Inconsistency has plagued the Cleveland Browns since their return to the NFL in 1999 and this year’s team looks no different. Through three preseason games, the Browns have all the looks of a team in rebuilding mode.
Brady Quinn has finally pulled away from Derek Anderson in the quarterback competition. Quinn is better-suited to run Eric Mangini’s ball controlled offense and has shown the ability to move the ball. Between the 20’s, Quinn has displayed pinpoint accuracy and the ability to convert on third down. If Quinn can improve his play in the red zone, the Browns might have found their franchise quarterback.
Perhaps no one has as inconsistent as Derek Anderson. Although his arm strength has been on display throughout the preseason, his decision-making still gets him into trouble. The uneasiness one feels while watching him has to be felt by the coaching staff and at times it seems like he dares himself to throw a ball dangerously into coverage.
The biggest disappointment in camp has to be the Browns' running game. Mangini added to an already solid left side of the offensive line with first-round pick Alex Mack and free agents John St. Clair and Floyd Womack to facilitate the power running game. However, Jamal Lewis looks old and the Browns' offensive line has failed to dominate the line of scrimmage. Rookie running back James Davis has been a bright spot with his speed and ability to make tacklers miss, and will need to be used more often if Lewis and the rest of the offensive line don’t show improvement soon.
While the running game has been a disappointment, the receiving corp has been a pleasant surprise. Heading into camp, there were a number of question marks regarding this group. However, many of those questions have been answered.
Josh Cribbs looks comfortable and has been productive as the No. 2 receiver. Heading into camp there was concern whether Cribbs could make the transformation into a receiver and so far he has been their most dangerous player on offense.
Braylon Edwards is still the group's leader and the Browns are hoping he reverts back to his 2007 form. Edwards is an emotional player and thrives on confidence. If he starts the season on the right foot, Edwards should catch double digit touchdowns and have over 1,000 yards receiving.
Mike Furrey has been a pleasant surprise. Furrey has quickly become the go-to-guy on third downs and has looked dangerous on bubble screens.
Another pleasant surprise has been the progression of second-round draft picks Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Massaquoi has split some time with the first-team offense and looks to make an impact on the 2009 season. Robiskie has also looked solid, but with the surprising depth now amongst the receivers, he could find it difficult to see quality playing time during his rookie season.
The defense has struggled through most of the preseason with their bend but don’t break philosophy seemingly carried over to Rob Ryan’s defense. Through three preseason games, the Browns have not been able to stop the run, rush the quarterback or cover receivers downfield. Yet the defense has been opportunistic and shown they can cause turnovers.
The best player on the Browns' roster, and probably their only game-changer on defense, Shaun Rogers, has yet to play. Even though it is troubling that he has yet to see the field, he is expected to start in Week One on Sept. 13.
The addition of Rogers to a defensive line that has shown an improved Corey Williams and a healthy and productive Robaire Smith should help the Browns clamp down on the run. Although it is worth noting that with a healthy Rogers last year the Browns could still do nothing against the run.
The linebackers will be counted on heavily this season and Kamerion Wimbley, who has shown signs of life in the preseason, must be productive if the Browns have any hope of making the playoffs. Middle linebackers Eric Barton and D’Qwell Jackson are both solid, but neither of them are the game-changers a 3-4 defense needs.
In the secondary Eric Wright has emerged as one of the better young cornerbacks in the NFL. He is a ball-hawk with the ability to take every interception back for a touchdown, much like his idol Deion Sanders. Wright is shaping up to be a Pro Bowl corner.
Opposite Wright, Brandon McDonald will start at corner. McDonald does not have great recovery speed and keeps everything in front of him. He also has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as was evident during his two recoveries during the Browns' last game against Tennessee.
The Browns have to be concerned with Brodney Pool's concussion problems. Pool was looking to have a break out season. Although backup Mike Adams is serviceable, he is not the athlete Pool is and the Browns desperately need him back on the field.
They brought in Abram Elam to replace Sean Jones at the safety position and so far it looks like he will be a step down from Jones. Although Elam has shown the physicality you need from a strong safety, he has looked lost at times in coverage.
The strength of this team has been the special teams for a few years. They have put together back-to-back weeks of good play and have changed the course of the game.
Besides Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs is the most explosive kick returner in the NFL. He is dangerous every time he touches the ball and at times the kick return looks like the Browns' best offensive play.
Not only have the Browns looked good returning kicks, but their kick coverage unit has also been impressive. Mike Adams has taken over Josh Cribbs’ role of gunner and the Browns have not missed a beat.
Phil Dawson has again looked solid in preseason and has become one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. His ability to kick in poor weather makes him the ideal kicker for the Browns.
The only concern with this group has been penalties, which have wiped off ten points this preseason. If the return team can refrain from holding, Josh Cribbs is sure to have another explosive season.