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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Camp News and Notes – Cleveland Browns

Week One of Browns Training Camp: Notes and Observations

After several days of practices (a few including only rookies followed by the entire ninety-man roster), and it’s safe to say that football season is underway!  As will be the case during the regular season, it appears that there are already surprises, concerns, highs, and lows.  Hopefully the Browns continue with their current strengths and are determined to correct areas that need improvement over the next month.

1) – Veterans arriving early

When I heard that players like Trent Richardson, D’Qwell Jackson, and Brandon Weeden (to name a few) arrived to camp several days early (to when veterans were required to report), my level of confidence within this organization continued to rise.  Leadership cannot be undersold; the NFL is a league where guidance by veterans can vastly help the team – especially in tough times throughout the season. Granted, the Browns will likely not have the type of finish to the season as the veteran-laden Ravens did in 2012, but it is comforting to know that the coaching staff are not the only members of the franchise who are educating the younger athletes.

2) – Chud excited

Coaches come in all shapes and sizes – likewise, some are perceived as stoic (i.e. Bill Belichick) while others are “rah-rah” guys (i.e. Pete Carroll).  No matter which type of coach the Browns have had since 1999, the leader has had little success and ultimately lost his job.  That being said, I enjoyed hearing that Chud came into camp pumped up and waved his arms in order to the crowd to get noisier.  It’s no secret he was a fan of the Browns growing up, and it’s apparent he wears his heart on his sleeve.  I have faith he will do whatever it takes to be a winner in the NFL – he currently has his dream job.  This further cements the notion of the team being more aggressive in 2013 than in years past – it will come down to making the right moves.

3) – Gordon injured?  Others stepping up

Second-year pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will already miss the first two outings in the 2013 regular season, due to suspension.  However after the first week of practice, he has already sustained a leg cramp and patellar tendinitis – its difficult to determine whether he will have issues staying healthy in the fall but it is a tad concerning that we are hearing this about Gordon already.  On the flip side, some in the media speculate that Gordon’s latest injury may be a cover for not hustling – which is even more disappointing.  D’Qwell Jackson has already given a talk to the former Baylor wide out (regarding not wasting his opportunity), but if Gordon continues to not be a team player, it could be extremely detrimental to the team.  The Browns have not had a ton of success as of late, and a locker room headache is something they can ill-afford.

4) – Largest Attendance in Browns’ Camp History

On Sunday, roughly forty-four hundred members came out to watch the Browns hit the field; the most ever for the franchise.  It’s not surprising to see a jump in attendance each time there is a new regime change, but this type of increase was not anticipated.  Whether the new ownership, roster turnover, or just a nice day caused crazed Browns fans to want to see their team, many came out in support.  This, more than likely, put a smile on the face of Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, and Alec Scheiner – who are all working together to make the game day experience better and improve ticket sales.  The fans will always come to support the Browns, but several victories could go a long way in further enhancing the atmosphere inside First Energy Stadium.

5) – Easing Rookies In

As anticipated, both rookies Barkevious Mingo and Leon McFadden did not begin training camp with the starting units.  As the team collects talented athletes, it is expected that veterans hold off rookies for playing time – at least initially.  I like the philosophy the coaching staff is employing, one that other regimes did not; making everyone earn their job.  I definitely hope both defenders can leapfrog into starting roles, but not before they give the team the best chance to win.  It may take spot duty (quarterback rushing situations for Mingo, nickel/dime packages for McFadden) for them to take the field, but dominance can obviously keep them on the gridiron.

There are a lot of moving parts already as the 2013 season opens up, and there will continue to be excitement and worries.  Just over a week until the Browns hit the field for the first time against the Rams, hopefully the fans will get a good look of the roster and how they are progressing.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Training Camp

 

Heading into Training Camp 2013

Finally! Training Camp is Here…

The long summer offseason is finally nearing its completion, and the NFL will begin their training camp sessions this week.  In the months of May, June, and early July, a majority of the news surrounding a franchise was unfortunate.

The Browns were no exception, considering:

– Rookie seventh rounder Armonty Bryant’s DUI (after he has been arrested selling marijuana in college)

– Josh Gordon’s two-game suspension (for violating the substance abuse policy) to begin the 2013 season

– The ever-evolving news surrounding Pilot Flying J’s alleged rebate fraud and the status of CEO and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam (including the potential financial ramifications)

These seem bad (and they are) but other franchises have had their own issues as well:

– The Aaron Hernandez arrest for (alleged) murder in Connecticut

– A pair of DUIs for the Denver Broncos’ front office (including a former general manager of the Cleveland Browns)

– Multiple suspensions by several athletes for either violating the substance abuse policy or failing performance enhancing drug testing

Alas, now it is time for the players and coaching staff to get back to work.  (Thankfully Mingo signed his contract and the Browns’ rookie class is complete.)  Minicamp sessions have dealt more about with the cerebral part of the game; i.e. learning the new offensive and defensive schemes and techniques, etc.  However, the next few weeks of practices and preseason matchups focus on the physical execution of the given assignments.

Besides the obvious battles for starting spots, fans will get an early glimpse at which athletes improved greatly from last season, have a ways to go, or remain status quo.  Rookies are typically a bit more complicated, because each player is in a unique situation and (depending on where they were taken in the draft) progress can be measured differently.

At this point in the season, each team has a ninety-man roster (or just less than twice the final roster).  There are many to be cut before the regular season opener; the importance to analyze each member not guaranteed of a spot cannot be underestimated.  Regardless of position, if a member shows brilliance on a daily basis, he will find himself on the team.  Politics may come into place (athletes acquired by the current regime versus those signed by previous management), but at the end of the day it still comes down to performance and a player’s value to the team.

As is tradition, there is roughly a week and a half of practices until the first preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.  Although games are great measuring sticks, not each player will be evaluated evenly (with playing time being sporadic).  The coaching staff should have a good gauge on a fair amount of the roster.   That being said, should two players at the same position be rated evenly, the guy who makes a play in a game might get the nod.

Injuries factor in hugely in training camp as well; take for instance Trent Richardson last season.  The rookie runner missed all of camp (and preseason) following his surgery, only to return in week one.  In the meantime, the team worked out Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya – each established their niche roles and employed them in the regular season.  The season-ending Achilles tendon tear to Chris Gocong was a hit to the Browns’ linebacking corps in 2012.  In his absence, a few younger (Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, and James-Michael Johnson) athletes saw playing time.  Hopefully an similar instance does not occur in 2013, but it appears this squad is better prepared to handle that situation.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to seeing and hearing about who stands out in practice, what to expect with the new offense and defense, and what the overall tone is.  From the onset, players appear to be really supporting this new coaching staff – I am who believes a change will be beneficial.  Hopefully an upbeat mentality, a familiarity of the professional game by multiple starters (who are no longer rookies or second-year pros), and being in ideal situations will allow this team to finally turn the corner.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Training Camp

 

Defensive/Specialist Roster Breakdown

Sizing up the Roster – Defense/Special Teams

In continuing our review of the Browns and breaking down position groups, let us now take a look at the defense and specialists. 

Defensive Line:  Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Armonty Bryant, Brian Sanford, Dave Kruger, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, Justin Staples, Kendrick Adams, Hall Davis

Analysis:  Switching to a defensive scheme (3-4) that requires fewer defensive linemen, and obviously there will not be as many tackles and ends on the final roster as there were in 2012.  I could see anywhere from six to eight of these members included on Sunday lineups.  Taylor, Rubin, and Desmond Bryant are the likely opening day starters, while Hughes, Winn, and Kitchen return as key contributors from last season.  Outside of Sanford, the remaining linemen have little-to-no NFL experience and may wind up on the practice squad.  Both Armonty Bryant and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste have shown flashes of brilliance in college – that needs to be duplicated early in order to remain on the roster.

Linebackers:  D’Qwell Jackson, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, James-Michael Johnson, Craig Robertson, Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves, Tank Carder, L.J. Fort, Adrian Moten, and Tommy Smith

Analysis:  The flip side of the new defense is the additional number of linebackers that the front office will likely keep.  Besides base defenses, these athletes are regular contributors on special teams.  I anticipate a solid rotation with the first seven listed above, while Carder and Fort are involved more in specialty packages and special teams.  Alternating will be helpful for this unit, as they will be (likely) sprinting a majority of the time, especially the edge rushers.  Groves and Kruger were solid acquisitions that can hopefully teach the young outside linebackers the correct way to play – D’Qwell Jackson is the veteran in the middle who can share some knowledge as well.

Cornerbacks:  Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Leon McFadden, Chris Owens, Trevin Wade, Josh Aubrey, Akeem Auguste, Abdul Kanneh, Vernon Kearney, Kent Richardson, and Kentronte Walker

Analysis:  It appears that the only guaranteed spots are with the first four listed; Wade saw some action last season but will have his hands full holding off rookies in training camp.  As with linebackers, this position group will be prevalent in special teams, be it by corner or via coverage.  Heading into camp, it has been rather hard to gauge the performance of these athletes – jamming receivers and tackling still have yet to be included in practice sessions.  The Browns have yet to field three (let alone two) solid cornerbacks in some time, hopefully two of the top three (Skrine, Owens, or McFadden) can excel in spots opposite Joe Haden and against slot receivers.

Safeties:  T.J. Ward, Johnson Bademosi, Tashaun Gipson, and Jamoris Slaughter

Analysis:  Barring a setback in Slaughter’s ruptured Achilles tendon (from last year) recovery, I see all four members being on the active roster this season.  As it stands, Ward and Gipson appear to be the two starters, while Bademosi will have his chance (to move up in the depth chart) in training camp. Slaughter is the wildcard – the rookie from Notre Dame could shock everyone and grab the starting free safety spot, be a regular contributor on special teams, or be inactive during contests.  Many have concerns with the safety position, as it includes young and inexperienced members – hopefully they can hold their own.

Specialists:  Shayne Graham (kicker), Brandon Bogotay (kicker), Spencer Lanning (punter), T.J. Conley (punter), and Christian Yount (longsnapper)

Analysis:  Yount is guaranteed his job (provided he is as reliable and consistent as he was last year).  After the Phil Dawson era ended this offseason, the Browns need to find themselves a new kicker.  Currently, the elderly Graham faces the youthful Bogotay; there are beliefs that the team could keep both.  Graham would work mostly on shorter kicks, while Bogotay handles longer attempts and kickoffs.  The punters have a combined one year of NFL experience; Conley was with the Jets in 2011 as a starter, while Lanning has never punted in the regular season.  However, the latter spent time here last training camp – will his familiarity help him land the job?

Final Conclusion:  Like the offensive side of the football, several difficult decisions will have to be made before the Week 1 matchup against the Dolphins.  The most interesting aspects will be competition at cornerback and how the depth chart finalizes.  Regardless of who ends up on this team, I look forward to seeing how Ray Horton works his magic with the defensive unit – the Browns appear to have equipped themselves in the draft and free agency with players who can effectively operate in this defense.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Players

 

Offensive Roster Breakdown

Sizing up the Roster – Offense: 

Looking at the ninety-man roster, some players obviously have a better chance than others to make the final fifty-three-person team.  A few are able to be included on the eight-member practice squad, while others will be looking for jobs.  Let’s take a glance at some of the likely members of the 2013 Cleveland Browns on offense. 

Quarterback:  Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer

Analysis:  After signing two signal callers in the offseason to compete with the incumbent, it’s hard to imagine the roster including someone else at the quarterback position (barring injury, obviously).  It would be a huge surprise if Weeden did not hold on to the starting job to open the season, but he still must perform well during training camp to secure it.  Campbell has much more experience than Hoyer in the NFL, but if the hometown athlete can turn heads in July and August, he could possibly move up the depth chart. 

Running Back:  Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya, Dion Lewis, Brandon Jackson, Owen Marecic, and Miguel Maysonet

Analysis:  All seven of these athletes will not make the final roster – I envision four or five sticking around after final cuts.  Should Maysonet excel in training camp, he could be a member of the team – however it would likely be with the practice squad (as he is eligible).  After Richardson, none of the other spots are guaranteed.  Marecic is the only true fullback on the roster, but will Turner and Chud value that position over another running back?  Ogbonnaya is a noted pass-blocker and receiver, while Lewis can return kicks and punts.  Will these traits help when competing with Hardesty and Jackson?  We may find out in the coming weeks.

Wide Receiver:  Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Travis Benjamin, Davone Bess, David Nelson, Josh Cooper, Jordan Norwood, Dominique Croom, Keenan Davis, Mike Edwards, Tori Gurley, and Cordell Robertson

Analysis:  Many anticipate the roster including five wide receivers; this will be a highly scrutinized position in camp.  Josh Gordon’s two-game suspension will allow another member to be with the team for that period, whether the front office keeps another wide out remains to be seen though.  The first five listed above are the odds-on favorites to be on the final fifty-three-man roster, with Cooper and Norwood getting an outside shot to steal a spot.  The remaining five athletes are either rookies or first-year members; they can be placed on the practice squad if the team feels they could contribute in the future.

Tight End:  Jordan Cameron, Kellen Davis, Gary Barnidge, Brad Smelley, Dan Gronkowski, and Travis Tannahill

Analysis:  The Browns will, more than likely, keep no more than three tight ends on their final roster.  Cameron, Davis, and Barnidge are the likely candidates right now – Cameron being the only one with experience with the Browns (of the three).  Smelley spent time last year on the practice squad, while Gronkowski has been signed and cut a few times already.  Tannahill could possibly make this year’s practice squad, should he be deemed worthy. 

Offensive Line:  Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, John Greco, Shawn Lauvao, Jason Pinkston, Oniel Cousins, Ryan Miller, Jarrod Shaw, Martin Wallace, Aaron Adams, Dominic Alford, Rashad Butler, Braxston Cave, Chris Faulk, Garrett Gilkey, and Caylin Hauptmann.

Analysis:  It appears that six members will compete for five starting spots (with Greco, Lauvao, and Pinkston vying for the two guard positions).  After that, the team will probably just keep two reserve spots – last season Cousins and Miller occupied these.  Butler is an eight-year veteran, but will have to stand out in order to remain with the Browns.  The other eight linemen have no more than two seasons of NFL experience – I foresee the team keeping a few on the practice squad (especially with the strong possibility of injuries).  Some feel that Cave, Faulk, and Gilkey have a chance to stick around; despite either being late-round draft choices or undrafted free agents. 

Final Conclusion:  As the team continues to improve, final cut downs become increasingly difficult for the front office.  That being said, there are several position groups that are solid on the depth chart – only a member or two could work their way up.  The Browns had a small draft class, and many of the offensive rookies are either undrafted or were selected in later rounds.  They will have a tough time making the final roster; perhaps they can practice with the team on a weekly basis however.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Players

 

Ahtyba Rubin – Player Profile

Player Profile – Defense – Cleveland Browns 

Ahtyba Rubin – Defensive Lineman:

After multiple trades, the 2008 draft class for the Cleveland Browns was an extremely rare (and odd) one.  The year prior, the franchise traded away their first round pick for the rights to select Brady Quinn.  In March 2008, the team traded away their second and third round selections in order to acquire Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams.  Of the five remaining picks for the Browns only one has gone on to have a solid professional career – the sixth round pick from Iowa State University.

Early in his football career, Ahtyba Rubin was definitely well traveled.  The athlete grew up in Virginia, went to high school in Florida, and enrolled in community college in Texas.  He ended up securing All-conference honors (and All-American honorable mention) in 2006.  Rubin then transferred to Iowa State for his final two collegiate seasons – foregoing TCU as an alternative.  Switching back and forth between offensive and defensive line, the football star went returned to his natural role with the Cyclones; defending the football.

Rubin’s senior season was productive but not dominant; the defensive lineman notched forty-two stops and had a sack-and-a-half on the opposition.  Entering the NFL Draft, many scouts did not see him project as anything more than a rotational player.  Despite displaying remarkable strength at the combine in Indianapolis (thirty-five repetitions of 225 pounds – third most that year), Rubin did not improve his draft stock.  After 189 choices went by in late April, the Browns finally took a chance on the defender; he has been one of their best, value picks ever since.

The rookie season was one of learning for Rubin; he appeared in eleven contests but mostly in a reserve role (behind Rogers).  The 2008 Browns went 4 – 12 and were extremely inconsistent on offense, but the defense was slightly better.  Despite allowing the fifth most rushing yards, the unit ranked sixteenth in points allowed and fourteenth in rushing yards surrendered.  This was a silver lining for the franchise; fans felt this part of the team could carry the franchise while upgrades would be made on the other side of the ball.

In 2009, the subsequent coaching staff started a miserable 1 – 11, but followed up with four consecutive victories.  After Rogers sustained an injury in week twelve, Rubin started the final five contests.  Outside of the shootout in Kansas City (a 41 – 34 victory), the defense of the Browns gave up six, nine, and seventeen points in the other three games.  During this period, they allowed a one hundred yard rusher (against the Jaguars) and a two hundred yard passer (versus the Raiders) one time each.  The defense was far from perfect, but they seemed to be getting better as the season wore on.

Mangini’s second season included trading away Corey Williams and moving Shaun Rogers to defensive end; this allowed Rubin to finally become a starter in the NFL – at nose tackle.  Another dismal season filled with injuries and losses occurred for the Browns.  However, the defense continued its upward trend from 2009.  They rated thirteenth in points allowed and eighteenth in passing yardage surrendered, but continued to get gashed against the run (twenty-seventh most allowed).  After removing their coach, the new staff would implement a 4 – 3 scheme, where Rubin would have a partner up the middle of the defensive front.

In the draft, the team took Phil Taylor in the first round, a defensive lineman from the University of Baylor.  Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron employed his changes with personnel and schemes – the Browns allowed only 307 points during the season (fifth most in the league), and gave up the second fewest passing yards.  However, stopping the run proved to once again be a difficult task; the 2011 squad gave up the third most yards on the ground.  For the third straight season, Rubin played in each game for the Browns.  During that time period, he totaled seven sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception.  However, until the defense could improve substantially, the defensive lineman would never garner any recognition his way.

The next offseason saw Taylor injure his pectoral and miss the first half of the 2012 season as a result.  Rubin would once again have to shoulder the load for the defensive front.  Alongside rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes, the Browns finally were able to slow down opposing rushers.  They moved up to nineteenth in yards allowed but regressed in points (nineteenth) and passing yards (twenty-fifth) surrendered.  The four-game suspension for starter Joe Haden extremely hurt the secondary, and the remainder of the defense could not overcome this loss.  Another five-win season for the Browns and the team had several changes (again) on the horizon.

His contract runs another year following the 2013 season, so it may be a bit premature to speculate about Rubin’s future with the team.  One of the franchise’s first moves in free agency was to sign Desmond Bryant to start at defensive end.  Rubin will start primarily at end (for the first time in his professional career) but I anticipate him rotating at nose tackle as well.  This is the most depth and talent the team has had in years, and I can see improvement in the defensive line as a result.  If they do become successful, perhaps Rubin can get one more contract extension with the Cleveland Browns.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Players