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2010 Team Report: Cleveland Browns

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jake Delhomme
Backup(s): Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy (R)

Starting QB: Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are gone. The Browns have brought in Jake Delhomme from Carolina to man the QB position until Colt McCoy is ready to take over -- which will not be this season if things go according to plan. Delhomme had an atrocious season in 2009, throwing just 8 TDs compared to 18 interceptions. Going back to the end of 2008, Delhomme has thrown 23 interceptions in his last 12 starts. Moreover, the primary asset that Delhomme had going for him in Carolina -- Steve Smith to bail him out at WR -- will be unavailable to him in Cleveland. Still, turn-around seasons are not unheard of for NFL QBs, and Delhomme knows that this will be his last chance at an NFL starting job if he flubs it. In late June, Tony Grossi, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote that he believes Jake Delhomme is the No. 1 quarterback. During the minicamps, Delhomme worked with the starters and the Browns were very pleased with the 35 year old. They like how he quickly adapted to the offense and how he didn't make many poor throws. He has looked like what they hoped for when signing him to a $7 million deal: A solid veteran with strong leadership skills.

Backup QB: The Browns drafted Colt McCoy in the third round of this year's draft, and would like to let him learn from the sideline in his rookie year. But if Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace don't cut it, McCoy could see action. McCoy was productive as a four-year starter at Texas, but his lack of prototypical size and arm strength caused him to slip into the third round, where the Browns believe they got a steal. While McCoy is the team's quarterback of the future, Seneca Wallace heads into training camp as the number two behind Delhomme. Wallace, a proven backup formerly with the Seahawks, is an athletic QB who may see action in certain personnel packages (along the lines of the Wildcat), and could end up pushing Delhomme for the starting job.

Running Backs

Starter: Jerome Harrison
Backup(s): Montario Hardesty (R), Chris Jennings, James Davis, Peyton Hillis
Fullback(s): Lawrence Vickers, Jed Collins

Starting RB: Jerome Harrison was stuck on the bench behind Jamal Lewis for much of last season, but when he got the opportunity to step into the featured role late in the season, he shined, averaging 187 rushing yards per game over the final three weeks. That performance should give Harrison first crack at the starting job in 2010, but he'll have plenty of competition. Despite the impressive stats over the final three weeks, however, that's a small sample to try to draw any conclusions from regarding Harrison's ability to perform in a featured role over the course of a season. Harrison's strength is his open-field run skills once he's broken through the line of scrimmage, but he needs a decent hole to get started -- he doesn't excel at breaking tackles and making yards after contact. Fortunately for Harrison, the Browns have a generally strong run-blocking unit, led by LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack.

Backup RBs: The Browns traded into the second round of this year's draft to get Montario Hardesty. Hardesty is a 225-pound back with excellent speed and power. He should challenge for playing time immediately. James Davis showed promise during the preseason last year as a rookie, but landed on injured reserve before he had much of a chance to show his stuff in the regular season. He was injured during practice (torn labrum) after seeing limited action in just the first three games. Peyton Hillis joined the Browns as part of the Brady Quinn trade; he is a versatile power-runner who can also play fullback. He may get some goalline carries. Chris Jennings remained a backup throughout the 2009 season, but was competent as a runner, receiver, and pass-blocker. As a runner, he has surprising power and a good burst, but his role on the 2010 team, or even whether he'll make the final roster, is uncertain.

Fullback: Lawrence Vickers is respected for his run-blocking, but don't expect him to get many carries. He got none last year, and has averaged just 7 rushes per season so far in his four-year career.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie
Backups: Josh Cribbs, Chansi Stuckey, Carlton Mitchell, Syndric Steptoe, Jake Allen

Starting WRs: The Browns don't have any proven studs at wide receiver. The best of the bunch last season was rookie Mohamed Massaquoi, who enters the season as the team's WR1; but in just his second year in the league, he may not be ready for that role. Ready or not, though, Massaquoi is the most accomplished receiver on the Browns' current roster. Still, he should be considered only a late-round flyer, at best, in redraft fantasy leagues. He made some big plays in 2009, but had too many drops and was generally inconsistent. The starting job opposite Massaquoi is open to competition. Chansi Stuckey may have the early advantage due to his experience. Stuckey joined the Browns as part of the Braylon Edwards trade. Stuckey is a possession receiver who runs predominantly short routes. Because of his uncertain hold on the starting job, his lack of big-play ability, and low expectations for the Browns' passing offense generally, Stuckey should go undrafted in typical fantasy leagues. In late June, Terry Pluto, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reported if the Browns were to give an award for an MVP of the different minicamps, receiver Brian Robiskie would be the winner. As one Browns coach said: "He started strong, and then got better. He never let up. He's made a huge jump." The Browns say Robiskie now "runs" the pass routes, rather than going through them "robotically," as he did his rookie season. He earned the respect of veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who told the coaches how Robiskie is "exactly where he should be at exactly the right time." Robiskie has supplanted Stuckey as the second starting receiver.

Backup WRs: Brian Robiskie was the team's second-round draft pick last season, but did not make an immediate impact. He will get a chance to compete for a starting job this season. He has excellent size and hands, and was reputed to be a solid route-runner coming out of college. He must get quicker out of his cuts in order to get open against NFL corners. Carlton Mitchell was the Browns' sixth-round draft pick this April; he has an elite size-speed combination, but has inconsistent hands and much to learn about proper route-running. Nonetheless, he may get a chance to contribute immediately, given the lack of talent on the Browns depth chart at WR. Jake Allen was claimed off of waivers late last season after he was released by the Packers. He was active for two games, but didn't catch a pass. Pluto also reported that the Browns want to put the ball into the hands of Joshua Cribbs this year. The team wants to find ways to allow him to touch the ball and run with it. The Browns have been running Wildcat formations with Cribbs and Seneca Wallace on the field at the same time. In many passing plays, Wallace has been at quarterback and targeted Cribbs first many times. In early July, Adam Caplan reported that the team signed former Chief (and former Seahawk...with Mike Holmgren) Bobby Engram.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ben Watson
Backups: Alex Smith, Evan Moore, Robert Royal

Ben Watson joins the Browns after spending his first seven seasons in New England. Watson is a terrific athlete who has the speed to stretch the field. Given the Browns' lack of talent at the WR position, Watson could be a focal point of the passing game. Alex Smith is a former third-round pick by the Buccaneers. He was a backup for the Eagles last season, catching just 3 passes for 25 yards. He is the best blocker on the Browns roster at TE, and should get a decent amount of playing time for that reason. Evan Moore got some playing time late last season, and showed excellent ability catching the ball. He is essentially an oversize WR, though, with little effectiveness as a blocker. With the additions of Ben Watson and Alex Smith, Moore's role in the offense this year is uncertain; but his ability to run patterns and catch the ball should earn him a place on the final roster. Robert Royal was last year's starter, but had a poor season and is in severe jeopardy of failing to make the final roster in 2010.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson : Dawson has been Cleveland's kicker since they returned to the league in 1999. Three years ago was the most productive, when they ranked 9th in kicker scoring (120 points) as the offense came to life. The life was short lived, as they dropped to 22nd in 2008 and 28th last year. Billy Cundiff filled in when Dawson missed five games due to injury during the first part of last year. Dawson's only two missed field goals were from 43 and 52 yards. He didn't see many scoring opportunities as the Browns ranked 31st in that category.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Joshua Cribbs, Syndric Steptoe, Gerard Lawson, Jerome Harrison

WR Joshua Cribbs won the KR job as a rookie in preseason in 2005 and has been a top ten returner ever since. In his second year he finished as the 7th ranked fantasy returner (61 returns, 24.5 avg., 1 TD). In 2007 he finished as the 2nd ranked fantasy returner (59 returns, 30.7 avg., 2 TDs). In 2008 he finished 8th (44 returns, 25.2 avg., 1 TD). Last year he finally reached the very top position (56 returns, 27.5 avg., 3 TDs). When Cribbs missed a game in 2008, rookie WR Syndric Steptoe handled the return specialist role (3 returns 20.3 avg.). CB Gerard Lawson averaged 22.1 yards on kickoff returns for Oregon State in 2007 and had five short returns for the Browns last year. The only other player with more than one kickoff return lat year was RB Jerome Harrison, who averaged 18.3 yards on three returns.

Punt Returners: Joshua Cribbs, Syndric Steptoe, Gerard Lawson, Brandon McDonald

Already one of the best kickoff returners, Joshua Cribbs added punt return duties to his resume in 2007. He handled every punt return for the Browns that year and averaged 13.5 yards and scored once. In 2008 he averaged 8.1 yards on 28 punt returns. Last year Cribbs averaged 11.9 yards and scored once. Syndric Steptoe had the teams only two other punt returns in 2008, on which he averaged 11.5 yards. During his final year in college at Arizona in 2006, Steptoe's 13.1 yard average ranked 13th in the NCAA, plus he scored once. The only punt return other than Cribbs' last year was a four yarder by Gerard Lawson. CB Brandon MacDonald averaged 6.6 yards on 46 returns during his two years at Memphis. The Browns ranked in the top ten in fantasy return points in six of the last eight years, including 1st last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach, C Alex Mack, RG Floyd Womack, RT Tony Pashos
Key Backups: G Paul Fanaika, T/G John St. Clair, T Scott Kooistra

The talent is certainly good enough in Cleveland to make the leap into a top-15 unit this season or better. When you look at the separate parts, there is no reason for this group to be ranked 13th in run blocking and 25th in pass blocking. Some of that poor grade however can be attributed to sub-par quarterback play and it will be interesting to see how far they can progress this season. Joe Thomas is already one of the best left tackles in the game today and is just entering his fourth season. He is clearly the anchor of this unit. He has started every game in his first three seasons. Alex Mack learned on the job last year and started all sixteen games in his first pro season. He was becoming a very strong run blocker by the end of the season and is still getting better. Floyd Womack is a veteran presence along the offensive line and isn't bad at opening holes. His pass protection skills however are questionable and he is not a lock to start at guard this season. Look for Eric Ghiaciuc, a free agent signing from San Diego to compete for playing time. Eric Steinbach started 46 of 48 games since joining the Browns in 2007. He struggled at times last season but still has the potential to be quite good. Finally, the Browns added Tony Pashos to start at right tackle. He is an upgrade for the club and should do a good job. Add it all up and there is an outside chance the Browns finish 2010 inside the top-ten in terms of offensive line play. They are better than their performance last season.

Team Defense

In the AFC North you have to play good defense to compete and the 2009 season left the Browns with a long way to go. Cleveland finished 21st in scoring defense a year ago but only the Lions allowed more yards and only the Redskins recorded fewer takeaways. The one thing Cleveland did well was pressure the passer where they ranked 8th with 40 sacks. The big problem here is that the offense was equally as dismal so the organization could not afford to concentrate all their efforts on defense. There is however, reason for some optimism. The Browns used their first round pick on Joe Haden who was arguably the best corner in the draft and should instantly upgrade the pass defense. The club gets ILB D'Quell Jackson back from injury and have added several players through free agency and trades. Corner Sheldon Brown and ILB Chris Gocong come over from Philly, OLB Scott Fujita from the Saints and OLB Matt Roth who was claimed off waiver from Miami late last season. All of these guys are likely to start or have prominent roles in the defense. The question being, are they really upgrades or just lateral moves? A successful 3-4 defense requires playmakers across the board and at the OLB positions in particular. The Browns should be set at the corners and solid along the front line but they are still lacking difference makers at OLB and safety. This unit should show some improvement but they still have a lot of holes to fill before they are ready to compete.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Robaire Smith, DE Kenyon Coleman, NT Shaun Rogers
Backups: DE C.J. Mosley, NT Ahtyba Rubin, DE Brian Schafering, DE Clifton Geathers

Starting DL: One place the Brown are set is at NT where Shaun Rogers is the perfect fit. He has the girth and raw power to stand up to double teams while moving well for a big man. In 2008 Rogers led all interior linemen with 62 solo tackles and led the Browns in sacks with 5. He missed the final 5 games last year with injury but will be ready to go for training camp and will be ready to anchor the defense. After missing most of '08 with an injury Robaire Smith returned and replaced an ineffective Corey Williams at DE last year. Smith went on to have a solid season with 43 tackles and half a sack. In his first full season with the Browns back in '07, Smith went 42-14-4. He should post similar numbers this season. Kenyon Coleman is a 3-4 veteran who has been pretty productive in the tackle columns in recent years. He battles injury much of last season, missing several games, but is healthy and ready for the new season. In all the Browns are in good shape up front. These three guys fit the scheme well and have the talents needed to provide Cleveland with a strong base to build on. In early July, Dana DeFever, of MLive.com, reported that Robaire Smith is facing a gun charge stemming from an incident at an airport in November 2009. A loaded gun was found in Smith's carry-on luggage during the incident and Smith allegedly told security that he forgot the gun was in his bag. In mid July, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Shaun Rogers will be ordered to complete a 12-month diversion program for possessing a loaded gun in a Cleveland airport April 1. He must also complete a 10-hour weapons course and 40 hours of community service. Tony Grossi, of the Plain Dealer, reported that Rogers could receive a one- or two-game suspension because of the incident.

Backup DL: In C.J. Mosley and Ahtyba Rubin the Browns have a couple of solid veteran backups. Mosley came over with coach Eric Mangini from the Jets in '08 and has plenty of experience in the scheme. Ahtyba was the Browns 6th round pick in '08 and played fairly well when Shaun Rogers was out down the stretch last season. After those two the Browns have a collection of warm bodies will little or no game experience and very little upside. Injuries along the DL could get ugly.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Chris Gocong, ILB D'Quell Jackson, ILB Eric Barton, OLB Scott Fujita, OLB Matt Roth
Backups: ILB Kaluka Maiava, OLB/ILB David Bowens, OLB David Veikune, OLB Jason Trusnik

Starting LBs: The Brown could be sporting three new starters at LB this fall. Chris Gocong has spent the last couple of years as the starting SLB in Philly and will compete with incumbent Eric Barton for the ILB job next to D'Quell Jackson. Gocong may enter camp with a little edge because the coaching staff wants him to be the better option, but he's never played inside or in a 3-4 scheme. Barton racked up 93 tackles and a hand full of big plays as an ILB for coach Mangini in New York in 2008 and may come out of camp with the job. He was on his way to 80+ tackles last season when a neck injury landed him on IR. Whomever comes away with this job will have plenty of opportunity and should put up decent numbers. Entering last season the big question was, would it be Barton or Jackson who was the most productive of the inside backers. That question was answered quickly when Jackson came out of the gate hot, racking up 45 solo tackles in just six games (on pace for 120) before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Both Jackson and Barton are expected to be ready for camp. The Browns shipped Kamerion Wimbley to the Raiders and picked up Matt Roth and Scott Fujita to play OLB. Fujita has 18.5 sacks over his 8 year career but has never played in a 3-4. It's hard to say how well he will transition. Roth was a second round pick of the Dolphins in 2005 but failed to be the player they expected. He was claimed off waivers by the Browns last November and entered the starting lineup in week 12. Roth managed 4 sacks in his 6 starts and is looking to resurrect his career.

Backup LBs: All the injuries last season forced the Browns deep into their roster at LB. What they discovered is that bringing David Bowens and Jason Trusnik over from the Jets was a very good move. Bowens finished the season as the starting ILB even though he has played DE and OLB for most of his career. He's not an answer as a starter but Bowens versatility makes him invaluable to the Browns at this point. Trusnik played extensively and finished with 49 tackles and 2.5 sacks. If he can improve his pass rush a little it will be no surprise if he pushes for serious playing time again. All the injuries should have opened the door for youngsters Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune but neither of them were able to make good on their opportunity. The Browns have not given up on either of them yet but they need to step up this season or their time may be short. In late June, Terry Pluto, of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that David Veikune has been working at inside linebacker all offseason and has caught the attention of the coaching staff. He has lost 20 pounds since last season and is weighing in at 235 pounds. While nobody is saying he is going to be a starter, he has moved up the depth chart and should see action this year.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Eric Wright, CB Joe Haden , SS Abram Elam, FS Mike Adams
Backups: FS T.J. Ward, SS Larry Asante, CB Sheldon Brown, CB Brandon McDonald

Starting DBs: Cleveland's 29th rated pass defense was just one of the problems in 2009 but it was the one that was best addressed. Most experts concur that Joe Haden was the best corner in the draft class. Paired with Eric Wright, the Browns now have a formidable tandem. Cleveland's corners have been fairly box score productive in recent years with Wright recording 57 tackles, 4 picks and 14 passes defended last year. As is the case with quality young corners, his tackle production has dropped steadily since his rookie season. That trend may continue in 2010 as offenses target the inexperienced Haden early and often. Both players should end up with good production but look for the rookie to outscore the veteran based purely on the number of opportunities. Injuries among the linebackers allowed Abram Elam and Mike Adams to finish the '09 season as the Browns first and second leading tacklers respectively. The strong safety in a 3-4 is often a valuable fantasy asset. Elam's 73 solo stops last season were solid production but neither he nor Adams made much of a contribution in the big play columns. In fact neither of them recorded a pick and they had just 10 passes defended between them. Neither of these guys are likely to be the long term solution. In fact, they may feel the heat from third round pick T.J. Ward and/or 5th round selection Larry Asante during training camp.

Backup DBs: The Browns couldn't fix all their defensive woes in one offseason but they have made significant strides in the secondary. Adding Haden as a starter allows them the luxury of having one of the leagues best nickel corners in Sheldon Brown, and a strong 4th corner in Brandon McDonald. Barring injury neither of these guys are going to be every down players but the Browns will not lose much if they are asked to step one rung up the ladder. Cleveland used their third and fifth round picks on safeties T.J. Ward and Larry Asante respectively. Both of the youngsters were strong safeties in college and have the potential to be NFL starters. Ward is a little more polished but it will come as no surprise to see these two starting together at some point in the not too distant future.

Last modified: 2010-07-15 15:51:39