Bill Belichick not thinking nostalgia in his return to Cleveland

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, which brings Bill Belichick back to the city of his first head-coaching job. Yet he wasn't in the mood for nostalgia early this week.

"Right now, the most important thing to me is our football team and getting back on track, and playing and coaching more the way this team has performed in the past, getting our performance level collectively back up to a much higher point than it was [Sunday]" Belichick said during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI. "It wouldn't really make any difference who, where or when the next game was. That's the main priority for me right now. The rest of it is what it is."

Perhaps there will be time for some reflections from Belichick later in the week, but as of now, it's all about getting familiar with an 0-4 Browns team that is under a new regime with head coach Hue Jackson and Framingham (Mass.) High School graduate Sashi Brown as executive vice president of football operations.

For a closer look at some key players, ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon provides insight.


RB Isaiah Crowell: Crowell has been the most pleasant surprise on the Browns this season. He is running aggressively and with giddy-up and quickness he has not shown before, and is the main reason the Browns lead the NFL in rushing. Crowell also leads the league averaging 6.4 yards per carry, ranks second with 386 yards and leads the NFL in yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus (4.54 yards per carry). Keeping the ball away from Tom Brady means running the ball, which means Crowell could touch the ball a lot.

QB Cody Kessler: Belichick has two games of film on Kessler, and it will show that Kessler has handled himself well for a third-round, third-string rookie. He prepares like he's been in the league a dozen years and he shows poise. However, Kessler's arm is not the strongest and the Patriots coaches will also notice that.

TE Gary Barnidge: An effective tight end is a big help to a quarterback. Through four games this season, Barnidge has the same 16 receptions he had through four games a year ago. But a year ago he averaged 14.7 yards per catch, two touchdowns and three receptions longer than 20 yards, one a 40-yard catch. This season he is averaging 10 yards per catch, has no touchdowns and has just one catch longer than 20 yards. He also had no catches in the season opener against Philadelphia.


CB Jamar Taylor: The Browns took a chance on Taylor, a former second-round pick in Miami as the Dolphins gave up on him by sending him to the Browns in a last-day draft trade. Taylor has come through with interceptions in each of the last two games. The Browns rank last in the league in scoring defense, but Taylor is at least giving the team something at least.

NT Danny Shelton: The man in the middle will be responsible for trying to slow LaGarrette Blount, who has 352 yards in four games. Blount is a strong runner who can overpower folks and Shelton's job is to provide support in the middle to keep the defense from being overrun. A first-round pick, Shelton struggled as a rookie, but is playing better and is more active this season. However, coaches still give him lukewarm reviews. The Patriots will provide Shelton a real test.

LB Chris Kirksey: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has not had his traditional high production, with just one catch. However, Gronkowski and Brady have a years-long relationship, and Brady returns form his suspension on Sunday. Someone has to cover Gronk, but the Browns lack the outside linebackers to do it. That assignment figures to fall to Kirksey. Provided he's healthy, Gronkowski will get a lot more targets with Brady healthy. Kirksey could have his hands full.