Training camp is now in full swing, and things are finally starting to come together for the Browns' 2011 season. It's been a long road. The Browns were faced with a tough task this year in completely overhauling both the offense and the defense and plugging a lot of holes in the roster around the core of the team, and having to do most of that under lockout conditions.
Overall, the Browns appear to have done a very solid job of slowly but surely improving the team during this offseason for 2011 and for years to come.
With the regular season just over a month away, it's time to start issuing grades for each area of the Browns' offseason activity. Following is the Browns' offseason report card for 2011.
Please feel free to share your own grades for the Browns in each of the areas discussed in this piece!
Coming off the 2011 draft, most of us felt pretty good about the picks that the Browns made. Now that we've seen most of them in camp for a few days, the assessment still holds for the most part.
In my original draft report card, I gave the Browns pretty favorable marks. The picks of Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Buster Skrine and Eric Hagg looked to be the biggest standouts.
Thus far in training camp, that appears to be holding true for the most part. Skrine in particular has been notably impressive and has looked like a guy who is going to be far better than his draft slot indicated. Skrine has been practicing with the first team, and even had a pick-six of Colt McCoy during today's workouts.
As for Greg Little, he dropped a pass today that drew some groans from the audience at camp, but for the most part looks like he can deliver on our expectations for him. He'll get even more opportunities to win a starting job out of camp than expected due to the numerous injuries the receiving corps has suffered already.
The one hitch in the success of the draft so far appears to be Phil Taylor. In the immediate aftermath of the draft, he was the only Browns pick who the fans and the media seemed to take issue with in terms of his draft slot. I personally felt that criticisms of his skill set relative to his draft position were off base, but the fact that he's now held out for the first four days of camp raises concerns of a different sort with regards to the Browns deciding to make him their first pick in 2011.
The Browns had an excellent draft for the most part, though the grade will ultimately be contingent on what happens with Taylor. It appears that the Browns and Taylor will ultimately come to an agreement, in which case the A- grade will stand. If, however, Taylor doesn't ultimately sign or misses a huge portion of camp as a holdout, that grade might drop to more like a B+.
With regard to their decisions on free-agent players from their 2010 roster, the Browns have done a pretty good job so far of accurately determining who should stay and who should go and acting accordingly on that.
Key players like Phil Dawson, Seneca Wallace, D'Qwell Jackson, Billy Yates, Brian Schaefering, Jayme Mitchell and Derrek Robinson have all been re-signed already.
Players the team was better off without like Shaun Rogers, Robert Royal, John St. Clair and others were wisely let go.
For a more complete assessment of the players re-signed and not re-signed, please see my piece on the subject here.
In my opinion, the Browns were correct in all of their choices to sign or not-resign with the exception of perhaps Eric Wright, though to be fair to the team, it was Wright's choice to leave. As I understand it, the Browns would have been happy to keep him around.
As in the case with the draft picks, this grade is also still contingent on a few matters that are as of yet unsolved. In terms of this particular grade, it relates to those players from last year's roster who still haven't been re-signed by the Browns or picked up by other teams who the Browns would be smart to bring back.
Most of the players left in this situation are either likely too expensive in comparison to what they can offer and the Browns can afford to be re-signed (such at Matt Roth and Lawrence Vickers) or simply not worth hanging onto, as is the case for most of those who remain unsigned.
The exceptions might be Abe Elam and Robaire Smith, both of whom I believe could still make significantly positive contributions to the team. Elam is probably a long shot considering the Browns' signing of Usama Young, but if Elam is willing, I would absolutely like to see him back with the Browns, in a backup role if nothing else.
Much to the dismay of some Browns fans, the front office has been relatively quiet in the free-agent and trade market thus far.
The Browns have yet to make any big, splashy moves and instead have opted for more conservative choices and only a small number of acquisitions in all.
While the grumbling that the Browns need to sign a couple of "bigger-name" type players to be competitive is understandable, I'm of the opinion that their current approach is actually the correct one.
Holmgren and Heckert had their work cut out for them when they inherited this team, and instead of signing as many expensive free agents as possible to build a quick fix that would likely not last long, they've chosen the smarter approach of patiently and slowly building a team from the ground up that should be able to not only succeed, but do so for years to come.
That being said, I do agree that they still have some work to do on the free agent/trade front before we get too much closer to the start of the season.
It's unfortunate that the trade with the Eagles for Brodrick Bunkley fell through, but it appears the Browns made the right decision to pass on him once it was revealed that he came with serious medical concerns. The issue now is that the Browns still need someone to fill that spot. What happened with Bunkley was disappointing, but the Browns need to make sure they find another DT to fill the role he would have taken on now that he's no longer an option.
Safety Usama Young was an excellent pickup. There is a good chance he will start opposite TJ Ward at safety, a spot where the Browns definitely needed help.
Another good move was the trade for Rams G John Greco. Obviously, the right side of the Browns line needed help, and the trade is a good deal for the Browns. They got Greco for a conditional seventh-round pick, contingent on whether or not Greco starts this season. It's a win-win for Cleveland: If he does start, a seventh-round pick isn't a bad price to pay, and if he doesn't, they're not out anything at all.
While I'm part of the camp that agrees with the Browns taking a more conservative approach to bringing in players via free agency and trade this season, they do still need to take things a bit further than they have so far. They could still use some depth on the O-line, some help at DE and DT, possibly a low-end free-agent WR and should be exploring the CB market since Eric Wright is now gone.
And perhaps most urgent, they now need a punter desperately, since Reggie Hodges tore his Achilles at camp today and is now out for the season. For those wondering, Dave Zastudil is not currently an option, as he sustained an oblique injury while trying out for the Texans' practice squad.
I fully expect the Browns to address these and any other needs that come up before the season starts, and if they can nail down a few more small but important moves that fill in the rest of the gaps on the roster, this grade should rise from where it currently sits.
While the Browns have been fairly quiet on the regular free-agent market so far in 2011, they were actually very proactive and aggressive when it came to signing undrafted free agents after the lockout was lifted.
I was a little disappointed that the Browns missed out on signing some of my top UDFA targets like Dane Sanzenbacher and Noel Devine, but they still brought in a large number of quality players, many of whom appear to have a real shot to contribute to the team in some capacity or another.
Former Gladiators QB Troy Weatherhead is one of the most interesting signings of the lot. With Wallace and Jarrett Brown on the roster, the Browns weren't exactly desperate for backup quarterbacks, but Weatherhead's signing could make for some interesting competition for that third spot, which, if we learned anything last season, could very well come into play on the field.
The Browns have brought in, among other things, a large number of UDFA DBs and WRs. These may help solve the depth issues at CB that are currently a concern for the Browns, and will give them additional options at WR, which is particularly important now that so many Browns receivers have already suffered injuries in the first few days of camp.
In particular amongst the UDFAs keep an eye on LB Derrick Addai, DB Carl Gettis, WR Chris Matthews, WR Juan Nunez and of course QB Troy Weatherhead.
The Browns did a great job of bringing in a large number of UDFAs without compromising the quality of the players they brought in. The Browns have a history of having a good eye for finding the roses among the weeds when it comes to UDFAs, so there's no doubt that they'll probably come through with a couple of excellent players in that same vein from this year's crop of undrafted signees.
For the final component of the Browns' offseason report card, let's take a look at how our current roster members have progressed throughout the offseason and thus far in camp.
Overall, I like what I've seen from Browns players leading up to 2011. Obviously the biggest news (and likely the most successful endeavor of the offseason) was Camp Colt.
This was an excellent way for the offensive players to stay sharp and establish chemistry and team unity with each other and their quarterback despite lockout conditions preventing them from engaging in any practices in an official capacity.
Perhaps the most notable success for the team that came out of this though was the emergence of young QB Colt McCoy as a bona fide leader. Leadership was rumored to be one of McCoy's greatest assets, and he proved that with the success of his Camp Colt.
As for the rest of the offense, their progress was evident at Camp Colt as well, though there have been some major setbacks with regard to the receiving corps since training camp has started with the injury bug that's going around.
The offensive line appears to be coming along as well. While the left side continues to look outstanding, it seems that even the right side of the line is coming together. Most notable among those on the roster last year from the right side of the line is Shawn Lauvao, who is finally healthy and should, given his talent level, have a shot at a starting job and could become a big part of what we hope will be huge improvement to the right side of the line for 2011.
As for the defense, things seem to be humming along there as well. Both Joe Haden and TJ Ward allayed some of our concerns about the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 when they were quoted as saying that the switch was not as difficult as many seemed to think it was and also that this is a better system for the team because the 3-4 used last season was confusing.
As for the rest of the defense, there is definitely still a lot of work to do, but it looks as though things are humming along there as well and players like D'Qwell Jackson and Derrick Robinson (among others) look like they have the potential to make major strides this season.
There are still some flaws and a lot of work to be done when it comes to the progress of Browns players returning from last season, particularly with the injury setbacks suffered in the beginning of camp (to the receiving corps as well as to punter Reggie Hodges), but overall, the bulk of the roster appears to have made major strides from where they were at in 2010 and will likely only continue to get better as the countdown to the beginning of the 2011 season continues.