The Cleveland Browns: Changing Their Plays, Personnel...and Results?

. abcCorrespondent IMay 19, 2009

BEREA, OH - MAY 02:  Alex Mack #55 of the Cleveland Browns gets ready to snap the ball to Richard Bartel #13 during rookie mini camp at the Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex on May 2, 2009 in Berea, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

What do you envision as the biggest changes in your team's playbook due to shifts in team personnel and coaching staff?


-The O-Line

When Eric Mangini was asked what kind of players he looks for, he simply said that they need to be smart, disciplined football players.

This became very clear once the Browns made many people scratch their heads on draft day and selected Alex Mack as the face of the new regime’s first draft.

How about his toughness?

Last season, Mack broke his right hand. So he ended up sitting out, right? Wrong. He ended up snapping the ball with his left hand. If that doesn’t show determination and will, I don’t know what does.

How intelligent is he?

The center from Cal won the Draddy Award in 2008 which is college football’s version of the academic Heisman Trophy.

This is significant because besides the quarterback, the other major field general for an offense is the center.

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Alex Mack fits Mangini’s type of player to a “T”.

In his first draft with the Jets, Mangini took left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.

These two have served as the anchors to New York’s offensive line and the break out year Thomas Jones had in 2008 with 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Brett Favre’s presence also deserves credit, but as the Steelers have shown for years, you win games in the trenches.

Alex Mack, along with the addition of guard Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack and tackle John St. Clair, should help give the Browns running game a major boost.

Plus, as much as people loved Kellen Winslow’s ability to catch the ball, many did not realize how much was left to be desired by his blocking ability.

That will not be a concern this year with Steve Heiden and Robert Royal both being very good blockers, plus, they can catch the ball. Martin Rucker could fill K2’s role as a receiving tight end.

College Stats                          Receptions                 Rec. Yards                    Touchdowns

 Martin Rucker                              203                               2,175                               18

Rucker put up productive numbers during his time at Missouri as the stats above show.

-The Running Game

Last season, a Jerome Harrison sighting was like searching through a Where’s Waldo book. The guy would have a 60-yard touchdown run and then you wouldn’t see him again until next Sunday.

When Mangini was with the Jets he made sure to get both Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in on the act.

That would make one believe that Harrison should see a lot more touches than the 34 run plays and 12 receptions that he was given last season.

In his limited time, Harrison made the most of his opportunities. The 5-foot-9 inch running back had over a seven yard per carry average and over a nine yard per reception average.   

Expect Harrison to be more involved in the running game and to receive more screen passes coming his way this fall.

Jamal Lewis still ran for 1,000 yards last year (barely 1,002 to be exact) but he was no where near as effective as he was in 2007.

In 2007, Lewis ran for 1,304 yards and had an average of 4.4 yards per carry, that number took a rather large spike in ’08 down to 3.6 yards per carry.

Lewis also didn’t score as many points in ‘08 either. In 2007, Jamal had nine touchdowns, but in 2008 that number fell to four.

To put some perspective on the numbers, Lewis scored four touchdowns in ONE game in 2007 against the Seahawks. That number is equal to his entire touchdown total of last season.

This drop in production can be blamed on the offensive line but there is another factor worth mentioning.

-The Passing Game

This is where the former Beaver of Oregon State, Derek Anderson comes into the fold.

DA and the vertical passing game he lead in 2007 racked up 3,787 yards passing and 29 touchdowns.

That kind of fire power spread out defenses so they could not stuff eight men in the box to stop Jamal Lewis and the running game.

Anderson only ended up playing 10 games in 2008 and was not the same guy. His QB Rating in 2007 was 82.5 but dropped down to a very pedestrian 66.5 in 2008.

It should also be noted that on the receiving end of most passes in 2008 was Braylon Edwards. He led the NFL in drops.

It’s not like Braylon didn’t drop passes in 2007 as well, because he did. It’s easier to give penance to a guy when he has 1289 yards, 16 touchdowns, and your team is in the playoff race till the final game of the regular season.

That lack of focus will not be tolerated by the new sheriff in town at head coach.

This became very clear during rookie minicamp when second round wide receiver Brian Robiskie dropped a punt and was forced to run a lap.

"If you put the ball on the ground, you run," said Mangini. "If you get a penalty, you run. There's nothing more valuable than the football."


Mangini seems to be focused on making sure that no matter who is leading his passing attack this year, DA, Quinn, Ratliff, or the water boy, the Browns will have a strong running attack.

With “Man-Genius” coming from the Bill Belichick, New England Patriot school of thought, the logical QB choice seems to be Brady Quinn.

Many question if Quinn has enough arm strength to cut it in the pros; but others point out that he has the moxie, leadership, and precision to run a West Coast-style offense.

That’s a 180 degree turn from the Al Davis style of ‘throw it as far as you can to Braylon’ offense that was used the last 2 years with DA running the show.

The rumor from New York last year was that Mangini did not enjoy the bigger than life personality that was Brett Favre. The fact that Brett would often rely on his big arm to try and force the ball down the field and make costly turnovers did not sit well with Mangini.

Derek Anderson has the same big arm like Favre, and he also tends to be careless with the ball.

This could really hurt DA’s chances to lead the ’09 Browns.

If Romeo Crennel has any say in the matter, he named the Notre Dame product the starter for ’09 at the end of the nightmare known as the ’08 season.

Too bad for Romeo he won’t actually name the guy behind center. But he may be called upon for his input considering that he and Mangini still have a close friendship from their days with the dynasty in New England.

The latest rumor leaked in Cleveland is that two teams approached the Browns in the days leading up to the 2009 NFL Draft and offered at least a first-round pick for Quinn.

Not only does this show that other teams are interested, but for the Browns not to pull the trigger they also must be intrigued by No. 10.

All signs seem to point towards Quinn getting the job, but all signs seemed to point towards the Browns being in the playoffs in 2008 and we all know how that turned out.

Offensively, we can expect that this Browns team will focus on a strong running attack that is complimented by a precision-based, short to intermediate passing game.


Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the defenses have stunk much like those black and white striped animals that lay on the side of the road.

Say what you will about the job that FORMER GM Phil Savage did for the Browns -- but he made one move that should pay big dividends this season.

-Defensive line

Last season, the Browns acquired Shaun Rogers for a third round pick and Leigh Bodden.

Bodden signed with the Patriots this off-season and the Lions used the 87th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft on Andre Fluellen, defensive tackle from Florida State.

Despite the Browns defensive woes, Shaun Rogers had an outstanding year that earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Do you think the Lions would like to do that trade over again?

Rogers will be the anchor for the, hopefully improved, 3-4 defense that Eric Mangini will run this season.

Yes, this is the same 3-4 scheme that seemed to get worse every year under Romeo Crennel.

Rob Ryan, brother of Rex and son of Buddy, will be the newest face that will take over as Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator.

Ryan most recently spent time in the black hole as the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator from 2004-2008.

The New England connection continues as Ryan spent 2000-2003 as the linebackers coach for some very successful Patriot teams (Super Bowl Champions in 2001 and 2003).

Shaun Rogers will be anchoring the defensive line but who is going to help him out?

The 2009 Browns will be focused on stopping the run, something they have failed to do in past years.


D’Qwell Jackson will be another staple on the defense, but after him it gets kind of cloudy as to who will shrine through and earn playing time.

Jackson put up big time numbers last season with 154 total tackles, two sacks, and the stat that really pops out is that he had three interceptions as a linebacker.

The former Maryland star put up this kind of production last season without much of a supporting cast around him. Makes you wonder how he will do this year if the other LBs step-up.

Pass rush to the quarterback, or lack there of, has really hurt this organization since returning to the NFL. Only 17 sacks last season, that ranked 31st.

The team will be expected to blitz more often, and preferably get more sacks and quarterback pressures. Effective blitzing and stopping the run will be the keys to success this season for Rob Ryan.


The draft day acquisition of safety Abram Elam is one that will fly under the radar but he is a player that was very effective against the run for Eric Mangini during his time in New York.

In his three years in the NFL, Abram Elam has two sacks and one interception, all of which came last season. Not exactly the pro bowl type production that people will want to see, but Elam still has time to develop.

The Browns need to run the ball and stop the run if they want to taste success in 2009.

Or the other theory they could use is score more points than the other team.

That one usually works out pretty well, too.