Things to Watch for in Training Camp:
Part Two – Offense:
1) – Will the quarterback/wide receiver stability continue to improve?
There are two areas to watch in passing drills, first are the quarterbacks (mainly Brandon Weeden) putting the ball on the money no matter who is running a given route. Are the passes located only where the receiver can catch it, or will the defenders habitually have an opportunity for an interception/deflection? Will the football be waiting for the receivers after they come out of their breaks? Are passes threaded between defenders giving the receiver an opportunity to catch the ball? Will deep throws consistently have the same accuracy and velocity as shorter ones? We have heard about how Brandon Weeden’s impressive performance in rookie minicamp and OTAs but it will be another test to see how he does with live contact and defensive pressure to make correct decisions – quickly.
On the other end of the spectrum, fans have to look at the receivers and their abilities. Are they running the correct routes? Will Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi, Travis Benjamin, and the other speedsters separate themselves from the team’s defenders on a regular basis? Most importantly, have the wide outs shed their main problem from last year and are they hanging on to passes? Among the group, it will be interesting to see how Little progresses from his rookie season and whether there is a jump towards becoming the “number one” wide receiver. There has been much talk from the front office regarding Massaquoi and how he needs to step up this season, or it could be his final one in Cleveland. Training camp is a tremendous starting point for the wide receivers improving on their abilities while gaining timing and feel with the quarterbacks.
2) – How will offense respond after a month off from OTAs/minicamps?
One would expect after not playing together for over a month that the offensive unit will be rusty when entering training camp. The question then becomes, how quickly will the players get back on the same page? In past seasons, fans have not hear about the Browns having “sharp” or efficient training camp offensive practices on a frequent basis. One thing to keep an eye on in camp is which players will be in sync before others. Obviously, the veterans should know more about the ins and outs of the schemes, techniques, plays, etc., but will the rookies become overwhelmed with everything that encompasses an NFL offense?
The level of focus from the Browns’ offense should be extremely high even if several players have ways to go in learning the West Coast Offense. The athletes should have a majority of the terminology down from prior practices and will pick up the remaining in training camp. Additionally, the offensive players should reduce both mental and physical errors that may have occurred in May or June for several reasons. The fact is that the season is fresh and the players have not incurred much physical attrition at this point – errors relating to lack of strength, conditioning, or injury should not be apparent at this stage. Mental mistakes will occur as a part of the learning process, but the time off and continual repetitions that occurred should help the players. Coming off a season where the offense was ranked 29th in total yards and 31st in total points, and the Browns offense needs to begin their improvement as soon as possible. They cannot afford to lose time in training camp and fall behind in their progression due to errors from players who were underprepared.
3) – How will the offensive formations and plays differ from last year?
With the new offensive personnel that arrived in 2012, one might wonder how the Cleveland Browns will alter their offense. How the team lines up will be telling on who the team values more to make plays. Will the Browns employ double tight ends a fair amount of the time? This may promote either a stronger running game, or the fact that the tight ends are some of the team’s better receivers (possibly by default). Does Travis Benjamin crack the starting lineup or will he be the fourth or fifth wide out? There will be some competition for playing time – should several members of the position group excel, the team could field three or four wide receivers on a regular basis (a big change from years past). Aside from Trent Richardson, can one of the other running backs (or fullbacks) see the field more than sporadically? These players have to prove their worth by being the best at one thing (at a minimum) like receiving or blocking. A back could gain the confidence from the coaching staff which could, in turn, lead to multiple sets that include two of these Browns players.
The types of plays will also likely differ from the 2011, due to the new personnel of the Cleveland Browns. Brandon Weeden has a stronger arm than Colt McCoy and has shown in OTAs the ability to throw downfield with velocity and accuracy. Expect to see the offense reflect this, as opposed to the shorter plays we saw last season. Trent Richardson is projected to be one of the best running backs in the league – he will likely be featured in this offense. Also, the addition of Brad Childress as offensive coordinator will help the team by implementing another opinion on what types of plays work and which do not; his past experience as a head coach is a valuable tool. Childress spent time in Minnesota figuring how best to run his offense with the personnel on the roster. Therefore, the Browns’ unit will likely look different in training camp and going forward – the hope is that they become more effective as well.