April 16, 2014

Early Cleveland Browns Offensive Questions As Training Camp Approaches

It’s amazing to consider that training camp begins in just two weeks. The Browns will kick-start their 2012 season with a helmet practice from 8:45-11:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 28.

In the meanwhile, it’s been a fairly exciting offseason for the Brownies, especially on the offensive side. In the past few years, defense was the focus, as the team added new talents such as Phil Taylor, Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.

Over the past two months, the priorities switched over to the offensive side, where the front office looked to improve a unit that ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring last season (13.6 points per game).

Will these recent additions help out immediately? I’ll cover that and similar questions below as I break down some of the main offensive storylines here in mid-July.

Will Jordan Cameron live up to the hype?

All offseason, we’ve heard coach Pat Shurmur rave about the improvements made by TE Jordan Cameron, last year’s fourth-rounder out of USC. I remember first seeing it in a Browns notebook article by the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich back in May:

“The guy that looks way different is Jordan Cameron,” Shurmur said. “Oh, gosh — the size — and he’s had a great offseason. He’s a guy that hadn’t played much football, so I think he’ll make a big improvement this year.”

But is it realistic to expect that much out of a second-year guy who only caught six passes in eight games last season? He was way behind Ben Watson on the depth chart last season, and received less playing time than Alex Smith, a huge asset in the running game.

Even after Watson’s season-ending injury last year, Cameron never exactly starred with the extra opportunities. He’s a big guy (6-5, 245), there’s no doubt about that, but are his hands good enough to become a significant pass-catcher in the NFL?

Brandon Weeden’s development certainly should be a factor here. Fans should easily expect lots of balls thrown to Greg Little and Trent Richardson, but if Cameron can have a strong training camp, there’s no reason he can’t emerge as the starter.

Just don’t start thinking he’s an automatic Pro Bowler from day one. The hype has gotten a little out of hand as of late, so I’d stress that even in a best-case scenario, we’re looking at maybe 45 catches, 600 yards and four touchdowns for Cameron this season.

 

When will Brandon Weeden officially sign?

This was a topic for Craig’s article two weeks ago, and not much traction has been made since then. The big controversy in the contract negotiations appears to be that there wasn’t a big-time playmaker selected near No. 22 last season, the first year of the new rookie-wage scale.

So the key factor was the possible fourth year that the Browns would commit to Weeden in his rookie deal. Obviously, from the fans’ perspective, it’s pretty obvious that we’d want the Browns front office to just sign Weeden now, and get him in training camp on time.

Who knows exactly if that will happen, although the front office is optimistic about him and Richardson being there in two weeks, according to Nate Ulrich. After no offseason last year, it’s vital that the team take advantage of these rule-defined sessions over the next few weeks leading up to early September.

If Weeden isn’t there, it could really be a big setback for this season and his future career, especially considering the fact he’s already 28. Both Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy are still on the team’s roster for now, so I’d expect we’d hear plenty more about a QB controversy in camp without Weeden.

Overall, though, I think the Browns understand the importance of making sure Weeden’s on time on July 28. I think this deal will get done, although it might be at the last minute.

 

Is Trent Richardson a top 10 fantasy running back?

One of my favorite mid-July activities is scrolling through fantasy football ranking sites. My brothers and I are in a competitive league, and I love having a large sample of rankings to guide me along my way.

While looking through all of these sites, however, I found a story emerging that was related to Cleveland’s new running back. And yes, this is nearly uncharted territory for my Browns and fantasy football passions to collide like this.

Several sites (notably, FFToolbox and RTSports) currently list Richardson as one of the top 10 running backs in fantasy football for this coming season. The argument there is that with the long-standing custom of a one-man backfield disintegrating, Richardson will be one of the very few workhorse backs in the league in 2012.

It seems Browns running backs are hyped in back-and-forth years. In 2010, Peyton Hillis was a top five fantasy running back out of nowhere. He then began last season as the No. 16 back on my board, but struggled throughout and finished closer to the No. 40 spot. If we dig a bit farther back, we’ll of course remember some of the bright spots of Jamal Lewis’ tenure with the Browns as well.

With Richardson this season, however, I’m a bit torn. I know he’ll be great eventually, but it’s tough to consider him better than guys such as DeMarco Murray, Steven Jackson and Jamaal Charles – folks who have done this for at least one season, and also are the main guys in their team’s running attacks. I’m fairly certain that Richardson will be inconsistent at times, and it doesn’t help that the Browns play against the Steelers and Ravens defenses four times every year.

I’d encourage you all to pick up Richardson in the mid-to-late second round of your snake drafts. While I think he could easily finish as a top 12 back, I certainly wouldn’t want Richardson to be my No. 1 guy in my fantasy backfield this season.

 

What kind of impact will Josh Gordon have this year?

The latest addition to the Browns offense is a former Baylor receiver who missed the entire 2011 season after being suspended from the team. He eventually transferred to Utah, but then jumped to the NFL supplemental draft earlier this week because of of family financial needs, according to multiple reports.

Scott wrote some good stuff about Gordon the other day, and you have to excited about the kid’s future potential. He starred for half of the year in 2010 alongside Robert Griffin III, and based on his size/athleticism alone, he has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

The main problem, however, is that much like Greg Little last season, he hasn’t seen any playing field in a long time. Little was a big surprise last year in hauling in 61 catches, but also struggled with drops as the team went through its final year in the Colt McCoy era. With Brandon Weeden now the starter and featuring better arm strength, you’d assume that Little should improve in 2012, and so could the rest of the receivers.

Gordon’s competition for immediate playing time this year will be loaded with familiar names: Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Carlton Mitchell, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cribbs and Jordan Norwood. Benjamin also will be a rookie, but the speedster from Miami could be an ideal slot receiver with Gordon and Little on the outsides.

Again, I’d encourage folks to have their expectations tempered for Gordon’s possible production in 2012. He likely will end up with the fifth-most catches/targets on the team, behind Little, Watson, Norwood and Richardson, assuming that Massaquoi doesn’t make his long-awaited leap this year. My early expectations for Gordon would be about 25-35 catches and 300 yards.


How improved is the offensive line?

But for all of the above storylines to mean anything for the Browns this season, the offensive line will need to be improved. According to the stats gurus at Football Outsiders, the Browns ranked No. 23 as a run-block unit and No. 16 as a pass-protection unit in 2011. That’s why the team used a second-round pick on RT Mitchell Schwartz, and a later pick on Ryan Miller, to add immediate talent and depth.

Since 2007, the Browns have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries along its offensive line. Last season, we witnessed a revolving door along the entire right-side, and that led to the draft priorities of focusing on the line, and not additional playmaker positions.

Alex Mack and Joe Thomas have been to several Pro Bowls over the years, but you wouldn’t ever consider that word in the same breath for Oniel Cousins, Shawn Lauvao or the others that have started recently.

In order for Weeden and Richardson to be successful, the line will need to be consistent and avoid the big hits. These are two huge investments for the Browns future, and I’m not as certain that the offensive line will be instantly amazing. Stay patient folks, as the priority here will be to see some improvements in 2012, but hopefully be one of the best in the AFC by 2013.

(Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)

  • http://twitter.com/PEngle39 Phil Smith

    Difference between Gordon and Little is that Gordon still practiced with Utah for a whole season, whereas Little couldn’t at UNC. So Gordon has seen “the field” much more than Little, which is part of the reason i think he will have a better rookie year than Little. Plus i think he has more raw talent than Little but both are very very good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Murphy/30101207 Joe Murphy

    You mean Josh Gordon isnt going to step in and play like Larry Fitzgerald? Thank you Jacob for the much needed dose of reality. The hype was out of control.

  • http://twitter.com/oribiasi oribiasi

    I find it interesting that none of the offensive questions here relate to perhaps the most important aspect of their production: the aptitude of the coaching staff.

  • maxfnmloans

    Let’s just hope they get Weeden into camp on time. If they don’t then we all know what their built in excuse will be for this season.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I agree… in addition to that, Little was a phenomenal athlete when drafted but he wasn’t necessarily a wide receiver. When he came out of high school, he could have been a WR, RB, S, or LB. He played primarily RB on offense. In college, he fluctuated between WR and RB, not to mention playing a little basketball for UNC. So he hasn’t had a lot of time to master the WR position. Gordon on the other hand is also a phenomenal athlete, but has played WR since high school (at least). Because of that, I’d expect Little to be the slower to adapt to the NFL, and I think that’s the case. Little caught a ton of passes because he received a ton of targets… Shurmur even told this to the media, that he was going to make Little a focal point of the offense. Little’s drops and low yards-after-catch numbers show how poorly he fared after receiving the target. He needs time to adapt to being a wide receiver… I would think more time than Gordon will need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=868475299 Eric Clevinger

    QUOTE: ”
    Over the past two months, the priorities switched over to the offensive side, where the front office looked to improve a unit that ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring last season (13.6 points per game).”

    Whoa….. you mean there were two teams that were actually worse?? :-0

  • Big Z

    I don’t see how you can disagree with drafting Josh Gordon in the 2nd round, especially since Buffalo’s 3rd round bid would’ve beaten the Browns’ out.

    Little, Massaquoi, and Robiskie were all drafted in the 2nd round – Gordon’s a much better prospect than all of them. Case closed.

  • http://twitter.com/oribiasi oribiasi

    Well said, and yes, if he misses even the first 10 minutes of warm-ups the Koolaiders will have built in excuses. This should be a no excuses time for the Browns.

    Actually, if the FO was smart they’d deliberately try to mess up the contracts for a little bit just to have that excuse. Please tell me they’re still not smart :(