Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.
I would like to thank my fellow Browns fans Dustin Haley, Scott Miles, David Nethers, and Michael Taylor for voicing their opinions.
This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below. We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below.
Exhibition football is well behind us, and Week One of the 2008 NFL is about to get underway. The Browns were offseason media darlings, but a subpar preseason has tempered the optimism coming from the shores of Lake Erie.
We'll take a look back at the preseason, the Browns’ final roster, and what we expect from the Cleveland Browns in 2008.
Let’s talk Browns football…
The Browns finished the exhibition season winless, 0-4. The record doesn't mean much, but how they played does. They looked lethargic at times and were out-physicaled at others. What concerns, if any, do you have about the Browns' performance in the 2008 NFL Preseason?
Dustin Haley: I have never put too much emphasis on the preseason, although this year's edition has raised only a slight concern of cohesion with the team.
In the ’06 season, I watched the Browns begin to play as a team. It was obvious that the “chemistry” of the team was starting to come together, despite the 4-12 record. In ’07, with the emergence of D.A., free-agent signings of Jamal Lewis and Eric Steinbach, and the excellent draft we had compounded that effect.
So far in this preseason, the team hasn’t looked like the team I’ve seen come together the last couple years, but with the starters never really lining up together, how could that even be possible? I’m confident that this will take care of itself, and hopefully this is just history repeating itself. The last winless preseason the Browns endured was also the year they earned a wild-card berth.
Scott Miles: I'm more concerned about the injuries and tough schedule than looking lethargic and out-physicaled. Let's be honest, the only players who care about the preseason are the second through fourth stringers, some of who are quite possibly playing their final football games ever.
The energy will come when the hitting means something. And if it doesn't, then we're in for a long year.
Bottom Line for me: too many injuries to make a final judgment.
Preseason, at best, is not much of an actual gauge of what you can expect at the start of the regular season so it isn’t time to push the panic button (much of what I wrote in this column applies here).
Honestly, we really never got a fair look at the offense with Derek Anderson, Winslow, Cribbs, and Lewis hurt, so I reserve judgment there. But the defense leaves me underwhelmed.
Jeff Smirnoff: The record is inconsequential, but the way they played isn't. My biggest concern is the fact that the first teams got pushed around by the opposition's first teams. If they had come out and moved the ball somewhat but had drives stall, that would be one thing, but the total lack of any production, numerous penalties, and the fact that they just looked totally disorganized is disheartening.
Michael Taylor: There is some concern, but overall I take the preseason with a grain of salt. I mean, remember how we all felt after the preseason and the Week One blasting by the Steelers last season? Romeo was all but fired and people were clamoring for the Quinn era to start already. That season turned out all right.
I also think I had heard or read somewhere that the last 10 teams to reach the Super Bowl are like 16-24 in preseason. Definitely less than flattering.
The Browns are 0-4...At the face of it, that doesn't sound good as we enter the upcoming season, but they will be ok. Assuming the little injury bug stays away and everyone that is banged up now gets healthy.
The injury bug also hit the Browns during exhibition season. Which player are you most concerned about, health wise, and which player do you think is the most indispensable?
Dustin Haley: For obvious reasons, I think Daven Holly’s injury has the highest level of concern, as season-ending injuries tend to lead to career-nagging injuries, but he’s not on the roster.
Brodney Pool has suffered his third concussion in four years. Although he shouldn’t be kept out for too long, if at all, it does concern me he’s prone to this type of injury. Multiple concussions can force early retirement, and the resulting brain damage really can disorient a player.
He’s a solid young player, and with our secondary as thin as it is at the moment, we need to see a healthy Pool for this and the seasons to come..
I don’t think there really is such a thing as an indispensable player on a 53-man roster. In light of Antwan Peek's season-ending knee injury, he’s is probably the most expendable, as he is injury prone and his injuries slow him down.
He did a good job of rushing the passer last year when he was healthy, with four sacks and getting pressure on the QB. Shantee Orr looks to be a viable replacement for him.
Scott Miles: I'm a little concerned about Jamal Lewis, just because you never like to see 29-year old running backs coming down with injuries, especially one that could nag at him like a hamstring pull. I think Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison are good backups, but I'd hate to rely on them for long stretches.
David Nethers: I’ll answer the second part of the question first. Jamal Lewis is, to me, the most indispensable. Brodney Pool, Josh Cribbs, and Daven Holly would be nice to have back
Joe Jurevicius concerns me because, while others seem to be improving, his knee problems seem more chronic. But with Edwards, Stallworth, and Winslow in the game, the team has plenty of wiggle room until Joe is better. Derek Anderson would be a problem without Brady Quinn, AND there's every reason to believe he will be ok.
Jamal is nearer the end of his career than the beginning; you have to question how durable he is, and I just hope his preseason hamstring problem isn’t a sign of issues that may start creeping up throughout the season.
Jeff Smirnoff: I am most concerned about Josh Cribbs, for the simple fact that he has the always-unpredictable high-ankle sprain. He is such a game-changer, as far as field position goes. If he can't go, it is a huge blow.
As far as most indispensable, it's a tie between Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis. They both are such formidable weapons that the defense has to pick their poison. Edwards can stretch the field so long that it forces the D to play back, which opens the field up for Lewis.
But Lewis is such a hard runner, who gets better as the game goes on, that the D can't cheat back too much.
Michael Taylor: I think the answer to both is Jamal Lewis. If the Browns are going to have any sniff of the success that they enjoyed last season on offense, they need to have the ground game running as efficiently as possible.
His ankle injury worries me a little as a hard runner. He will be cutting on it, and if there is any lasting effects of the injury, he will not be able to maneuver as well and will be more of a straight runner than he already is.
The Browns set their 53-man roster and practice squad over the weekend. What were your big surprises of the final cuts, and what areas of the team are you uneasy about?
Dustin Haley: I really don’t think there were any huge surprises in the final cuts, but I was taken back a little with the release of David McMillan, although most will disagree. The fifth-round draft pick never panned out at linebacker, but he was a decent contributor on special teams.
As far as roster cuts are concerned, I have a pretty good feeling about the number of players we have at respective positions. If I’m uncomfortable with anything, it’s the lack of talent and depth in the defense.
Scott Miles: I wasn't really surprised by any of the final cuts. If anything, I was disappointed that the light bulb never went off in Travis Wilson's head, and we didn't really have any choice but to cut him. I thought he could develop into a solid number two behind Braylon when we drafted him, but clearly that never happened.
Obviously, even the dumbest of football fans knows that the secondary is a weakness. I don't really have any problems with the starters, and I think Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright are better than people think, but the depth is a concern.
How will the defense respond when teams go to three and four-wide-receiver sets? That will likely be the biggest question mark, and determine the fate of the team.
David Nethers: To me, there were not many "big" surprises in the final cut, but maybe a disappointment or two. I would have liked to see DB Brandon Mitchell make the squad. With the roster the Browns have, the wide receivers and tight ends would have had to turn in stunning performances to stay on the squad.
Players like DB David McMillan have been on the team and simply did not contribute much last season.
Brandon Mitchell was signed as a free agent after spending last year off and on with the Houston Texans and, maybe I’m just a homer here, but I kind of hoped the Buckeye would make the squad.
Jeff Smirnoff: Despite my complete detest for him, I was surprised to see Travis Wilson go. I figured that Paul Hubbard would be on the practice squad and that Wilson would stick around.
Other than that, there wasn't anything too shocking. The defensive backfield is an obvious weakness, but I actually am uneasy about the O-line depth until Ryan Tucker and Rex Hadnot are healthy. Isaac Sowells and Scott Young don't get my confidence very high.
Michael Taylor: I really don't see very many surprises in the final cuts. The one that did stand out was the cut of Travis Wilson, who was a third-round pick a few years back. I liked him when they drafted him, but it just never worked out.
As far as uneasiness, I am most worried, as most are, about the depth of the secondary. If Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright stay healthy, along with the solid safety tandem, they will be ok, but as soon as the reserves come in on nickel and dime packages, I am less confident.
I did like what I saw from Nick Sorensen during the preseason. He could be a solid backup.
OK. Enough with the fluff. Enough with the hype. Enough with "exhibition football". Coming into Week One of the season, what are your expectations for the Cleveland Browns in 2008?
Dustin Haley: Expectations. Browns fans are used to playing down that word, so that we do not feel let down at the end of the season. My expectations were always the same at the beginning of a season since I can remember—go out and play your heart out and give me an enjoyable season. That’s all I asked, and mostly that’s what I got. I’ve now dropped that mindset I developed as a kid.
The bar is raised this year. I want to make the playoffs; however, I do realize it will be a tough road. I have the Browns repeating at 10-6, and winning the division. However, I realize the season may end up 9-7 or even 8-8, maybe even 12-4.
Ultimately my expectations are for Crennel and Savage to continue what they are doing to build this team. Point being, so long as we are fielding a competitive football team, I’m happy.
Scott Miles: At least nine wins and a division title. Call it blind faith, call it stupidity, call it what you will, but if the Browns can't get over the Steelers this year, and with both Cincinnati and Baltimore spiraling downwards, then who knows if or when the Browns can win a division title again?
David Nethers: This is always tough,
A lot depends on the health of the players.
Because so much can happen during a season, not just to the Browns, but to their opponents. On paper, the Browns look to have one of the best offenses in the league, with everybody healthy, and the defense is stout. But the schedule is tough, and you can’t look past even the first game.
Week One may be tough, against another of the premier teams this year. Week Two looks better, but with the Steelers at home, I have more hope. Ravens and Cincinnati are beatable this year. The Browns could start the season 3-1 before the Bye Week.
Bottom line, barring devastating injuries, I think this team may be able to improve on last year's record and finish 11-5. Dallas, Giants, Indianapolis, Eagles, and Steelers are the games that could hurt.
Jeff Smirnoff: I expect them to be competitive and in every game. No blowouts in either direction. The schedule is tough, but not as tough as it could be. I fully expect them to beat Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Buffalo, Houston, Tennessee, and Washington, because they are a better team then those teams, but they have to go out and prove it on the field.
I have maintained, since the end of 2007, that until they can beat the Steelers, they can’t win the AFC North. The two Steelers games will determine if they go 8-8, 9-7, or 10-6. They beat the Steelers once or twice, and I see them winning the division. If they lose twice, I see them missing out on the playoffs.
Michael Taylor: I am probably going to be on the low side of the projections, as I am always timid to make a generous Browns prediction. I like the potential of this team and think that if the cards fell right, they could win the division and go deep into the playoffs, but realistically, I don't see that happening.
This year's schedule is far from the "cupcake" schedule that they enjoyed last season on their way to the 10-6 record. They have some serious opponents in Dallas, NY Giants, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Philadelphia, and even Houston and Washington aren't that bad.
If the Browns can win the majority of the divisional games and go, let's say, 4-2 in those games, I say the Browns are 9-7 and on the edge of playoff contention.
Believe me that I want to say 12-4 and first-round bye in the playoffs, but I just don't see it yet. Ask me again in about four weeks, and I may have a different opinion.
Week One versus the Dallas Cowboys on National TV on FOX. What are the keys to the Browns starting off 2008 with a win against one of this year's Super Bowl favorites?
Dustin Haley: Dallas is going to be one of the toughest opponents we have this year. We need to come out with our guns blazing, so to speak. I think the Browns are going to need to score early and often against this defense.
Jamal Lewis will need to get his touches to wear down the ‘Boys, primarily SS Roy Williams. Blocking DeMarcus Ware is going to be exciting to watch. Thomas is more than capable of handling the job.
Defensively, we don’t match up well. Obviously we need to figure out how to cover T.O. If we double team him with a safety, that will force us to cover Jason Witten with one of our LBs, and I’m not too comfortable with that.
Tony Romo is an outstanding QB, and he’s going to put up good numbers in this game. We need to find a way to pressure him. Or invite Jessica Simpson to the game, as he seems to lose only when one of his girlfriends are in attendance.
Ultimately, this game is in the hands of our offense. I figure we will need to score 34+ to win.
Scott Miles: Offense, offense, offense. Then a little more offense on top of that. I'm really not sold on Dallas' defense; they did give up over 20 points per game. That being said, I think their balance on offense can make up for that deficiency.
So this is going to be a shootout. Last week, when a couple of my friends and I were bored in history class, we did some Week One predictions, and I'll stick by mine: Browns 38, Cowboys 35.
David Nethers: 1)No mistakes: It seems cliché, but everybody is going to have to be firing on all cylinders. In the Browns' favor is the fact that the game is at home, and that for both teams, it is the first regular-season game, so there may still be some issues with timing and penalties.
2) Full recovery: The Browns need as many of their starters as possible to be healthy.
3) Defense, Defense, Defense!!! Dallas will exploit even the smallest of weaknesses on that defense, so we need to see better than we did in preseason particularly in the backfield.
To me both teams are capable of winning the game, but all that means is that each is equally capable of losing it, too.
Jeff Smirnoff: Offensive and defensive-line play. If the Browns' O-line can control DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis, and the rest of the Dallas front seven, then it will give D.A. and the O the opportunity to put points on the board.
I see this being a shootout so, the O will need to put up some points.
On defense, the Browns either need to stop the run, get pressure on the QB, or cause turnovers. Three things they were awful at in 2007. If they can get one of those three things in their favor, they have a chance.
Michael Taylor: As I said before about Jamal Lewis, running the ball will be key. The Browns will need to keep the Dallas offense off of the field and the Romo/Owens' connections to a minimum. Keeping the game a reasonable 24-20-type game is a necessity, as the Cowboys have a solid defense and can score in a hurry.