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The Suburbanite
  • Browns’ Banner talks Weeden, Haslam, expectations

  • Browns CEO Joe Banner settles into the condo next door to  training camp, breaks down Brandon Weeden, and takes a stand on where the team is headed amid Jimmy Haslam’s turmoil.

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  • The Randy Lerner influence touches Joe Banner each day.
    Banner comes and goes between the team complex and an enclave of condominiums Lerner bought because they are a minute walk from the Browns’ east gate.
    That might be the extent to which the new team CEO is immersed in the former owner’s existence.
    Banner became part of Jimmy Haslam’s life about one year ago. Haslam couldn’t hire Banner officially until after the NFL sanctioned the Lerner-to-Haslam transition in October.
    Ever since, Banner has pressed his fingerprints all over the team. He doesn’t do all, but he knows all. He grew up in business, once owning a chain of clothing stores, but he fell into an opportunity with a friend, Jeff Lurie, who happened to own the Philadelphia Eagles.
    Lurie let Banner grow into a role of keen influence over Eagles football matters. It may never have been as expansive as the football influence at Banner’s disposal as Haslam’s team CEO.
    Banner’s powers magnified by necessity when Haslam’s main business, Pilot Flying J, fell into a nationally publicized mess.
    Now, as training camp dawns, Banner is doing much of the public speaking Haslam had been eager to handle before the FBI entered his life. Over the past few days, including a Wednesday session with local media, Banner plowed through state-of-the-team overviews.
    The new head coach, Rob Chudzinski, is Banner’s baby, in large part. More than a half year after the hire, Banner says Chudzinski leads “a coaching staff we feel really, really good about.”
    The choice to pilot the Browns, he says, needed to be a “very passionate” leader who preached an aggressive, physical playing style, clearly believes in his plan to win, would win player respect, and could recruit a dynamic staff.
    “That,” Banner said, “is what we feel we found in Chud.”
    Banner rejects the notion Chudzinski was an outside-the-box hire. He notes Chudzinski interviewed for three head coaching jobs in the 2012 offseason.
    That the Browns were Chudzinski’s only interview in 2013, Banner says, reflects Carolina’s disappointing start to the 2012 season — after seven games, the Panthers, with Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, were 1-6, the same as Pat Shurmur’s Browns.
    “Chud’s name dropped off the radar a little bit,” Banner admits. “But by the end of the year, the Panthers were one of the better offenses.”
    Chudzinski’s 2013 Panthers finished 12th in total yards, just ahead of the Packers, Giants and Ravens. Their best game was a 30-20 upset of Atlanta, which entered the game with an 11-1 record.
    One might suppose Banner knows plenty about plans for quarterback Brandon Weeden that isn’t being said. Chudzinski has declined to name Weeden the starter, only noting that he will take reps with the “ones” as camp gets rolling.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Chud has been saying the same things publicly that he says when we’re meeting privately,” Banner said.
    Does Weeden project as “the future?”
    “We haven’t seen enough to know,” Banner said. “We’ve seen enough to be hopeful.”
    Chudzinski is saying Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer all will get prolonged camp chances to prove themselves at QB.
    “By Chud doing that,” Banner said, “the players will kind of determine the quarterback.”
    Weeden’s 2013 fate, Banner said, “will be Chud’s call ... he and (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) will collaborate.”
    Banner said the biggest areas in which Weeden needs to grow encompass “the type of stuff, frankly, Chud and Norv are excellent teachers of.”
    Banner says the roster is in a good place, relative to what could be done so far, but is not a finished product.
    “We need some young players to develop, and even if they do, we need to add some additional talent,” he said. “And we need to make sure we have a top-tier quarterback, whether we have that or we need to get it.”
    Banner says it will be “very clear to people that the team is a lot better,” and hints that he sees 2013 as a steppingstone to playoff contention next year.
    “I want to avoid being that specific,” he says, “because it can come back and bite me.”
    This is as far as he reveals his expectations for this season:
    “I want to see young players develop, see the schemes we’re putting in take hold, see the work ethic and character and toughness start to develop ... and if all that happens, I think we’ll start to make some progress on the won-lost record.”
    Banner insists the Pilot Flying J ordeal won’t distract the football team.
    “For us, it’s business as usual,” he said. “We’ve been free to operate the Browns exactly as we would have if none of this had happened.
    “I understand why that doesn’t give everybody total peace of mind, believe me.”
    On the business side, Banner said:
    • Haslam has no plans to sell the team.
    • Haslam has been “extremely open” when talking “privately” about Pilot Flying J. Banner added: “I know him. I have a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn’t say I needed to be reassured.”
    • Major stadium renovations won’t begin until January.
    • Fixing cell phone reception, installing bigger trash cans and addressing rest-rooms cleanliness are 2013 stadium priorities.
    • Ninety-four percent of last year’s season-ticket holders have renewed.
    • In addition to keeping quarters at the condo next door, he will move into a place “on the east side.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP