to practice
CINCINNATI — Right tackle Andre Smith will be sidelined because of an injured calf when the Cincinnati Bengals open training camp today.
The Bengals put Smith and seven other players on temporary injury lists the day before they opened camp. Smith missed all of the team’s offseason workouts and a mandatory minicamp because of personal issues.
The eight can join practices as soon as they’re cleared.
Limited at the outset are receiver Tyrone Goard (finger), fullback Chris Pressley (knee), quarterback Zac Robinson (elbow), halfback Bernard Scott (knee), receiver Brandon Tate (hamstring), halfback Cedric Peerman (ankle), tight end Bryce Davis (illness) and Smith.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, limited by a knee injury for most of last season, was cleared to practice.