The first year of Coach Eric Mangini's reign didn't exactly go as he planned.Seemingly from the moment he declared the quarterback position an open derby the wheels started to slowly ease themselves off the axles. From the deceptively close first game at Minnesota to a new quarterback and a nailbiter at Cincinnati, the Browns couldn't seem to pocket a win.
Then the football gods smiled on us and gave us the mother of all ugly wins at Buffalo. A game in which Derek Anderson went 2-17 was supposed to be our propelling moment, but it wasn't. Seven more losses followed before a miracle happened and we not only beat our longtime nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers, we beat them down.
That started a four game winning streak where we relied almost exclusively on the running game and our defense. Don't be fooled, our opponents weren't top notch and teams will have the game film and a whole offseason to game plan for us so we will not get away with it again.
This season there are a number of things that we need to do to avoid suffering through another year like 2009. Some things are obvious and some are common sense, but some required a little thought and hopefully new team Executive Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert's plans will set in motion a number of positive changes that will carry us toward a successful 2010.
This one was a no-brainer. The Browns were torched early and often, by good teams and bad last year. They ranked 29th in passing yards allowed and gave up 23 points per game in 2009. The offseason was full of good moves on paper and the additions of Sheldon Brown and rookies Joe Haden, Larry Asante, and T.J. Ward should enable the squad to significantly upgrade their pass defense.
Veterans Eric Wright, Mike Adams and Brandon McDonald are back, along with DeAngelo Smith and Nick Sorensen. Restricted free agent safety Abe Elam is holding out and can have his tender reduced to a 10% raise of last year's salary if he hasn't signed by June15th.
Overall the Browns should be much improved at cornerback with some combination of Brown, Wright, and Haden starting with either McDonald or Adams as the dime back.
Safety will be a slugfest among Adams, Smith, Sorensen, Asante, Ward, and Elam if he ever signs. The competition alone should make this a stronger unit also.
The Browns are infamous for dropping passes. Former receiver Braylon Edwards did it so often some coined the term Braylonitis to diagnose the malady. No game was it more evident than in the Browns win against the Bills when Derek Anderson went 2-17 and had eight balls dropped.
Mohamed Massaquoi had eight drops and Chansi Stuckey, although he was only there for half the season, had seven drops on the season. Tight end Robert Royal had several memorable drops also.
With a full season's experience Massasquoi's numbers should drop and sure handed Brian Robiskie has been forcing his way into the team's plans so far in OTAs. Stuckey had a reputation as a sure handed possession receiver but he dropped several that hit him right in the numbers. Ben Watson will be a huge upgrade over Royal at tight end and overall I expect the Browns to do a better job actually catching the ball this season.
In week 14's win against the Pittsburgh Steelers the Browns had eight sacks and 4 quarterback hits. That number made the season total of 40 look respectable and honestly toward the end of the season the Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan was mixing up his blitzes and really harassing quarterbacks.
If the secondary can cover receivers for that extra half of a second this season, look for the Browns to get more coverage sacks for sure. I don't see that they have added any real pass rushing help in the offseason but the move of Shaun Rogers to end and adding Marcus Benard to the rotation should definitely help. Restricted free agent linebacker Matt Roth was instrumental in the late season push of the pocket so hopefully the team will come to an agreement with him.
This is absolutely crucial to keep the fans both friendly and interested. Last year the Browns almost suffered the indignity of local blackouts for the first time since I can't remember. If the team is to avoid a repeat of last year's scare the Browns must win some games early in the year. The DawgPound is a special place and it has taken a long time for it to turn hostile. The hiring of Holmgren has created a sense of optimism but if the team stumbles out of the gate, the fans will turn on the team and blackouts very well may ensue and we will become a negative focal point for the nation's eyes.
Coach Eric Mangini must absolutely put the ball firmly in Jake Delhomme hand to run the traditional offense and he must stick with him for at least the first eight games unless the Browns have gone 0-6 and Delhomme's passer rating is 22. He has to put the resources of the team behind him just like Holmgren promised. Seneca can play as much of the Cyclone as the coach wants but in traditional sets, if Delhomme is healthy, he needs to take the snaps. The team needs a leader to rally behind and Jake just might be the guy.
Delhomme is only the second NFL quarterback to have Tommy John surgery and the only active one. There is no barometer by which to gauge his progress from the surgery. I know he had a 12-4 year following the surgery but I really think he rushed back and may have been favoring his elbow last year. His motion looked really awkward and some baseball pitchers have needed a full two years before they were fully healed so maybe this is the year he is really ready to go.
Regardless, he deserves a fair shot before Seneca gets the rock in the traditional set. None of this two and half game and your out stuff.
Last year the Browns were a very vanilla team offensively. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll ran on first down, ran on second down, and either passed, or sent the Flash package in on third down. Toward the end of the year when the Browns went on their winning streak he opened up a little and passed on first and second a little more often which opened things up for Jerome Harrison.
This season he has the new Cyclone package to work with plus what Featured Columnist Daniel Wolf likes to call the East Coast, which is his base plus the West Coast sets imported by Gil Haskell. Basically the offensive sets he has to choose from have expanded greatly and hopefully he will utilize them in a less predictable and more productive manner this season.
I'll be honest and admit I couldn't find a statistical reference for this slide but I am positive Coach Mangini lost more challenges, and therefore timeouts, then he won last year.
In 2009 The Browns only had 10 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles. Brodney Pool had four of the ten interceptions and signed with the New York Jets in free agency.
The Browns simply must have more if they are to compete this year. The Browns ranked 31st while the league leaders the Packers had 40.
With a revamped secondary featuring Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, Larry Asante T.J.Ward and returning veterans Mike Adams, Brandon McDonald and restricted free agent Abe Elam the Browns should definitely improve upon the interception total.
The Browns have Shaun Rogers, Ahtyba Rubin and Robaire Smith penciled in as starters. Kenyon Coleman, Brian Schaefering and C.J.Mosley are the primary backups with rookie Clifton Geathers a promising project who may find his way onto the field later in the season. The problem the Browns face is that Rogers is facing a suspension from League Commisioner Roger Goodell for a felony charge of CCW.
The Browns have a variety of contenders in camp who are primarily undrafted rookie free agents and former practice squad players from other teams. They include the probable early leader, former New England Patriot Titus Adams. Adams is a 6'4", 305-lb defensive tackle who could probably spell Rubin at the nose.
Other names to watch are Martin Tevaseu, Swanson Miller, and Derreck Robinson.
Players will invariably become available during training camp as other teams pare down their rosters, so don't be surprised if the Browns' next backup defensive lineman isn't currently on the team.
I know it may seem ridiculous, but last year the players often seemed disconcerted, almost grim, almost as if they couldn't wait to finish the game and go home. Above all else, forget about the money, the cars, the women, football is a game and it should be fun while you're playing it and if it's not then your performance will suffer. Look at our best player, Josh Cribbs, as an example. He is always smiling while he's on the field and didn't let his contract dispute detract from his performance last year. Just because you are getting paid doesn't mean you can't have a good time.