July is a month full of anticipation and optimism for NFL fans. Football is in the air and training camps are about to start. Everybody's excited, and everybody's hopeful about their respective teams, at least to some degree.
As far as the Cleveland Browns go, I enter the 2010 season with realistic optimism. For instance, I'm not at all excited by the dawning of the Jake Delhomme-era, but I am optimistic about the reign of Mike Holmgren, who's a guy that knows what it takes to win in the NFL. Holmgren's taken two franchises to the Super Bowl, so there's no reason not to be encouraged about him running the show for the Browns.
Other than that, the only thing I'm confidently optimistic about this upcoming season is the Browns' secondary, which I feel will improve by leaps and bounds this year after a 2009 season in which the unit was downright awful.
Last season, the Browns ranked 29th in both passing yards and passing yards allowed per game (3,915 and 245), and they recorded just 10 interceptions, fourth worst in the league.
It was imperative that this unit was improved this offseason, and the organization did just that by acquiring Sheldon Brown in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and by selecting 3 defensive backs in this year's draft.
For starters, I absolutely love the acquisition of Brown this offseason.
Brown is a underrated, physical corner that immediately improves a weak spot for the Browns' defense. Last season for the Eagles, Brown recorded a career high five interceptions and defended 17 passes. Without question, he'll help tremendously in the secondary, either as a starter or as a nickleback. There's just a lot to like about this move.
Hopefully, though, Brown is relegated to the third cornerback role, because that would mean that the seventh pick in the draft, Joe Haden of Florida,is ready to start.
Behind Tennessee safety (and the Browns' ideal choice) Eric Berry, Haden was by far the second-best defensive back in this year's draft and has a tantalizing skill set that should translate over very well at the NFL level.
Haden's fast, physical, athletic, and has excellent cover skills - he's everything you want in a NFL corner. Haden may not have the impact fellow rookie Berry will have with the Kansas City Chiefs this season, but it's hard to envision this pick being a bust down the road for the Browns. (And yes, I say this in spite of the organization's terrible track record with the draft.)
So between trading for Brown and drafting Haden, the Browns have done wonders in terms of upgrading the position of cornerback in the offseason.
And remember: it's not like that incumbent starting cornerback Eric Wright is that bad.
In fact, Wright's actually pretty solid and one of the better young CB's in the game.
Last year, Wright was the lone bright spot of a shoddy secondary, recording four interceptions and defending 14 passes. He may be a questionable tackler at times, but Wright's game will only be elevated playing alongside the likes of Brown and Haden
All in all, the Browns have a very nice trio of CB's heading into this season.
However, there is some uncertainty at the back end of the Browns' secondary at the safety position.
Returning free safety, Abram Elam, was not impressive in his debut season with the Browns and recorded zero interceptions. He'll most definitely have to make some plays in the secondary this year.
The Browns also need one of their two rookie safeties - either 2nd rounder T.J. Ward of Oregon or 5th rounder Larry Asante of Nebraska - to pan out and contribute this season
Personally, I'm much more enamored with Ward. I believe he could possibly become the physical, in-the-box safety the Browns desperately need in the secondary.
He'll have to stay healthy, of course, but I like Ward a lot better than Asante, who appeared raw and underwhelming while at Nebraska.
With all the moves this offseason aimed at improving a woeful pass defense taken into consideration, the Browns have done an excellent job at strengthening their secondary.
It's only July and the pads have yet to be strapped on, but I'm truly optimistic about this unit of the Browns defense this season. Sure, the rookies may struggle at times, but there's a lot of young talent now in the Browns secondary that makes me encouraged about the future of this unit.
I'm anticipating a much improved, more physical secondary this season for the Browns, and that's certainly one reason to be optimistic heading into this year.
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