The Cleveland Browns head into the 2008 season with high hopes, and even higher expectations, after a 10-6 campaign in 2007. The Brownies will have their work cut out for them as they posses the seventh-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. They take on the potent NFC East and AFC South, both of which sported three playoff teams in 2007. That, coupled with a minimum of five, prime time, national TV games puts them under the microscope for all to see.
With all of the focus on the Browns as a team, there are a number of individual players whose performance will be scrutinized, critiqued, and second guessed by the media and the fans. Here are my top ten Browns who have something to prove in 2008.
10. Braylon Edwards—WR
Why would someone coming off of an 80 catch, 1,289 yard, and 16-touchdown season have something to prove? Because everyone wants to see if he can maintain that level of play. No one expects him break the franchise record for yards and TDs every season, but they expect, and need, him to be in the general vicinity. It will also be interesting to see how Braylon handles it when teams lock down on him and he isn’t getting touches.
9. Shaun Smith—DL
He played well in 2007, and has talked even better. Searching the opposing team’s media guide for tid-bits to talk smack about says it all. But “The Hamburglar”, as Carson Palmer dubbed him, needs to have more effect with his body and less with his mouth. How will he handle the rotation up front with the new acquisitions on the defensive line? He needs to step it up to help the much maligned Browns D.
8. Sean Jones—SS
Sean Jones is a solid, above average player. He shows flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t taken that step to the next level of elite safeties in the game. The Browns need him to, especially with the inexperience on the outside with their young cornerbacks. He struggled with assignments at the beginning of 2007 after Brian Russell left. The Browns cannot afford that in 2008.
7. Antwan Peek—OLB
Injuries derailed his 2007 season from the get-go. A second pass-rusher from the outside is sorely needed to take the pressure off Kamerion Wimbley, and onto opposing quarterbacks. Peek needs to stay healthy as Willie McGinest is in his final season and David McMillian has yet to show anything in the regular season.
6. Kellen Winslow—TE
Winslow is always going to be on this list because of his knee. We will always wonder just how good he could have been if not for his motorcycle exploits. Even after that, he’s a pretty damn good player. But how long will he hold up?
The fact that he makes it through 16 games every year is amazing in itself. Throw in the Drew Rosenhaus Effect, and his potential to be a malcontent, and it will be an interesting 2008. He has behaved himself greatly since his injury, but it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
5. Kamerion Wimbley—OLB
He was a force as a rookie in 2006, and then eerily silent in 2007. Was it the case of a sophomore slump, or has the league adjusted to him? Whichever it is, Kam-Ram needs to figure it out for the Browns to take a step up on defense. Antwan Peek also plays a big role in Wimbley’s success, as opposing offenses were able to scheme solely against Wimbley, as he was the Browns' only pass rushing threat.
4. Andra Davis—ILB
He makes a shitload of tackles, but they are all five yards down the field or after he has been dragged a few yards. Davis claims it was the effect of nagging injuries, but it remains to be seen. D’Qwell Jackson will anchor one ILB spot, Leon Williams will see time in passing situations, and rookie Beau Bell will be gunning after the other inside spot.
So the heat is on Davis, who had his best game in the Snow Bowl versus Buffalo when speed and agility was rendered useless. You could see his great reading and reaction abilities in that game. Without the speed and agility, he is an average ILB at best.
3A. Eric Wright—CB
3B. Brandon McDonald—CB
Easy-E and B-Mac were in the top ten to begin with, and Daven Holly’s season-ending injury only raises their importance. The defensive line looks like it is better on paper, which will hopefully free up the linebackers to make plays. But if we can't cover down the field, the 2008 season may be derailed.
Having to face Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, and Eli Manning in four of the first five games of the season, and seeing Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Palmer, and Roethlisberger in four of the last five games, is a daunting task for any CB duo, let alone two second-year players.
2. Shaun Rogers—NT
The Browns gave up a third-round draft pick and CB Leigh Bodden to acquire him, which could be a steal or a bust. It all depends on how motivated and hungry (on the field) Rogers is. He can be a dominant player on the inside when he wants to, but he can also be lazy and not care about his effort, weight, or what his teammates think of him.
He was happy, upbeat, and excited at OTAs, and that’s the way the Browns need him. Stopping the run has been the Browns’ Achilles' heel for years, and Shaun Rogers holds the key to reversing that trend.
1. Derek Anderson—QB
Was there any doubt over who was going to be No. 1? Despite winning ten games and putting up the fifth-most passing yards and second-most passing TDs in a single season in the history of the Cleveland Browns, DA is the most scrutinized player on the team.
The first reason is that “The Golden Boy” and home-state hero Brady Quinn is waiting in the wings. Despite throwing only eight passes in the NFL, Quinn still remains the favorite in the hearts of some Browns fans. Rightfully so or not, it is an issue that will continue to arise from the start of training camp.
The second reason DA is under such a microscope in his giant drop off in the second half of 2007, highlighted by the stinker in Week 16 versus the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. Was his 2007 a fluke or just the tip of the iceberg? The Jekyll and Hyde act of “Good DA” versus “Bad DA” wears thin and fast. All QBs are going to have bad games, but DA’s are so extreme in either direction it is maddening.
If Anderson is the franchise quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, he needs to show it and show it early. Why? Because the fans will be calling for Quinn after the first bad pass that comes out of DA’s hands. It may not be right, but it is a fact.