BEREA—The Browns contended throughout the preseason that they had a good enough wide receiving corps to be successful. Despite missing Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs and Carlton Mitchell for much of the preseason due to injuries, the Browns didn't bring in any veteran receivers to provide stability or more experience to the team.
The departed Chansi Stuckey was the leading wide receiver for the Browns last season with 40 receptions. Of the current receivers, only three caught passes last season. Massaquoi had 36 receptions for 483 yards (13.4 avg.) with two touchdowns. Brian Robiskie caught 29 passes for 310 yards (10. avg.) with three touchdowns, while Cribbs had 23 catches for 292 yards (12.7 avg.) with one touchdown. Mitchell was on the roster in 2010, but inactive for all but five games and didn't catch a pass. Jordan Norwood was on the practice squad for the majority of the season, while Greg Little is a rookie.
In the season opening loss to the Bengals, the wide receivers caught just six passes for 108 yards. However, over half came on one play as 56 came as Colt McCoy hit Massaquoi in the second quarter.
Massaquoi led the Browns with three receptions for 77 yards, but the other receivers were limited to no more than one catch. Cribbs had one reception for 13 yards, while Little had one for 12 yards. Norwood had one reception for six yards, while Robiskie had no receptions. Mitchell was inactive for the game.
"As a passing team, we have a lot of work to do," McCoy said. "I can play better and I'm sure (the receivers) would say they could do better.
"We have to get the ball outside."
Pat Shurmur said he's still trying to evaluate what he has in the current group.
"I made the comment that we would play all the receivers that were active," Shurmur said. "You see them in practice and preseason games and I'm getting a better feel for them."
Massaquoi led the team, despite not playing a down in the preseason.
"We went into the game not knowing how much Mo could do and he did well," Shurmur said.
Robiskie was targeted three times, but came up with no catches. Shurmur defended the third-year player from Ohio State.
"I think he's a very steady guy who very rarely you see him make a mistake," Shurmur said. "Catches tend to come in bunches and that could happen this week."
Robiskie had his best game of the preseason against the Eagles when he caught three passes.
The only new player to the roster from last season is Little, the second-round pick from North Carolina. He has shown flashes of brilliance in training camp, but also has shown inconsistency. He is the Browns best chance to emerge as a play maker at wide receiver, but it usually takes time for a rookie to develop.
Shurmur said the Browns might change the starting receivers around. Currently, Massaquoi and Robiskie are listed tops on the depth chart. However, don't look for anything dramatic to happen.
"Depending on what grouping we start with—whether you start with three receivers--could change who starts."
O-Line Situation: Shurmur sounded as though he wasn't planning on OL Tony Pahsos (ankle) playing this week.
"(With Pashos), we don't know how much better he is," Shurmur said. "We're planning on the fact that he might miss."
Pashos wasn't on the field during the time that was open to the media.
"Cousins and Hicks, they both played in the game and those two guys will practice there this week," Shurmur said. "They both did about the same."
Hicks said he's feeling more comfortable in the Browns' system.
"I definitely feel that I'm not playing slow," Hicks said. "I am up to speed in the playbook."
Shurmur said that optimally, he'd like to go with one player and not rotate.
"You'd like to have a solid starter at each position," he said. "You always want to settle on starters at all positions. We'll continue to rotate until we have one guy."
Shurmur said both players bring a different skill set to the position. Cousins is listed at 6-4, 315 pounds, while Hicks is 6-4 and 325 pounds.
"They're both guys who came on the scene later than the other guys," Shurmur said. "They have different skill sets. One is bigger and stronger and one is quicker on his feet."
OL John Greco, who was acquired in a preseason trade, is evidently not in the mix to be the right tackle.
"Greco is the backup at three positions," Shurmur said.
QB Colt McCoy was sacked twice, but hurried six times in the passing game. The Browns averaged just 3.2 yards a carry in the rushing game.
"The way you handle (Mathis and Freeney) is avoid being in third-and-long," Hicks said.
Overall, Shurmur said the offensive line has room for improvement.
"I'd go back to what I said about Colt," Shurmur said. "There were stretches where we played alright but there were stretches where we could've played better."
McCoy is confident the line will come together.
"We'll be ok," he said. "We have some guys hurt, but I trust the guys up there. We have a big test against Indy this week."
Pony Up: In the first game, the Browns lined up with RB Peyton Hillis and RB Montario Hardesty on the field at the same time on the second play of the game.
Shurmur said that was the only play both guys were on the field together, but he said the plan is to do more of it.
"We plan to have more ‘pony', two halfbacks, on a handful of plays with that grouping," he said. "It's important they both get their touches. Peyton is our starter he had about 20 touches."
Hardesty had five carries for 18 yards. Shurmur feels that Hardesty is getting stronger.
"Montario did some good things and he looks better every day," he said. "He's getting more and more comfortable."
Shurmur said he didn't know the extent of McGee's back injury until Monday afternoon.
"With Richmond, I was made aware of the fact that there was some soreness in his back (before the game)," Shurmur said. "After the game, he wasn't fully evaluated until after we spoke (Monday)."
Shurmur said that K Phil Dawson is the backup punter, but they opted to stay with McGee.
McGee averaged just 31.6 punts on eight attempts and had punts of 20-, 28- and 31-yards.
"There are a lot of guys who play in games, who don't feel perfect," Shurmur said. "But, when you lose a game, blame begins. As players and coaches we understand that."
Shurmur is looking to bring stability to the position after having two punters lost for the season in P Reggie Hodges (Achilles) and McGee.
"Maynard is a very experience punter and holder," Shurmur said. "He fits that role for us. When you have the opportunity to bring someone in like that, you do it."
Maynard feels he will be able to step right in and help stabilize the position.
"I'm accurate and I can kick it high, if that is the case," he said. "I've had good coaching throughout my career."
Maynard is reunited with Browns' special teams coach Chris Tabor, who coached him with the Bears.
"I think he'll be brought up to speed (quickly) with what we're trying to do," Shurmur said.
Maynard was at practice Wednesday and wearing No. 7.
Injury Update: The official injury report hadn't been posted, but players not practicing were OL Tony Pashos (ankle), DB Eric Hagg (knee) and LB Titus Brown (ankle). Hagg was on the stationary bike during practice, while Brown and Pashos were not on the field.
To replace the duo, the Browns added FB Will Ta'ufo'ou and RB Xavier Omon. Ta'ufo'ou (5-11, 253)spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the Bears' practice squad after being an undrafted free agent from California.
Omon (5-11, 227) was drafted by the Bills in the sixth-round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He was with the Bills in 2008 and 2009 with 11 rushes for 27 yards. He spent time on the Seahawks, Jets and 49ers' practice squads the past two seasons and released from the 49ers' this week.