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Ray Farmer: How we built the roster

Posted May 22, 2014

GM gives insight on how he picks players

The biggest moment this offseason for Cleveland Browns General Manager Ray Farmer wasn’t inking Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby to deals. It wasn’t drafting Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. It wasn't re-signing the homegrown Pro Bowler Alex Mack.

Throughout all the transformation the Cleveland Browns have seen in 2014, one moment in particular stands out to Farmer: when Farmer first talked X’s and O’s with Mike Pettine.

The meeting took place in the draft room. Team owner Jimmy Haslam and president Alec Scheiner were also in attendance. Scheiner had developed a Browns football A-Z list, which needed to be addressed. Farmer and Pettine went back and forth on topics such as free agency, the draft, training camp and which positions were most critical for success.

The results of the sit down will shape the Browns for a decade to come.

“I think we both realized as we ping-ponged back and forth giving our answers that we were brothers from a different mother,” said Pettine. “It’s the same core beliefs, football-wise.”

“To sit down with him, and to naturally have so many similarities to me, that was the best thing,” Farmer said about Pettine. “Because now I know there’s a guy, that we believe the same philosophy. We think about the game of football the same way. And it’s easy to be in lock step.”

From that meeting, the pair created their philosophy. At its core is the way the Cleveland Browns view football plain and simple: competition.  

Farmer and Pettine sat down together and mapped out their competition philosophy on paper. It would be used not only to construct the roster but set the attitude for the entire building. Farmer and Pettine agree the key to winning will come from the competition they create inside the walls of Berea.

“Guys that aren’t naturally competitive are guys we really don’t want in the building,” Farmer said frankly. “When you feel the pressure behind you and in front of you, it makes you raise your level of performance.”

Don’t think of the Farmer-Pettine relationship as a cut-and-dried partnership. It’s not as if Farmer picks out the groceries and Pettine cooks the meal. Just this week, the two communicated several times a day about the rookie class. They chat about what exactly the players are learning, the amount of information they’ve been given and where the other assistant coaches are with the teaching process.

“To me, I was instantly comfortable with Ray,” said Pettine. “I think he has that ability to make people feel that way.”

“Those conversations with coach, even if they are simple and generic in the cafeteria, it definitely leads to more insight,” said Farmer. “We’re never done with the evaluation process of this roster.”

Farmer, a scout for many years, revealed a secret of his on how he evaluates players and their competitive nature. And he gave a perfect example.

At last season’s thrilling Alabama-Texas A&M game, Johnny Manziel threw for 464-yards, rushed for 98 yards and posted five touchdowns. There was a throng of other future NFL players on the field. C.J. Mosley, Jake Matthews, Mike Evans. Most football talent evaluator’s eyes were glued to the field.

Not Farmer’s.

With his binoculars, Farmer carefully inspected the players’ interactions on the sidelines. Who is the player when he’s around his teammates? What is he like after a turnover? How does he react after he makes a big play? Of course Farmer goes back and watches the film, but the game tape alone isn’t the full piece to the puzzle of finding the most competitive players.

“As you watch all of those interactions, they’ll paint a picture of who he really is,” said Farmer.

Farmer ultimately wants the Cleveland Browns’ locker room to be a place where his players aren’t simply satisfied with being a player in the National Football League.

“My goal is for everybody to really take on the vision, the dedication and the purpose that the coaching staff is setting forward: Which is to win,” said Farmer.

The Browns are well on their way towards that objective

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