Note: This is the first of a two-part series by fan commentator Joe Brownlee. The defense is coming up.
The best laid plans…
The plan for 2010 was for the Browns to use veteran Jake Delhomme as the quarterback, with Seneca Wallace as the backup and a specialty player. Third-round draft pick Colt McCoy would sit and watch. In the preseason, both Delhomme and Wallace looked sharp, while McCoy looked like he needed a lot of work. But Delhomme was injured less than halfway through the opener, and that changed everything.
Delhomme started four games and played the second half of the Atlanta game. In that stretch, he really played two just good halves, but in the opener at Tampa, he made an ill-advised throw while falling backwards that was returned inside the 5-yard-line. That play was telling, and it showed that Delhomme simply can't avoid the crucial mistake. The only game where he did was at Miami, but that mistake was avoided because the opposing player dropped a sure pick-six. Delhomme's inability to move really hurt when he played. I don't see Delhomme taking another snap for the Browns, but he is a class individual and an excellent mentor. If he would accept a position on the coaching staff, that would be a tremendous asset.
Seneca Wallace was still learning this offense, but in his time under center, he improved each game. Wallace started four games but played just one half against Atlanta and left with a lead. Wallace is a solid backup. His flaw is not seeing the whole field, and he left some plays by missing wide open receivers. My biggest disappointment with Wallace was not seeing more of him in wildcat situations. In my opinion, his remarks while he was recovering saying that he had earned a chance to play put him deep in Eric Mangini's doghouse. I still believe the Browns would have had better success against Buffalo and at Cincinnati with Wallace playing.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was the play of Colt McCoy. Pressed into service because of injuries, McCoy ended up playing eight games. McCoy impressed me with his grasp of the mental aspects of the game, his ability to avoid mistakes (the notable exception being versus Baltimore), and his command over a veteran team. McCoy showed the ability to extend plays and improvise, and his ability to roll out or run when a play wasn't there to be had really helped him. The big concern about McCoy is whether he can play effectively in bad weather. To me, the jury is still out on that. He had trouble with tough defenses late, but that was without any semblance of a running game and suspect receivers.
Keepers: McCoy, Wallace
One More Shot:
Stay, Go, Whatever:
Let's Move On: Delhomme
Hard To Tell:
Needs: A developmental quarterback
At the end of 2009, many were convinced the Browns had found a star languishing on the bench in Jerome Harrison. He certainly made the most of his chance at the end of last year. But in 2010, he evidently did not relish the thought of splitting time in the backfield. He fumbled and sulked his way off the team to a backup role in Philadelphia. Harrison really had just one impact play and that was in the opener. In other games, when he did get chances, he was a shadow of what he had done in 2009. The Browns could have used Harrison down the stretch in 2010 if he had been willing to be a team player.
The Browns found a potential start in Peyton Hillis. His tough, hard-nosed running style made him an immediate fan favorite. He seemed able to get yards when others could not. But that style combined with the fact that the Browns had no other credible running threat caused Hillis to wear down physically as the season wore on. Opposing teams soon realized that if they took away Hillis as a threat, they could significantly hamper the offense. Hillis made many plays, though, and was a threat in the passing game as well. He scored more rushing touchdowns than any player since Kevin Mack. Hillis showed a propensity for fumbling that really hurt in games like Tampa Bay and Buffalo. Hillis threw two passes, completing one to Colt McCoy on a critical third down in New Orleans. While I like Hillis, I have some real questions about his ability to stay healthy for an entire season even with another player to share the load.
The Browns picked up Mike Bell in the Harrison trade. Bell is a veteran journeyman who has been effective in the past with the Broncos and Saints. In Cleveland, though, Bell did not do much of anything, other than a few good runs against the Ravens. Bell might be OK as a third running back going forward, but the Browns could look elsewhere for a younger player.
James Davis had fans in Cleveland because of some plays he made in the preseason. He made some big plays in the Family Day scrimmage. But in both of years in Cleveland, he faded in real games. The Browns ultimately released Davis.
Second-round pick Montarrio Hardesty was injured in his only action of the year, the final preseason game. Drafting him was a gamble because of a history of knee problems. Last I heard, he is doing well but will likely miss training camp. While Hardesty looks like he has talent, the Browns would be foolish to count on him.
Fullback Lawrence Vickers is a great blocker. If he could just be a decent receiver, it would really help. His inability to catch the ball hurt the offense in some games. The coaching staff eventually went more toward two tight end sets, and Vickers saw less playing time. Was it because of his inability to catch? Keeping Vickers off the field hurt in short yardage situations late in the season. Vickers is a free agent.
Keepers: Hillis, Vickers
One More Shot:
Stay, Go, Whatever: Bell
Let's Move On:
Hard To Tell: Hardesty
Needs: A back to pair with Hillis, depth
This position was a mess in 2009 and the Browns stood pat in 2010 hoping that the young receivers would step up. For the most part, that did not happen.
Mohammed Massaquoi was the leading receiver in 2009, but with just 34 catches. Massaquoi remained the #1 receiver in 2010, but he was invisible at times. A head injury at Pittsburgh did not help. Massaquoi did make some big plays along the way, including a long touchdown at Tampa, two big catches on the lone touchdown drive at Miami, and he even threw a touchdown pass against the Ravens. But Massaquoi also fumbled, had bad position way too many times, and failed to break up passes that were thrown his direction that ended up being intercepted. I'm of the opinion that Massaquoi would benefit from having a credible threat on the other side of the field as well as better coaching.
Brian Robiske took a step up over 2009, but given just seven receptions and being inactive half the year, that doesn't set a high bar. While Robiske did contribute, including a seven catch game against Carolina and touchdowns in the last four games, I am not sold on his ability to be a consistent contributor at this level. I'd give him one more offseason and see what happens, but I think the Browns have to plan as if Robiske is not going to be a key component going forward.
Chansi Stuckey has made some important catches for the Browns in 2010. But saying that, he runs bad routes, could not break a tackle to save his life, and has had trouble hanging onto the ball. While I acknowledge some important drive-extending receptions, how many times did Stuckey run a six-yard route on third and eight? Stuckey seems to me like a guy that could be easily replaced.
Josh Cribbs started the year strong at receiver. He had some big catches including a 65-yard touchdown and the biggest reception in the final game against Pittsburgh. But despite the improvement, it's tough to assess where Cribbs is at this point due to injuries. I like his hands and his routes are better. Cribbs would be best utilized as a fourth receiver and to continue to use him in the wildcat, something the Browns did sparingly all year.
Carlton Mitchell saw very little action this year. As a sixth round pick who came out early, it's difficult to say what potential he has. When he played, Mitchell was generally used in end around situations, so it's safe to say the coaching staff did not have a lot of confidence in his ability to get open and/or catch. Let's see how Mitchell looks in camp.
The Browns picked up Demetrius Williams from Baltimore. Along with Sam Aikens and Jake Allen, he was one of the guys who came through the revolving door to help at a thin position. If you can't contribute at your position on a team that has little or no talent there, it's unlikely you are going to be a contributor. Still, Williams might be worth carrying into camp next year just to see if anything will develop.
The Browns brought back Jordan Norwood late in the year. He is a developmental guy who could perhaps contribute in the return game. On the other hand, he's had some chances and has not been able to get on the field yet. Jonathan Haggerty showed promise in the preseason before being injured, but it's hard to say if he will develop into anything.
The Browns cannot go into 2011 without meaningfully addressing this position.
Keepers: Massaquoi, Cribbs
One More Shot: Robiske
Stay, Go, Whatever: Williams
Let's Move On: Stuckey
Hard To Tell: Mitchell, Haggerty, Norwood
Needs: At least two receivers, probably an impact veteran and a draft choice
After trading Kellen Winslow, tight end was a vast wasteland of a position in 2009. The Browns ended up using Robert Royal, more of a blocker, as their primary tight end, and that did not work out at all. They discovered Evan Moore late in the year and also used Greg Estandia. The Browns addressed the position in the offseason by adding veteran Benjamin Watson from New England. This turned out to be a huge acquisition.
Watson became the team's leading receiver and contributed all year long. He had a ten catch game at Miami and was a threat in all kinds of situations. Early in the year, Watson made a lot of mistakes like jumping offside, deflecting passes that turned into interceptions, and a dumb celebration penalty. But as the year went on, those things faded. Watson not only caught the ball, often in traffic, but he blocked as well. Watson's numbers were comparable to those of Winslow in Tampa, a team that won a lot more games and had a better all-around offense.
Evan Moore showed flashes of promise again, but he was not used a lot. He made some key catches, but was often not even on the field. Once he was on the field, he could not seem to stay there and ended the year on injured reserve. Moore has talent, but the Browns could not seem to find ways to use it, which is puzzling for a team where receiver is a problem position. Moore has to show he can stay healthy if he is going to develop into more of a threat.
Robert Royal went from primary tight end to largely a blocking tight end and occasional receiver. In that role, he flourished. He made a spectacular catch for a touchdown in Cincinnati. If Royal can continue to be used in his areas of strength, he can be a valuable asset to the offense.
Veteran Alex Smith was the fourth tight end. The Browns carried him on the roster all year, yet he did not get chance to play until the final weeks of the season. He has never lived up to his expectations in his career so far. The Browns could give him another shot next year, keeping him as a hedge against injuries.
Greg Estandia was placed on injured reserve, but could challenge for a roster spot next year. Estandia is not a great blocker, though, so he would have to improve there to gain a spot over the other players on the roster. To me, he is a similar player to Moore and Moore is better.
Keepers: Watson, Royal
One More Shot: Moore
Stay, Go, Whatever: Smith, Estandia
Let's Move On:
Hard To Tell:
Needs: None, unless an upgrade is available
At the end of 2009, the offensive line was a key strength. Teams knew the Browns were going to run and they were successful at it anyway. Who could forget running the ball 20 straight plays in the season finale against Jacksonville? In 2010, it wasn't quite the same. The offensive line was inconsistent, and the efforts to shore up the right side of the line were scuttled by injuries. At times, the line dominated, but teams with quick, active fronts like Atlanta and Miami gave the Browns fits.
Joe Thomas is an excellent player, but 2010 was still the worst year of his young career. Losing his man led to Delhomme's injury in the opener. That's not to say Thomas did not make great plays at times. On balance, he is still far better than most. But we have come to have such lofty expectations for Thomas, seeing him play at an average level at times was surprising.
Eric Steinbach has taken a lot criticism this year, and at times, it was deserved. This is another veteran player who normally plays at a high level. There were, times, though, when Steinbach struggled. Yet, he also had times when he pulled or got out into space where his block opened up a play. It's no secret that Steinbach was not a favorite of the coaching staff. The Browns need to decide if Steinbach fits their mold for the type of guard play they want to see. I personally think there are enough other holes to fill that Steinbach's position could wait another year, but if a better fit were to come available, it might be worth a look.
Alex Mack has been a solid pickup. He also had an up and down year, but he looks like the kind of player who could man the center position for some time to come.
Veteran Floyd Womack was a key contributor again. Despite injury, he gave the Browns their best option at right tackle and played decently at right guard as well. If he has another year, I like the idea of Womack returning. His versatility is an asset. He wore down some in the final games of the year.
Billy Yates didn't even make the team coming out of camp and only returned because of Womack's injury. Yet, Yates became an important contributor at left guard. When Yates was injured about halfway through the year, it led to shuffling the right side of the line in ways that really hurt the running and passing games both. I'd like to see Yates return, even if he ends up as a backup.
Tony Pashos played some and lived up to expectations. He's an OK player, but he is injury prone. I'd give Pashos another shot, but I'd look at him as more of a bench player.
John St. Clair was injured for much of the first half of the year. When he played, it created big problems in the passing game. His play really hurt in some of the games down the stretch. I could not understand how the coaching staff could view St. Clair as a starter. I would not bring him back.
Shawn Luavao looked like the starter at left guard in camp. He was injured, then saw some limited playing time when he was healthy. It does not speak well of Luavao if the staff felt St. Clair was a better option. In the little playing time he got, he seemed overwhelmed and made mistakes. Still, he missed a good chunk of his rookie year and another offseason could really help.
Steve Vallos is one of several players who came through the revolving door at the bottom of the roster on the offensive line. We didn't get to see enough of them to tell much.
Keepers: Thomas, Mack, Womack, Yates
One More Shot: Steinbach, Pashos
Stay, Go, Whatever:
Let's Move On: St. Clair
Hard To Tell: Luavao, Vallos
Needs: At least one player to shore up the right side of the line, depth, perhaps an upgrade a left guard