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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Defensive Players to Watch – 2013 NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Scouting Combine – Players to Watch – Defense

In continuing the process of reviewing a few athletes in the Scouting Combine, let’s take a look at some of the defenders that will be there.  Many believe the defense is further ahead of the offense, but with the regime change and a switch to the 3-4 defense, the Browns’ roster will see a fair amount of turnover in the coming months.  A majority will likely occur in the front seven, where defensive linemen and linebackers will be shuffled in and out.

Defensive Line:  Barkevious Mingo (Defensive End – LSU), Star Lotulelei (Defensive Tackle – Utah), Bjoern Werner (Defensive End – Florida State), Damontre Moore (Defensive End – Texas A&M), and Dion Jordan (Defensive End – Oregon).

Conclusion:  There is a great chance this position will be the Browns’ first round draft selection – the team needs a dominant pass rusher and there are a couple here that fit the bill.  Lotulelei is the best at his position and may fall to number six, but with Phil Taylor, Athyba Rubin, John Hughes, and Billy Winn already on the roster – the team will (likely) focus primarily on the end position.  All four athletes will alternate between having their hand in the dirt and standing upright, but they will be called upon to get to the opposing quarterback regularly.  Jordan is the most athletic of the group; initially recruited as a wide receiver out of high school.  Werner is perceived to be more of a defensive end in the 4-3 (bigger and slower), so the front office may not be as high on him as other franchises.  Nonetheless, watching (testing, etc.) this group at the combine might be the most important task for Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi, as well as the scouts.

Linebacker:  Jarvis Jones (Outside Linebacker – Georgia), Manti Te’o (Inside Linebacker – Notre Dame), Alec Ogletree (Inside Linebacker – Georgia), Chase Thomas (Outside Linebacker – Stanford), and Sean Porter (Outside Linebacker – Texas A&M).

Conclusion:  Adding several linebackers to the current group should be a priority this offseason.  The team needs to add at least another member inside (to pair with D’Qwell Jackson), as well as outside (to go opposite Jabaal Sheard – who was formerly a defensive end).  Jones is the only option of the group at number six; he has had previous ailments that could steer the Browns from drafting him, however.  Besides the whole “Catfishing” story around Te’o, I hope the franchise avoids the linebacker – the Heisman candidate played extremely poor in his last collegiate game.  If Ogletree, Thomas, and Porter can slide down to the second or third rounds, I could see Lombardi making a move to help out the linebacker corps.  Before that happens, the Scouting Combine must commence; the linebackers will go through multiple tests to define their strengths and weaknesses.

Safety:  Kenny Vaccaro (Strong Safety – Texas), Eric Reid (Free Safety – LSU), Matt Elam (Free Safety – Florida), J.J. Wilcox (Free Safety – Georgia Southern), and Shawn Williams (Strong Safety – Georgia).

Conclusion:  After signing as a free agent two seasons ago, Usama Young has been rather disappointing for the Browns.  The free safety could possibly be replaced this season, especially by an early draft selection.  Tashaun Gipson showed some promise, but if there is a better alternative out there – the team will not hesitate to bring him on board.  I really liked Elam his season; if he or Reid are available it could be great for the organization.  T.J. Ward has played well when he’s been healthy over the past few seasons, but the strong safety has sustained several injuries dating back to 2010.  As a result, the team may pass over a strong safety option this year, but nothing surprises me with the Cleveland Browns.  The speed and agility tests for this group are important, but the Browns need a guy who can cover receivers exceptionally.  This indicates great closing speed and awareness are of importance, both of which are found on game film.

Cornerback:  Dee Milliner (Alabama), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), Desmond Trufant (Washington), Robert Alford (Southeast Louisiana), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut), and B.W. Webb (William & Mary).

Conclusion:  With Sheldon Brown getting older, his status with the team may be in jeopardy.  The Browns need another dominant cornerback opposite Joe Haden – many opponents were able to easily pass and have big days last season.  To counteract this, the Browns cannot hope that a late round pick (aka Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, etc.) can overcome his weaknesses and turn into a starting NFL cornerback.  Milliner and Rhodes are first round picks, but both are perceived as “reaches” where the Browns are drafting.  However, Trufant helped himself a great deal in the Senior Bowl – perhaps he can evolve into a solid professional.  All have very good ability though, and I hope each test well in Indianapolis (both on and off the field).

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in NFL Combine

 

Offensive Players to Watch – 2013 NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Scouting Combine – Players to Watch – Offense

Well, it’s that time of year again – when scouts, general managers, and professional personnel employees of NFL teams travel to Indianapolis to watch, interview, and discuss many options for the upcoming draft in April.  Typically the front offices know what they have in their roster and can pare down each position group to certain individuals that will be the best fit for the team.  Looking at the Cleveland Browns’ needs and the available options, let’s analyze where the team (could and) should focus most of time in the last weekend of February.

Quarterback:  Landry Jones (Oklahoma), E.J. Manuel (Florida State), Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), Tyler Bray (Tennessee), Matt Barkley (USC), Mike Glennon (North Carolina State) and Tyler Wilson (Arkansas).

Conclusion:  The front office has not given their full support to Brandon Weeden, and competition will arrive at the quarterback position.  I believe the Browns are out of the Geno Smith market, and rightfully so (I do not think he is as valuable as the sixth overall selection).  Five of the seven listed above participated in the Senior Bowl in 2013 – watching the practices and game, none particularly stood out.  If the Browns want to take a quarterback in the draft, I hope they wait until their second pick (third round) comes around.  I believe Glennon, Wilson, and possibly Nassib will be drafted in that area; hopefully the team takes longer glances at Jones, Manuel, Dysert, and Bray as a result.  Barkley is the wildcard; I’m intrigued to see how he responds to injury and a disappointing senior season.  Before further scrutinizing each in their respective pro Days (where the quarterbacks will likely throw), it will be important to record both measurables and personalities of possibly future signal callers.

Running Back:  Montee Ball (Wisonsin), Kenjon Barner (Oregon), Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State), Mike Gillislee (Florida), and Ray Graham (Pittsburgh).

Conclusion:  I omitted Giovani Bernard from North Carolina and Eddie Lacy from Alabama as options; after taking Trent Richardson last season, I highly doubt the Browns draft a running back early once again.  Ball and Bell will get a great deal of attention from scouts in Indianapolis – both have performed exceptionally in the collegiate game for multiple seasons.  They also to appear to be more “complete backs” (where they do not possess too many limitations).  The other three (more than likely) options for the Browns – Barner, Gillislee (who appeared to be the best back in the Senior Bowl), and Graham are smaller athletes who will likely be employed as complementary running backs.  I am uncertain about the front office’s feelings on Hardesty and Ogbonnaya – therefore they may be looking for a younger option in the backfield.

Wide Receiver: Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Marquise Goodwin (Texas), Tavarres King (Georgia), Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas), Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech), Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), and Robert Woods (USC).

Conclusion:  With the selections of Greg Little, Josh Gordon, and Travis Benjamin in the past two years, there’s a fair possibility the team will not draft another wide receiver in 2013.  However, I feel they need another dependable option this season – whether they take this athlete in the draft or acquire a free agent.  Assuming they go the draft route, I hope the Browns select more of a possession-type receiver who can pick up yardage and take hits.  Austin and Goodwin are outstanding players but more in the mold of Travis Benjamin (which could deter the team from choosing a similar athlete).  I liked the way Patton and Wheaton – and to a lesser extent, King – performed in Mobile, Alabama, a few weeks ago.  I would love to see the team inquire more about these targets, as well as Hamilton and Woods.

Tight End:  Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame), Zach Ertz (Stanford), Joseph Fauria (UCLA), Travis Kelce (Cincinnati), and Jordan Reed (Florida).

Conclusion:  I anticipate Ben Watson not being with the team in 2013 – that leaves just Jordan Cameron and Alex Smith on the roster at the tight end position.  The team needs to add another playmaker for defenses to game plan against.  Along with the wide receiver position, the Browns could find an option in free agency (but that is not a given).  In the draft, there are a couple tremendous athletes in this position group; I hope the Browns are able to get one in the middle rounds .  Eifert had a solid season, but may not be available when the third round begins.  The Browns need a guy who cannot only catch and run, but can also prevent defenders from meeting Trent Richardson in the backfield.  It will be fascinating to see how the group tests in agility and receiving drills alike – perhaps one or more can stand out in Indianapolis.

Offensive Line:  Chance Warmack (Guard – Alabama), Jonathan Cooper (Guard – North Carolina), Barrett Jones (Guard – Alabma), Brian Winters (Guard – Kent State), D.J Fluker (Tackle – Alabama), Dallas Thomas (Tackle – Tennessee).

Conclusion:  Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro-Bowler, Alex Mack is one of the better centers in the league, and Mitchell Schwartz had a very good rookie season – the Browns will likely only focus on the guard position (if they are looking to upgrade the offensive line).  There’s a possibility the team takes a tackle and converts him to guard in the NFL, as well.  Warmack would be an option at the sixth pick, but many feel the defense is dire in certain areas and desperately needs upgraded before offensive guard.  Jones bounced around between positions in his collegiate career and would be a great option – if he is available later in the draft.  Fluker, Thomas, and Cooper all interest me; I look forward to seeing what they can do on the field.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in NFL Combine

 

Year in Review – Cleveland Browns 2012 – Part III

2012 Year in Review – the Cleveland Browns – Part III

The playoffs were once again unlikely for the Browns after a dismal 2 – 6 start; an incredible run would be the only way to salvage the season.  They still had half their divisional games remaining, but added pressure was put on the team as now Jimmy Haslam was voted in as the official owner of the Cleveland Browns.

Road Tested:  One of the first moves (as owner) made by Haslam, was to get the franchise on TV.  His wife, Dee, is the CEO of RIVR Media – a production company that owns many networks like the Travel Channel.  Thus the show “Road Tested” was born on her network; the five-week show began in December 2012 and went in-depth about the Cleveland Browns.  In it, players (mainly Phil Dawson) were chronicled in both their professional and personal lives.  The program also delved into employees of the NFL franchise; including those who work with players’ equipment, field management, and marketing/advertising (to name a few).  It gave die-hards fans and those lesser informed a chance to see how game-days work in professional football – especially off the field.  Also, it recognized a few employees that had previously gone unnoticed.

Regular Season (Games 9 – 16):  On the field, the Browns had another chance to exact revenge from an earlier loss.  This time it was against the Ravens; the home team fell behind 14 – 0 but a few Phil Dawson field goals gave the Browns a 15 – 14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.  However, Joe Flacco then lead his team on a eighty-one yard touchdown drive, and after the Browns turned the football over on downs, the Ravens clinched the win with a field goal.  The contest was decided by the home team’s lack of execution in the red zone; Brandon Weeden only had 176 yards, two interceptions, and never really made an attempt to throw in the end zone.  The defense definitely kept the team in the contest, but both sides of the ball must play well to win.  That was not the case and the result was a disappointing 25 – 15 defeat.

Following the team’s bye week, the Dallas Cowboys were next on the schedule.  All looked right as the visiting team took an early 13 – 0 advantage in Arlington, Texas.  The Browns cooled off in the second half however; Ben Watson’s late touchdown (his second of the contest) was the only real offense in the second half.  Weeden’s earlier fumble was negated by a Tony Romo fumble.  However, another absence by Joe Haden in this contest resulted in the team’s secondary suffering and overcompensating.  The Browns’ defensive backfield was flagged for multiple penalties (interference, holding, etc.), including the game-tying field goal drive in regulation.  The Cowboys added another field goal in overtime to pull out a 23 – 20 win.

It was a renewal of the rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the next game.  The Browns dodged a bullet, as longtime veteran Charlie Batch was the opposing quarterback; the defenders took advantage with three interceptions by Sheldon Brown, Billy Winn, and Joe Haden.  The opposition could not run the football adequately either; four athletes took carries for the Steelers for a combined forty-nine yards and five fumbles.  Weeden threw an important touchdown to Jordan Cameron in the first half, and Trent Richardson’s score gave the Browns the lead in the third quarter.  A scoreless fourth quarter gave the home team the much needed win; the Browns survived 20 – 14.

After more than an entire calendar year, the Browns were finally in position to win a game on the road.  The place was O.co Coliseum in Oakland – the opponent was the Raiders.  Brandon Weeden threw for 364 yards and a nice touchdown pass to Josh Gordon (for forty-one yards) in this game; fortunately his two interceptions did not hurt too much.  Despite shutting down the home team’s running game, the Raiders kept this close with their aerial attack.  Tight end Brandon Myers and receiver Rod Streater combined for 226 yards and two touchdowns, but Carson Palmer’s late interception in the red zone paved the way for a game-sealing drive for the Browns (capped off by a Trent Richardson touchdown).  A late score was not enough as the visitors got the 20 – 17 win.

Back-to-back wins have not been an easy accomplishment; surely three in a row would be extremely difficult.  However, the Browns’ next opponent was the struggling Kansas City Chiefs – a team dealing with the Jovan Belcher tragedy.  Jamaal Charles ran untouched for eighty yards and a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game; the air appeared to leave Cleveland Browns Stadium.  After a goal-line stand and a field goal, the Browns completely tipped the scales their way following a ninety-three yard punt return (touchdown) by rookie Travis Benjamin.  The second half was dominated by the home team; twenty points and an interception of Brady Quinn made the final score 30 – 7.  It was a rare blowout, and even Colt McCoy saw playing time when the game was out of hand.

It looked like the Browns were going to catch another break, as rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III would be held out when the two faced each other.  Kirk Cousins played poor initially (tossing an interceptions) but recovered well the rest of the way.  The Browns held a 14 – 10 lead at the half but that disappeared quickly after Weeden’s first interception (of two).  Four touchdowns later; three by the ground, and the rout was on by the Washington Redskins to the tune of 38 – 21.  There was a great deal of disappointment, as the defense was dominated facing a backup rookie signal caller in his first game.  The only second half points for the Browns came from a sixty-nine yard fade to Travis Benjamin in the fourth quarter.

Peyton Manning lead the Broncos to three scores and 339 yards through the air; the visitors had no response the future Hall-of-Famer.  Besides getting thrown upon at-will, the Browns were bruised and battered at Sports Authority Field in Denver.  Brandon Weeden was having a decent game, before being knocked out in the second half.  Colt McCoy stepped in and took several sacks but also got the team in the end zone (the only time).  While being completely dominated both offensively and defensively, the special teams did not help either – Josh Cribbs fumbled a punt (setting up another touchdown).  When the dust settled, the Broncos scored a touchdown in every quarter and defeated the Browns by the score of 34 – 12.

It was Thaddeus Lewis who got the nod at staring quarterback in the season finale (following the injuries to Weeden and McCoy).  In his first start, facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, the young quarterback had a decent outing but also made mistakes.  His early interception (by Troy Polamalu) eliminated a chance to get on the scoreboard – however, Lewis was also able to tie the score in the third quarter with a touchdown pass to Greg Little.  It was not enough though, as the rushing attack of Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty could not move the football well against the tough defense.  The Browns dropped the game 24 – 10 at Heinz Field and finished the 2012 season losing their last three games.

Conclusion:

It was yet another 5 – 11 season for the Cleveland Browns; they showed flashes of greatness, immaturity off the field, and inconsistent play.  This was likely bound to happen with such a young roster.  Immediately following the season, Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner wiped the slate clean – removing both coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert from their respective positions.  Hopefully, the team can build off this season and take a huge jump in 2013.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in NFL Season

 

Year in Review – 2012 Cleveland Browns – Part II

Part II – 2012 Year in Review – the Cleveland Browns 

The Browns finished up the pre-season going 2-2 and were looking to excel in the regular season.  The roster was young, athletic, and untested – fans were eager to see how they acclimate to the professional game.  There were many, anticipated challenges that would accompany the seventeen week campaign; surely the Browns could not use any additional ordeals.  However, that was exactly the case just a couple of weeks before the season commenced.

Sale of the Team:  In early August, it was announced that then-owner Randy Lerner would sell the franchise to Jimmy Haslam (the CEO of Pilot Flying J) for a sum of one billion dollars.  The team was bequeathed to Lerner from his late father (Al), during the 2002 season.  One of Al’s wishes was to have Randy maintain ownership for at least ten years, which was the outcome.  As far as the fans go, excitement was very high.  During the younger Lerner’s tenure (beginning in his first full season of 2003), the team only saw one winning season and never reached the post-season.  Many coaches and general managers were hired and fired, as well as multiple quarterbacks seeing the field.  This signaled a much-needed change in the front office, with additional ones on the horizon.  Coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert were put on notice and the success of the Browns in 2012 would determine their future in 2013.  Despite the distraction, the team was preparing to open the season on September 9th.

Regular Season (Games 1 – 8):  Despite both first-round rookie draft picks struggling, the Browns were in position to defeat the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles.  Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions and had only 118 yards, while Trent Richardson put up just thirty-nine yards on nineteen carries.  Defensively, D’Qwell Jackson recovered a fumbled and an interception (for a touchdown) for the Browns.  Joe Haden, Craig Robertson, and L.J. Fort also had interceptions for the team – however it was Fort’s dropped interception late in the game that prevented the Browns from stealing the victory.  Alas, Michael Vick got another chance and drove it down the field to go ahead 17 – 16, before Weeden’s interception ended the contest.

Without Joe Haden being available in Cincinnati, the Browns surrendered 301 yards and three scores through the air.  The secondary struggled mightily, and three different wide receivers for the Bengals found their way into the end zone.  Both Weeden and Richardson had bounce back games from the opener; Weeden threw for 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Richardson had over 140 total yards and two scores (but it was not enough).  Allowing an early punt return touchdown was the discrepancy in the contest; as the Browns dropped to 0 – 2 following a 34 – 27 game at Paul Brown Stadium.

In one of their more disappointing outings of the season, the visiting Buffalo Bills dominated the Browns.  Once again, the opposing signal caller played exceptionally – Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to find his target three times in the end zone.  C.J. Spiller (pre-injury) and Tashard Choice got it done in the running back spot; the two combined for 107 rushing yards,  fifty receiving yards, and a touchdown.  Weeden’s average outing (237 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions), and Richardson’s lackluster performance (fifty-one total yards) killed the offense.  Perhaps a few more veterans on the offensive side of the football would have kept the game closer – rookies could not keep up with their opponent en route to a 24 – 14 defeat.

On a Thursday primetime contest in Baltimore, the Browns came up a few yards short in a 23 – 16 loss to the Ravens.  Tossing fifty-two passes, Brandon Weeden gained threw for 320 yards, but his interception (returned for a touchdown by Cary Williams) all but cemented the contest.  The young, visiting team kept the contest close, with Richardson’s rushing touchdown late in the first half.  Greg Little’s second season appeared to be disappointing highlighted by a dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter.  Joe Flacco torched the Joe Haden-less secondary for 356 yards and a touchdown.  The Browns limited Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in the rushing game, but the team could not make enough plays to garner their first win of the season.

It was a great start in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as the Browns took an early 14 – 0 lead over the Giants.  However, that quickly evaporated following a Weeden interception (which was returned deep into Browns’ territory) and a Giants’ touchdown.  Cribbs’ fumble on the ensuing kickoff also lead to another touchdown.  Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz three times in the end zone for scores, while Ahmad Bradshaw had 200 yards on the ground; this was the worst performance by the Browns’ defense in the 2012 season.  On a positive note, it appeared to be a break out game for rookie Josh Gordon – the wide out hauled in a two scores and finished with eighty-two yards.  If it were not for his play, the game would have been worse than the 41 – 27 final.

Finally, the Browns got into the win column – the team was able to defeat the Bengals at home by a score of 34 – 24.  After trailing at halftime, the home team forced four turnovers (one fumble and three interceptions), and Sheldon Brown’s touchdown upped the lead to seventeen.  Weeden and Gordon hooked up for a huge seventy-one yard touchdown, proving the prior week was not a fluke.  After sustaining a rib injury, Richardson left the game and veteran Montario pick up the slack well.  He averaged almost four yards per attempt and scored a touchdown – giving fans faith he can be a dependable runner in limited action.  The Browns’ defense gave up 381 yards passing, but the turnovers were the difference in the game.

Facing an inexperienced team like the Colts, the Browns had an opportunity to win consecutive games.  However, Josh Gordon’s drop of a touchdown late, coupled with the subsequent punt on fourth down and one yard (in Colts’ territory) cost the team the win.  Andrew Luck only had 186 yards passing, but the team’s running attack dominated the contest.  Vick Ballard and Delone Carter combined for 125 yards, while Luck ran in two scores himself.  This was an extremely disappointing performance by the run defense.  Having Phil Taylor (still) sidelined from his injury was hurting the interior of the defense.  Weeden’s two touchdowns were not enough, and the Browns lost 17 – 13.

The heavy rain and wind in Cleveland Browns Stadium made for miserable weather and poor statistics.  Weeden and Philip Rivers combined for only 283 yards; the running game dictated the outcome.  Richardson had 122 yards and the only touchdown of the contest; he accounted for over half of the team’s total yardage.  Holding the Chargers to a pair of field goals, in addition to a critical dropped pass by Robert Meachem in the third quarter, put the Browns in a position to win.  The Chargers were driving late, but Buster Skrine’s deflection halted the go-ahead drive.  In the end, the Browns pulled out an ugly 7 – 6 victory, but many fans could not complain as the old adage goes “a win is a win”.

At the halfway point of the season, the Browns were just 2 – 6; they looked young, inexperienced, and error-prone.  However, the locker room was still upbeat and anticipating to a gigantic improvement in the latter half of the 2012 campaign.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in NFL Season