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Cleveland Browns: Projecting Final 53-Man Roster After NFL Preseason Week 2

Barbara BrunoContributor IIAugust 19, 2012

Cleveland Browns: Projecting Final 53-Man Roster After NFL Preseason Week 2

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    The Cleveland Browns have started the 2012 NFL season 2-0!

    Okay, it’s only the preseason, but any “W” upon which to hang their helmets can only be cause for jubilation…hope?…relief?

    After the victory at Lambeau, Pat Shurmur said (via The Associate Press for The Washington Post. Log In may be required to read this article): 

    To be able to go into a storied football environment and win a game—it’s a preseason game, I get that—that’s an important thing. I saw a lot of young guys playing fast, playing hard and enjoying the experience. 

    So, which of those “young guys” will make the final 53-man roster?

Offensive Line

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    No sacks were allowed on any Cleveland quarterback during the Green Bay game.

    Presumed rookie starting RT Mitchell Schwartz was much better in the second game than in the opener.

    Of course, Green Bay’s front seven is not nearly as strong as Detroit’s front seven. Be honest, we’ll all scared of Ndamukong Suh.

     

     

    O-line Starters

    Joe Thomas (LT)

    Jason Pinkston (LG)

    Alex Mack (C)

    Shawn Lauvao (RG)

    Mitchell Schwartz (RT)

     

    Reserves

    John Greco

    Ryan Miller played extensively with Colt McCoy—including on the line that had trouble punching it in from practically the 2-inch line.

    Oniel Cousins. Frankly, Cousins is hanging on by a thread after two (two!) special teams penalties in Green Bay.

    If Cousins can’t hold on, it will be either Dominic Alford or Jarrod Shaw as the backup guard.

Quarterbacks

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    Forget Mike Holmgren. The most important grownup in the Cleveland Browns organization right now is QB Coach, Mark Whipple. Who? 

    Mr. Whipple has coached at both the college and pro levels for a long, long time. According to the team website, he has an impressive record of getting the best out of quarterbacks.

    Whipple was an Eagles offensive assistant in 2008 when Donovan McNabb set team records for passing yards (3,916) and completions (345) while leading the team to the NFC Championship game.

    He entered the NFL coaching ranks in 2004 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the time period during which Ben Roethlisberger set records for rookie QB completion percentage (66.4 percent) and passer rating (98.1). Roethlisberger was the first rookie QB to win his first 13 regular season starts, and he became the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. 

    So Brandon Weeden is in pretty good hands in terms of position coaching, and you will see him on the sidelines in constant conversation with Whipple.

    It remains to be seen if coaches Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress will open up the playbook a bit in Week 3 after narrowing it excessively in Week 2. Perhaps not, since the opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles, whom Cleveland faces to open the regular season.

    However, no NFL team can win without some stretching of the field. Did we not prove this beyond a doubt last season? Ask Phil Dawson if he’d like to continue leading the offense.

    Weeden has, of course, been holding the ball too long at times and has a rookie’s love of the check down. However, he has been very accurate. No. 3 put 16 of 20 passes on the money. Four of them were dropped. Grrrrr.

    He’s also been staring down WRs. Let’s cut him a little slack: They all do that in their rookie season. Okay, maybe not Andrew Luck. But let’s not go there.

    Weeden completed a lot of passes over the middle. A lot. It's questionable whether regular season defenses are going to make that quite so available.

    Weeden appears focused and unrattled. He has done relatively well in the face of pressure.

    Colt McCoy, on the other hand, looks like a simmering volcano. He even stalked angrily up to the center while leading another great preseason drive.

    He's throwing the ball like an angry dynamo. Too bad he didn't do that last season.

    The best luck McCoy has had this year was the poor performance of Packer backup Graham Harrell. Hey, Green Bay could do worse.

    McCoy is focused and composed and is building an excellent resume of reserve QB work. He will probably not be with the team much longer.

    That is nless it becomes completely obvious in the next two weeks that Mike Holmgren is going to be fired.

    If Holmgren goes, the new administration would feel no need to hang onto Mike's pet, Seneca Wallace. If the new President could find a way to lose Wallace’s $3 million contract (which, incidentally runs through next season) and convince McCoy to stay, No. 6 would be out of town in a heartbeat.

    Many fans would love to see Colt McCoy remain a Brown. Well, sure, this would be by far the best choice for the team. Right up until Brandon Weeden experiences his inevitable rookie struggles that is. 

    While McCoy has been a class act rivaled only by Matt Hasselbeck over the past year, he ultimately has no control over his teammates' emotions and loyalties. Why take the risk? 

     

    Starter 

    Brandon Weeden 

     

    Reserve 

    Seneca Wallace

     

    Emergency/Practice Squad QB (does not count against active roster)

    Thaddeus Lewis

Wide Receivers

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    On the roster


    1.  Greg Little is the unquestioned No. 1 WR on this team. And he's better. In fact, he's much better.

    You have to love a WR with enough will to drag two Packer DBs five yards after the catch! 

    Unfortunately, there are still some drops guaranteed to cause Dawg Pound groaning.

     

    2.  Josh Gordon is being force-fed the ball.

    Whether the coaches and administration are trying to justify their use of a second-round pick or they are desperate for a potential playmaker, it is evident that he is being targeted repeatedly—even when it looks like Weeden has to force it.

    Fortunately, Gordon’s talent and sense of self-preservation are also forcing him to improve. Which he is doing right before our eyes.

     

    3. Mohamed Massaquoi  We’ll let the staff argue about whether or not it was a real concussion, Massaquoi was back at practice Saturday, August 18th.

    This is starting to be reminiscent of the Kerry Collins situation last year: 

    “You hit your head, Kerry. Sit down.”  

    “No, I’m fine.” 

    “No, you’re not. You have a headache. A very bad headache, Kerry.”

    With Mike Holmgren’s job security draining away like sands in the hourglass, Mo can’t be far behind.

    However, if he can pass the tests, he’ll get chances. For a while.

     

    4.  Travis Benjamin proved his speedy worth in the very first game before sitting out the Green Bay contest.

    He was at practice on Saturday, August 18th. Whether his absence contributed to the extremely conservative play-calling in the second preseason game remains to be seen.

    The team needs to utilize Benjamin early in every game, and often enough, to keep opposing defenses from simply loading up the box against (hopefully healthy) rusher Trent Richardson.

     

    5.  Joshua Cribbs will be listed as a wide receiver and, based on early indications, will get three or four targets per game.

    This should be just enough to keep him happy, while hoping that his legs are fresh and he returns to form in the return game—something not at all apparent in the first two preseason bouts.

     

    6.  Jordan Norwood has made huge strides since last season and has probably saved himself a job on the offense to go along with return duties.

     

    7.  Joshua Cooper only played in the latter time periods, but is still ahead of Owen Spencer, Bert Reed and Jermaine Saffold by virtue of his relationship with Weeden.

    His circus catch of a Seneca Wallace pass in Preseason Week 1 didn’t hurt either.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Rod Windsor is hanging on by sheer effort and made key contributions to McCoy’s recent third-quarter drive—notably a second-effort first down that kept the drive alive.

    However, there simply are not enough active roster spots and he’ll end up on the practice squad. 

    Carlton Mitchell should start packing and hope that he gets a ball or two to serve as an audition for all those other teams in town to check out McCoy.

    Those two should go out for drinks and commiserate.


Tight Ends

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    After Jordan Cameron was injured in the first preseason game and as Benjamin Watson remained sidelined with a mystery injury, Brandon Weeden threw only three passes to TEs against Green Bay.

    Only one was complete—to Evan Moore. 

    Moore and Alex Smith saw significant blocking duty.

    Dan Gronkowski played a significant role in Colt McCoy’s third-quarter scoring drive, but unless Watson remains hurt, there just aren’t enough slots.

     

    Starting Tight Ends 

    Benjamin Watson and Jordan Cameron

     

    Reserve Tight End

    Alex Smith or Evan Moore

    One of these guys may not stay with the team all season if—and it’s a big if—Benjamin Watson can stay on the field. Which one stays will be more of a function of philosophy.

    Smith is a better blocker. Moore is a better short-yardage target.

    With H-back Brad Smelley probably making the team as a fullback, do the Browns really need four TEs? Probably not, although if other cuts can be found, they may keep them all as security blankets for a rookie QB.

Running Backs

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    To say that Trent Richardson will receive the “bulk of the carries” is analogous to saying that Michael Phelps "has a few medals."

     

    Starting Rusher

    Trent Richardson

     

    Reserve Rusher

    Montario Hardesty had 12 rushes for 45 yards and a touchdown versus Green Bay. Hardesty has surprisingly been able to not only convince everyone that he is 100% healthy, but he has also leap-frogged Brandon Jackson to be the primary backup due to his more pounding display of relentless short-yardage gains. 

     

    Reserve Third-Down Kevin Faulk Impersonator

    Brandon Jackson has by far the better hands of the two reserve contenders and will come in if a dashing, quick-footed back with receiving potential is needed.

     

    Reserve and Return 

    Adonis Thomas may be a long shot in many eyes, but he put up 12 carries for 38 yards against the Packers. He gets the nod over Chis Ogbonnaya due to his abilities as a return man.

    However, if they can find a way to make the numbers work then Browns coaches would love to keep them both.

     

    Starting Fullback 

    Owen Marecic

     

    Reserve Fullback/H-back

    Brad Smelley has the only receiving touchdown of the 2012 season—I just thought I’d point that out. The kid is a red zone threat that will burn several teams this season.

Defensive Line

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    There’s some good news and some bad news.

    The bad news: A few times, the entire defense looked confused and was slow in exchanging personnel. Aaron Rodgers caught them at this and jumped the count. Now every QB will be looking for it.

    Dick Jauron is up in the booth and may need to expedite relaying his observations to the sideline.

    The good news: In two preseason games, the Cleveland D has forced six turnovers.

    As a whole, the front exerted decent pressure on Aaron Rodgers in the Green Bay game while starting rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn at DT.

    Fingers crossed and knock on wood—John Hughes seems to be worth every penny as a third-round draft pick. He has negated character/work ethic concerns, is picking up the pro game with alacrity and even seems to be having a great time out there. Good for him. 

    Brian Schaefering seems recovered and got some good pushes in the fourth quarter against Green Bay.

    The Packers running backs had only 22 yards on 13 carries. This would be more impressive if Green Bay ever really tried to run the football.

     

    Defensive Line Starters

    Ahtyba Rubin

    Frostee Rucker

    John Hughes

    Jabaal Sheard

     

    Defensive Line Reserves

    Juqua Parker

    Billy Winn

    Brian Schaefering

    Emmanuel Stephens or Marcus Benard. Benard is working hard to repay the team for sticking with him after last year's motorcycle debacle. He has played well and helped in the all-important pass rush category.

    Stephens snatched Sheldon Brown's fumble out of the air and almost took it in for six in the second game.

    Stephens is slated to earn $415,000 this season. Benard's contract is $615,000. That doesn't help much, but the current emphasis on pass-rushing tips the scales in Benard's favor.

    Phil Taylor – PUP

    Scott Paxson – PUP

Linebacker

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    Despite better stats in this area, the Browns defense has still had some trouble stopping the run—and they have played two teams that don’t run the ball!

    Nevertheless, several unheralded LBs have distinguished themselves this fortnight.

    1.  Craig Robertson has excelled on special teams and as a reserve.

    2.  L.J. Fort has recorded eight tackles and was used in blitz packages. He was playing in relief of D’Qwell Jackson. Wow.

    3.  James-Michael Johnson has two tackles and an interception.

     

    Linebackers Starters to Open Season (during Scott Fujita suspension)

    James-Michael Johnson

    D’Qwell Jackson

    Kaluka Maiava

     

    Linebacker Reserves to Open Season

    Craig Robertson

    L.J. Fort

    Ben Jacobs

     

    Linebackers Starters Beginning Week 4

    Scott Fujita

    D’Qwell Jackson

    Kaluka Maiava (unless Johnson is stellar and beats him out)

     

    Linebacker Reserves Beginning Week 4

    James-Michael Johnson

    L.J. Fort

    Craig Robertson

    Ben Jacobs may be demoted to the practice squad, where he also may be joining rookie Emmanuel Acho, who has not produced at a high enough level to make the roster.

Secondary

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    Rumors of Sheldon Brown's incipient decrepitude have been largely exaggerated. Two preseason games; two turnovers.

    Late-round pick Trevin Wade has shone against opposing first-stringers. He has five tackles and even got in on the blitz. Wade may have pushed young Buster Skrine out of the nickel slot, depending upon how the rest of August plays out.

    The downside is that the secondary was, on the whole, rather pitiful when facing backup Packers QB, Graham Harrell—who was himself certainly pitiful.

    Therefore, David Sims and Emanuel Davis will probably not make the 53-man cut, despite scoring a set of INTs.

     

    Cornerback Starters to Open Season (during Joe Haden suspension)

    Sheldon Brown

    Trevin Wade

    Dimitri Patterson was still out of practice as of Saturday, August 18th. If he can’t start the season, he’ll be replaced by Buster Skrine.

     

    Reserves to Open Season

    James Dockery, who contributes heavily on special teams. We won’t discuss the bone-headed block-in-the-back from Week 2.

    If Patterson starts the season on the PUP list, then Antwuan Reed or Johnson Bademosi might sneak in here. (It’s a coin flip: They’ve both made three tackles thus far in preseason and they have exactly the same contract.)  

     

    Cornerback Starters beginning Week 5

    Joe Haden

    Sheldon Brown

    Dimitri Patterson

     

    Cornerback Reserves beginning Week 5

    Buster Skrine

    Trevin Wade

    James Dockery

     

    Safety Starters

    Eric Hagg (FS) has won this starting job barring a meltdown.

    T.J. Ward (SS)

     

    Safety Reserves

    Ray Ventrone

    Usama Young

    If they keep another guy on inactive or practices lists, it will be either David Sims or Emanuel Davis

Special Teams

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    Phil Dawson has shown (for anyone who has ever watched the Cleveland Browns since their rebirth) that he was absolutely the right player to franchise tag. Again.

    Dawson and Detroit PK Jason Hanson will soon ride off into the sunset knowing that they were their teams’ only visible offense for a generation. One wonders if that is satisfying. 

    At least Hanson lasted long enough to play with Matthew Stafford.

    Trivia: I guess the stats people gave Phil credit for getting in the way versus Green Bay—he has a tackle listed! 

     

    Place Kicker 

    Phil Dawson

     

    Punter

    Reggie Hodges

     

    Long Snapper

    Christian Yount

     

    Return Specialists

    Jordan Norwood broke a 45-yard return in Week 1.

    Adonis Thomas is averaging 27 yards per return.

    Travis Benajmin

    Joshua Cribbs

    Josh Cooper

     

    Coverage

    Craig Robertson

    L.J. Fort

    Benjamin Jacobs

    James Dockery

    And assorted linebackers, running backs and DBs as needed.

     

    Preseason quote of the week (from the Browns official website): 

    I was surprised [at the big hit]. I really felt fine after a play or two, I just lost my breath. I tried to call the next play in the huddle and I couldn’t even spit out a word. I’d try to imitate it but I’d make a fool out of myself, it was bad. My offensive line was laughing at me.

    —QB Brandon Weeden   

    Well that’s a good sign. On to Week 3.

     

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