For better or for worse, the Browns' 2012 preseason is by most accounts complete. Of course, one more game remains - the meaningless fourth preseason game against the Bears - which unless the Browns are coached by coin-flipping Romeo Crennel or taskmaster Eric Mangini exists only to provide Montario Hardesty an opportunity to again injure his knee.
The final game of 2012's preseason is especially irrelevant given that Pat Shurmur's Browns have already had their "dress rehearsal" (against the Packers' second and third team units) and a "vanilla" game (against the Eagles' second and third team units).
And after Friday night's performance against the Eagles, there's little left for Shurmur to do except keep practicing those annoyingly difficult fundamentals and try not to again get your rookie QB maimed in the process.
Still, the 2012 preseason has given us its share of pleasant memories. And for the sake of history, it's worth preserving this peculiar time of Browns' expansion lore.
I'm still not even sure that Sims will make the Browns' practice squad, let alone the final roster. After all, Sims' playing time is the result of geometrically-challenged 2011 free agent Usama Young's lingering injury to his whatever region. Sadly, it's highly likely that Young reclaims his role as backup safety, while Sims joins James Davis, Madre Hill and others Ghosts of Browns' Preseason Past.
At the least, I hope that Sims catches on with another team and based on his preseason performance, he has done enough to get noticed on tape around the league. In each of the Browns' three preseason games, Sims has been around the ball, made plays and showed a physical demeanor - the kind of traits usually not seen in a Browns' safety.
Even I won't suggest that all the veterans missing chunks of training camp and preseason games is another example of Shurmur's loose grip on the Browns. (I would never suggest such a thing.) The more likely explanation of the Browns not dressing 10-15 players per game is the shift in player safety and shorter times allotted to practice. For a team like the Browns who are still developing depth, it's counterproductive to play D'Qwell Jackson, Ahtyba Rubin and others in meaningless games.
Derek Anderson MEMORIAL
Don't take this as a completely negative opinion. It's easy to forget now, but think about what DA did to all of us a few years ago. The thrilling highs...the soul-numbing lows....the 95 mph swing passes. Anyway, DA transformed the 2007 Browns offense from tepid check down drivel to something capable of domination. And while his run proved to be temporal, DA was the closest thing to a big-time QB the Browns have had during the expansion era.
Of course, there was always the looming presence of GOOD DA and BAD DA. So far, Weeden has exhibited traits of both. On some passes, Weeden looks transcendent. On others, he reminds you of a rock-footed rookie QB who doesn't remotely sense the pressure of a caving pocket.
MOMENT OF CLARITY 2012
MIDWAY THROUGH THE EAGLES GAME
I'm not sure of the exact moment, but I seem to remember new Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam comparing the current Browns to the Eagles - in terms of "one day the Browns will field a team like the Eagles."
Once this thought sunk in, I once again realized just how far the Browns have to go in terms of reaching basic competence. And for the record, I haven't experienced this particular depth of frustration since 2009 when the Browns couldn't score a touchdown. Although for a larger point of reference, similar depths have been reached in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Then Weeden started to rocket balls to no one. Hardesty fumbled again and the Eagles completed four screen passes on the Browns.
And once Trent Richardson gets shut down in Week 3, rock bottom will almost have been reached.
BEST IMPERSONATION OF MONTARIO HARDESTY
I guess it wouldn't be a Browns' preseason without some type of Hardesty comeback or make over or something. This year, a healthy Hardesty slimmed down and changed his uniform number. And so far during the preseason, Hardesty has managed to stay healthy - a rarity compared to his first years in the league. However, Hardesty being the trickster that he is has now developed a fumbling problem.
Next year, I predict he comes to camp under a new name.
WORST ATTEMPT AT CREATING A DIVA WIDE RECEIVER
CLEVELAND MEDIA, UNORIGINAL BLOGGERS and PAT SHURMUR
This one still bothers me. Everyone has time and the means to create unoriginal Diva Narratives, yet few choose to go beyond stupid cliches.
WORST ATTEMPT AT BECOMING A TEAM STRENGTH
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Remember when most of us (myself definitely included) bragged about how good this young Offensive Line could be? Joe Thomas is Joe Thomas, Alex Mack is solid, both Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao should improve and Mitchell Schwartz would be a huge upgrade over the veteran right tackle filler of past years.
Then I think some of us remembered that the current Browns' line is still very young and very sloppy when it comes to handling speedy rushers and multiple blitzers.
Oh, and about all those penalties? Here's an idea.
Can we bring back Eric Mangini as an assistant - just to make all five starters run laps after they commit false starts and holding penalties? I mean, isn't Mangini still being paid by the Browns?
Quick, who is Mangini's agent? Oh, nevermind. It wouldn't work out.
BEST TACKLE BY AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
TIE - SHAWN LAUVAO and JASON PINKSTON
Granted, each young Guard has had their rocky moments this preseason. But at least both Lauvao and Pinkston get creative in their penalties. Against the Eagles, Lauvao probably had the tackle of the night (against an opposing tackle) and Pinkston is more than capable of power slamming a pass rusher.
PERFORMANCE OF THE PRESEASON
ALEX MACK AGAINST GREEN BAY
But it's not all negative regarding the offensive line. Against the Lions, Mack was very effective blocking both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley - then absolutely destroyed the Packers' B.J. Raji a week later. If this is any indication of what Mack will bring this season to the Browns, then it's possible that his run of Pro Bowls could soon begin.
GETTING IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM AWARD
JOE THOMAS AGAINST PHILADELPHIA
Speaking of our perennial Pro Bowler (and the Browns' best overall player), Thomas is excellent but will get beaten about 4-5 times per year. Against the Eagles' quirky defensive end alignment and ultra-quick pass rushers, Thomas was beaten. Although look for Thomas to fix his mistakes in two weeks against the same pass rushers.
SURPRISING DEPTH REALIZATION
THE DEFENSIVE LINE
And don't look now, but what was a huge weakness a few years ago - and really throughout most of the expansion era - is soon becoming a place for quality young depth. While Phil Taylor's injury was unfortunate, at least young D-linemen such as Billy Winn, John Hughes and Scott Paxson received prime playing opportunities. Heading into the season, the Browns will boast a fairly solid rotation until Taylor returns.
SURPRISING DEPTH REALIZATION - HIDDEN BONUS
NO MORE Brian Schaefering
I'm crossing my fingers here. Because you know what is going on when Schafering gets a lot of playing time.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR LACK OF DEPTH
Give credit to GM Tom Heckert for at least addressing the Browns' lack of linebacker depth. He's the first Browns' GM to do this since Phil Savage in 2006 and Butch Davis in 2002. Yet, even with the addition of two rookie linebackers, the Browns are still very thin beyond D'Qwell Jackson. Kaluka Maiava is decent, yet we all know that Scott Fujita won't finish the season - meaning James Michael Johnson could prove to be a very important player in 2012.
ONLY IN AUGUST PRESEASON HONORS
As for these two, Browns fans have been very excited about both Fort and Robertson - mainly because every other Browns' linebacker has been held out of games during the preseason. The reason why it looks like Fort and Robertson are NFL linebackers is because the Browns really don't have anyone else to play at the moment.
PRESEASON MVP - OFFENSE
And no, this isn't some clumsy attempt to drudge up a meaningless QB controversy debate. McCoy has shown that he struggles to challenge defenses and hasn't been able to stay healthy during his two seasons with the Browns. However, McCoy has played well as a backup (against backup defenses) this preseason and has shown his usual mobility and perhaps even better arm strength.
And as I keep mentioning, in Cleveland it's worth keeping a quality backup. Browns' starting quarterbacks rarely last for an entire season.
PRESEASON MVP - 4TH QUARTERS ONLY
Here's a question: Is Evan Moore even any good?
I hate to throw this out as evidence, but check out Moore's career stat line
We already know Moore isn't much of a willing blocker and while he has good size, he's not very fast. So basically, Moore doesn't really have a position to play. And considering how conservative the design of Shurmur's offense is, is there even a position for Moore to play in Cleveland?
And if there is, hasn't Jordan Cameron basically taken it?
Of course, cutting Moore now will only cement the future possibility of him becoming an 80-catch receiver on a team with a more progressive offense.
REMEMBER ME FROM MINI-CAMP?
Speaking of receivers, remember when Cooper was the golden boy of the Browns' OTA's and Mini-Camps? And do you now realize how worthless those things are?
I interviewed Carlton Mitchell last season and quickly realized that unlike most NFL players, he was truly his own person. It's rare to find such an individual in professional sports today and unfortunately for Mitchell, he could never stay healthy enough to make an impact with the Browns.
Anyway, he's one of the few players I really root for - so I'm hoping he lands wherever he feels is best for his life. And I know we all operate in a cynical and critical world, but at least acknowledge Mitchell for his mad Walleye skills, if nothing else.
COMEBACK OF THE PRESEASON
It makes me a little too happy to see another of the Browns' "Good Guys", Reggie Hodges, return and boom punts all over the field. And again, speaking of things cynical, I'm religiously adverse and Hodges is incredibly devout - yet his Twitter is ridiculously positive enough for someone like me to follow.
Plus, bonus points for recycling tips:
And nice job on the preseason kickoffs by Dawson. Any advantage the Browns' defense can get is worth it. And we already know what Dawson does for the Browns' offense.
PERFORMANCE OF THE PRESEASON 2
PHIL DAWSON AGAINST GREEN BAY
IT'S LIKE YOU NEVER LEFT HONOREE
SPECIAL TEAMS MISTAKES
And from filthy to plain dirty. We already know that the margin of error is slim in the NFL and non-existent for these Browns - yet once again, we're getting reminders of how the Browns' special teams are a far cry from the league-leading units found under Brad Seely and even Jerry Rosburg from years ago.
Again, I'm not asking for miracles. All I want is basic competence. The Browns can't afford blocked punts, missed special teams tackles and kickoff returns to the 15.
MOST DESTRUCTIVE PLAY CALL
SCREEN CALL AGAINST THE EAGLES
Consistent readers of this site already know I've wasted much of my recent life talking about this play.
Had this play occurred during a regular season game, I would have had to readjust my most depressing moments of the Browns' expansion era list. Currently, I'm not sure what tops Shurmur's Cavalacade of Suck against the Rams last season, Matthew Stafford's Debutante Ball of 2009 or any December Browns vs. AFC North game of the past decade.
However, if we see another screen - on another 1st or 2nd and Long - we riot.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
But enough threats and negativity, Shurmur has been given a golden opportunity to fix his team over the next weeks before the season opener. In a best case scenario, this occurs along with:
1. Shurmur opens up the rest of his playbook.
2. Trent Richardson indeed exists and returns to spark a dormant running game.
3. Shurmur's offense reaches that forbidden fruit of basic competence and occasionally squeaks out a big downfield play.
4. The defense returns moderately healthy and survives Joe Haden's suspension.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
A series of Screen Passes - each more destructive than the last.