Tag Archives: Craig Robertson

Browns Look to End their Losing Streak

The Cleveland Browns enter week 8 on a two game losing streak and their playoff chances are looking as bad as Jeb Bush’s debate performance last night. The Rams game looked like a textbook performance from those numerous Browns teams that have finished in the 4 to 5 win range. The mistake prone offense could not buy a big play while the defense wore down as the game went on. The schedule will only get harder as they welcome the current first place team in the NFC West.

The Arizona Cardinals escaped the Ravens’ furious 4th quarter comeback to come away with another of their one-possession wins that has become a trademark of Bruce Arians’ coaching reign since 2012. Speaking of the Coach Who Wears That Funny Hat at Press Conferences, here’s a trivia question: who was the Brown’s defensive coordinator the last time they made the playoffs? That’s right. It’s the immortal Foge Fazio. He has absolutely nothing to do with this article. He just has a super cool alliterative name. Bruce Arians on the other hand, was the offensive architect of that one non-embarrassing Browns year. His Air-Coryell style passing strategy coupled with an unspectacular single-back rushing attack (remember William Green) have been trademarks of his offenses for two decades. He helped Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb look like decent quarterbacks at times. True to form today, the key for the Browns will be how they will stop the top rated Cards passing attack. The biggest matchup will be how the suddenly healthy secondary matches up to the three-headed receiver monster of John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Floyd. Will K’Waun Williams follow the much larger Fitzgerald in his new slot position or stick to the much smaller John Brown no matter where he lines up? The Browns do match up very well against the Cardinals offense and the defense has had two much better performances in a row. With Haden, Robertson and Gipson looking to return to the starting lineup, the D is trending upward.

The offense on the other hand, is going in the opposite direction. Defenses have figured out the McCown enigma, cracking the code with heavy blitzes. This makes perfect sense as McCown is one of the league leaders in holding onto balls for too long (insert Liberace joke here). The Cardinals love to send the house as well, leaving their talented and versatile secondary led by the Honey Badger (who doesn’t care) to make plays. Anyway, it will be rough treading for the aerial attack. Is this the week that Robert Turbin becomes the number one back in terms of carries and Crowell sees his role drastically reduced? I see a low scoring affair that is decided by the last defensive team to create a turnover.

Final Score: Cardinals 18, Browns 16

Note: Thanks to my good friend Luke Ackerman for writing this piece. I had a finance exam to study for so I thought it would fun to let my old blogging partner write a preview for me this week! Hope you enjoyed it!

Browns' Free Agency 2015: The Last Minute Preview

On Tuesday afternoon, the 2015 NFL free agency period officially opens. Since Saturday, teams have been able to begin talking to free-agents-to-be, however without agreeing to terms or explicitly discussing potential numbers. Nonetheless, expect to see a slew of big signings in the 15 minutes after free agency officially opens. It will be unlikely that any of these quick signings are by the Browns, as General Manager Ray Farmer tends to be a bit slower and more deliberate with his signings, although I guess you never really know. Do expect to see the Browns sign a few players over the next week though. If last year was any indication, a lot of these signings will be veteran players who can serve as role players and mentors and who will be on the somewhat cheaper side, although with just short of $50 million in cap space, the Browns could surprise everyone and make a big splash with a monster signing. Again, you never really know, definitely with a young GM at the helm. Anyway, here is who to keep an eye on this free agency period when discussing the Browns:

Browns’ Free-Agents-To-Be That Need To Be Re-signed:

Before we look at new players who the Browns could potentially sign, we need to take a quick look at players that the Browns need to keep in Cleveland. These are all guys who the Browns could let walk, but really shouldn’t:

CB Buster Skrine

Skrine reportedly wants to test the open waters, which seems to be a good decision. The Browns, however, need to keep him around. They will have to pay more for him than they otherwise would’ve, but I think he is easily worth the $8 million or so a year that they will have to dish out. Skrine has started the past two seasons and has been quite solid across from Joe Haden. As a bonus, he is an extremely talented nickelback, so if Justin Gilbert ever decides to start playing actual football, he can easily slide inside. Additionally, replacing him would end up costing just about as much as resigning him if the Browns want to sign a player close to his caliber. I expect him to be resigned, with a deal to the tune of 4 years and $30 million.

DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

I like Kitchen a lot. He played well last year when everyone else on the line went down with injuries. He wouldn’t cost that much to retain. And he is an Ohio native who would most likely enjoy remaining close to home. Plus he is the owner of what was voted the best sack dance in the NFL. Offer him a nice little 2 year, $1.5 million deal, and let him stick around.

 S Tashaun Gipson

He is one of the top safeties in the league, has an absurd affinity for creating turnovers, and is only  24. There is no doubt in my mind that he will remain among the top players at his position for at  least the next five years, and as such, the Browns need to sign him to a long term deal as soon as  possible. It would be cheaper to do this now, and they could probably keep him around for as little  as $4 million a year, which in a couple of years will look like a steal.

S Johnson Bademosi

Although he made a couple of really stupid mistakes during games last year, he still is one of the best special teams players in the NFL, and would be simple to retain.

LB Craig Robertson

He played well last year. He will play well this year. And he will serve as a good backup when Christian Kirksey is fully ready to start. He should remain on the team next year.

TE Andre Smith

Depth is always appreciated. There is no need to show him the door.

WR Miles Austin

He played well last year until his kidney decided to misbehave. He obviously is not a long term option, but he is a serviceable role player and can serve as a mentor for whichever receiver the Browns draft this year.

Now that we have handled that, and maintaining the assumption that all of those players are resigned, the Browns have a few areas of need that they can address in free agency…

Wide Receiver

This is clearly a monster need for the Browns, especially with Josh Gordon suspended once again. Currently, the Browns have Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin as the only experienced receivers on the roster. They will also should have Austin. It is safe to assume that the Browns will probably spend at least one pick in the Draft on a receiver, leaving them with five players who can have impact at the position. They will, however, still be looking to sign another one in free agency. The question is merely “who?”

Randall Cobb (Packers)

Cobb is clearly the best receiver on the market, but it would be stupid to bring him too Cleveland. At 5’10” and 192 lbs, Cobb is another slot-type receiver, of which the Browns already have two in Hawkins and Gabriel. Although Cobb, being the best slot receiver in the NFL at the moment, would clearly be an upgrade, he would not be a practical or smart use of what would amount to a lot of money.

Torrey Smith (Ravens)

Pair him with a talented first round pick and Hawkins and Gabriel inside, and the Browns suddenly have a rather potent group of wideouts. Smith would essentially be a more versatile and effective version of Benjamin. Speedy as all hell (4.43 in the 40), Smith is a receiver who specializes in the deep ball and would be able to stretch out defenses so that Hawkins and Gabriel could work underneath. Personally, I think he would be a great player to bring in, although he will be on the slightly costlier side. It would be cool to use an old Ravens player against them though. There is nothing worse than seeing a player you let go of completely wreck you twice a year.

Michael Crabtree (49ers)

Crabtree is an option, but not a great one. He’s been largely ineffective since tearing his achilles in 2013, and even before that he was pretty consistently disappointing. He may come on the cheaper side though.

Cecil Shorts (Jaguars)

The Cleveland-area native is ready for a change in scenery from Jacksonville, and may be drawn to come home. The Browns have shown heightened interest in him, and might even be willing to fork over a few extra dollars to bring him onboard. The only hurdle is that Shorts has said he is tired of losing and that he just wants to win. Cleveland isn’t usually viewed as a team that wins a lot, but there is the chance that the blind faith that Clevelanders and Browns fans learn could make him turn a blind eye to the fact that the Browns aren’t sure-fire winners. I think that this is the receiver the Browns are most likely to sign. Even more so if they decide to not bring Austin back.

Hakeem Nicks (Colts)

Nicks was clearly talented at some point, and someone is going to sign him hoping that they can find that talent again. But it shouldn’t be the Browns. The Browns need to take safer steps that clearly move them forward, and signing a player who sat behind an aging and less effective Reggie Wayne for the past year doesn’t fit into that category of decisions.

Brian Hartline (Dolphins)

Only a year removed from consecutive 1000-yd campaigns, Hartline could be a nice option for the Browns. Despite his ineffectiveness last year, expect Hartline to bounce back and put up respectable numbers no matter where he lands this year. He has already visited with the Browns, but has also been the subject of interest from a number of other teams. I don’t think the Browns like him enough to engage in some kind of bidding war, so unless he comes cheap, expect him to land somewhere else.

Defensive Tackle

Without a doubt the Browns’ biggest area of need this offseason. Luckily, there is a slew of talented players available both in the Draft and in free agency. Ahtyba Rubin likely on the way out, the Browns will need to pick up a big body during free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (Lions)

There is not a better tackle on the market. There is no arguing with that statement. However, Suh will not land in Cleveland. I would really love him to, as it is extremely rare to be able to sign a hall-of-fame caliber player in his prime, but I don’t see Farmer being willing to spend the cash that would be necessary. Suh is looking to become the highest paid defender in the league, and there are teams who are willing to grant him his wish, just not the Browns.

Nick Fairley (Lions)

Suh’s soon-to-be-former teammate might be second to only Suh in terms of talent among free agents at the defensive tackle position. When he’s motivated, he can play like one of the best linemen in the league. However that whole “when he’s motivated” phrase is key. Fairley has shown a history of getting easily discouraged, and when that happens his level of play falls substantially. Playing for a program with the ups and downs that the Browns have probably wouldn’t be the best fit for him. Additionally, schematically there are better options.

 Terrance Knighton (Broncos)

A better option schematically. Knighton is one of the top nose tackles in the league  and is stellar against the run. After housing the worst run defense in the NFL in  2014, the Browns need to focus on picking up a run-stuffing tackle more than a pass-  rushing one, and Knighton would be a great option.

 Dan Williams (Cardinals)

Another great option, and one that might come slightly cheaper than Knighton. He  has gotten better every year that he has been in the NFL, is just hitting his prime,  and seems to be the kind of high value signing that Farmer likes to try to make. I  could see the Browns spending a few dollars to bring him in.

 BJ Raji (Packers)

Although he hasn’t really been effective since 2011, he is a player that is talented  enough that he could bounce back. If he does, he could be a bargain.

Barry Cofield (Redskins)

At 30, he is past his prime and is coming off an injury-plagued season. Nonetheless, he is still one of the better run stuffers in the NFL. Also, having grown up in Cleveland Heights, he may be interested in coming home.

Stephen Paea (Bears), Henry Melton (Cowboys), Kendall Langford (Rams)

While all talented, they are more pass-oriented linemen. None would be a great fit in Cleveland.

Kendrick Ellis (Jets)

He has worked with Pettine before, and thus might be inclined to come play for him again. He would probably serve in a backup’s role as he never has really had a large impact in the NFL.

Tight End

If the Browns are going to spend heavy money anywhere during free agency, it will be here. With Jordan Cameron out due to concussion issues and only Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray, and Andre Smith on the roster, the Browns need to pickup a high impact player who can spark their offense and give them a reliable option in the middle of the field.

Julius Thomas (Broncos)

He is one of the top 3 tight ends in the NFL and, at 26, is in his prime. It is unusual for a player of his caliber to hit the open market, and as a result he will demand big bucks. He has had some ankle issues over the past year or so, but still creates absurd mismatches over the middle. He isn’t the best blocker though, so he might be better suited for a more pass-oriented offense.

Virgil Green (Broncos)

Thomas’s sooon-to-be-former teammate is also set to hit the open market, although the Broncos seem to be trying to keep him in the Mile High City. He’s a decent enough blocker, is athletic enough to make an impact, and could come on the cheaper side due to his limited playtime and experience.

Rob Housler (Cardinals)

 Personally, I think that he is the most exciting tight end available this year. At 6’5″  and 250 lbs, he can run a 4.46 second 40. So basically he’s a freak athletically who is  going to emerge over the next two years to become one of the top 5 tight ends in the  NFL. Underutilization in Arizona due to his poor ability to block stymied his  development a little bit, but used in tandem with a better-blocking tight end such as  Jim Dray, I think Housler could be a very effective option.

 Jermaine Gresham (Bengals)

On the other end of the spectrum, Gresham is just about the blandest option at this  position. He has always been alright, but never special. Unfortunately, he has been  linked to the Browns more than any other tight end this offseason.

Pass Rusher (OLB/DE)

With Jabaal Sheard‘s likely departure, the Browns need to secure themselves a new outside linebacker. Pettine wouldn’t be too opposed to bringing in a strong pass-rushing defensive end as well, and there are plenty of options on both fronts.

Trent Cole (Eagles)

Although he is on the older side, he has the versatility to serve as a DE or an OLB in the Browns system. He still is a solid player, although he would only be able to contribute for a couple of years. He visited the Browns this weekend, so a deal may be in the works.

Jerry Hughes (Bills)

A soon-to-be-former member of the talented Bills defensive line, he has been overshadowed by his teammates. Despite that though, he has still racked up 10 sacks a year over the last couple, and he might could be interested in a reunion with his old boss.

Brian Orakpo (Redskins)

His career has been marred with injuries, but when he is healthy he is still one of the better players at his position. His injury history could make him a bit cheaper, but he is definitely a risky signing. High reward is everything works out though.

Brandon Graham (Eagles)

At 26, he is just entering his prime. He has shown that he can be an effective pass rusher when utilized, racking up 5.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season for the Eagles. His ability to create turnovers makes him an enticing option that Farmer and Pettine might be drawn to.

Pernell McPhee (Ravens)

The highest-rated outside linebacker available this year, he racked up 7.5 sacks in limited (540) snaps last season. Although there is a risk that he is simply a product of the system, he has shown an immense amount of talent and his just entering his prime. I think that he would be a high-impact player for the Browns, although he may take a season or so to fully develop into an effective player in the Browns system. Nonetheless, the combination of him and Paul Kruger (or Barkevious Mingo if he finally breaks out) has the potential to be rather lethal.

Quarterback

I still would like to see Hoyer remain in Cleveland, but with the Josh McCown signing that is unlikely. That, unfortunately, means that the Browns have no starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster. So that will be fun…    There is still the possibility that the Browns sign another signal caller in free agency, and they will no doubt take a quarterback at some point in the Draft, but I honestly cannot really tell what Pettine is planning here.

Offensive Line

The right side of the line is not the strongest, and I would love to see someone like Bryan Bulaga come in and take over for Mitchell Schwartz. Pettine, however, has suggested that he doesn’t see a huge need to upgrade the position, so don’t be expecting to see any big signings in this department. A few depth-oriented signings could be made here, definitely at the center position.

…And that’s about it folks. There will no doubt be players signed that I didn’t cover here, since that is just how the NFL works. However, above are lists of some of the better options in the areas where the Browns most need help. Hopefully Farmer can repeat the success that he had last offseason, when he made a number of smart signings that didn’t break the bank. I guess we will see soon…

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 12: The Personnel Edition

It’s Week 12, and the Browns have a very realistic chance (at least mathematically) of making it into the playoffs, something that many did not predict prior to the beginning of the season. However, to actually make the playoffs, the Browns will have to elevate their game significantly, especially considering the relative roster chaos of the past week. Since last Friday, a lot of significant changes have been made to the Browns roster and gameplan, most of which significantly affect the Browns’ winning potential in upcoming games:

– Phil Taylor – On Friday, the Browns unfortunately had to place Taylor on the season-ending IR due to a persisting knee issue. He only managed to appear in five games this season, racking up 10 tackles (6 solo, 2 for loss). However, despite what appear to be somewhat meager stats, he had a significant impact for the Browns’ defense, especially in the run game. Having a 6’3″, 335 pound frame to stuff up the middle of the field is something a squad ranked 30th in the league against the run could really use right now. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether he remains rostered or not going into next season. In 2015 he will be in the final year of his rookie contract and will carry a $5.477 million base salary. Prior to his injury he had been quite disruptive this season, especially against Cincinnati, but with a plethora of depth at defensive line, the Browns have a bit of flexibility in deciding whether to retain his services or attempt to move him this offseason.

– Ben Tate – Tate had failed to live up to expectations this season, but at the same time cutting him seemed to me to be a bit unnecessary. Granted that though, I don’t know the extent to which he was disrupting locker room cohesion. It has been apparent that he was unhappy with his role on the team and having to share time with the rookies, but to my eye it didn’t seem to be enough to warrant dropping him. Although he has been a non-factor in recent weeks, he still provided valuable depth and experience at the position, as well as a third option to turn to if the rookies struggle during a game. The Vikings were given an early Christmas present when they were able to pick up a talented player at a position of need this late in the season. I fully expect to hear his name and see him on a highlight reel again before the end of the season.

– Josh Gordon – Gordon is back! Gordon is back! Gordon is back! And I’m real excited. He will provide a much needed spark on offense, but I’m not really going to go into that too much right now. If you want to read about it, feel free to click here… Or here… Or here… Or here… Or here… Or… well you get the picture. He’s been covered a lot.

– Jabaal Sheard – Sheard suffered a foot injury last Sunday, but fortunately he is not going to require surgery. He is currently considered day-to-day, but it still appears likely that he won’t end up suiting up on Sunday. Sheard has been having his best season since his rookie year, racking up 36 tackles to go with a pair of sacks thus far. His absence from an already substantially weakened front seven will hurt this Sunday.

– Karlos Dansby – Sheard’s absence won’t hurt nearly as much as this loss though. Dansby has proven to be a major leader for the Browns’ defense, serving as their quarterback on defense. On top of that, he has 73 tackles on the year and has been dominant against the run. Combine this with the loss of Phil Taylor, and the Browns are going to be struggling against the rush in the coming weeks.

Speaking of which, if there ever were a time for the Browns to completely adopt and follow Coach Mike Pettine’s “Next Man Up” mantra, it is this week. The Browns are facing a fairly mediocre Falcons team, but one that has the talent to put together a strong game. Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey will need to step up against the run in a way that they haven’t been able to yet this year. Barkevious Mingo will have to finally perform up to the potential that the Browns saw when they spent a first-round pick on him. And the rest of the defense will have to improve greatly upon their game last week.

Gordon should help the Browns get moving on offense against the league’s last ranked pass defense. And hopefully Shanahan will revert back to the run game that won the Browns the game against Cincinnati, not the one that was under utilized in a disappointing loss to the Texans. Overall, the Browns should bounce back from last week’s game to put forth another convincing performance:

Browns 31 – Falcons 20

Cleveland Browns: Karlos Dansby Out, Jabaal Sheard Day-to-Day

Defensively the Cleveland Browns have struggled this season. There have been some surprise bright spots here and there, like Tashaun Gipson and K’Waun Williams, but by and large the defense as a whole has struggled. The worst facet of the defense is undoubtedly the run defense. Currently the Browns run defense has allowed an average of 142.1 yards per game (30th in the league) and an average of 4.6 yards per carry (29th in the league). To make things worse, the Cleveland Browns had placed Phil Taylor on injured reserve, ending his season. As if it couldn’t get worse than that, this past Sunday the Browns lost Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard to injuries. Dansby is expected to miss a month while Sheard is currently day-to-day, although at one point it was feared he could require surgery and miss the rest of the season.

The news now that Sheard doesn’t need surgery is good for the Browns. Should Sheard have missed any significant time then Barkevious Mingo would’ve likely started in his place with Eric Martin and/or Keith Pough possibly seeing an expanded role on defense. Mingo has been solid against the run in limited action, but Sheard has been a standout for the Browns. According to Pro Football Focus he was the Browns best run defender and the third best 3-4 OLB run defender in the league. For what it’s worth Mingo is PFF’s 4th best 3-4 OLB against the run, however he may struggle in that role given increased playing time as historically Mingo has not been great against the run.

Sheard and Mingo have been good against the run.
Sheard and Mingo have been good against the run.

The loss of Karlos Dansby is of bigger concern. He is ranked as the 5th best inside linebacker this season and is a major cog in the Browns defensive wheel. He is a vocal leader and helps get guys into position on the field. Going without him is a major blow, but is now something that Mike Pettine and (defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil will have to deal with.

While it’s impossible (as the cliché goes) to replace a guy like Dansby, it’s extremely likely that the guy who will stand in Dansby’s place on the field is rookie Christian Kirksey. Kirksey has actually seen more defensive snaps than Craig Robertson (436 and 301 snaps, respectively) this season and while he is a solid coverage linebacker he has struggled so far against the run. This year Kirksey has 50 total tackles (25 solo, 25 assisted) as well as 2 sacks, but his -6.8 grade against the run (52nd among ILBs) from Pro Football Focus tells you all you need to know when it comes to his impact on defense versus the run. While Dansby wasn’t exactly a stalwart run stopper, he was ranked number 16 on that list with a +2.3 grade. Kirksey at least has some significant game experience this season to where he isn’t totally green, but in no way will the run defense improve with him starting (alongside Craig Robertson) in place of Karlos Dansby. The Browns may also give an expanded role to special teamer Tank Carder, although he has never been given an expanded role in the past.

Karlos Dansby has been very good for the Browns this year. Replacing him will be impossible.
Karlos Dansby has been very good for the Browns this year. Replacing him will be impossible.

So, what exactly does all of this mean?

Well, for the Browns, Jabaal Sheard’s injury not being as serious as it was originally thought is a silver lining to this grim news. While Phil Taylor seemed to struggle this season, the run defense did look noticeably better when he played against the Cincinnati Bengals as opposed to the couple weeks he was sidelined with an injury. Losing him and Dansby will undoubtedly weaken a struggling rush defense. The Browns can try and patch these holes using guys like Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder (both at ILB), Sione Fua and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (both along the defensive line) will only add to the problem that is the Browns run defense. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns they have no other options.

Browns Beat Bucs; Ugly Win is Still a Win

I guess we’re just going to have to get used to this. While sometimes frustrating to watch, the ugly wins count just as much as the blowouts. The Browns topped the Buccaneers 22-17, led again by the defense creating opportunities for the offense. Cleveland improved their record to 5-3, all while playing with a hobbled defensive line and without three Pro Bowlers on offense.

The rushing offense looked stale for the third week in a row, with the team total at 50 yards on twenty-eight attempts. Terrance West led the team with 48 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. While West didn’t have his best game running the football, he made arguably the most important block, picking up the blitz, enabling Hoyer to shuffle to the side to throw a 34-yard touchdown to Taylor Gabriel for the go-ahead touchdown.

Hoyer_ManzielBrian Hoyer gave Browns fans another week of debate whether or not he is out best option at quarterback, or if the team would have more success with first round pick Johnny Manziel. Hoyer had a 300-yard game, throwing for two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and an array of off-target passes we have become all too familiar with.

The boo-birds rang out in the second half after the offense was forced to punt multiple times in the second half. Whether the boos were calling for Manziel to replace Hoyer, or just to voice their frustration overall with the offense, it seemed to possibly wake the offense up to put up the touchdown to Gabriel to take the lead.

HoyerIt has come to the point where, personally, Hoyer isn’t doing enough to lose these games, but he also isn’t going to be the player that wins you games either. The Browns defense has had to give him additional opportunities the last two weeks to squeak out wins against poor teams. The inaccurate passes and poor decisions will come back to haunt the Browns against better teams, and hurt our own receivers. However, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, so I will take these wins and, once again, hope for improvement in the upcoming weeks.

The special teams unit came up with two huge plays to jumpstart both the fans and the rest of the team. On Tampa Bay’s first drive, it looked like it would end in three points. However, Billy Winn hopped right over the line and blocked the kick, denying points to the Bucs. Craig Robertson also added a blocked punt in the 4th quarter.

The Browns defensive unit came up big once again, despite giving up 113 yards on the ground and facing the towering 6’5” receivers of the Buccaneers. Tashaun Gipson, the NFL leader in interceptions, grabbed another one to increase his total to 6. To have to be in the right place at the right time so many times, there comes a point where you stop calling it luck. Mike Pettine praised him after the game, citing Gipson’s scheme discipline and film study as the main culprits to his success. Tashaun, no doubt, is playing himself into the Pro Bowl this year if he keeps this up—not to mention a large contract, as he is a restricted free agent in 2015.

Joe Haden and Donte Whitner paired up for the second week in a row to secure another turnover—this time with Whitner on the receiving end. Mike Glennon threw a pass deep, intended for Mike Evans, but Joe Haden showed how high he could jump, volleying the pass towards Donte Whitner, who brought the ball all the way up to the Tampa Bay 21 yard line. It just goes to show that this team has built up chemistry and trust each other. This highlight play will be tough to top as one of my favorites of the entire season.

Haden_Whitner

Even after a win, there is still debate of who should be the quarterback of the Browns. As I said earlier, the erratic throws will come back to haunt this team. The poor decision making will get the receivers hurt. But when he needs to, Brian Hoyer sure can throw some darts in big situations. I’m not sure he just needs the sense of urgency to perform well, but Hoyer and the rest of the offense need to capitalize on every opportunity given. Not every team will let you hang around while you figure things out.

The Browns are going into a short week, taking on the Bengals in prime time on Thursday night. This is a perfect opportunity, on a national stage, to show everyone what the Cleveland Browns are all about. My hope is they take on the AFC North divisional leader and beat the crap out them. However, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at another ugly win.

Playing in meaningful games in November is not something we are accustomed to in Cleveland, but I think we should start getting used to this. The Browns are winning close games that past teams would probably lose. Whether it is an ugly win or a blowout, it counts just the same at the end of the day.

Go Browns

The Midweek Recap/Preview: Preseason Weeks 2 and 3

Well at least Connor Shaw looked good… Or actually, compared to the other two quarterbacks, he looked great.

But honestly, that game was painful to watch. The endless string of mistakes simply served to numb my brain and make me want to go curl up in my bed and sleep for about 12 hours. And mind you, this is after I recorded and watched the game two days late after a full night’s sleep. There just wasn’t a lot of good to take away from that game in my eyes, but I’ll discuss that in a little. First, the big news from yesterday:

Brian Hoyer was announced as the Week 1 starter for the Browns on Wednesday, barring an unexpected injury. And this, I believe, was the right decision, if only because Hoyer didn’t look quite as uncomfortable as Manziel, although that point is very debatable. Hoyer seems much more familiar than Manziel with the playbook, and he didn’t have any apparent mistakes or problems calling plays in the huddles on Monday. However, he by no means played well in either of the first two preseason games. His passes were constantly low or high or behind or in front of the receiver. Or, in other words, his passes were rarely where they were supposed to be. But I think that problem should lessen by the time the season actually starts.

During the game, there was much discussion among commentators about the fact that Manziel and Hoyer were sharing snaps with the first team during practice the last couple of weeks. The theory was that because neither of them had a whole lot of time with the starters, none of the receivers could build real chemistry with either quarterback. Combine that with the fact that the two quarterbacks in question have different arm motions, and it makes it much more difficult for a receiver to run timing routes and know where to expect the ball. I’m really hoping that this is all it is. Now that Hoyer has been named the Week 1 starter, he should get close to 100% of the first-team reps in practice. This should allow him to build more chemistry and understanding with his receivers, which will hopefully be on display on Saturday at 8:00 pm against the St. Louis Rams. All going well, Hoyer will put up better numbers than the 6/14 for 92 yards and the 2/6 for 16 yards of the past two games. Otherwise, this might end up proving to be a much longer season than most Cleveland fans expected.

As to my other takeaways from Monday as well as my expectations for Saturday:

– Armonty Bryant and Marqueis Gray continue to impress me. They are both having fantastic preseasons so far and are making cases to see significant playing time once the season truly starts. Neither is going to be able to force their way into the first team, but both are proving to be very talented and capable backups.

– Mitchell Schwartz is going to need help this year. Probably the weakest piece of this offensive line when it comes to pass protection, Ryan Kerrigan ran ragged over him on Monday. Now, not every defender he will be matched up against is going to be as talented as Kerrigan, but next week I’d expect to see a slight tweaking in the gameplan to give him a bit more help when Chris Long and Robert Quinn come to town.

– Jordan Cameron looked a bit rusty as he saw his first action of the season. Although the balls being delivered to him were by no means thrown well, there were a couple of catches that we would normally see him make. Look for him to keep progressing towards last season’s form as the preseason progresses.

– Special teams and tackling were both much improved from Week 1, a trend that should continue until these areas are two of the primary strengths of this year’s team.

– Ben Tate was one of the lone bright spots last week, showing himself quite worthy of a starting role in the NFL as he racked up 51 yards on 10 carries. If he continues that form into the season, the horror that is the Browns’ QB situation should be slightly balanced out.

– The battle for the second inside-linebacker spot raged on Monday. In my eyes, Craig Robertson outplayed Christian Kirksey, if only slightly. Robertson has a knack for elevating his game when it counts, and at this point I expect to see him on the field next to Karlos Dansby for the majority of the season.

– With Buster Skrine out with a thumb injury, Justin Gilbert made the most of his opportunity to start across from Joe Haden. Although he wasn’t perfect, he played well enough to raise the question of whether or not he could win the starting job from Skrine by the beginning of the season. With Skrine possibly out again next week, Gilbert will have a golden opportunity to leap Skrine on the depth chart.

Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: OLB Barkevious Mingo

– A bit of a disappointment last year, Mingo has been quite impactful so far this preseason. He has been hustling much more than many of his teammates and has been making plays all over the field. If he can keep that energy up all season, he has the chance of having a breakout year.

Player That Left Me Shaking My Head: CB Joe Haden

– “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.”    “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.”

Those are not words I want to hearing ever in a Browns game, but on Monday we all had the pleasure of hearing that twice in the first quarter alone. I know that it will be hard for defensive backs to adjust to the new stringency when it comes to touching receivers after 5 yards, but I expected the best player on our defense to be able to adjust fairly seamlessly. So far that has not been the case. But hey, as long as he’s worked it out by the start of the regular season, everything will be forgotten. If not, well… let’s just not think about that.

The Midweek Preview: Preseason Week 2

So unfortunately folks, we have to wait all the way until Monday to see Manziel make his first NFL start. However, the good news for those of you like me who are currently outside of the Cleveland area is that the game will be nationally televised on ESPN (with kickoff scheduled for 8 pm ET), meaning that we won’t have to sit on our computers watching an extremely poor and fairly pixelated online stream of the game. So yay for that.

Anyway, here are a few little things that I will be looking for this week when Manziel and the Browns take on OC Kyle Shanahan’s old team in the Redskins:

– Johnny Manziel: While he saw significant action last week against the Lions, much of his time on the field was spent with the disgustingly porous second-team offensive line “attempting” to block for him. So, although he did put up 63 yards on 7/11 passing while also racking up 27 yards on the ground, I don’t really feel that we fans got a good feel for what he could do. Some of the things he’s been needing to work on going into this season include standing confidently in the pocket and going through his progressions before bolting, and he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do that against the Lions as the pocket was regularly collapsing quite quickly. It will be interesting to see how Manziel reacts when he is given the time to stand in the pocket. Although I expect him to scramble early a few times during his time on the field, it will be nice to see whether he looks comfortable when he doesn’t tuck and run early.

– Terrance West: The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading about how West is going to be one of the breakout stars this year at the running back position for fantasy football. Last saturday, he didn’t live up to that expectation. Or even anywhere close to it. He ran for 22 yards on 10 carries with a long of 10 yards. Although he had a couple of nice looking runs, especially at the beginning of his time on the field, he just did not look that good to me. He threw down a couple of really nice little jukes to make defenders miss, but then he started to keep trying that. And it just wasn’t this working. This week I’m hoping to see him ground and pound a little more and put that size of his to use running through defenders, definitely against smaller corners on the outside.

– Inside Linebacker: This will be a very interesting and fun positional battle throughout the year, not only the preseason. Craig Robertson started the game and made a couple of great plays in run defense. He also looked much improved in coverage, which was something he struggled with at times last season. But then rookie Christian Kirksey came in. And he played great too. His coverage skills were phenomenal for a rookie inside linebacker, and while he didn’t make as many plays in the ground game as Robertson, he didn’t make any real big mistakes either. Look for both of them to keep putting together very respectable performances.

– Brian Hoyer: He too looked solid against the Lions, although he looked a bit shaky to start the game, especially on throws more than 10 yards or so downfield, as he consistently sent those sailing over the receiver’s head. I expect him to bounce back this week and show much better control on his longer throws, definitely as he will be seeing the field some against second-teamers.

– Special Teams: While there was good and bad in this area, it was mainly bad. The first kickoff honestly made me want to cry. That was really just not the way a team wants to start their season. Except for the Lions. They would’ve been pleased. But yeah, the Browns’ kickoff coverage did not look all that competent, neither on the first kickoff nor the second. Hopefully it will be different this week though. On the good side however, congratulations to Marlon Moore on earning himself another few days or weeks in a Browns’ uniform with that kick return to start the second half.

– Tackling: There were way too many missed tackles, especially among the first-teamers. A defense as talented as the Browns should be made to miss so easily. Wrapping up a player is arguably the most important part of defense, and the Browns were not able to do it. Hopefully they worked a lot on it this past week of practice so that we don’t have to experience that again against the Redskins. And speaking of missed tackles…

– Pierre Desir: Awful game. Just a terrible way to start an NFL career. Now, I still really like Desir and think he is talented, but everybody who was critical of his lack of experience playing “real” competition was proven correct. He was missing tackles all over the field as well as having problems staying with receivers in coverage. However, he has a strong work ethic, and I expect him to bounce back well this week as he showed flashes of excellence during the game against the Lions.

– Armonty Bryant: Wow. Just wow. Although solid last year, he looks like he has made big strides this offseason, and he had a hell of a game. He was consistently disrupting the quarterback, and I look forward to see him continue to that throughout the rest of the year.

– Contain: Another area the defense struggled on was containing at the line of scrimmage. There were a couple times where outside linebackers shirked their duties by overpursuing counters, leaving the running back with loads of room to run. We will need to see improvement in that area this week.

And that is more or less it. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch the game in HD this week. Anyway, I will leave you with this:

Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: TE Marqueis Gray

Should Jordan Cameron suffer a serious injury this year, it appears that the Browns will have a capable backup to step up in his place.

Player That I Am Waving Goodbye To: WR Jonathan Krause

Players who are battling for a last spot on the roster but are unaware and get hit in the knee by a very-well thrown ball while having space to run up the field don’t tend to win the battle for that spot.

Cleveland Browns Preseason Game One: Position Battles

The countdown is over, Browns football is back! Well, sort of. The Cleveland Browns travel to Detroit to take on the Lions on Saturday night at Ford Field for their first preseason game of the season. Football hungry Browns fans will get their first game action since December 29th of last year and will finally get to see the 2014 draft picks in action against another team. The perception for this game, and the preseason in general, is that it’s meaningless. And to some degree that’s true. But don’t tell that to the Browns quarterbacks who are trying to learn Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. Don’t tell that to player number 54, the first guy on the outside looking in at the active 53 man roster. Don’t tell that to Mike Pettine, this will be his first time being a NFL Head Coach in a game. In all reality, this is a fairly meaningful game, or set of games. While it might be painful to watch “no name” players in the fourth quarter, for the Cleveland Browns these games are very meaningful. If you’re looking to find some meaning in Saturday’s game, consider the following things to watch.

The Quarterback Competition

Brian Hoyer, Johnny ManzielProbably the first thing everyone will be looking to see on Saturday is what happens with the quarterback position, specifically the battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. While it’s possible things could change between today and Saturday, it seems likely that Hoyer will get the starting nod for the Browns in their first preseason game. According to the preseason depth chart released by Coach Pettine, Hoyer is the guy for now. Pettine has said that the only reason he released that chart was because he had to, calling it very fluid. Despite this, we can still learn something from watching both Hoyer and Manziel play in Saturday’s game. For Hoyer, it’s his chance to come out and really put some distance between himself and Manziel. While it’s unlikely the Lions defense will throw a lot at Hoyer (or the Browns offense in general) this is still a big opportunity for Hoyer to shine with the first team offense against another team’s first team defense. For Manziel, even though he’s going to be playing with the second string, this is his first shot playing in an actual NFL game. If he can take advantage of this by showing he is more than just a run first quarterback and can play well in the pocket he could really help himself. He will also have to show he is comfortable running an offense and has knowledge of the playbook. Just last week Manziel himself said that right now it’s him versus the playbook as he tries to get all of the terminology down.

New Faces

The Browns first team offense and defense will also feature some new faces. According to the aforementioned depth chart, running back Ben Tate, wide receiver Miles Austin, left guard Joel Bitonio, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner will all be getting the start on Saturday. This will be their first start as Cleveland Browns, and for Bitonio his first NFL start. It wouldn’t be surprising to see running back Terrance West, receiver Andrew Hawkins and/or receiver Nate Burleson see some time with the first team offense in some packages as well.

Positional Battles

Quarterback isn’t the only position that doesn’t have a clear starter. The Browns offense and defense will have position battles throughout preseason, battles that will be settled on the field. While offensive guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco have been given the starting nod for Saturday, Garrett Gilkey still can’t be ruled out as a potential starter on this team. There is also the question of depth along the offensive line. Martin Wallace and Reid Fragel will compete for a backup offensive tackle position and veteran Paul McQuistan is also in the mix. Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the receiver position is far from set – especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon. Gordon and Miles Austin are currently listed as the starters, but with a plethora of unproven receivers somebody could emerge as a big contributor. Marlon Moore, Anthony Armstrong, Charles Johnson and rookie Willie Snead will all compete not just for depth but for a roster spot. Keep an eye on these players, who will likely see time later on in the game on Saturday. Lastly on offense, keep an eye on the running back trio of Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis and rookie Isaiah Crowell. They are currently buried on the depth chart, however it’s likely at least one of these ball carriers will make the roster. They probably won’t see any (significant) action until after halftime, but all of them will be looking to take advantage of their opportunity.

KirkseyDefensively, the Browns coaching staff will have to figure out how they want to rotate their defensive line and outside linebackers. There is also one position battle to watch unfold in the front seven, the inside linebacker position opposite of Karlos Dansby. According to the depth chart Craig Robertson will be Saturday’s starter. Despite Robertson being with the team since 2011 and making 17 starts (14 last year), this position is anything but solidified. Robertson was abysmal in pass coverage last season and wasn’t exactly a stalwart in run support either. Rookie Christian Kirksey is listed as Robertson’s backup, but could end up being the starter by the end of preseason. Kirksey is known as a coverage linebacker, at times lining up opposite of slot receivers last year for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Should Kirksey demonstrate adequate coverage skills as well as an ability to stop the run in Saturday’s game he could help turn the tide in his favor. Lastly on defense, first round pick Justin Gilbert is listed behind Buster Skrine on the depth chart at cornerback. Skrine, who was much improved last season, is probably best suited as a slot corner, however Gilbert will have to prove himself on the field to unseat Skrine. The rookie has shown flashes during training camp, now he will have a chance to prove himself in a game. Keep an eye open for rookie defensive back Pierre Desir as well. Desir probably won’t be competing for a starting job, but will try to move his way up the depth chart.

While preseason games obviously don’t count towards a team’s win/loss record, calling them meaningless isn’t completely fair. For the Browns, preseason will (once again) be a proving ground for multiple positions. One fumble, dropped pass or missed tackle can literally make or break a player’s chance of making the team.

Cleveland Browns Training Camp: Storylines and Position Battles

Training camp is underway around the NFL and for the Cleveland Browns camp will once again be a battle ground where a starting job can be won (or lost). While the Browns roster does appear to have some stability at certain positions there are other spots where the starting job is up in the air. First year Head Coach Mike Pettine and his staff will also continue installing new offensive and defensive philosophies. With that being said, here are five storylines to watch during Cleveland Browns training camp this year.

Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel

As it’s been since the Browns came back in 1999, this year’s camp will feature a quarterback competition for the starting job. This year rookie Johnny Manziel will battle hometown favorite Brian Hoyer to be the starting quarterback. Early reports from camp are saying Hoyer is winning the battle and I fully expect him to be named the starter by the third preseason game (when Coach Pettine said he would name a starter), possibly sooner. That doesn’t mean Johnny can’t put pressure on Hoyer, but Manziel has exactly zero snaps in the NFL and it’s not like he was a can’t miss franchise changing prospect in the draft. Manziel has his shortcomings, and he could really benefit from being eased into the job. Having a player like Hoyer on the roster, a younger guy with some NFL experience and a little upside, allows the Browns to do just that. There is no doubt that Manziel is probably the future of the franchise, however that future just might not be right now. Until that future comes, Hoyer has the ability to be a serviceable stop-gap.

Hoyer and Manziel will battle for starting QB job during camp.
Hoyer and Manziel will battle for the starting QB job during camp.

 

The Offensive Line

While left tackle, center and (more or less) right tackle is pretty much set, there will be some competition at the starting guard spots along the offensive line. Obviously depth along the offensive line will be determined as camp progresses and preseason games start, but John Greco, Garrett Gilkey and rookie Joel Bitonio will compete for a starting job at left and right guard. This went from a four horse race to a three horse race with the news and uncertainty surrounding Jason Pinkston. The Browns and Pinkston’s camp released a joint statement indicating he has not been medically cleared for football activities. Pinkston has a medical history that includes a blood clot in his lung. The Browns also cut ties with Chris Faulk, the former LSU lineman whose stock plummeted due to a knee injury. It was thought by some that Faulk could challenge Mitchell Schwartz for the starting right tackle job.

Back to the guard spots, John Greco may have a leg up on Gilkey and Bitonio as he was as starter last season and did a decent enough job, although he didn’t exactly blow the doors off either, getting a positive overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Assuming Greco starts, that leaves Garrett Gilkey and rookie Joel Bitonio to battle for the last starting spot on the offensive line. I believe Bitonio is the favorite to win the job. Gilkey has the physical attributes and the nastiness you look for in a starting lineman, but Bitonio shares those same traits and might be sounder from a technical standpoint. Also, the Browns might not draft an offensive lineman (Bitonio) so high (second round) if they had complete faith in Gilkey as a future starter.

The Receiving Corps

Charles Johnson
Could Charles Johnson emerge as a starter?

According to Ourlads Scouting Service, Josh Gordon is still listed as the number one receiver on the Browns depth chart. Obviously we will learn more about Gordon’s fate over the next few days, but at least for now the Browns will have to plan for life without Gordon for the foreseeable future. Should Gordon be forced to serve a lengthy suspension (possibly a full season according to NFL policy) that leaves a mess at the receiver position. Andrew Hawkins will likely be a starter, but he is best suited as a slot receiver. Veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are on the roster but neither one of these veterans could be considered a team’s number one receiving option. This means either Anthony Armstrong or Charles Johnson could emerge from camp as a starter. Of the two, I’d put my money on Johnson. A seventh round selection by the Green Bay Packers in last year’s draft, Johnson has the intangibles one would look for in a receiver. He has good size (6’2” 215 pounds) is quick and athletic (4.4 forty yard dash), is physical and put up good numbers in college (128 receptions for 2,229 yards and 31 touchdowns in two seasons at D-II Grand Valley State). Johnson was signed by the Browns in October of last season, but the team then found out he had a torn ACL. Assuming he’s fully recovered and there are no complications with his knee, don’t be surprised to see Johnson playing with the first team offense in preseason games.

The Linebacker Corps

Karlos Dansby has been brought in to replace D’Qwell Jackson, however the other inside linebacker spot (assuming the Browns stay with a base 3-4 defense) is still up for grabs and Pettine and his staff will have to figure out how to rotate Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo at outside linebacker. The most concerning of these position battles is inside linebacker. Assuming the Browns run a 3-4 again, the two starting inside linebackers currently are Dansby and Craig Robertson. Last season Robertson was rated as one of the worst inside linebackers in the league according to Pro Football Focus, and was also the worst inside linebacker in pass coverage. Enter Christian Kirksey. The rookie linebacker was asked to cover slot receivers at Iowa last year and did an admirable job. That’s not to say he will absolutely come in and be an excellent coverage linebacker, but it’s hard to fathom he could do much worse than Robertson. Dansby’s presence will greatly assist either Robertson or Kirksey as he is a good coverage linebacker, but somebody is going to have to emerge as a solid compliment to the ten year veteran. If Kirksey shows he can stop the run the job might be his.

The Run Game

The Browns rushing attack last season was terrible, but saw a big upgrade this offseason with the signing of Ben Tate. While Tate is more than likely going to be the starting running back for the Browns, the question of depth remains. Tate has a history of injuries and in today’s NFL teams tend to utilize more than one running back anyway. The Browns have plenty of options. Terrance West was a relative unknown when he was taken by the Browns in the third round out of Towson (unless of course you read this). Now the hard running West might end up being the number two running back on the Browns depth chart. He will have to contend with rookie Isaiah Crowell as well as Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker. While he’s listed as a fullback, Chris Ogbonnaya may also be in that mix. With the excitement about Tate and the buzz around West, Dion Lewis seems to be the forgotten man with something to prove. Lewis would be an ideal change of pace/third down back for the Browns and a great compliment to the more physical styles of Tate and West. A broken leg in the preseason last year forced Lewis to miss the entire season. His presence gives the Browns a different dimension in their running attack, provided he earns the playing time in the preseason.

Cleveland Browns Free Agency Update

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Cleveland Browns were major players in the first day of NFL free agency. I say unsurprisingly because they had nearly $50 million to spend and plenty of holes to fill. It’s important to temper expectations, they haven’t won any games yet after all, but it’s safe to say that Ray Farmer improved the Cleveland Browns with the moves made so far. Here is a quick Cleveland Browns free agency update.

 

 

Before we get into the acquisitions, let’s take a look at the departures. Most notably, the Browns lost starting safety T.J. Ward. Ward signed a four year deal with the Denver Broncos reportedly worth up to $23 million with $14 million guaranteed. Some fans were surprised that, considering the deal is only worth on average $5.75 million a season, the Browns didn’t resign the hard hitting safety. I suppose that might’ve made sense too, it’s always good to keep one of your own. However it must be considered that by the relatively small contract that Ward might’ve wanted out of Cleveland. It also doesn’t hurt that the team who offered him the deal went to the Super Bowl last season and will likely make a deep post season run again in the 2014 campaign. Browns fans also shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking Ward was more than what he was. Last season was a career year for T.J., however many Cleveland fans were unhappy with Ward before the 2013 season as injuries and inconsistency was more the norm. At the end of the day, Ward was a good player but a replaceable player.

 

 

The Browns also lost guard Shawn Lauvao. While Lauvao’s departure might be a slight blow in terms of offensive line depth it’s hard to see Cleveland really missing him. Appearing in eleven games last season for Cleveland, Pro Football Focus ranked him 70th among starting guards last season and 63rd in 2012. In his three years as a starter Lauvao allowed 13 sacks, last season surrendering 4 sacks, 4 quarterback hits and 18 quarterback hurries in his 11 starts. For all of his struggles, the Washington Redskins signed Lauvao to a four year contract reportedly worth $17 million.

 

 

Yesterday was hardly all about the losses of Ward and Lauvao however. The Browns front office made two very good moves that were announced shortly after the 2014 season officially opened up at 4PM.

 

 

Looking to upgrade the middle of the defense, the Browns signed veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby to a four year $24 million deal with $14 million in guaranteed money. Despite the fact that $10 million of that guaranteed money is due to Dansby in year one, there was some concern among fans and media over signing a 32 year old linebacker to a multi-year deal. If you just look at age alone I suppose the move is questionable, however that would be a rather narrow minded way of looking at this signing. Yes, Dansby is 32 (and will turn 33 in November) and yes he is older than the linebacker he replaced (D’Qwell Jackson). Don’t look at this and fool yourself into thinking the Browns didn’t upgrade the position. While D’Qwell found himself in the lower half of inside linebacker rankings, Dansby was rated as the fifth best inside linebacker in the NFL last season and has found himself near the top of those rankings for the past three seasons. He has had over 100 combined tackles in each of his last three seasons and had a far lower number of assisted tackles compared to D’Qwell Jackson, meaning he makes most of his tackles on his own. For the last three seasons Dansby has finished near the top of the league in stops (a stop is a meaningful tackle that constitutes an offensive failure – like tackling a running back at the line of scrimmage) finishing in the top five in that category the past two seasons. Dansby is also an asset in coverage. Any Browns fan that even half way paid attention last season could tell you the middle of the defense was wide open. While Craig Robertson was a huge part of that problem, part of the blame also falls on Jackson. Last season, opposing quarterbacks had a QB Rating of 75 when throwing into Dansby’s coverage – which was fifth best among inside linebackers. He may be older but Dansby is without question an upgrade at the inside linebacker position for Cleveland. Regarding his contract, with the majority of his guaranteed money due in the first year of his contract the Browns have the ability to cut ties with Dansby if his abilities start to diminish.

 

 

The Browns must’ve had an idea that T.J. Ward wasn’t going to return to Cleveland judging by how fast their second free agent signing was reported. Ray Farmer wasted no time replacing Ward with Cleveland native and Ohio State alumni Donte Whitner. While Whitner is only 16 months older than Ward, he has been in the league for eight seasons so he brings experience as well as talent. Not quite the run stopper that Ward was last year, Whitner is still physical enough to play the run and has good coverage skills (as long as you don’t look at a disastrous 2012 season). He turned weakness into strength in 2013 as he intercepted two passes and only allowed two touchdowns in 48 passes into his coverage, with an opposing quarterback QB Rating of 66.8 in 2013. While Whitner has had a somewhat up and down career the positives for him far outweigh the negatives and at worst can continue being a physical presence at the backend of the Browns defense. Whitner signed a four year $28 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. (For an excellent breakdown of both Dansby’s and Whitner’s contracts, click here.)

 

Cleveland signed Donte Whitner (left) and Karlos Dansby (right). Who could be next?

 

The Cleveland Browns will also welcome one of the Trufant brothers to Cleveland, although he is the least talented of the three. Cleveland signed cornerback Isaiah Trufant to an undisclosed contract yesterday. Trufant has ties to Head Coach Mike Pettine from their time together with the New York Jets. Trufant will hardly be an impact player, but he is a player familiar with Pettine’s system and will add some depth to at corner and can contribute on special teams.

 

 

Could the Browns land Darrelle Revis?

Looking ahead, it’s unlikely the Browns are done. There are multiple reports that free agent running back Ben Tate is in Cleveland today and the Browns are still being linked to free agent wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Julian Edelman. The Patriots will reportedly continue negotiations with Edelman but it’s very unlikely the Steelers will resign Sanders, leaving the door open for Cleveland. The Browns are also reportedly in the mix to land star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was just released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Revis signed a six year contract worth $96 million last season with Tampa Bay and while he wasn’t his usual “Revis Island” self there is still no questioning he is one of the top corners in the game. The New England Patriots, who recently lost top cornerback Aqib Talib to free agency, have been reportedly seeking to replace him with Revis while multiple reports yesterday also stated that the Oakland Raiders were in the mix for Revis. Should the Browns be able to acquire Revis he would be reunited with Mike Pettine (from their time together in New York) and would give the Browns arguably the best pair of starting cornerbacks in the league.

 

 

Despite the solid moves made by the Browns front office there are still plenty of holes to fill. Cleveland missed out guards Geoff Schwartz, Zane Beadles and Jon Asamoah (I have no idea whether or not they actually pursued any of them) and while they did offer free agent receiver Andrew Hawkins a contract, the Bengals reportedly will match the offer meaning they still haven’t signed a wide receiver to pair with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. There is still plenty of time, and they don’t necessarily need to fill every hole in free agency, but an upgrade either along the offensive line, at cornerback or at receiver would be welcomed.