Friday, September 5, 2008

Cleveland Browns Preview

Fans of the Cleveland Browns believe that is their year and many media pundits agree and the Browns are the fashionable pick to be the surprise team this season.
I am not sure that I agree.
Most teams take a small step back after a huge step forward and with a tougher slate of teams to play this season,I think that is what will happen.
I am not saying that they will return to doormat status,just that the hopes and hype may not be quite up to the results.

Derek Anderson returns as the starter after a surprising 2007,but will need to continue improving after struggling late in the season,most notably in a loss in Cincinnati that cost the Browns a playoff spot.
Anderson is notoriously streaky and sometimes can run the gamut in the same game.
Brady Quinn continues to be on the clock as the eventual starter unless Anderson continues to shine and backs up Anderson.
Look for the QB controversy to grow and prosper if Anderson starts slowly.
The cerebral Ken Dorsey is the perfect third string QB.
Smart and helpful to the younger players,Dorsey is great in this spot unless he has to play.

Jamal Lewis continues to be in the workhorse spot at running back after a terrific bounce back season after signing with Cleveland.
I still wonder how much Lewis has left as a top notch runner and I cannot say how much I disagree with Phil Savage signing him to a three year contract over the off season.
Journeyman Jason Wright is the top backup and flashy Jerome Harrison completes the depth chart.
Harrison performs well every time that he gets playing time and I often wonder why he sees the field so rarely,since he is such a change of pace from Lewis.

Lawrence Vickers keeps his blocking fullback slot ahead of Charles Ali.
Vickers is an excellent blocker and decent pass catcher,but Romeo Crennel often uses him in short yardage situations,that he then fails in.
I would like to see him used less in those times.
Ali is fine as a backup and special teams player.

Braylon Edwards stepped his game up last season to become a top notch receiver,but his attitude still has questions as even in a good season,he had moments of tantrums and softness in his game.
Edwards will need to evolve as Joe Jurevicius will miss the first six games (at least) with an injury.
Donte Stallworth takes his talents to another city that will finally be the town that he breaks through in.
New Orleans,Philadelphia,New England and now Cleveland have taken shots at the massive potential and average production that Stallworth brings to the table.
Here is hoping that the Tennesse product puts it all together,because if he does-Look out.
With Jurevicus out,the Browns are pretty weak at the 3,4 and 5 receiver slot.
I thought Joe Horn would have been worth looking at,but the Browns are going to give Josh Cribbs a major look at the three spot.Syndric Steptoe beat out "The best WR in the 2006 draft" in Travis Wilson for a spot on the team and Wisconsin 6th rounder Paul Hubbard could bring his height and leaping ability to the red zone on occasion.
Solid at the top,but depth is a real question here.

Not so at tight end.
Kellen Winslow is the best tight end in the league not named Gates and the heart and desire that the sometimes mouthy Winslow plays with is always inspirational to the team and appreciated by Cleveland fans.
Solid veteran Steve Heiden is a nice pass catcher on the short routes and can block enough to get by.
The Browns traded up to grab Missouri's Martin Rucker in Round 4 and he should get some time when he returns from a knee injury.
Darnell Dinkins helps on special teams or he could be the person that makes room for Rucker.

The left side of the offensive line is tremendous with powerhouse Joe Thomas at tackle and Eric Steinbach at guard and few left sides in the league can measure up to them.
Hank Fraley is solid if unspectacular at center and Rex Hadnot and Kevin Shaffer are passable on the other side.
The line improves even more if Ryan Tucker can return to health and move into one of the spots on the right side.

The Cleveland defense will control how far the Browns go this season and questions abound on the defensive side of the football.
Phil Savage traded second and third round picks to bring in Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers to bring their pass rush and bulk to the D-Line.
Both are excellent players,but questions are there even with them.
Is Williams a one year wonder? Will Rogers play hard every down after not always doing so with the Lions?
Robaire Smith rounds out the front three after a four sack season.
The hope is that Smith's game will upgrade with better surrounding talent.
The Browns had better hope so as the depth behind run stuffer Shaun Smith is almost non-existent.

The Linebackers are the same four as last year and are OK,but bring questions as well.
Andra Davis seemed to be wearing down last season,is his game winding down?
Willie McGinest is retiring at the end of the year and has clearly lost a few steps,are the Browns depending too much on a player that would be better used in situations than full time?
D'Qwell Jackson improved last season on the inside,can he continue to improve or he is just an average player?
Kamerion Wimbley needs to get to the passer more as his game is strictly as a rusher.
The hope is that he will with an improved rush in front of him.
Leon Williams plays well when he gets a chance in his role as the defensive version of Jerome Harrison and rookie Beau Bell will play a lot when he heals from injury.

The secondary will to answer questions as well.
Eric Wright showed great potential last season,but moves now to the top corner.
He has the ability to become a shutdown corner,but is he one now?
Another second year man in Brandon McDonald moves into the spot vacated by Leigh Bodden.
McDonald had a great game against the Jets last year,but now begins being tested on every down.
Recently acquired Travis Daniels will be in the nickel corner position.
Sean Jones is a top notch safety and Brodney Pool is good enough not to hurt you.
Both will need to make the occasional big play that they seemed to miss on in the past.
Mike Adams and special teams ace Nick Sorensen are back as the fillers in the secondary.

Phil Dawson and Dave Zastidil maintain their spots in the kicking game after good seasons and next to no pressure from competitors in the pre-season.

Josh Cribbs will be the kick and punt returner and is one of the top two in the game in his role.
Jerome Harrison will be the other kick returner and Jason Wright and Syndric Steptoe will shag a few as well.

Well,for such a hyped team,there are a lot of questions aren't there?
Sorry,to be a downer,but with a brutal schedule and so many questions,I just don't see the team that others see.
If everything falls right,yes I can see a huge run.
But this is Cleveland sports-those things NEVER happen.
Let's go 9-7 and that will not be good enough for post season play.
If worse than that,look for heavy house cleaning after trading draft picks like football cards for two seasons and high expectations......

Bullpen Notes

It does not seem like the fans in State College are thrilled with the Pirates.
I would not be either with a winning percentage of .200!
Hang in there,it will take time to get talent there and things should gradually improve.
After all,most of the pitchers there now are still from the Captain Dave era.

Great post over at bagofhealthand politics on Gov.Sarah Palin and her routine.
Check it out here.

Later tonight,the Ashland Arrows host the Kettering Alter Knights and this is a big one for the post season points.
A win would be tremendously helpful.
A loss means the Arrows would almost have to run the table to make the playoffs.

Photo Credit
Logo:Chris Creamer

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