Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CB's Browns Watch - 18 Days till Training Camp

A handful of interesting things to talk about have gone down since we last checked in on the Browns. For example, the Browns signed Kaluka Maiava, the OLB from USC they selected in the 4th round of the draft. I think in a year or two, we are gonna be seeing big things from this dude. This being the Browns, though, bad always comes with the good, so no one should be surprised that Josh Cribbs announced his intention to hold out if he doesn't get a new contract. Also on the bad side of things, Donte Stallworth was also released from jail last Friday, and though he's still on indefinite suspension, the Browns have yet to release him from the roster. That could just be for business reasons, or perhaps Stallworth will suit up again in the Brown and Orange. Who knows? Finally, a number of different rankings and bookie reports have come out, none of which hold much hope for the Browns faithful. Point-spreads.com has bookie estimations of the Browns total 2009 win tally at around 7, and odds of a Super Bowl victory at a mind-blowing +5000. (The perceived chance for the team to win the AFC North isn't all that great, either, with a line of +1375 ... ouch.) ESPN the Magazine ranked the Cleveland Browns 114 out of 122 among all pro franchises in terms of how fans are rewarded. The individual player rankings for the newest Madden release are out and, with the exception of the Shaun Rogers and the left side of the OL, expectations are decidedly mediocre.

Which brings us to today's pre-training camp topic: the offensive and defensive lines. Last week we sorta discussed the QB situation, though I don't care what the facts ever look like, I'm a D.A. man through and through, so no need to do much by way of evaluation on that position. There is a lot we can talk about, however, when it comes to the line positions, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

When it comes to the defense, it seems like every conversation boils down to the type of defense the team will be running. Whether we are talking 3-4 issues or the idea of running derivations of the 46 zone, personnel matters are key, and on that front the Browns do anywhere from pretty good to "oh my." There are a bunch of Browns bloggers out there that kick my ass on these issues, and perhaps the best to read would be the Dawgs By Nature pre-training camp coverage. He has a two-part preview of the defensive line, which you can access by clicking here and here. In a rare burst of humility, I agree with almost everything this dude says and defer to his judgment when I don't. So, to keep things concise, I'll boil my thoughts on the Browns defensive front to this series of points:

1) Shaun Rogers is a monster, but it would help if he was in better shape AND if he didn't take plays off from time to time. But when he is in there, he's among the best you'll fine. That's great, but not good enough - he needs to be complemented by other great linemen that CAN play every down, or at least more of them than Rogers is capable.

2) The rest of the likely starters are just not well-suited to a 3-4 mode of defense. Doesn't really matter why they aren't, they just aren't, so what do you do? You go to war with the army you have, not the one you want, so should we be trying to acquire another 3-4 ready lineman or just abandon the format and go to a 4-3? I tend to lean for the latter.

3) Our depth (or lack thereof) here really frightens me. We don't have enough talent to play a lineman-limited format, and still are lacking in suitable replacements. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the player who comes closest to consistency and reliability (Rogers) needs repeated and regular breathers.

4) There is some small consolation in the acquisition of Mangini-favorite Kenyon Coleman. This improvement should hopefully draw some heat off the other end, Corey Williams, and if not, at least solidify one end of the line on the running game. (Coleman was the leading linesman in tackles for the Jets last year.)

Fortunately, things are a little brighter on the other side of the ball. Thanks to Joe Thomas, a wave of newly signed veterans, and the drafting of center-of-the-future Alex Mack, this might be the single brightest positional spot on the entire team. Political affiliation aside, Thomas is one of the best in the game, and I have similar expectations for Mack's eventual development. Mangini also seems to be a guy who commits to the OL, so we shouldn't see personnel stagnation in the coming seasons either.

And that's where things stand. Anyone with any complementary or even contradictory commentary is completely welcome to submit comments. We'll be back with more Browns blawgging next week as we talk a little about the LB and DB positions, places where considerably more nuance is required.

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