Cleveland Browns: Analyzing the Browns' Second-String Options on Offense
No matter how good or bad your team is, it's always important to have options at every position on the field.
For the Browns, having suitable second-stringers at many positions will be especially important this season since so many of the team's projected starters are young, unknown commodities.
Unfortunately, the lockout-freezing free agency has really limited the Browns' ability to acquire some depth at many positions where the current roster looks thin, but at least every team in the league is in the same boat. It does, however, hurt teams like the Browns who lack depth in a lot of places more.
While there isn't much we can do to remedy the situation at the moment, it's worth taking a look at who the second (and in some cases, third) stringers are at a couple of key positions and examine how good or bad an alternative they would be to the starter, should circumstances force the Browns to send them out on the field.
Obviously, there are many more positions and respective backups for the team than are listed here which might also be worth discussing, so as always, your opinions on the matter are welcome in the comments below!
Entering the second year of his career as a Brown, QB Seneca Wallace has not been the expected starter entering the season. Last year, he entered the season as Jake Delhomme's backup. This year, he'll begin as Colt McCoy's
Wallace got his chance to start eventually last season, thanks to injuries, and he did, eh, let's say "alright."
There's no denying Wallace does some things very well. He's a heckuva scrambler and can tuck and run when he needs to, and he has a lot to offer in a wildcat package. But he's also seriously lacking in accuracy and, to a degree, in arm strength and field vision as well. Simply put, he won't be stealing Colt McCoy's job any time soon.
But what if McCoy were to be injured? Perish the thought, of course, but these things happen and are only more likely when the right side of the line appears to be on the flimsy side.
Obviously, Wallace would get the nod as McCoy's replacement over Delhomme or No. 4 QB Jarrett Brown. But is he an adequate substitute for McCoy, should it come to that?
It's difficult to say for sure, and hopefully we'll never have to find out, but the safest prediction is probably that Wallace is perfectly capable of doing an acceptable job if he had to fill in for, say, a game or two, but if McCoy were to be injured and unable to play for a stretch of three-plus games in a row, the Browns would be in a lot of trouble.
They might be able to lean heavily enough on the running game to weather the storm, but that's far from a guarantee.
2. Tight End
There is an interesting situation on the depth chart at TE with regard to Evan Moore. Ben Watson is obviously considered the starting TE, but calling Evan Moore the backup just doesn't feel quite right.
First, with Moore being the more likely of the two to be injured, it seems unlikely that he'll ever be filling in for an injured Watson. Obviously if the Browns use both TEs in a two-TE formation or switch them in and out throughout games, it's irrelevant. Same thing if, as some have suggested, the Browns choose to use Moore as a slot receiver.
And then there's the big one: Many think that if he could stay healthy (big if, of course), Moore might actually be the better of the two TEs. Personally I think it's a little much to say that, and pretty disrespectful to Watson, considering that Moore's longest stretch of staying healthy has been a whopping five games.
Still, there's some merit in the claim. When he actually was healthy, Moore was truly fantastic for the Browns, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be if he can stay on the field and out of the trainers' room.
All in all, Moore's health makes him either the team's best or worst second-string option, depending on whether he can stay off the IR.
Also, don't forget about rookie TE Jordan Cameron, who might be in the mix at TE as a backup as well, especially if Moore is injured and can't fulfill the role.
3. Wide Receiver
There's a bit of an issue with assessing the talent of the backup WR(s) for the team, because we don't know who they will be. Reason being, of course, that we don't know who the starters will be either.
At the moment, the front runners for the starting jobs seem to be rookie Greg Little and Brian Robiskie, though neither is a lock and this has shifted around several times this offseason already. Past precedent indicates that it will shift again before the regular season gets going.
If for our purposes here, we assume that those two are the locks for starting jobs, that leaves Mohammed Massaquoi, Carlton Mitchell, and Josh Cribbs as the most likely candidates for larger receiver sets or as backups for the two top guys at the position.
That means that the backups here have a high upside, if any or all of them were to play up to what most of us believe is their true potential, but a pretty poor downside if any or all of them were to play down to what we've unfortunately seen them do before.
Cribbs is less concerning than the others. As long as he's healthy, he tends to deliver, or at least not make things worse. He's also versatile enough to come out of the backfield if necessary, and if nothing else, you know his heart is in each and every play. That definitely counts for something.
Massaquoi and Mitchell are a bit tougher to pinpoint. We've debated about these two over and over, so I'll spare you an in-depth discussion of their strengths and weaknesses here, but what it boils down to is probably this:
Massaquoi should be better than he was last year given his rumored improvement at Camp Colt this offseason and the fact that he'll be in a system more suited to his talents. How much better remains to be seen.
Mitchell is mostly an unknown because he really didn't play last season. He works harder than anyone, no doubt about that. But we have little to no evidence to say for certain whether he is or isn't a viable backup.
And lastly, there is oft-forgotten Jonathan Haggerty who, if healthy, could wind up in the mix for a backup receiver designation as well.
4. Running Back
Yikes. If ever there were a position where the Browns are in trouble when it comes to second-string options, it's running back. Maybe.
In the best case scenario, Montario Hardesty stays healthy for all or at least most of the season. If that happens, then the issue of a backup RB is moot. A healthy Hardesty would give the Browns the option of going to a two-back system using both Hillis and Hardesty simultaneously, and it would also give the Browns a fantastic backup for Hillis should he be injured or just in need of a rest.
Unfortunately, given Hardesty's injury history, that isn't a scenario we can count on. And without Hardesty as a backup the Browns have...well...pretty much no one.
If they need to, the Browns could likely re-sign Mike Bell, but that won't help much. While he's far from the worst thing out there, he's also such a far cry from Hillis or even from an acceptable backup to Hillis, the problem would still remain.
That means this, perhaps more than most other positions, is one that the Browns will need to get to work on when free agency opens up. Even if Hardesty starts the season healthy and is the backup going in, we can't assume he'll stay that way. In other words, we'll need a backup for our backup.
5. Offensive Line
As was the case at running back, the situation when it comes to second-stringers for the offensive line is somewhere between messy and non-existent. The Browns have virtually no depth anywhere on the o-line, and on the right side, even the starters are pretty unconvincing.
The situation with Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao is the first big question mark. If both are healthy, that should solve a lot of the problem in terms of who will start on the right side. Beyond that though, there is little available in terms of second-stringers as the roster currently stands.
The handful of non-starting offensive linemen on the current roster consists mostly of guys most Browns fans have never even heard of. The Browns could bring back Floyd "Porkchop" Womack, but as we've discussed many times in the past, Womack is getting old and looks slow and ineffective for the most part.
The Browns drafted OT Jason Pinkston in the fifth round of this year's draft, but there are legitimate concerns that he isn't yet NFL-ready. He's quick and has excellent lateral movement, but he has been criticized for his lack of work ethic. Whether or not this will make him unworthy as a backup on the right side of the line is impossible to say at this point.
Regardless, the Browns are badly lacking in serviceable depth pretty much anywhere on the offensive line. If the want to ensure Colt McCoy's safety and effectiveness, they'll have to pick up some backup options from the free agent market, whenever it opens up.