Here we are folks, mere days away from the start of the 2009 season. I feel excited. Not yet good, but excited.
As expected, much of the hard news this week was personnel-related. Alex Mack and David Veikune were signed, bringing the tally of front-office inking to six (of eight draftees); still remaining to be signed are both second-round wideout selections, Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Josh Cribbs and D'Qwell Jackson announced their intentions to arrive at camp on time, despite ongoing contract negotiations. (Cribbs says he will only practice, though. No games for the phenom till he gets paid. More, that is.)
Perhaps most importantly, however, is the following item: The Browns might be bringing back the brown britches this season, possibly as part of their road uniform.
For the record, I dig this. We are the fucking Browns, right? Let's wear brown pants. I'll do it, too. On away game days, I'll totally bust out brown pants. If the team wants to send me a pair of what the players where, I'll even where those suckers. No pads, though. The couch is cushion enough, thank you.
Before we get to camp topics, though, we still need to finish up the pre-season positional previews. Today we start with the running game and finish with the special teams units.
The running game has a chance to be anywhere between solid and disastrous this year, but my gut is that it'll be average. I think Jamal is going to finally start losing a step, but I also think we'll see Jerome Harrison gain a step, so while my expectations aren't high, I think it'll all be a wash. Fullback is going to be equally average, with nothing outstanding, but enough experience between Vickers and Ali to hold down their responsibilities.
Special Teams is obviously more complicated, given all the different dimensions inherent in that category. For our kicking game, we probably should stand pat (which is mediocre) with last year, unless Dawson's contract demands get him shipped out of town. No matter what, Zastudil will be punting, and he'll perform his job well enough to keep it.
The other two most important individuals to think about are both question marks: Josh Cribbs and Brad Seely. Cribbs, obviously, is an excellent football athlete, and no where is he better than in his dual role as both returner and gunner. However, it remains to be seen how this contract situation works out, which will affect not only whether he plays but how well. Seely is, of course, the new special teams coordinator, and so far all indications are that he plans to work his fellas and get the most out of the unit.
The most exciting developments might shake out as some positional battles during camp are settled, with the special team spoils going to the losers. We have plenty of new talent at both linebacker and wideout and as the status quo gets unsettled, some of the dudes at those two positions that find themselves near the bottom of the depth chart might find themselves in key coverage slots.
Which provides a nice segue to ...
Five Things To Watch For During Training Camp: 1) DA vs Right Wing Quinn (obviously)
Everyone is going to be watching for this. It seems like the general consensus is that Right Wing Brady has the advantage here, but if he sucks and DA rocks it, I think things will go the good guy's way. If things are a toss up, expect RWB to get the nod, which will suck, but it'll also mean DA didn't bring the noise when he had the chance. Hopefully, we won't have to worry about it, and DA will earn the nod outright over the next few weeks.
2) Battle of the back-up linebackers
You can't knock writers and fans from thinking primarily about starting gigs and especially Wimbley and Jackson, but I'm really looking to the second wave of players to see what emerges. In particular, I'd like to see how things shake out between players like Beau Bell, David Veikune, and Kaluka Maiava. These guys are the future, either at LB or on a special teams unit.
3) Wideout Depth Charge
Similarly, how are things going to shake out at wideout? Perhaps more than any other position on the field, success at WR is the wild wild west. Where you come from, how fast you are, all your physical specs - these things end up not mattering compared to execution and your relationship with your quarterback. With things up in the air at QB and no one in the receiver corps able to really lay claim to a significant working relationship with either DA or RWB, it is going to come down to execution. With possible holdouts from draftees Robiskie and Massaquoi, this means that some other relative unknowns have a solid chance to break their way into the bottom of the rotation. Moreover, if you start the season at the bottom of the rotation, depending on injuries and performance of the starters, you might wind up somewhere completely different. This is a major opportunity for players like youngsters Paul Hubbard and Lance Leggett as well as veterans like Mike Furrey and David Patten.
4) What kind of camp? Prison or summer?
How hard will Mangini work these fellas. Is he going to run a resort like his predecessor or will he beat the crap out of these guys like famed Jaguars/Giants drill instructor Tom Coughlin. Personally, I favor the Coughlin mode, but really I want these guys in the classroom learning as much as possible about the new systems they have to work with (and re-learning everything that is staying the same).
5) Is Our OL Learning Good?
Nowhere will the learning factor prove more important than on the offensive line. We are poised to have one of the best offensive lines in the league, which ought to make life easier for whichever player emerges successfully from the QB derby. The single most important player to develop is recently-signed center Alex Mack. Last year, his predecessor (Hank Fraley) lost a significant step and did so in a way that paralyzed a big chunk of the offense. The more Mack can learn and integrate into the unit, the better life will be for all of us.
Well, that's it for pre-camp nonsense. Next week I'll check back in with my thoughts on the first few days of training camp and any of the developments that have occurred between now and then.
Moving to Cleveland a couple years ago for work, I soon learned how rich the cultural community around town was. Whether rock shows or poetry readings, edgy gallery openings or string quartets, Clevo has it all. I do my best to bring you some coverage and advocacy about what I think you should check out, support, and exploit.