When the Cleveland Browns finished the 2009 season with a four-game winning streak, the formula for success involved running the football and little else.
Cleveland dominated opponents on the ground, but surpassed the 100-yard mark in passing only once during those four games.
During the off-season, the front office replaced quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson with Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace in order to improve the passing game. However, they did little to address the receiver position.
The only receiver who really stood out in 2009 was then-rookie Mohamed Massaquoi, who led the team with 624 yards receiving. The rest of the receiving corps was mediocre at best and remains relatively unchanged heading into this season.
The only significant additions to the unit are TE Benjamin Watson, WR Bobby Engram, and a pair of rookie wideouts in Carlton Mitchell and Johnathan Haggerty.
Therefore, it was to be expected that Browns' offense in 2010 would again revolve around the running backs while the young receiving group took time to develop around the new quarterbacks.
When the Browns opened preseason action against the Green Bay Packers, no one expected the Browns to come out passing.
However, when the Browns' starting offense took the field for the opening drive, pass the football was exactly what they did, at least while the starters were in.
Quarterbacks Delhomme and Wallace already look to be an upgrade over the duo of Quinn and Anderson, but the biggest surprise of the night might have been how much improved the receiving corps seems to be over 2009.
Cleveland defeated the Packers 27-24, but the most exciting part of the night was watching the new and improved Browns offense which featured a surprisingly good passing attack.
No. 1 Receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, along with QB Delhomme, only played the opening drive but looked to pick up where Massaquoi left off last season as an emerging playmaker.
Massaquoi showed sharp routes and finished the touchdown drive with three catches for 36 yards.
Much hyped second-round pick Brian Robiskie had a disappointing rookie season in 2009. He had trouble seeing playing time for much of the season and finished the year with only seven receptions.
He is looking to have a breakout year in 2010 and started things off against the Packers with mixed results. Robiskie dropped a couple of early passes, but then settled down and started making plays.
He played most of the first half and finished with three receptions for 32 yards, including a nice 13-yard touchdown grab.
He did show good vision and route running, consistently finding holes in the secondary, but he will have to find a way to haul in every catchable ball to solidify a starting spot in 2010.
One big positive from the preseason contest is that it looks like the tight end position is once again a legitimate receiving threat in Cleveland.
Tight ends Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore and Alex Smith combined for 81 receiving yards and appear ready to provide a vertical element to the passing game.
Watson caught a 20-yard touchdown pass where he split coverage up the middle and ran in for the score.
After the opening series led by Delhomme, Wallace played the next three drives at quarterback. In the first four drives, the two quarterbacks combined for 2 touchdowns and 138 passing yards, more passing yards than in any Browns win last season.
The offense sputtered after Delhomme and Wallace left the game, and much of the playing time was used to evaluate depth at the wide receiver position.
Rookies Mitchell and Haggerty each recorded a reception, as did Syndric Steptoe, who returns after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
Haggerty was injured during the game, but the severity is currently unknown.
Former Packer Jake Allen made a couple of good catches, including a clutch reception that set up the game winning field goal with 0:02 remaining on the clock.
No receptions were recorded by Joshua Cribbs, Bobby Engram, or Chansi Stuckey.
Hopefully a couple of depth players can step up and add to what is shaping up to be a solid receiving unit in 2010.
Of course, there is always room for improvement. There were more dropped passes than anyone would like to see and after the starters came out of the game, timing became an issue.
The good news is that there are three more preseason games to improve in these areas before Cleveland opens the regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After Cleveland found a way to win in 2009 by not letting the players pass and catch, it is refreshing to see the receiving corps making strides alongside improved quarterback play.
If the Browns' receiving group continues to improve, Cleveland should enter 2010 with a consistent passing attack to complement a strong running game.
The Cleveland Browns hope this means a balanced and productive offense and, more importantly, wins on the field when it matters.
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