In the unemployment line where he belongs. Another overhyped New England Patriots assistant coach, Romeo Crennel went 10-22 in his first two seasons as Cleveland’s head coach before the Browns surprised the world with a 10-6 campaign in 2007. However, Cleveland regressed big time last season winning just four games and Crennel, who signed a two-year extension in January 2008, was sent packing without a playoff appearance.
Now, Cleveland has turned to yet another former Patriots’ assistant in Eric Mangini, who was fired by the Jets after failing to make the playoffs despite an 8-3 start to the season last year. The Mangenius, or The Penguin as Laveranues Coles called him, was held hostage by Brett Favre’s late season breakdown. In Cleveland, he’s got even more QB drama.
In 2009, the Browns’ fortunes will only go as far as their quarterback play will let them. In what could be the best position battle in all football, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson will go toe-to-toe this preseason for the opportunity to throw passes to Braylon Edwards, that will subsequently be dropped.
Last Season: 4-12, last in AFC North.
New Faces: T George Foster, WR Mike Furrey, T John St. Clair, LB Eric Barton, WR David Patten, LB David Bowens, TE Robert Royal, OL Floyd Womack, S Abram Elam, CB Corey Ivy, CB Hank Poteat.
Subtractions: TE Kellen Winslow, LB Andra Davis, S Sean Jones, T Kevin Shaffer, RB Jason Wright, G Seth McKinney, WR Joe Jurevicius.
The Draft: Cleveland spent its first round pick on some kid named Alex Mack. I know Alex Mack, and her secret world. Wait, it’s not the Nickelodeon Alex Mack? It’s some 311-lbs., center from Cal? Oh well. It was definitely a need. Ever since the disastrous lucrative free agent signing of LeCharles Bentley in 2006, the Browns have been searching for a long-term solution at center. They believe Mack is that guy.
They spent their next two picks on much needed help at wide receiver. Brian Robiskie (2nd/Ohio State) and Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd/Georgia) are two big, physical polished receivers and while it’s hard for rookie wideouts to make an impact, they’ll get plenty of chances with Joe Jurivicius gone and Donte Stallworth suspended indefinitely (not that he was ever healthy). Third round pick Hawaii defensive end/linebacker David Veikune will get a chance to provide the Browns with much needed pass rush. You know the kind of pass rush they expected from former first round pick Kamerion Wimbley, who has just nine sacks since his impressive 11-sack rookie season in 2006.
The Good: LB D’Qwell Jackson. I always appreciate a guy with punctuation in his name. Lil’ Wayne and D’Artagnan come to mind. This former Terrapin earned his apostrophe while at the same time earning a bunch more dollar signs to go with it. Last season, Jackson led the NFL in tackles with 154 (13 more than San Francisco’s Patrick Willis). Jackson had double-digit tackle totals in nine games last season. He had 64 more tackles than anyone else on the Browns and added three interceptions and two sacks to his 2008 haul.
Now, he’s in the final year of his rookie contract and making the NFL minimum of $640,000. Don’t expect that to last long. Eric Mangini is bringing the same scheme, but some of his old Jets’ faces (Eric Barton and David Bowens) with him. Jackson has proven he can excel in this system and with Wimbley on the edge, the linebacking corps – as important as air in 3-4 systems – has a chance to be the team’s strength.
The Encouraging: The offensive line. Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach hold down the left side of the offensive line. It was the right side that needed tweaking. Adding John St. Clair and Pork Chop Womack – starters last year with the Bears and Seahawks, respectively – brings a veteran presence and hopefully upgrades to the right tackle and guard spots. At center, veteran Hank Fraley is the incumbent, but he could be pushed by first round pick Alex Mack.
Cleveland’s O-line has a lot on its plate. It has to keep a Golden Boy upright, while at the same time creating holes for a running back, who is anything but elusive.
The Ugly: The secondary. Starting corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald leave much to be desired. And when your projected starters at safety are Abram Elam (the second best Elam in football behind a kicker) and Brodney Pool, it might be a long season. Both Elam and Pool are willing and able tacklers, but each struggles against the pass. It doesn’t help that the Browns’ pass rush is non-existent. Cleveland finished the year tied for 30th in sacks with only 17. Shaky corners, low-range safeties and no pass rush. Sounds like the recipe for disaster.
Fantasy Island: After 1,289 yards and 16 scores in 2007, much was anticipated in 2008 for Braylon Edwards. But like the Browns as a whole, he crashed (not in a Donte Stallworth way). Edwards dropped pigskins as if each one carried swine flu. But he’s still the Browns only explosive offensive weapon. Cleveland shuffled Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Ken Dorsey under center last season and many blamed Edwards’ poor play for the quarterbacks’ collective struggles. He finished the year with 873 yards and just three scores. Edwards was one of the biggest fantasy busts last year. Many owners will be wary and perhaps take him if he falls into their lap in the fifth or sixth round. Is he a WR1? I’d prefer him at WR2.
At running back, Jamal Lewis ran for 1,002 yards last season, but scored just four times. And sure Twinkle Toes’ 3.6-yard average per carry isn’t great, but he has surpassed 1,000 yards in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL. With an improved offensive line he’s still a viable RB2 candidate. Understudy Jerome Harrison will get more carries, but Lewis is still the top dog in the Browns’ backfield.
Potential Breakout Player: QB Brady Quinn. It’s one of the juicier position battles this preseason. Quinn is the Abercrombie Notre Dame Golden Boy. Derek Anderson is the former unwanted sixth round draft pick with a cannon arm. Quinn is likely to win the battle because of his pedigree and the team’s investment in him. Anderson, who if you recall made the Pro Bowl in 2007, can’t be discounted, but Quinn should be under center come Week 1 and the franchise will do everything it can to ensure he doesn’t flop.
Schedule: Ranked with the eighth easiest schedule based on last year’s records, the Browns won’t be overburdened by the lofty expectations they had coming into 2008. Four of their first six games are on the road, including trips to AFC North rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Games against Cincinnati (Week 4 and Week 12) and Detroit (Week 11) are certainly winnable contests as are road games at Kansas City (Week 15) and home to Oakland (Week 16). But in all the Browns have too far to go to challenge for anything other than a top-10 draft pick.
Best Case: Mangenius renames his son Zack Brady Mangini.
Prediction: 5-11, 3rd in AFC North.
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