Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns' Rookie Class After the Preseason

David DeWittContributor IIISeptember 4, 2012

Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns' Rookie Class After the Preseason

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    The preseason is over and even Browns' President Mike Holmgren seemed a little shocked during his press conference Monday that his team has 15 rookies on its roster and 11 second-year players.

    He stopped just short of actually using the word "shocked" when describing his reaction to the youth of the final 53-man roster, but the point was clear. (ClevelandBrowns.com)

    Nevertheless, as Holmgren and others such as veteran LB D'Qwell Jackson pointed out, while there are a lot of young players, they are there because they earned it.

    And like Holmgren said, nobody is going to care how old the players are when it comes to winning games. Winning is the goal and winning is everything.

    These wide-eyed blades bring a voracious appetite for such to the table. And with a new owner also injecting new enthusiasm into an abused fanbase, the entire culture of football by the lakeside must be renewed.

    A new obsession with winning needs to be established, and the time to strike is nigh.

    The Browns' schedule is a monster, and the team is still being power-ranked worst in the league (CBS Sports).

    That's bulletin board material. This coaching staff needs to sear the flak of the naysayers into this young team's heart. Get angry. Take it personally. Respond relentlessly.

    Here's a look at how this rookie class has been, and how far they need to go:

Round One: QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson

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    Nothing will determine the fates of the 2012 Cleveland Browns quite like the respective performances of rookie QB Brandon Weeden and rookie RB Trent Richardson.

    The Browns are wholly counting on these two to transform a woebegone 2011 offense into a primed, primo attack machine.

    This preseason, that's been a little more than a hairy proposition.

    Richardson was nowhere to be seen in any of the Browns' four preseason games.

    The third overall NFL draft pick took snaps with the team for the first time Monday after undergoing "clean-up" arthroscopic left knee surgery on August 9.

    He wore a protective sleeve and shared reps with Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson. (Elyria Chronicle-Telegram)

    Tweets from teammates indicate that he's looking like he did right where he left off.

    That's a good enough sign, considering how important a role the Browns need Richardson to play.

    Simply put, being able to pound the rock opens up everything else, and neither Hardesty nor Jackson gave any indication this preseason that they are up to the full task of that job.

    As for Weeden, this preseason he turned in a preseason performance with multiple fumbles, one INT, zero TDs and a 59.7 passer rating.

    Still, Holmgren described Weeden's progress as "right about where he should be."

    Browns fans are hoping for much better once the games that count begin.

Round Two: RT Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon (Supplemental)

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    Never underestimate the power of the Schwartz!

    Well, unless he's struggling out on an island trying to handle a wide-nine defensive scheme.

    In that case, please don't overestimate the power of the Schwartz.

    Spaceballs references aside, rookie RT Mitchell Schwartz struggled early with Detroit's wide-nine scheme this preseason, and got better against Philadelphia's later in the third preseason game.

    But he still has a way to go before he'll be able to be comfortable blocking the wide variety of creative NFL pass-rush schemes.

    But he's done well enough to earn the praise of team captain and all-pro LT Joe Thomas, which has to count for something.

    Hopes are high for Schwartz to lockdown the right side of the OL and hopes are even higher that he continues to develop quickly.

    Hopes are just as high for supplemental draft WR Josh Gordon.

    Gordon shows tremendous ability but struggled running comeback routes that led to multiple picks in the preseason.

    The general feeling on him is that he's enormously talented, but also still enormously raw.

    He turned in six receptions for 105 yards and a 17.5 average this preseason (ClevelandBrowns.com).

Round Three: DT John Hughes

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    When 2011 First Round selection DT Phil Taylor tore a pectoral muscle this spring, putting him out of commission for at least the first six games, it was clear that some young guys would have to step up. (ESPN)

    The Browns' front office is not shy about praising the work of DT John Hughes, being one of those doing exactly that.

    The University of Cincinnati draft selection has recorded three tackles in the preseason and has taken over the starting DT position next to vet Ahtyba Rubin clogging the middle of the Browns' defensive line.

    But that position on the depth chart isn't too big of a deal, as HC Pat Shurmur has promised a rotation for that unit.

    "It’s safe to say there will be a little rotation in there with the guys we have on the roster,” Shurmur said. “Of course, somebody has to play the first play, but you usually use several guys.” (Cleveland.com)

    Hughes still has a good amount of development in his future, but he's off to a solid start.

Round Four: WR Travis Benjamin and LB James-Michael Johnson

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    Rookie WR Travis Benjamin and LB James-Michael Johnson have both been asked to do a lot for this team and to start doing it right away.

    Luckily, both have stepped up to the plate.

    Benjamin's speed brings an extra dimension to the Browns' offense, stretching the field out vertically. This has been on display in flashes during the preseason.

    Benjamin turned in three receptions for 50 yards and a 16.7 average this preseason. (ClevelandBrowns.com)

    Meanwhile, with starting SLB Scott Fujita suspended, and WLB Chris Gocong out for the season with a torn Achilles, JMJ has had to fill a starting role on the LB corps and executed with roundly approved performances.

    JMJ came up with nine tackles and one pick before suffering an oblique injury that could keep him out for four weeks, exacerbating the Browns' LB problems much further. (ESPN Cleveland)

Round Five: OL Ryan Miller

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    The Browns took OL Ryan Miller in the fifth round and have seemingly come up with a solid enough developmental back-up for their offensive line.

    Miller joins John Greco and Oniel Cousins as the three OL backups on the team.

    The 6'7", 321-pound Miller promises himself to be a nightmare on the field.

    “I might not be the most physically sound, but I’ll give you my all and bleed, bite, crawl and scratch to get the job done,” Miller said in a conference call in the weeks after being drafted. (Cleveland.com)

Round Six: LB Emmanuel Acho and DT Billy Winn

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    We mentioned earlier that DT John Hughes will be rotating in his slot. One of the people he'll be rotating with? Sixth-round rookie DT Billy Winn.

    Winn has had a solid training camp and a good exhibition season for the Browns. The hope is that if he and Hughes and the other DTs can rotate and stay fresh, they can help alleviate some of the pain of missing Taylor these first six weeks.

    Also drafted in the sixth round was LB Emmanuel Acho who has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Round Seven and the Undrafted

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    By far, the biggest seventh-round contributor for the Browns will be CB Trevin Wade, who has flashed strong potential in the preseason along with the occasional rookie blunder.

    Fellow seventh-round pick FB Brad Smelley was waived by the Browns and looks to be headed to the practice squad.

    However, the 53-man roster features a number of undrafted players and those selected from the waiver wire.

    Johnson Bademosi earned his spot on the team due to "phenom" special teams play in the words of Browns GM Tom Heckert. (DawgsByNature)

    LBs Tank Carder, picked up off waivers, and L.J. Fort will be asked to contribute early due to the nature of the Browns' LB problems.

    S Tashaun Gipson made the 53-man in the fifth and final safety spot, while DT Ishaa’ily Kitchen was also picked up off waivers to fill out the roster there.