August 26, 2014

Cleveland Browns Quick Training Camp Stories I’ll Be Following

Training camp is upon us, and there are a ton of interesting story-lines to the Browns this season, but here are the five I will be watching closest during camp-

1. Is the turnstile closed?

The right tackle position has been a black hole of death for years. I’ve been hard on the gentlemen that have manned the position, but let’s be honest- they started it! The Browns spent a second round pick on Mitchell Schwartz to make this problem go away. I am in full agreement that a second round pick was worth it to get the RT of the future. Even with as many holes as the team had to fill. The only question now is if Schwartz is the right pick.He certainly has Joe Thomas’ endorsement early on.

We should get a good idea of what we have early on. Schwartz will be matched up against Jabaal Sheard. The knock of Schwartz was his footwork, especially against a speed rush. Sheard can certainly help him practice that. He will have to have proper footwork and not just agility though because Sheard can go around tackles, but he also loves to jab step outside and then dart inside. Should be a fun match-up, and a good way for both players to get better before the season starts.

2. The defensive front seven.

Phil Taylor out, Scott Fujita suspended early on. There is a serious depth problem on the defensive side of the ball on both the line and at line-backer. The Browns will have to hope that Cincinnati product John Hughes is ready for the field. He will likely find himself thrust into the starting role alongside Rubin. Someone else will have to step forward and give that pair a break occasionally.

Jabaal Sheard will man the left end spot, and the Browns will turn to free agent acquisitions Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker to take over on the right side. Again, depth is a concern. Especially if the Browns were to lose Sheard to injury.

We know that Jackson and Gocong will start at linebacker. The other vacant outside spot will be up for grabs with Kaluka Maiava the leading candidate. Could rookie James-Michael Johnson compete for the outside spot? The Browns seem to be inclined to give him a chance, but I wonder if it is a good idea to try and teach a rookie two positions right out of the gate. Emmanuel Acho would be the dark horse to start in place of Fujita for the first three games.

Speaking of Fujita, while his suspension is only for the first three games, he hasn’t exactly been durable during his time with the Browns. His contract expires at the end of the year, and I would be willing to bet the Browns would like to see if his replacement is on the current roster.

3. The defensive backfield.

Yep. All the attention has been on the offense this off-season, but I’m actually concerned about the defense. We expect the offense to be somewhat inconsistent. They will be playing a lot of rookies, and let’s face it they stunk last season.

So we have Joe Haden manning one CB spot, and Sheldon Brown on the other side. Everyone thought that Sheldon would be a safety by now, but the Browns are adamant that he is staying put at CB. Does he still have the speed to get the job done at the highest level? Are any of the young backs ready to challenge for his spot? The Browns like Patterson, Skrine and Dockery. They may be in good hands for the future, that is if the youngsters continue to develop. This season should be telling in that regard.

4. When are we going to stop pretending there is a QB battle?

The job is Weeden’s. Everyone knows it. You have to wonder how this is going to shake out. Will the Browns pull McCoy aside early on and talk with him about it? What are the chances that both McCoy and Wallace are on the team when the season starts, like 10%? Will Weeden actually be ready when camp breaks, or are we in for a rough opening to the season?

5. Which pass catchers make the team?

Suddenly the Browns find themselves with a lot of receivers on the roster. We’re not sure how good they are, but there are a bunch of them. Little, Massaquoi, Cribbs, Benjamin, Cooper, Gordon, Norwood, Mitchell, Saffold, Windsor, Spencer and Reed. At least four of those won’t be on the roster, and there’s a chance a few won’t make the practice squad.

At the tight end spot, you have Watson, Cameron, Moore, Smith and Gronkowski. Could the Browns keep four tight ends with as many wide receivers as they will likely keep? If you had to pick ten players to make the team between the WRs and TEs, which would you pick?

  • Big Z

    I just hope nobody sustains a significant injury.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Also adding to the uncertainty in the defensive backfield is the whole Hagg/Young saga. Who wins the job? Are either NFL-level talent? TJ Ward’s injury history also makes things interesting.
    For now, I’m just excited to see the players. There are a LOT of new/untested players, and I can’t wait to see which ones will step up to the challenge.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The defense has more holes now then the offense now. The corner opposite Haden was/is a question mark and the LBs outside of Jackson are a problem. I don;t know about the DL either but things are just getting underway.

  • NanceforPrez

    My WR/TE Top 10 Would Be:

    1.Little
    2. Massaquoi
    3. Gordon
    4. Cribbs
    5. Benjamin
    6. Norwood

    1. Watson
    2. Cameron
    3. Moore
    4. Smith

  • Punishment Ward

    10 WRs/TEs: (1) Little, (2) Gordon, (3) MoMass, (4) Cribbs, (5) Benjamin, (6) Norwood, (7) Cooper, (8) Watson, (9) Smith, (10) Cameron.

  • sgtkickarse

    I am cautiously optimistic going into Training Camp and the Preseason. I agree with the points in this article too. While I am obviously keeping the fingers crossed with Weeden, RT is the biggest question. If Schwartz is the real deal, then that should help everyone else on offense. It gives Weeden time to throw, gives T-Rich holes to run through, and hopefully helps Luvao do his job better.

    After that, I am concerned about the LB and CB spots. I don’t think Sheldon has it anymore. I am hoping James Michael Johnson can actually be the guy over the at OLB. But I don’t know about our other CB spot or either Safety. I like Ward, he seems like a cool dude. But he really needs to stay healthy and cover better.

    All of that being said, I think this is the year we look like a (mostly) professional football team. Last year’s offense was horrible and I stopped watching. I think we will be in a lot of games, take our lumps early, but hopefully see real progress and touchdowns as the season goes on.

  • Harv 21

    Good point about Schwartz getting thrown into the fire facing Sheard in practice. If he looks bad early I wouldn’t panic.
    Will Weeden be ready at the end of his first training camp? If so he’ll be the first one since Marino. Even if he lights up a preseason game, we’re going to have to take our medicine this year. Pick 6s, backfield collisions on handoffs, delays of game, it’s what you get with a rook QB and 3 other rook starters.
    Have to believe we will be looking at late-cut LBs from other teams.
    My question: who will be the annual season-ending injury. Hope it’s at a position with a palatable back-up. Or maybe Phil Taylor was it and we got it out of the way.
    I’m excited. I think we have some real young talent.

  • Dee P

    I would switch Smith with Moore. I know we lose the better blocker there, but with Schwartz at RT perhaps we don’t need him as much?

  • Dee P

    You’re right. I just wish our preseason wasn’t so exciting every year. Know what I mean? If you’re preseason is boring, it means you’re settled and established as a team.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Amen. We can only dream at this point.

  • mgbode

    well, he has to face premier LDE guys like Babin (Eagles) and Mario Williams (Bills) the first few weeks, so Sheard better not hold anything back

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Brad Smelley can also be asked to come in as a tight end providing about the same thing as Smith.

  • mgbode

    my opinions on the pass catchers:

    guaranteed a spot on the team
    Little, Cribbs, Gordon, Benjamin

    most likely guaranteed a spot
    Watson, Moore, Cameron

    fighting for the other slot position
    Norwood*, Cooper

    fighting for the other outside position
    MoMass*, Mitchell

    most likely outside looking in
    everyone else

    * = guy I expect to win the job

    Also, that is only 9 guys because I expect Smelley to consume the 10th spot as a HB/TE/FB hybrid guy.

  • Gren

    Little, Cribbs, Benjamin, Cooper, Gordon, Norwood, Mitchell.

    Watson, Cameron, Moore.
    I guess it all depends on how well MoMass can bounce back. He’s been handed the starting position on this team for far too long, it’s time to fish or cut bait.

  • Garry_Owen

    Whenever I think of a rookie comparison for Weeden, I think of Matt Ryan. Any chance we have the same luck? (Hey, look what I did there: Matt-Ryan-Luck.) That’s my best case scenario hope, anyway.
    I mean, Weeden is older than Ryan, after all. (Sheesh. That’s depressing.)

  • mgbode

    Matt Ryan: 61% 3400yds 16TD 11INT 7.9YPA

    those shouldn’t be completely out of the question numbers. they are (outside of YPA) just a little better than what Colt was on pace to accumulate last year. we have upgraded RB & RT & WR (hopefully), so even Colt “should” be able to achieve numbers around those.

    now, if you want the 11-5 record including the 4th quarter comebacks that earned him the nickname “Matty Ice” then you might be asking too much.

  • Garry_Owen

    Well, stepping outside of the pure stats (I hate those lying stats), what I’m really hoping for is that Weeden can keep things competitive the way that Ryan did in his rookie year. After all, Ryan’s stat line, however close Colt’s might have been last year, was accrued during games in which the Falcons were competing to win (thanks in large part to him). The same is not necessarily true for Colt, who acquired much of his stat line in quarters after the competitiveness of the game had already eluded the team. Even taking away the 4th quarter comebacks that Ryan produced, the Falcons would have produced a respectable record (by Cleveland standards, anyway). I don’t want the stats; I just want to be in the games until the end, 4th quarter comebacks or not.

  • mgbode

    that’s why I added that I don’t expect the 11-5 record :)

    the Atlanta defense was pretty good that year too. 11th in pts given up (10th in pts scored). And, they had the 2nd most rushing yards in the NFL.

    I did figure that is what you were getting at though. Hoping that Weeden is finally the answer at QB who will help open lanes for the RB (who are afraid he’ll go deep if they stack the line), who will help the defense by sustaining long drives, and who will be able to deliver early (to keep things competitive) and late (to hopefully win).

    I want that to be Weeden too. We’ll see.

  • Garry_Owen

    Indeed, so many variables. Our defense is okay, but likely not that good. Our rushing game could be really great, but far too many unknown quantities.
    Oh well. Here’s hoping that the Ginger Cannon [The Redheaded Rocket? The Strawberry Bomb? The Auburn Tiger? Help me out, here ...] is the guy we’ve been dreaming about [no offense, Brady Quinn].

  • mgbode

    well, Dalton took Red Rifle and we need to stay away from Red Ryder references because I don’t want the Browns to shoot their eye out.

    Freckled Fireballer?

  • Garry_Owen

    Old Man Ginger? (This can quickly be modified to Old Man Winner, if the season goes as we hope it will.)

  • mgbode

    or Old Man Whiner if it doesn’t

  • Garry_Owen

    No, that’ll be me.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hopefully they find a way to get the TEs more involved in the offense particularly my man Evan Moore who IMO struggled at times due to the fact he was hardly used.

  • mgbode

    GO-OMW it is then.

  • atomic dawg

    Are there any other teams currently whose potential top-2 WR didn’t play their final year in college? We need a nickname…..Wild Bunch?

  • Steve

    The problem is that YPA is so important in determining a QBs value, not to mention that McCoy’s 57% completion % ranked 27th, while 61.1% would rank 13th. That gap is bigger than you think. Same for QB rating. McCoy was near the bottom of the league, while Ryan was just above average.

    There’s a long way between rookie Ryan and last year’s McCoy.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I figured I’d go all out to figure out how many WRs/TEs we’ll have. Yes, I’m crazy.

    Starters:
    LT Thomas, LG Pinkston, C Mack, RG Lauvao, RT Schwartz
    QB Weeden, RB Richardson
    FB/TE Marecic, Watson
    WR Little, WR Gordon

    DE Sheard, DT Paxson, DT Rubin, DE Rucker
    LB Jackson, Gocong, Johnson
    S Ward, Hagg
    CB Haden, Patterson

    P Hodges, K Dawson, KR Cribbs, LS Yount

    Bench:
    OL: Miller, Greco, Cousins
    RB: Jackson, Hardesty
    FB/TE: Smelley, Moore, Cameron
    WR: Massaquoi, Benjamin, Norwood, Mitchell
    QB: McCoy

    DL: Hughes, Winn, Benard, Parker, Stephens, Schaefring
    LB: Acho, Maiava, Spears
    DB: Wade, Brown, Young, Dockery, Skrine

    IR – Taylor
    SUS – Fujita

    Last cuts: Cooper (I can’t see them going with a bunch of 5’10 backups), Smith (too much depth at TE, need the roster spot elsewhere)

  • bridgecrosser

    Paxson will be taking Taylor’s place. Not rookie Hughes.

  • Henry Brown

    In college, FWIW, Weeden had a reputation as getting better in the 4th quarter and leading game winning drives, so it may be possible. Also the reason given for him playing better was that he had the defense figured out by then.

  • Henry Brown

    Really no way of knowing this at this point.

  • mgbode

    on day1. by the end of camp, I hope whoever does the best gets the spot.

  • DontbringLBJback

    Yeah, well he also had a guy named Justin Blackmon, who (if you watched any of those 4th quarter comeback games) was a freaking man child that was unstoppable as far as getting open, going up and catching balls over everyone else, and burning deep safeties. We don’t have that type of top tier WR, so we’ll see what Brandon can do in the 4th Q comebacks… because there will be many. All that said, I can’t wait to see them take the field and see if the gunslinger can make it happen with what we have.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Call it a hunch

  • Derek

    I feel Massaquoi is going to have to light it up this preseason or he could be the surprise cut. What was that ridiculous stat where Momass caught 30% of the balls thrown his way. Ouch! No reason to keep an often injured receiver that doesn’t fight for the ball. One thing to remember, even though Holmgren praised him, H&H didn’t draft him.

  • eldaveablo

    You hit on something that I think is important. I expect pass protection to be greatly improved this year – both from the RT position and the blocking of Richardson & Brandon Jackson.

    Not only does this get Weeden more time to throw downfield, but it frees up our TEs to actually run routes – let’s face it, with the exception of Alex Smith, they are all better catchers than blockers. Too often last year, Smith was in the game to block and support whatever turnstile was at RT, and Hillis was never much of a pass protector, despite his size.