What a difference a year makes.
Entering just his second year, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is looking to further improve upon his impressive rookie campaign and once again establish himself as Cleveland‘s top target.
Starting 11 of 16 games, Massaquoi had 34 catches for 624 yards and three touchdowns. He also averaged 18.4 yards per catch which placed him near the top of the league in this category. For a rookie wide receiver in the midst of a season-long quarterback controversy, those numbers aren’t too bad. In fact, they’re pretty good.
During the offseason, a lot of Browns fans were clamoring for the team to acquire a “true” No. 1 receiver, but the reality is there might already be one on the roster…right under everyone’s nose. While talk so far has centered around possible free agent pickups and 2011’s WR draft prospects, “MoMass” continues to fly under the radar even though he’s now the number one receiver in Cleveland.
Busting Out of His Shell
Although still wet behind the ears, Massaquoi received some playing time to start last season as Cleveland’s No. 3 wide receiver behind Braylon Edwards and Mike Furrey. He eventually got his first start as the No. 2 wideout last year in the third week of the season against Baltimore, as he wound up catching only two passes in the first three games.
Everything was about to change for the rookie, because the following week against Cincinnati, he had his first breakout game catching eight passes for 148 yards. Though, not completely happy about his on-field accomplishment, he had this to say afterwards,
“I’m still learning the game, but I felt real comfortable out there, had a chance to make a couple of plays and made them. I’ll go back, see the mistakes I made, try to correct them and improve next week.”
Right after his surprising performance, Cleveland decided to part ways with Braylon Edwards making Massaquoi the new go-to receiver. A week after playing in dismal weather conditions at Buffalo, he had another noteworthy game hauling in five passes for 83 yards against division-rival Pittsburgh.
Not a bad start.
Recognition Creates Attention
Now going against No. 1 cornerbacks, things became stagnant the next few weeks for Massaquoi as Cleveland couldn’t get anything going offensively. Although he had good yardage, he only caught four passes over the next three weeks as the Browns were in the middle of a long losing streak.
Continuing with his scattered on-again-off-again theme, things started looking up again in week 11 against Detroit as he had another surprisingly outstanding game with 115 yards on five catches with a touchdown.
So where would he go from there?
Metamorphosis on Offense
As the season progressed past the midway point, the Browns slowly but surely abandoned the passing game and wound up winning their last four games by simply running the ball. As a matter of fact, the Browns attempted only 48 total passes versus 173 rushing attempts during its four-game winning streak to end last season.
This old-school approach did wonders in the win-loss column, but did little for Massaquoi’s stats. His last exceptional game was week 16 against Oakland having caught three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. When a team runs the ball with that much regularity, it’s difficult to accumulate even the most average of receiving statistics.
“It was definitely a learning curve, filled with some ups and downs," he said of his first year. "I'd have a good game, be quiet for a little bit, have another good game, be quiet for a little bit. I want to make sure the good games are just the norm now.”
So do we, Mohamed, and with a better quarterback situation, you should get that opportunity.
"I was fortunate to get a lot of playing experience and I kind of understand the game a little bit better than I did last year. So going into this year I'll be able to approach it a little bit different. I want to have a great year, be a guy that's very reliable and making plays, not just a play here and there. Just make plays consistently on a high level."
Have No Fear, Stability is Here
As he's embarking upon year two, the rookie jitters are gone while the Browns executed a complete overhaul of the quarterback position. Gone are the days of wondering who would be taking snaps week to week, because Cleveland finally has stability under center.
With a career 59.2 completion percentage, Jake Delhomme brings veteran leadership and a wealth of experience to not only Massaquoi, but an entire group of young receivers, running backs, and tight ends.
"You look at our skill positions, we're young," Massaquoi said. "You don't see any 10-year vets. You need an older guy in there sometimes just so you learn what it means to be in the NFL, so you're not just playing. You know what responsibilities you have, you know how to prepare. It helps you along in that transition."
At 6’2” 207 lbs, he’s not necessarily a physically imposing receiver, and he’s not considered a “burner” either, so where does his production come from? One reason is that he always gets separation which is a likely indicator he’s a great route-runner. His hands also proved to be extremely reliable as he made quite a few difficult catches last year.
His blocking has also received praise. He just seems like a guy that quite simply gets the job done.
During a press conference back in June, Eric Mangini enthusiastically said,
“He’s got outstanding hands. There were a bunch of times last year during practice, and I’d show these clips in the meeting, where he would just make unbelievable catches. The adjustments that he can make with his body I thought were really impressive. For a young guy who played as much as he did, I thought he did some really good things.
“The other thing I like about our receivers is they block. They block and they create some things on the perimeter that other teams can’t create because of the way they aggressively go at the people they’re assigned to. They finish plays.”
The Main Guy Blues
Last year, he had a great yards per reception average, but hauled in only 34 total passes. In the 12 games he started as the number one receiver, seven of them resulted in Massaquoi finishing with only one catch. This brings up the pertinent question as to whether or not he can handle the duties of being a true No. 1 receiver, which is something that Browns fans have debated all offseason.
So, can he?
The constant attention and the double teams made things difficult, but let’s keep things in perspective—he was a rookie second-round pick being thrust into the role of go-to guy on an already lackluster passing offense.
It appears the sporadic type of season he experienced in 2009 is attributed to two things—poor quarterback play and the simple fact that he was a rookie. There’s not much else to it than that.
Since both of last year’s quarterbacks have been shipped off, it’s apparent the situation for Massaquoi was less than ideal. This is why those breakout games he had last season have so much meaning behind them. With the continuing improvement of fellow second-year receiver Brian Robiskie and the emergence of Joshua Cribbs, Massaquoi finally has some help on the way.
During OTAs, when asked what he thought of the Browns possibly bringing in a veteran wide receiver Massaquoi had this to say,
“I can just do my job. I’m going to try to do my job to the best of my ability, try to come out here everyday and get better. If it’s a good day, just try to improve on it. If it’s a bad day, learn from it and come back out the next day and get a little bit better.”
A typical response these days, but it’s refreshing to see a humble wide receiver. Yes, a humble wide receiver. There’s not too many of those right now.
“When I make a mistake, I know why I made the mistake, and when I do things good, I know why I did it good so I can try to go out there and duplicate it, play in and play out.”
Being a rookie, he never seemed overwhelmed as he played with a maturity well beyond his years. He had more yards and catches than former third overall draft pick Braylon Edwards had in his rookie season.
Quarterback Compatibility and Cohesion
With a hamstring injury, Massaquoi didn’t play in the Browns’ second preseason game against the Rams, but he and Jake Delhomme definitely looked to be on the same wavelength in Cleveland’s first outing in Green Bay.
Everything seemed to be clicking as he caught three passes for 36 yards, all in Cleveland’s opening possession. Then, playing in only one offensive series against Detroit in their third preseason game, he had two catches, also for 36 yards.
"You plug in a guy like Jake Delhomme…he's a Super Bowl quarterback. I was a huge fan of his growing up in Charlotte,” he said. “He's very capable. He brings in a lot of knowledge where he and [offensive coordinator Brian Daboll] and Mangini and Holmgren can bounce stuff off each other. He's going to tell us what he expects out of us. We're going to be able to learn from him and grow more.
"We all know how the passing game went last year," he continued. "It can only get better.”
With 72 yards on five catches in only two offensive series during the preseason, there appears to be a growing harmony between the two. As the 2010 season unfolds, it should be interesting to see if Delhomme develops the same chemistry he once had with another “Mohamed”…Muhsin Muhammad.
Is He a No. 1 Wide Receiver for the "Long Haul"?
As a first-year player, Massaquoi performed admirably despite dealing with arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. Whether it was Derek Anderson trying to thread the football through his shoelaces, or Brady Quinn lofting it 10 yards out of bounds, he was still able to finish with a noticeably impressive season.
18.4 yards per catch is nothing to gawk at.
When recently asked what the biggest difference is between this year and last he said,
“Last year I was a rookie, so I didn’t know things, process things as fast, I didn’t play as fast. This year I have a jump on that because I know the offense a little bit better, and I know some of the people a little bit better.”
With a full year under his belt, improved quarterback play and continuity within Mangini’s system, he should be able to prove the naysayers wrong and emerge as a viable receiving target in the NFL.
He’s very rarely interviewed by the media and continues to go relatively unnoticed, but whether you like it or not, Mohamed Massaquoi appears ready to take on the responsibility as Cleveland’s No. 1 wide receiver.
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