As we get closer and closer to the Browns' first preseason game and our first real glimpse of the team in action for 2011, the pressure continues to build for the team to address those holes in the roster that still need to be filled.
While there have been no big splashy moves for Cleveland since the lockout ended, the front office has been busy making smaller moves to fill in the gaps on the team. Thus far, the Browns have done a pretty good job of making smart, if minor, moves, but there are still a few spots on the roster that remain glaring question marks as we march forward toward the start of the 2011 season.
Following are five holes in the roster that the Browns still need to address in order to be competitive this season. Please feel free to share your own remaining roster concerns (and possible solutions!) for the team in the comments below!
Let's begin with what is, unfortunately, a position that wasn't actually a concern at all two weeks ago, and is now a potential source of tremendous anxiety: punter.
The Browns had an excellent punter in Reggie Hodges, but when he went down with a season-ending ACL injury right at the beginning of camp, it appeared it might be time to hit the panic button on his position.
The immediate logical reaction would have been to approach former Browns backup punter Dave Zastudil, but he too was unfortunately injured while trying out for the Texans practice squad.
The Browns knew they had to act fast on this one, being completely without a punter, so they went out and signed Richmond McGee, last seen in 2010 on the Bears practice squad. Originally, McGee was an undrafted free agent signed by the Eagles in 2008, but he's yet to make it out of the preseason with a spot on anyone's NFL roster.
That leaves the Browns in a bit of a concerning spot in terms of punting duties this season. Is McGee truly a viable option to be an everyday punter for the team, given that he's never been able to win even a backup job in the NFL?
I certainly hope so, but if I were the Browns, I would still be looking for other options at punter. If McGee can't hack it, they'll have a glaring hole at punter for the season and no one to fill it.
The Browns entered camp this season in a bit of an odd position with regard to what they had in their secondary. They had two of the best secondary players out there in CB Joe Haden and S T.J. Ward, but very few players who had the potential to be dependable secondary starters aside from that.
With the departure of Eric Wright, the Browns were left with their best prospects, aside from Haden and Ward, being an aging player in Sheldon Brown and a rookie in Buster Skrine. Between the two, one might be viable as a starting CB, but that still left the second safety position without an occupant.
The Browns wisely chose to sign FA Usama Young to that end, which should take care of the problem. But that unfortunately doesn't change the fact that the Browns may find themselves with depth issues at both CB and S this season. Even if the starting spots are set when the season starts, if anyone gets injured, the Browns don't have much in the way of insurance.
Last week they brought in Dimitri Patterson, a free agent from (surprise!) Philadelphia, to compete for a starting job or serve to add depth. It's a smart move—Patterson isn't a huge standout, but he did a respectable job for the Eagles over the last two seasons—but it's still not enough.
The Browns need to bring in more options for their secondary unless some of those guys already on the roster who are farther down the depth chart make some huge improvements to their game very quickly. I absolutely wouldn't suggest signing any high-priced DB at this point, but the Browns would be smart to bring in a few more potential backup players to compete for a roster spot and give the team a few contingency options in the secondary.
The biggest gripe about the Browns for many of us after the end of the 2010 season was the flimsy, unreliable right side of the offensive line. If the Browns didn't make some serious improvements to the area, it wasn't just going to hurt our chances of winning; it was going to get our quarterback killed.
The Browns, to their credit, have been actively working to improve conditions there thus far during the offseason, but I wouldn't exactly consider the problem completely solved just yet. They'll get some help from a healthy Shawn Lauvao, and the trade with the Rams for John Greco may be a big difference maker as well, but the situation is still far from comfortable.
Again, as with the secondary, even if they prove to have solved the problem regarding who will start, serious depth issues remain. If anyone were to be injured, the Browns just don't have much cushion to absorb that at this point.
Also as in the case of the secondary, I wouldn't advocate for the Browns to go out and make a major addition to the o-line at this point, but I think building up some additional depth is absolutely a must-do.
Now that first-round pick Phil Taylor has ended his brief holdout and made it to camp showing no major deficiencies from the time he missed, we can all rest a little easier knowing that we aren't going to have a disaster we weren't counting on to deal with on the defensive line.
The Browns spent their first two draft picks in 2011 on bulking up a defensive line situation that, after the close of the 2010 season, was such a mess that it wouldn't have even been possible to field the position without making moves to get some help.
The drafting of Taylor and Jabaal Sheard was, in my opinion, the right way for the Browns to spend their first two picks. Resigning Jayme Mitchell and Derreck Robinson should help as well.
However, it wouldn't hurt for the Browns to go out and grab some extra help here. The team will likely be depending on two rookies to fill starting roles this season, which is perfectly fine if all goes to plan, but it's also a bit of a risky maneuver.
Obviously, it's more difficult to predict a rookie's susceptibility to injury than a player who has already seen NFL action, and of course, the same goes for their performance. I trust Holmgren's and Heckert's choices, and have faith that Sheard and Taylor have the potential to be viable impact starters this season, but I think we all have to acknowledge that there are some things you just can't predict.
Further, the rest of the line isn't exactly what you'd call a guaranteed solid group of players either (with the exception of only Ahtyba Rubin). The potential is there, certainly, but once again, the Browns could do with a little more depth to help them absorb any setbacks that occur for this area of the team.
For this final area of concern for the Browns, I need to provide a bit of a qualification to the suggestion that we have a "glaring hole" here. Going into camp, I actually thought the Browns looked pretty good in terms of what they had in their possession at the WR position. Sure, in an ideal world we would all love to go get a big-name receiver, but in reality, the Browns were very smart not to give into the pressure to succumb to that and throw a bunch of money at someone who fit that description.
The problem that has arisen since then is that the Browns WR corps has sustained an unusual and very concerning number of injuries in just a few days of camp. Nearly all of those competing for significant WR roles on the team have suffered some sort of injury already. To an extent the team has at least been lucky with the extent of these injuries in that even though there were a strangely high number of them in a very short period of time, none of them appear to be terribly serious.
Still, it does leave the Browns with concerns that they might have a hole or two in the roster at WR that they may not have thought they would be facing before the injury plague struck their wideouts. Because the injuries are minor, I don't think the Browns should be rushing out and possibly overspending to expand their options, and as I've said, I'm not in favor of bringing in a high-priced WR free agent no matter what.
However, if the majority of those players injured aren't back out on the field soon, recovered from their injuries and staying that way, the Browns might want to consider adding some depth to the WR corps, at least in a temporary sense until they know what the health of the players they're really counting on is going to look like closer to the start of the season.