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2006 Team Report: Cleveland Browns

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Charlie Frye
Backup(s): Ken Dorsey, Derek Anderson

Starting QB: Until recently, it was assumed that Charlie Frye would battle it out with longtime veteran Trent Dilfer for the starter spot in Cleveland. Dilfer, however, was traded away to the 49ers for Ken Dorsey on May 4, paving the way for Frye to claim the job. There is still some speculation that Cleveland will add another veteran signal-caller to the mix, if not to push Frye for the job than to at least give them a capable backup in case the young QB is unable to meet the challenge of starting a full season. Frye performed capably last season when given extensive action. He won two of his five starts, with all three of the losses coming to eventual playoff teams. He didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he also didn’t tend to make many glaring mistakes, either. Frye’s starting status should become clearer once we see whether Cleveland adds another veteran QB.

Backup QB: The Browns are playing with fire given the decision to trade Trent Dilfer to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for former Miami Hurricane Ken Dorsey. Dorsey is the most accomplished backup on the roster, which tells you something. Derek Anderson beat out Lang Campbell in camp for the QB3 duties, and frankly he could outplay Dorsey and be the backup eventually. Don't rule out the addition of a veteran backup at any point this season.

Running Backs

Starter: Reuben Droughns
Backup(s): William Green, Jerome Harrison, Lee Suggs
Fullback(s): Terrelle Smith, Lawrence Vickers [R]

Starting RB: Reuben Droughns last year became the first Browns’ running back in twenty years to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground. Droughns had come over from Denver as a free agent, and most expected he would be a part of a backfield committee with Lee Suggs and William Green. Droughns, however, took the job and literally ran with it, compiling over 1,500 total yards from scrimmage (although just two touchdowns). For the first time in his career, Droughns enters a season as the unquestioned starter, having just inked a 3-year contract extension in early May. He had some domestic issues to deal with in late May that he will hopefully be able to put behind him by the time training camp rolls around.

Backup RBs: William Green impressed the coaching staff last season with his hard work and rededication to the game, and was listed as the number two running back behind Droughns heading into training camp. Jerome Harrison, however, has been extremely impressive during the preseason, and appears to have overtaken Green on the depth chart. Harrison is small (5'10", 200 pounds), but has exceptional speed and a low center of gravity. Lee Suggs was traded to the Jets in August, but did not pass his physical and was returned to the Browns. It appears that he will not be a big part of the Browns' plans this year.

Fullback: Terrelle Smith is the definition of a smashmouth fullback. He has paved the way for many a 1,000-yard campaign in his career, from Deuce McAllister to Reuben Droughns. While the astute fantasy owner knows what a key role Smith plays in helping the Browns’ running game, he or she also knows that Smith himself is not worthy of drafting in any format. Rookie Lawrence Vickers, selected in the sixth round, could play a role in short-yardage situations.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius
Backups: Dennis Northcutt, Travis Wilson [R], Joshua Cribbs

Starting WRs: Braylon Edwards is clearly a "starter" and the team's best receiving option. Whether he's the nominal starter in Week One depends on the progress of his rehab from offseason knee surgery. Edwards is far ahead of schedule; and now he seems likely to play early in the season. Veteran journeyman Joe Jurevicius was signed away from the Seahawks during the offseason, and will provide immediate help for young QB Charlie Frye. Despite a pretty good track record of productivity, Jurevicius will now join his fourth team in six seasons. Last year when Seattle WR Darrell Jackson went down with an injury, Jurevicius proved he could produce on a starting basis. He won’t have nearly the same talent around him in Cleveland as he had in Seattle, so expecting him to produce on a similar basis may be a reach. Until Edwards is back at full strength, the team seems ready to go with long-time Brown Dennis Northcutt as the other "starter". Northcutt has been inconsistent but is a hard worker and considered a locker room leader.

Backup WRs: Northcutt will be a backup most of the season, even though he may open the season as the nominal starter. Northcutt is better suited for WR3 duties, and has struggled to perform consistently when called upon to start. Rookie Travis Wilson is a very fast receiver and a solid deep threat; but like many rookies he's struggled with the nuances of the pro game in training camp. Josh Cribbs has played well enough to make the final roster; if the Browns want to carry that many receivers.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kellen Winslow, Jr.
Backups: Steve Heiden, Darnell Dinkins

Kellen Winslow Jr. exited college with much fanfare and an astounding amount of hype. While it would have been nearly impossible to live up to that, Winslow Jr. hasn’t even had the chance. He suffered a broken leg his rookie season during an onside kick, and an even stranger injury in season two when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident before the season even started. Most of the news regarding his recovery from his injuries has been positive, though he did recently go under the knife again this past January to remove some scar tissue. Thinking he will immediately return to the player he was pre-injury would be a stretch due to the severity of the injuries. He’s got all the talent in the world and could provide an incredible weapon in the Browns’ passing game, but it may not come right away. Steve Heiden performed well in the absence of Kellen Winslow Jr. last season, compiling career highs in both receptions and receiving yards. It should be noted that over a third of his production came in one game against the Packers in Week 2, but he provides a consistent safety valve nonetheless. If/when Winslow Jr. is ready to return, Heiden’s duties will focus much more on the blocking aspect of the position.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson : Dawson has been Cleveland’s kicker since they returned to the League in 1999. From an accuracy standpoint, last year was his best ever as he hit 27 of 29 FGs (93.1%). This was partially offset by two missed PATs. Dawson underwent off-season surgery for a sports hernia. Jeff Chandler, who signed in March, is an experienced “camp leg” and was an insurance policy in case the recovery doesn’t go as planned. Dawson’s recovery went well, and Chandler was released following the third pre-season game.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Joshua Cribbs; Antonio Perkins; Jerome Harrison; Reuben Droughns

WR Joshua Cribbs won the KR job as a rookie in preseason last year, and turned in a solid performance (45 returns, 24.3 avg. 1 TD). He finished the year as the 17th ranked fantasy returner. Available as backups are RB Reuben Droughns (5 returns, 23.8 avg.) who also had experience on kickoff returns from his time with Denver, and CB Antonio Perkins (3 returns, 27.3 avg.). The Browns intend to use fifth round draft pick RB Jerome Harrison out of Washington State on both kickoff and punt returns. He has been compared to Dave Meggett and Greg Pruitt.

Punt Returners: Dennis Northcutt; Antonio Perkins; Jerome Harrison; Joshua Cribbs

WR Dennis Northcutt once again led the team on punt returns, handling 35 of their 37 returns. His 10.5 average ranked 14th in the NFL and his TD was his first since 2002. He had two other TDs negated by penalty. Waiting in the wings is second-year player Antonio Perkins, who returned eight punts for TDs during his college career at Oklahoma. Backup Joshua Cribbs returned one punt last year for five yards. RB Jerome Harrison could earn a backup role before the preseason is over. The Browns have ranked in the top ten in fantasy return points in three of the last four years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Kirk Chambers, RG Cosey Coleman, C Ross Tucker, LG Joe Andruzzi, LT Kevin Shaffer
Key Backups: OG Alonzo Ephraim, OT Ryan Tucker [IR], OT Nat Dorsey, G Isaac Sowells [R], G Dave Yovanovitz, C Rob Smith, C LeCharles Bentley [IR]

Give head coach Romeo Crennel credit. In just two short years, he has completely changed the face of his offensive line and this unit will be much better once they gel because of it. Left guard Joe Andruzzi was brought in last season and had an impact in the running game with his good run blocking skills. He isn’t as effective when it comes to pass blocking however and must work on his lateral movement. Also brought in last season was right guard Cosey Coleman who played quite well for the team. His limited athleticism is obvious when he is in space but his strength is in drive blocking and he did that well a year ago. When healthy, Ryan Tucker and newly acquired Kevin Shaffer will man the tackle positions. Tucker is tenacious and it is his aggressive nature that helps him to succeed and masks his shortcomings in both athleticism and technique. Shaffer is simply a decent starter for the club. His upside is limited but he’ll hold his own for the club. For now, because of Tucker's injury, Kirk Chambers will start on the right side. The final piece of the Browns O-line overhaul was supposed to be Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley. Bentley is one of the best young lineman in the game, and the Browns outbid several teams for his services. Unfortunately, during the first week of camp, Bentley hurt his knee and was lost for the season. Compounding matters was the loss of Bob Hallen, Bentley's backup. Adding insult on top of insult on top of injury (say that three times fast), the Browns 3rd string center, Alonzo Ephraim, is suspended for four games due to violation of the league substance abuse policy. That leaves the Browns with Ross Tucker to fill in. What was going to be the best looking line the Browns fans had seen in a long time, is now very much a question mark again in 2006.

Team Defense

When Romeo Crennel took over the Browns he immediately set about rebuilding the defense into a 3-4 unit that mirrored the Super Bowl teams he had coached in New England. As expected many of the players he initially had to work with didn't fit very well thus the '05 Browns reminded no one of those previous Patriots units. They could boast a 4th ranked pass defense but a closer look exposes the reason. Offenses didn't have to pass when they could instead plow through a unit that finished 31st versus the run. The Browns produced a respectable 15 interceptions but ranked just 29th in recovering only 8 opponents fumbles. The biggest disappointment for a scheme based on pressure, was the dead last finish with only 25 sacks. The defense received a great deal of attention this off-season and with as many as 6 new starters, should show great improvement by the end of the season. Via free agency the club added man mountain Ted Washington who will anchor the needy run defense from the nose tackle position. Former Patriot starter Willie McGinest will be counted on to provide leadership and bolster the pass rush. McGinest can expect plenty of help from first round pick Kamerion Wimbley who was considered one of the best pass rushers in the draft. The run D was also addressed via the draft with second round pick D'Quell Jackson who was a tackling machine for Maryland and will provide an instant upgrade over last years starter Ben Taylor. '05 second round pick Broadney Pool replaces Chris Crocker at SS and Gary Baxter returns from injury to man the right corner position. They are still lacking depth is some places but the Browns D is clearly a much more talented unit heading into '06.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Orpheus Roye, LDE Alvin McKinley, RDT Ted Washington
Backups: DE Nick Eason, DE Simon Fraser, NT Ethan Kelley, DE Jovan Haye, NT Babatunde Oshinowo

Starting DL: If everyone stays healthy the defensive line won't be the problem this season. Orpheus Roye is right at home at DE in this scheme having played and been very successful there with the Stelers early in his career. He is a mobile, high energy guy who is coming off the best statistical season of his career with 65 solo tackles and 5 sacks. After 5 seasons in a backup role Alvin McKinley found a home in the 3-4 last season. McKinley is a carbon copy of Roye in many ways. Both were undersized tackles in Cleveland's 4-3 prior to Crennel's arrival. Like Roye, McKinley was very solid last season recording 45 solo stops and 5 sacks. It's been a while since Ted Washington last lined up at NT in a 3-4 but he is no stranger to the position. Washington spent a few years working under Wade Phillips in Buffalo when they were using a 3-4. His program weight is 365 but Washington may be even bigger. He isn't much of a pass rush threat but will be a space eater between the tackles. LB Andra Davis may have been the happiest guy in Cleveland when Washington signed.

Backup DL: If any of the starters were to miss significant time Cleveland could be in trouble. None of their backups are proven NFL players. Nick Eason is the highest draft pick of the backups having been taken in the 4th round by the Broncos three years ago. He impressed no one and failed to stick with the team. Ethan Kelley has the advantage of having played under Crennel previously. Like Eason his stay was short and unimpressive. They spent a late round pick on Andrew Hoffman last season and Babatunde Oshinowo this April. Both guys are projects but were at least drafted with the 3-4 scheme in mind. Hoffman didn't make the team as camp broke while the club is counting on Babatunde to hit the weight room hard over the next couple of years and bulk up so that he can eventually replace Washington who is 38 years old.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Andra Davis, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, OLB Kamerion Wimbley, OLB Willie McGinest
Backups: OLB Chaun Thompson, OLB Matt Stewart, OLB David McMillan, ILB Leon Williams

Starting LBs: Andra Davis has been a mainstay at linebacker and the team's leading tackler for two of the past three seasons. It would likely be three straight had he not missed 5 games due to injury in '04. He is a big physical linebacker who plays the run very well and has surprising range. With Ted Washington sucking up blockers in front of him, Davis could be poised for a career year. The coaching staff needs more big plays from their inside tandem and last years starter Ben Taylor didn't fit the mould. Enter rookie second round pick D'Qwell Jackson who not only totaled 10.5 sacks, 6 interceptions and a TD in his three years as a starter at Maryland but also led the team in tackles all three seasons. He's still battling veteran Chaun Thompson at the RILB position. Fellow rookie Kamerion Wimbley also projects as a starter but he will have to overcome some roadblocks. Wimbley was a fine defensive end at Florida State where he recorded 7.5 sacks last season despite being limited by a knee injury and missing most of the final 4 games. He will transition to OLB where he will have to get used to standing up and will also have to beat out veteran Chaun Thompson. Willie McGinest is long in the tooth at age 34 but has proven over the past couple of seasons that he still has fuel in the tank. With 78 career sacks he is among the leagues active leaders. McGinest has more experience with the 3-4 defense than some of Cleveland's defensive coaches. He will contribute not only as a player but will be like a coach on the field for the two rookies.

Backup LBs: Having added three rookies and McGinest over the off-season, Cleveland has become deep at the LB positions. Chaun Thompson will be in the mix for a starting job, at least early on. He started on the outside most of last season and finished tied for the team lead in sacks with 5. Thompson was originally drafted three years ago with the intention to move him inside. Prior to the draft there were rumblings that he would move back inside as the starter but the selection of Jackson may have nixed those plans. Thompson is adequate at the OLB position but lacks superior rush skills to be a true force. He could open the season as the starter but how long he holds the position will depend on how quickly Wimbley picks up the scheme. Thompson will likely be the team's top backup at all positions. Matt Stewart may also have his name in the hat for a starting job in the short term but in the end he is an experienced backup quality player. With the abundance of young draft picks at the position it would come as no surprise if he were released come August. Last years fifth round selection David McMillan and this year 4th rounder Leon Williams are project who will contribute mostly on special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Gary Baxter, LCB Daylon McCutcheon, SS Sean Jones, FS Brian Russell
Backups: SS Brodney Pool, CB Leigh Bodden, CB Antonio Perkins, CB DeMario Minter

Starting DBs: With the return of a healthy Gary Baxter to the lineup the Browns are very solid at the starting corner positions. Both he and Daylon McCutcheon are proven quality cover corners. If there is any downside to the tandem it is a lacking history of big play production. Since being drafted in the second round by Baltimore in '01, Baxter has started 53 games but recorded only 7 interceptions. On the positive side, two of his picks came in '05 when he made just 5 starts as a member of the Browns prior to his season ending pectoral injury. McCutcheon was Cleveland's third round pick in '99. He has started 103 games since joining the club but has a career total of just 12 picks. The team signed Brian Russell last of season in anticipation that he would provide the big play boost they were searching for. He came nowhere close to the 9 picks he totaled in '03 with the Vikings. Russell was somewhat of a disappointment totaling just 47 solo tackles and 3 interceptions last season and there is some speculation that his starting job could be in jeopardy if Sean Jones is able to step up. Sean Jones is a former second round pick who had been slow to pick up the pro game but looks to have secured a spot in the starting lineup. He is a physical player that the club expected to provide them with an intimidating presence. The Browns will rotate Brodney Pool in with Russell and Jones, though, depending on offensive personnel and game situation.

Backup DBs: The Browns are very thin at the corner positions. When Baxter went down last season Leigh Bodden stepped in and did a fine job. He will slip back into his nickel role this season giving the Browns a solid top 3 corners. Unfortunately for them there is a big drop off to inexperienced second year pro Antonio Perkins. Perkins was the clubs 5th round pick last season but saw very little action. Cleveland spent a late pick on DeMario Minter who is yet another long shot that they hope will only be called upon to play special teams in the short term. Brodney Pool is entering his second pro season and is expected to step into the starting SS position that was vacated when the team traded Chris Crocker to Atlanta. Pool is both big and fast with a history of big play production that includes 9 interceptions during his three years at Oklahoma. the Browns expect him to provide an intimidating presence in the middle of the secondary as well as a contribution in the big play department.

Last modified: 2006-09-04 09:48:20



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