The Cleveland Browns revamped their management structure through the hirings of team President Mike Holmgren, General Manager Tom Heckert, and a variety of new support staff.
The new personnel gurus have brought in a number of new players through the draft, trades and free agency. Some have been big names, while others were lesser known upon their arrival but have already made a big impact upon the public consciousness.
There are a number of positions with multiple players seeking playing time and the competition through the offseason's organized team activities has already been intriguing. From wide receiver to both starting safety spots, there seem to be legitimate candidates which bodes well for overall team depth.
The stable of running backs is younger and more impressive this season than last. Late season phenom Jerome Harrison is back but is facing a challenge from rookie, madden prototype Montario Hardesty.
Jerome Harrison is the returning starter from last year who reeled off three big games at the end of the year to help the Browns end the season on a four game winning streak. He is a four year veteran who has always tantalized the Browns' deep thinkers with his speed and elusiveness but seemed to project more as a third down back.
At 5'9", 195 there are concerns about his durability and he is definitely more effective on the edges. Harrison is a solid receiver out of the backfield and is a good blocker for his size who will stick his nose in there for his quarterback.
Rookie Montario Hardesty is a second round pick from Tennessee who had an outstanding senior season. The Browns invested heavily in Hardesty, trading three picks for the opportunity to draft him.
Hardesty is 6'0", 225, runs a 4.49 40 yard dash, has a 41 inch vertical leap and is an excellent athlete. The major knock on Hardesty has been his injury history but he put together a full season as a senior.
Hardesty is a 225-lb wrecking ball with the quickness and agility to make the first man miss, can run inside the tackles comfortably, and bounce outside occasionally. He is an excellent route runner with great hands but needs work on his pass protection.
The Browns seem to have the building blocks for a very effective two back system regardless of who actually starts the game. Harrison is working on a one year contract and is eligible for free agency at the end of the season so he is motivated, while Hardesty seems to have a little bit of everything needed to be a special back in the NFL.
Cleveland's wide receivers have been blasted in the national press as inadequate and in need of a veteran presence to help guide the young receivers. Mohamed Massaquoi had a solid rookie season but it wasn't a monster season and the number two receiver, Joshua Cribbs, had statistics befitting a fourth or fifth receiver.
Joshua Cribbs is an incredible athlete who is a Pro Bowl kick returner, quarterback of the Flash package, and starting wide receiver for the Browns. Fortunately for the team, he excels at two of the three.
As a wide receiver, the results have been a mixed bag at best. Through 16 games last year he only had 20 receptions for 135 yards. That comes out to barely a reception a game for less than seven yards a catch.
He is not to blame entirely for the numbers. The Browns carousel of quarterbacks did a hatchet job on the team's statistics as a whole but he is far from a polished NFL caliber route runner. He was a college quarterback who is still adjusting to the position.
Cribbs has reportedly been hard at work in the offseason on his wide receiving skills and given his talent and work ethic, fans can be sure to see an improved wideout this year.
Brian Robiskie is a second year receiver who was the Browns first second round pick last year. To say he underachieved last year is an understatement. According to many of the experts, he was considered the most NFL ready of the incoming wideouts and he responded with seven catches for 106 yards for the year.
At 6'2", 210-lbs, he is a bigger target than Cribbs but not nearly as explosive. He is however a much more refined route runner and receiver so the odds on him having the ball to take advantage of his 4.49 40 yard dash speed is more likely.
Robiskie has been the star of the offseason workouts with Mangini praising him often. “I thought so far Brian Robiskie has had an outstanding camp,” Mangini said. ”He’s showed up quite a bit.”
This should be one of the most competitive battles in training camp. Robiskie has apparently made huge strides but he hasn't shown anything with pads on yet. Meanwhile, Cribbs has dedicated himself to improving his route running this offseason and will likely have a better statistical year.
The Browns are the clear winner regardless of who starts as both receivers will be better prepared to execute in 2010.
Coach Mangin has stated that he is willing to start two rookies at safety if they earn the time, "If they’re the best guys, you may take some lumps early because they are rookies, but typically those guys continue to move up and excel as they play and gain experience.”
Strong safety Abe Elam had a decent year in 2009 but made the curious decision to hold out as a restricted free agent and sacrifice offseason reps to a hard charging rookie.
In 2009 he had 71 tackles, 17 assists and forced one fumble. He is a four year veteran who is 6'0' and 205-lbs. Elam is good in zone coverage, is a solid tackler and has a little bit of a nasty streak but is not necessarily a difference maker.
Rookie fifth round pick Larry Asante is a hard hitting, sure handed tackler from Nebraska who is also solid in zone coverage. He is 6' 1/2, 212-lbs and is quick to diagnose plays but has poor hands and drops potential interceptions.
The primary knock on Asante coming out of college was his pass coverage ability but according to Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist Terry Pluto, the Browns coaches are "pleasantly surprised with Asante's pass coverage skills."
Asante and Elam will battle through out training camp for the starting position. Elam gave Asante a chance to impress the coaches with his holdout and Asante complied.
Elam has to be the favorite given his experience but considering Asante was a fifth round choice, the Browns have to be thrilled he's even in position to challenge.
As I noted on the strong safety slide, Coach Mangini is not adverse to starting rookies at the safety spots and T.J. Ward has a solid chance of being the opening day starter at free safety.
Ward is a second round pick from Oregon who has an extensive injury history. Ward is an explosive athlete in the mold of Josh Cribbs and channels energy into huge collisions on the football field. He excels against the run and has an excellent football IQ.
He is a former high school cornerback who understands how to play coverage but struggles some in man although he has been better in camp than expected. He plays angles well but doesn't have very good hands.
Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter Tony Grossi says of the Browns coaches, "I think they [Browns] consider him [Ward] capable of covering NFL tight ends and receivers," wrote Grossi.
His primary competition appears to be Mike Adams who can play anywhere in the defensive backfield. Adams is excellent in coverage and a decent tackler but he doesn't strike fear in ballcarriers or defensive coordinators.
Adams is a six veteran who also plays cornerback but at 5'10", 190, is really not big enough to be a starting safety in the NFL over a 16 game season. He is more of a utility player than a starter.
Unless Ward really shows an inability to cover with pads on I think the smart money says he will be the opening day starter at the free safety position.
The Browns are in enviable position for a change when it comes to the defensive backfield. A year after being routinely torched the Browns actually have too many candidates to start at cornerback. Holdover Eric Wright will battle rookie Joe Haden and trade acquisition Sheldon Brown for the starting nods with the loser becoming the team's nickelback.
Eric Wright is a three year veteran, who is swiftly becoming one of the premier ballhawks in the NFL. Despite having poor production across from him which invited teams to throw away from his side, he still picked off four passes in 2009. In three years he has started 45 out of 46 games.
He is excellent in man coverage, makes plays, and has great hands. Wright is a decent tackler but could support the run better and isn't much help in blitzing schemes.
Sheldon Brown is an eight year veteran who came to the Browns via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown is a former Pro Bowl corner who has started every game but one over the last six years.
Brown is a good bump and run corner who is physical and supports the run game well. He has a knack for defensing passes and has a good set of hands as shown by his 19 career interceptions. Brown is solidly built at 5'10", 200-lbs, but can be out jumped by taller receivers. The former Eagle has a tendency to get beat deep at times.
Joe Haden was the Browns first round draft pick from the University of Florida and has only been playing cornerback for three years. He is an outstanding athlete who has long arms and has a good burst to the ball with reasonable speed. Haden is a physical, willing tackler who is an excellent man-to-man corner.
Due to his limited experience he must continue to refine his technique, including his backpedal and footwork. Haden was a high school quarterback and is a natural leader.
The Browns are in much better shape in the defensive secondary this season. Haden and Brown will be huge upgrades over Brandon McDonald, Hank Poteat and company. Brown and Haden are more physical corners which Mangini likes but Wright is one of the best ballhawks in the league so this will be the best competition of camp.
The Browns offensive line is set at only two positions going into training camp; left tackle and center. The other three spots are open with Eric Steinbach seemingly the front runner at left guard. Right guard and tackle are interdependent upon each other and the starter at one depends on the other.
Rookie draft pick Shawn Lauvao is in the mix for the slot at right guard along with Tony Pashos, Scott Kooistra, and Floyd Womack.
Tony Pashos was a a multi-million dollar free agent signing who may end up not even starting. Pashos is a big, 6'6", 326 lbs, and burly road mauler who may be better suited to guard than tackle. He has slow feet and is a better run blocker than pass protector.
Kooistra is also huge at 6'6" and 335 lbs, and is massive and a powerful run blocker. He is not very athletic, has difficulty with explosive defenders, and is an average pass protector.
Womack on the other hand is versatile, has worked at every position along the line, is a road grader of a run blocker, and a solid pass defender who may end up at right tackle.
Lauvao is smaller than the others at 6'3", 315-lbs, but also brutally strong and reasonably agile. He played left tackle in college but has been a quick study during offseason OTAs and is being cross-trained as an interior lineman.
Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Tony Grossi puts his paycheck on Lauvao stating,"Veteran Floyd Womack offers stiff competition at right guard, but my money is on Lauvao, barring something unforseen."
I tend to agree with Grossi that Lauvao and Womack are the leaders of the pack heading into camp but anything can happen. Pashos will surely get plenty of opportunities to prove he can't do either job based on the money he received. Hopefully Coach Mangini will make his decision early enough for the line to get a chance to gel before the season opener.
The Browns have a number of candidates to start at the four linebacker positions in Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan's complex version of the 3-4 defense.
Free agent signee Scott Fujita brings great size at 6'5", 243-lbs and intelligence to the Browns defense. He is capable of playing inside or out but is likely to start inside.
Matt Roth was acquired off waivers from the Miami Dolphins last year and showed a lot of pass rushing potential with four sacks in six games. Roth will probably be one of the two outside linebackers.
That leaves two positions open and at least eight candidates who believe they have a shot. Of the eight, David Bowens, Jason Trusnik and Chris Gocong can play either inside or out.
Bowens is like grandfather time. He is a veteran who Coach Mangini trusts and had an outstanding 2009. He can play either position with aplomb and is an effective blitzer and run stopper.
Trusnik surprised everybody on the Browns and in the NFL with his ability to play. Along with his status as a dual threat he seems to have an innate nose for the ball. He can play the run, cover and blitz.
Chris Gocong came from Philadelphia in the Sheldon Brown trade and was a dominant force as a pass rusher in college. Depending on the day and the writer, he projects inside and out in the Browns defense. He has an intense motor and is a big linebacker at 6'2", 260-lbs.
D'Qwell Jackson opened last season as a starter at inside linebacker and was playing well until an injury ended his season early. He is an excellent tackler who is adequate in coverage and rarely is called on to blitz.
David Veikune was a defensive end in college who the Browns tried to convert into an outside linebacker last year. The experiment didn't go very well and the Browns shifted gears and moved him inside where he seems to have blossomed. The team will find out for sure when the pads go on and the hitting starts.
Kaluka Maiava is primarily an inside linebacker who is a solid tackler and special teams performer. He is a tad undersized at 5'11" and 226-lbs but covers backs and tight ends. The former USC linebacker is also an effective blitzer in Rob Ryan's schemes.
Marcus Benard is a player the Browns have high hopes for as a pass rushing outside linebacker. Benard has a lightning quick first step and a couple of pass rushing moves. He needs to improve against the run and work on dropping back into coverage.
Eric Barton was an effective inside linebacker for the Browns last year prior to a neck injury that threatened his career. He was in organized team activities with the Browns but did not participate in any onfield drills. Barton will have a hard time making the team.
Blake Costanzo calls special teams his home and is a wedge busting mad man on kicking units. He always seems to have a nose for the ball. If he is in the game on defense then the Browns are in trouble.
Gocong seems to be the front runner for the outside linebacker position but Marcus Benard will give him some competition as will David Bowens. I see Bowens and Trusnik more as super subs who start the game on the bench but see plenty of action both inside and out in the course of it.
D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune will be the primary opponents facing off for the vacant inside linebacker spot. Nobody could have predicted Veikune's development over the course of the offseason.
The Cleveland Browns will have a number of new starters in 2010 than started at the beginning of the 2009 season. Jake Delhomme will probably be the quarterback. Ben Watson will start at tight end barring injury. Scott Fujita will likely start at inside linebacker along with a new starter at outside linebacker and there will be competition at the other inside linebacker. Matt Roth is the odds on favorite for one of the starting OLB spots. Ahtyba Rubin will man the nose tackle position for the first season. Shaun Rogers will move to defensive end.
There will be a new cornerback and probably one new safety. Running back will be manned by a new back and Cleveland may have a new wideout. There will be at least one new name on the offensive line
That is a tremendous amount of turnover in one season and training camp will be vital for the team to get comfortable with one another.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your summer day.