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Cleveland Browns 2010 Preview


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I almost stopped reading after the first few paragraphs. I was certain this was a biased steeler's fan. But the article is a good read and he does have some good facts.




Cleveland Browns 2010 Preview

July 25, 2010 by Andy Benoit




Hate to tell you this Cleveland fans, but the worst is still yet to come. You might think things can’t get worse. After all, it’s hard to feel lower than you did in early July. LeBron James treated you like Jennifer Anniston. His exit from town was graceless to a degree few could have ever imagined.


The night after giving you and your fellow fans a new gigantic wound, James took a stage with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and poured salt into said wound with a glitzy, theatrical celebration of…what, exactly?…the Heat’s championship potential? Anyway, seeing that had to hurt like hell. joe-thomas-inside


And now, you’re being warned that the worst is yet to come. Sorry, but it’s true. This October, there will be a day where you’ll roll out of bed and suddenly realize that NBA training camps are opening up. And the baseball playoffs will be going on, which, of course, means your Indians won’t be taking the field.


Riddled with grief, you’ll do your best to carry on that morning. You’ll feel confused as much as angry because, hey, it’s been three months since The Decision, and you’re supposed to be over this by now. You’ll try to trick yourself into believing that you are over it. But when you pick up a newspaper, visit a website or a read a Tweet, you’ll be reminded that not only are NBA training camps underway, and not only are baseball playoffs in full swing, but also, your Browns are once again in last place of the AFC North. That’s when you’ll break.


You’ll feel awful for breaking. You’d promised yourself you wouldn’t punish your beloved Browns for LeBron’s betrayal. And you’d promised yourself you wouldn’t secretly harbor hope that the Browns could heal your wounds with a surprisingly magical 2010 season. But making promises and keeping promises are two very different things – especially when the promise comes from a broken heart.


Overcome with hurt, you’ll start spewing regrettable gripes about the Browns. Team president Mike Holmgren is an idiot! And so is sidekick Gil Haskell! Holmgren hasn’t brought any more expertise to the front office than Phil Savage or George Kokinis did! If Holmgren were any kind of a man, he’d fire Eric Mangini and coach this team himself! Mangini only kept his job because he won a franchise-record four games in December/January last year! But who cares about that!? The real Mangini is the cold, arrogant jerk who had this maligned team at 1-11 before that!


Once you run out of energy and vitriol, you’ll realize deep down that little, if any, of these gripes are rational. Holmgren is the right man to lead this franchise. Why? Because he proved he was the right man to lead the Packers and Seahawks franchises. But rebuilding efforts – namely the kind of rebuilding efforts that go into fixing an offense that ranked dead last in every key “big play” statistical category in 2009, and the kind of rebuilding efforts involved in revamping a defense that got abused on the ground and absolutely dismantled through the air – takes time.


But Holmgren is on it. In April (oh April…that was the last time LeBron led the Cavaliers to the playoffs) Holmgren used a third-round pick on what is hoped to be the long-term quarterback for this West Coast style offense (Colt McCoy). And he selected the long-term featured running back, Montario Hardesty, in Round Two. Before that, Holmgren’s first two picks were spent on playmaking defensive backs Joe Haden (a scintillating corner drafted seventh overall) and T.J. Ward (a swift safety selected 38th).


Thinking about this rookie class and the sensible direction the franchise seems to be going in will calm you. You’ll realize that you have only yourself to blame for getting upset. It was foolish to secretly harbor hope. After all, the future might be getting brighter, but what can you expect in the present from a team quarterbacked by “gritty” (i.e. “likeable but unskilled”) Jake Delhomme?


Even if Delhomme were as great as Cleveland’s offensive line – and with Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack, it is a great line – who would he throw to? Mohamed Massaquoi? Brian Robiskie? New tight end Benjamin Watson? You don’t win in the NFL by putting lipstick on backups and calling them starters.


This in mind, you’ll realize that it was silly to count on the Browns defense, too. Sure, coordinator Rob Ryan is a terrific strategist. But at some point, you have to have players who can rush the passer.


This logical thinking will stay with you the rest of that October morning. Your heartache won’t abate, but you’ll feel wiser for at least grieving with clear thoughts. However, inevitably, you’ll come across another story that triggers your sense of hope. Maybe it’s an article mentioning the speed and quickness of running back Jerome Harrison. Or a reminder that, over the offseason, all the worry about Joshua Cribbs holding out finally disappeared when the star return specialist signed a three-year, $20 million contract. Or, since it’s October, who knows, maybe defensive lineman Shaun Rogers will be back from his presumed suspension (over the summer he was arrested on weapons charges) or is finally be regaining his form after his Week 11 broken leg from last year.


It’s impossible to say what will do it, but something will rekindle your hope. You’ll do your best to ignore it, but you’ll fail. Because, after all, you might be a clear-thinking individual, but you’re a sports fan first and foremost. A Cleveland sports fan, at that. Hope will carry on.




Personality-wise, Jake Delhomme can engender hope. The 35-year-old is affable, charismatic and hard-working. Problem is, with the ball in his hand, he’s no longer dependable. Delhomme was released by the Panthers because he was unable to shake the turnover bug that bit him in the ’08 Divisional Round playoff loss to Arizona. His veteran leadership might be important, but his inconsistency in reading defenses makes him a less-than-perfect role model for understudy Colt McCoy.


That said, Delhomme – and even inaccurate scrambling ex-Seahawk Seneca Wallace – is better than Brady Quinn was. The Browns had just four pass plays over 40 yards last season, and a paltry 11 touchdowns through the air. Part of that was due to an utterly inept receiving corp.


The receiving corps should be at least a little better by default in 2010. Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are both in their second seasons. Massaquoi is technically the No. 1, but his route running needs serious refinement (especially given his lack of top end speed). Robiskie basically redshirted as an underachieving second-rounder in ’09, but he was Cleveland’s most impressive player during the recent offseason camps.


Veteran slot connoisseur Bobby Engram was signed in July to compete with quick, accelerating Chansi Stuckey for the No. 3 job. It’s also possible that Joshua Cribbs could fill this role, though his impact on offense comes predominantly as a WildDawg runner (a role the ex-Kent State quarterback excels in). This is still an inadequate receiving corps, but at least it’s no longer entirely feeble.


Aiding the passing game is the addition of tight end Benjamin Watson. The longtime Patriot will start ahead of ineffective blocking veteran Robert Royal. Undrafted ’09 free agent Evan Moore shows glimpses of promise as an upright weapon in the seams, but Moore lacks the initial burst or litheness of a potential star.


Needless to say, the Browns will remain a run-first team in 2010. Shifty scat-back Jerome Harrison proved late last season that he can be dynamic as a starter (even between the tackles, where his quickness prevails). However, Holmgren still drafted bruiser Montario Hardesty. Hardesty fits the power mold that this running game has adopted under coordinator Brian Daboll. The presence of veteran fullback Lawrence Vickers certainly aids a power style. So does newcomer Peyton Hillis.


This front five is good enough to thrive in any system – including Cleveland’s new West Coast-oriented one. Joe Thomas makes the game look easy. Thomas might be the best left tackle in the NFL. He’s smooth and capable of handling elite pass-rushers one-on-one. His run-blocking is superb, especially when he teams with mobile left guard Eric Steinbach. Steinbach has a unique ability to land crushing blocks while on the move. Expect the Browns to make good use of this, as the mobility and intelligence of last year’s impressive first-round pick, center Alex Mack, gives this line a multitude of options for generating movement in the run game.


This line is only average on the right side. Tenth-year veteran Floyd Womack is a lumbering 328-pounder at right guard. Journeyman Tony Pashos is expected to beat out career utility backup John St. Clair for the starting right tackle job.




The Browns registered a hearty 40 sacks last season (tied for eighth most in the NFL), but a majority of them resulted from coordinator Rob Ryan’s crafty blitzes and zone exchange concepts. Ideally, Cleveland would like to actually feature at least one bona fide pass-rusher in their 3-4 scheme.


That pass-rusher won’t emerge in 2010. There’s new blood at the outside linebacker position, but it’s of the wrong ilk. Former Saints leader Scott Fujita is expected to start on the right side, and ex-Eagle Chris Gocong will compete with ’09 midseason pickup Matt Roth on the left side. None of these three have the quick first step or sinewy athleticism that is required to consistently reach the quarterback. In fact, with the exception of the energetic but disgruntled Roth (he wants a new contract), all are better equipped for a 4-3 scheme. Booming athlete Marcus Benard (undrafted in ’09) or ex-Jet Jason Trusnik might actually be better pass-rushing options than any of the potential starters.


Cleveland’s inside linebackers must improve against the run in 2010. The return of undersized tackling machine D’Qwell Jackson should help. Last year this defense really missed Jackson’s nose for the ball during the 10 games he sat out with a torn pectoral muscle. The fifth-year pro was tendered as a restricted free agent over the offseason but hopes to garner a long-term contract. Making more of his tackles closer to the line of scrimmage will help his cause.


Jackson will have plenty of chances to make plays given the question mark at the inside linebacker slot next to him. Because Eric Barton spent the offseason slowly recovering from neck surgery, 33-year-old David Bowens is expected to start inside. The problem is that Bowens is too stiff to meet the lateral demands of this position and scheme.


Another inside linebacker, last year’s second-round pick David Veikune, has lost 20 pounds (he’s down to 250) and is eager to prove he’s not a bust after all. But Veikune, a defensive end at Hawaii, will likely need a few years before he can truly grasp the nuances of the position. Finding snaps for him could be tough if coaches decide they still prefer last year’s nimble fourth-round pick, Kaluka Maiava better.


A big factor will be Shaun Rogers. If he’s healthy, this front three is potentially dominant. Rogers is likely moving to end this season in order to allow ascending plugger Ahtyba Rubin (330 pounds) a chance to start. At this point, Rubin is not considered a future star, but he at least plays low and holds ground well. End Robaire Smith wore down late last season and be demoted to heavy-footed C.J. Mosley’s position as the top backup behind energetic (let’s hope) end Kenyon Coleman. Coaches, however, may choose to start Smith ahead of Coleman.


It was crucial that Holmgren was able to insert three new starters into this secondary. Joe Haden has rare athletic gifts. After setting Maryland state passing records in high school, he originally went to Florida to play quarterback. When he realized Tim Tebow wouldn’t be ceding the job, Haden moved to wide receiver. However, he was too similar to Percy Harvin, so coaches decided to put him on the field right away as a cornerback. All Haden did was develop into a top 10 pick in three years.


Though maybe not right away, Haden will likely start opposite Sheldon Brown, the dependable ex-Eagle who has always been a stopper and recently discovered his playmaking gene (five interceptions in ’09). This relegates quick, firm-tackling fourth-year pro Eric Wright to nickel duties, a job slightly below his level of qualification but nonetheless important.


T.J. Ward’s speed and diminutive 5’10”, 211-pound size suggest he’s more of a free safety, but the Browns are willing to play him ahead of fifth-round rookie Larry Asante in the box. This means Abe Elam, a 16-game starter but low-impact contributor in ’09, will remain in centerfield. Because backup-level players like cornerback Brandon McDonald and versatile safety/corner Mike Adams have been compelled to start in recent years, this defensive backfield now has experienced depth.


Special Teams


Kicker Phil Dawson is accurate and consistent, which is why he found it prudent to skip OTA’s and demand a new contract over the offseason (he didn’t get one). This raises the great philosophical question: if a kicker holds out, does anyone notice? Punter Dave Zastudil has one of the biggest legs in the game. Joshua Cribbs has surpassed Devin Hester as the most feared return specialist in the NFL. In fact, given the way he covers kicks and punts, Cribbs is the best all-around special teamer in the NFL. Cleveland’s coverage units are outstanding, ranking first against kicks and sixth against punts in 2009.


Bottom Line


This franchise is in a better spot than it was a year ago. Problem is, with the AFC North boasting three playoff-caliber teams, the Browns’ record may fail to reflect their improvement.


Predicted: 4th AFC North

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