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2011 Team Report: Cleveland Browns

Quarterbacks

Starter: Colt McCoy
Backup(s): Seneca Wallace

Starting QB: The plan last season was to 'red-shirt' rookie QB Colt McCoy and have him learn from the sidelines from veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. That was a good plan but by week six, he was thrown into the mix and played in most of the games after that. He had some good moments during the season including five 200-yard passing yards but only had one multiple-touchdown pass game (2 vs Cincinnati) and failed to throw one in three others. Despite many struggles as a rookie, he displayed a real swagger and appears to have the necessary confidence to become a really good NFL quarterback. He needs to make improvements in accuracy and get the ball into the endzone with more consistency. It appears that the Browns may have found a keeper at quarterback for the next decade.

Backup QB: The Browns released Jake Delhomme this offseason. He was terrible for the team but many thought he would stay around to be a mentor. The means Seneca Wallace is the definite back up for the Browns in 2011. He has had good moments as a pro and put up decent numbers when called upon last year.

Running Backs

Starter: Peyton Hillis
Backup(s): Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson
Fullback(s): Owen Marecic, Jed Collins

Starting RB: Peyton Hillis emerged from obscurity last season to put up some huge numbers. He rushed for 1170 yards, had a 4.4 yards per carry average, caught 60 passes and scored 13 times. He flashed some talent in Denver back in 2008 when he averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 68 carries and scored 6 times. Last year when Montario Hardesty tore up his ACL in camp, it opened the door for Hillis to thrive and he never looked back. At 6-1 and 240 pounds, Hillis can pound the ball with the best of them but he also has some speed and elusiveness. However being a big back, he takes tons of punishment and could wear down if he doesn't share time.

Backup RBs: Montario Hardesty was all primed to carry the load for the Browns when he went down to the ACL injury. He was supposedly healthy and ready to compete for touches again, but the Browns have had to be careful with him as he continues to rehab from the knee injury. At 225 pounds, he is another pounding running back capable of dishing out punishment to opposing defenses. IF he can get healthy, expect Hardesty to finish with around 100+ carries and will be an effective 2nd option for the team. Brandon Jackson is a different type of back than the other two already mentioned and that may help him earn some playing time this season. He is a smaller, quicker back who can help out in the passing game. If he does earn some time it will be in a 3rd down role.

Fullback: The Browns drafted FB Owen Marecic from Stanford to start at fullback for them this year, replacing Lawrence Vickers. Marecic is a strong blocker with minimal rushing ability. He'll be there to pave the way for the Browns halfbacks.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Greg Little [R], Mohammed Massoquoi, Brian Robiskie
Backups: Josh Cribbs, Carlton Mitchell, Demetrius Williams

Starting WRs: The Browns receiving core was a disaster last season. It really was. These three receivers had just 89 receptions and 6 touchdowns between them and the highest yards per catch was Mohammed Massoquoi with just 13.4. There is talent there however and better quarterbacking play in the right system could have these players thriving. Massoquoi averaged 18.4 yards as a rookie and the team needs him to become that vertical threat again to open up the offense. He has good size at 6'2 and a decent blend of speed and quickness. Brian Robiskie is another young, talented player that hasn't performed as well as he is capable. He did make strides last year though and could emerge as a legitimate starter this season. The most interesting player at this position for the Browns is rookie Greg Little, a 2nd round pick from North Carolina. He has excellent hands and receiving skills and could emerge as the go-to threat as early as this season. However he lost the entire 2010 season due to inappropriate dealings with an agent last year and may take awhile to get up to speed. Footballguys has him finishing as the top fantasy receiver for the Browns in 2011. A caveat to be aware of is his lack of production in North Carolina. He only had six career touchdowns.

Backup WRs: Josh Cribbs is first and foremost a special teams performer for the Browns although his numbers were not as strong as normal in 2010. He will get some carries and receptions for the team. Carlton Mitchell and Demetrius Williams are role players unlikely to add to much to the equation in 2011.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ben Watson
Backups: Evan Moore, Jordan Cameron

Ben Watson put together a wonderful season last year. He always had potential while with the Patriots and while he occasional matched production with that potential, it was inconsistent at best. Last season he really emerged as a talent for the Browns. He finished with a career high of 68 receptions (previous high of 49 back in 2006) with 763 yards and 3 touchdowns. He should catch at least 50+ passes again this season as he is fully entrenched in the passing game for the Browns. Evan Moore, a 3rd year receiver from Stanford had some good moments and should see some action this year if he can hold off rookie Jordan Cameron from USC for playing time. Cameron is very athletic and should develop into an option down the road. He'll likely see minimal playing time in 2011.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson : Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand is back, with no questions or concerns. But the other two specialist positions have already been in the spotlight during camp. When the lockout ended, amidst concerns that quietly disgruntled Phil Dawson might not sign his franchise tag tender, the team signed Jeff Wolfert -- the second most accurate kicker in NCAA history and most recently having kicked in the UFL. Dawson however soon signed his contract and rejoined the team. At punter/holder, Reggie Hodges won't be able to duplicate his breakthrough 2010 season after tearing his Achilles in practice the other day. Richmond McGee, most recently with the Bears, was subsequently. Kicker scoring opportunities have been lean for Dawson, as the Browns have ranked 28th and 31st in that category the past two years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Josh Cribbs, Buster Skrine, Armond Smith, James Dockery

Punt Returners: Josh Cribbs, Jordan Norwood, Armond Smith, James Dockery

As always, WR Josh Cribbs is the Browns return specialist. He missed a little practice time with a sore knee, but played in the preseason opener. As always, August will be spent determining who will back up Cribbs. Currently second on the punt returner depth chart is second year WR Jordan Norwood. Currently second on the kickoff returner depth chart is speedy rookie DB Buster Skrine. Third at both positions is former NAIA hurdles champion rookie RB Armond Smith. Fourth is undrafted rookie DB James Dockery.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach, C Alex Mack, RG Shawn Lauvao, RT Tony Pashos
Key Backups: Steve Vallos, John Greco, Billy Yates, Pat Murray, Jason Pinkston [r]

Team Defense

Cleveland is a team that lost Shaun Rogers -- arguably their most talented and most experienced player -- to New Orleans in free agency, putting their defensive front in transition. Ahtyba Rubin and rookie first-round pick Phil Taylor look to fill the void at nose tackle. Rubin, like most nose tackles, is relatively unknown but is a huge man clogging up the middle (6'2", 330 lbs). Taylor, at 6'4" and 355 lbs is even bigger and should soon make this team forget about losing Rogers. For a man of his size, Taylor can get up-field and rush the passer on short drops incredibly well. The linebackers are an experienced group with the "young" starters (D'Qwell Jackson and Chris Gocong) heading into their 6th seasons. Gocong, the former Eagle, is in his second year with the team -- as is the well-traveled Scott Fujita. This linebacking group may not be the most flashy, but they're experienced veterans looking to anchor and lead an otherwise young defense. In the secondary, the departure of safety Abram Elam may hurt the Browns. They will now rely on T. J. Ward and Mike Adams at the safety positions. The corners are a nice unit though consisting of a solid veteran of ten years in Sheldon Brown and an up-and-coming rookie in last season's first-round pick Joe Haden. Haden has all the gifts -- size, speed, physicality to play in the bruising AFC North. He should be an above average started for years to come.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jabaal Sheard, DE Marcus Bernard, DT Ahtyba Rubin, DT Phil Taylor
Backups: DE Brian Schaefering, DE, Jayme Mitchell, DE Kyle Anderson, DT Derreck Robinson, DT Travis Ivey

Starting DL: The Browns are going with a new look on defense this season and the shift to a 4-3 leaves some personnel situations unsettled. To help the transition Cleveland used first and second round picks on DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard respectively. Both are expected to contribute immediately. Sheard was a three year starter for the Pitt Panthers where he totaled 19.5 career sacks including 9 in 2010. The Browns are counting on him to be an impact player right away. Marcus Bernard should land the other starting spot at end. As a rookie last season he played OLB in the Browns 3-4 scheme and managed to lead the club with 7.5 sacks. At 256 pounds Bernard is a bit smallish for an every down end, so he could lose snaps to Brian Schaefering on early downs. Taylor will pair with Ahtyba Rubin to give the Browns a formidable pair of big men to anchor the run defense. Both guys check in at 330+ pounds. Ahtyba Rubin worked at nose tackle in the 3-4 and managed to finish last season tied for the league lead in tackles (57) among lineman. He should easily transition to DT in the new scheme and could continue to be very productive. It remains to be seen how the coaching staff will use their twin towers and which, if either, of them will be able to put up good numbers. Neither of them is likely to contribute a great deal to the pass rush.

Backup DL: Schaefering saw significant action as an end in the 3-4 last season and will be in the mix for playing time. At about 295 pounds he is much bigger than either Sheard or Bernard and should see time on early downs at the least. It is not really fair to judge his pass rush based on production in a 3-4, but it is noteworthy that Schaefering failed to record a sack last season. Beyond Schaefering the Browns have a collection of journeymen and undrafted free agents who have very little NFL game experience between them. An injury in the front four could be a real problem for them.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB D'Qwell Jackson, WLB Chris Gocong, SLB Scott Fujita
Backups: OLB Kaluka Maiava, OLB Matt McCoy, OLB Steve Octavien, MLB Titus Brown

Starting LBs: Great defense starts up front and that is where the Browns started in their quest to build a strong 4-3. Thus the linebacker position will have to wait until next year to be addressed. In 2008 D'Qwell Jackson put up great numbers as an ILB in the 3-4, but injuries have derailed his career over the past two seasons. After missing all of 2010 he is finally healthy and will line up at MLB in the new scheme. It may not be a perfect fit for Jackson's skill set and he could eventually end up at WLB. That however, is unlikely to happen this season. He is the most talented linebacker on the roster and if he can stay healthy, all signs point toward Jackson having a big statistical season. The club looked at Chris Gocong in the middle but quickly elected to move him back to the weak side. He is little more than a journeyman type fill in who will keep the seat warm until the club can make improvements. Scott Fujita is a 10 year veteran who gives the Browns a solid dependable presence on the strong side. He is not a guy who will show up big in the box scores but his presence does allow the club to concentrate their effort elsewhere for now.

Backup LBs: Injuries forced the Brown to look way down their depth chart at LB last season. If that happens again this year it could be ugly. Not only are they lacking experience behind the starters, most of the backups were selected to fit somewhere in a 3-4 scheme. The one guy in this group who might actually benefit from the scheme change is Titus Brown. He is entering his fourth season in Cleveland but has previously seen very little action as a backup ILB in the 3-4. Brown has the size and physical nature to possibly excel in the 4-3. He is worth keeping an eye on during the preseason

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Sheldon Brown, CB Joe Haden, SS T.J. Ward, FS Mike Adams
Backups: FS Usama Young, SS Ray Ventrone, CB Dimitri Patterson, CB Quincy Butler

Starting DBs: The Browns hit the jackpot in last year's draft when they added corner Joe Haden in round one and safety T.J. Ward in round two. Both guys started as rookies and had big years. Haden led the club with 6 picks, defended 18 passes and posted strong (for a corner) tackle numbers. All Ward did was lead the league in tackles (95) among defensive backs. These two clearly give the Browns a solid foundation to build around in the secondary. Unfortunately the club had to use this offseason to address needs up front, so they are looking to patch the rest of the group together until they can finish the job. Veteran Sheldon Brown takes over at the other corner for Eric Wright who departed via free agency, and Mike Adams will contend with new addition Usama Young for the free safety job. Brown is a quality corner who saw a lot of action with the team last year so the loss of Wright is not a big deal. He is 32 years old though and is not the long term answer. Neither are Adams or Young at safety. Both players have experience and are good enough to hold down the fort for a year but they lack upside and are just not long term NFL starters.

Backup DBs: The Browns have no future stars lurking behind the starters in the secondary. With either Young or Adams as the third safety they are in decent shape for depth at the position. Ray Ventrone might get some consideration if Ward were to go down but the Browns hope he remains relegated to special teams. Dimitri Patterson and Quincy Butler will battle throughout the preseason to determine who gets the majority of the nickel snaps. Patterson has much more experience and is the likely winner there. Even so, an injury to one of the starting corners could make for an ugly situation in Cleveland.

Last modified: 2011-08-28 18:05:23

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