Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts: A Cleveland Browns Preseason Report

Roster Roundouts: A Cleveland Browns Preseason Report

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Previous Roster Roundouts: Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs, Saints, Jaguars, Packers, Raiders, Vikings

Two years ago, the Cleveland Browns won 10 games, barely missed the playoffs, and appeared to have converted a great amount of preseason hope into relative reality.  When the Browns landed OT Joe Thomas, QB Brady Quinn, and CB Eric Wright all in the same draft, it wasn’t hard to fathom future success from this group.

Alas, that success would have to wait.  It was easy to take a glance at the Browns and see all the leaks in the fishing boat.  I personally forecast them for 5 wins last season, but adding insult to injury (or more specifically, injury to insult), the Browns started off disappointing and then limped to the finish with a grand total of 4 wins.  The cold truth set in: the Browns were not any closer to the playoffs than they were before the 2007 draft.

But that’s not exactly reality either.  If the building block of the current Cleveland Browns is the 2007 draft, there’s no reason to be discouraged about the future.  Thomas is already a quality starter with a pro bowl appearence to his name.  Quinn hasn’t played much, but his projection is no worse than when he came into the league.  He still profiles as a mid-level franchise quarterback.  And Wright is in the process of developing into a No. 1 CB in the NFL.  He’s not there yet, but he’s getting close.

The new head coaching hire was a bit controversial.  It’s Eric Mangini, fresh off his whacking by the Jets.  Mangini has shown the ability to quickly fix leaky defensive units and offensive lines, and this year should be no exception with the talented but unproductive Browns defense and the addition of rookie C Alex Mack to the offensive line.  The improved play of those two units will give the Browns a shot at winning 8 games in a tough division.  But to get all the way there, they need to get the passing game on track.  In that respect, Mangini’s results with the Jets are not at all promising.

In 2006, when the Jets won 10 games, they did so behind a resurgent season from Chad Pennington — seriously, this guy would be a hall of fame candidate if he was more durable — who fit offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system better than any other coordinator-quarterback combo in the league that year.  But when the Jets’ OL struggled in 2007, Mangini decided that Pennington was part of the problem, not the solution, and they dropped him to the bench.  Needless to say, the Jets would never again enjoy a good passing game under Mangini, save for a nice Favarian performance every now and again.

Given his track record, Mangini is a perfect example of a man who should not be deciding the winner of the Browns quarterback competition.  In fact, it’s really only because of Mangini that they are having a competition.  Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are locked in a QB battle for the second straight season (although last year, it was more a formal coronation of Anderson), a battle that began just a month after Browns fans took solace in the fact that at least they wouldn’t have to see Anderson play anymore.  To make matters worse, I’m not even sure the Browns have the right two quarterbacks in competition for the starting job.

The Browns had another hell of a draft in 2009, and the centerpiece of the entire weekend was the other half of the Mark Sanchez trade where the Jets gave up a lot of high upside Mangini lifers for the right to move up and draft Sanchez.  Among these acquisitions was QB Brett Ratliff out of Utah, who absolutely lit up the preseason last year.  If there’s any actual competition for Quinn, why battle him against the player who profiles as a career backup (Anderson)?  Why not put him up against a late round prospect like Brett Ratliff and let him earn the QB of the future title?

If Derek Anderson were to win the QB battle, you would just be delaying the inevitable which is that either Ratliff or Quinn eventually takes over for him after another failure on a bad team.  Consequently, rampant speculation/reporting suggests that the Anderson/Quinn QB battle is simply a Mangini coaching tactic aimed at establishing his dominance of the team, and that Quinn is a solid lock to win the battle.  That’s probably true, but it almost paints Mangini out to be a man who is more concerned with establishing himself as an irreplaceable part of the Browns than as the coach of a winning football team.

The Browns have bigger issues on the offense than at the quarterback position, where at least the Browns expect that their long-term solution is in-house.  At the running back position, it’s Jamal Lewis’ job.  That’s fine, as Lewis has been a valuable runner for the better part of his 9 year NFL career, but Lewis turns 30 at the end of this month, and contrary to most situations, that’s not just a hollow tale of caution in Lewis’ case.  Lewis’ last four seasons have produced just one above average year, and not so coincidentally, it’s when the Browns won 10 games in 2007.

Lewis’ 2007 season was the one part of the 10 win season that seemed statistically sustainable, but his 2008 season was a regression to the mean, and perhaps this means that the end is not far?  The Browns don’t have another proven runner, and if Lewis should get hurt, the team may choose to work with a committee approach lead by Jerome Harrison.

The receivers are in a state of flux.  Braylon Edwards grabs the headlines, but after a season in which he lapped the league in drops, the fifth year receiver now profiles as a poor-team’s No. 1, or a very good No. 2, and thats a projection  assuming an improved accuracy effect from the insertion of Quinn into the lineup.  He’ll need some help, but the Browns decided to trade TE Kellen Winslow in the offseason, and went to the draft for receiving him.  They came away with Brian Robiske and Mohammad Massaquoi in the second round.  Combined with special teams ace Josh Cribbs, the Browns have all the pieces for Quinn (or Ratliff) to win in future seasons, but this year it looks like TE Steve Heiden is going to be among the team leader in targets, so it’s impossible to look at this offense as an above average unit even with an impressive collection of talent on the OL.

Mangini takes over a team that has young talent but lacks an identity as either an offensive or a defensive team.  If he makes enough right decisions, they’ll be a playoff contender sooner rather than later.  This year, the Browns are somewhere between a 6-10 and a 8-8 team, and that range is simply the first step that Mangini must take to restore his “Mangenius” image.

Browns Camp, Berea, OH

The Quarterback battle was addressed extensively in the above, so let’s take a look at some of the other positional battles for the Browns this year.

Tackle: Ryan Tucker vs. George Foster

George Foster, now 6 years removed from being a first round selection by the Denver Broncos (Mike Shanahan’s first!) is STILL in the developmental tackle stage, which is both why he’s still in the league and has a chance against Tucker.  There’s also the fact that Floyd Womack, who came over in the offseason from Seattle, is flexible enough to handle OT if they need him to, so Tucker’s depth is not a necessity.  Still, Tucker’s the favorite unless Foster offers something of value.

Guard: Issac Sowells vs. Fred Weary

Fred Weary was signed after starting RG Rex Hadnot suffered a potentially serious injury, but an MRI revealed it was just a sprain, which means that Weary’s stay will likely be short.  He’s up against Issac Sowells to earn the role of “utility lineman who is only active for four games.”

Defensive End No. 2: Robaire Smith vs. C.J. Mosely vs. Corey Williams

Just one year ago, Phil Savage tossed a second round pick at Corey Williams, and asked Romeo Crennel to make him a starting DE in the 3-4.  Sadly, that was not the worst thing Savage did last year, which is damning to all involved.  Robaire Smith is the favorite to start over 26 year old ex-Jet C.J. Mosely and Williams, who may be relegated to third string or worse.

Inside Linebacker: Beau Bell vs. Eric Barton vs. Bo Ruud

Eric Barton’s name is not pronounced as “BOW” so he’s unlikely to win this competition.  That, and he’s flexible enough to be the outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.  The favorite is Beau Bell, the highest draft pick the Browns had in the 2008 draft (4th round).  He is challenged by Ruud, the brother of Barett Ruud of the Bucs, also a Cornhusker.

Cornerback: Hank Poteat vs. Brandon McDonald

McDonald, who was a starter on the Browns last year, needs to re-invent himself in order to stay in the league.  He’s now the 4th corner on the depth chart, and even his hold on that spot is tenuous.  If he can become a valuable special teamer, he’s young enough to stay in the league for awhile, but he’s a year removed from playing teams and Hank Poteat came over from the Jets specifically to provide depth and play teams.  He’ll be a thorn in McDonald’s side for the next month of camp.

Surprise Cuts?

  • TE Robert Royal
  • C Hank Fraley
  • DE Corey Williams
  • LB David Bowens
  • LB Leon Williams
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