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Q: With the suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon, the Browns appear to lack an over-the-top threat in the passing game. The only speed receivers are smaller players like Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel, which isn’t going to take the lid off a defense.
How do the Browns figure they can get the ball vertically down the field with a bunch of undersized, inexperienced players at the position and a quarterback that cannot get the ball to them? - Anthony S, Medina OH
Fast Lane: Gordon has basically been removed from the equation since the 2013 season, as his readiness and performance late in the 2014 season was abysmal not only to him but the team as a whole.
A vertical threat isn’t necessarily based solely on speed, but that specific facet is something which cannot be taught. A season ago the Browns did display the ability to get receivers downfield. Gabriel especially displayed the ability to get vertical, as did Travis Benjamin.
While the Browns are size-challenged to a degree at the position, they have added size at the position via free agency with the additions of Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline. Bowe and Hartline have tasted success at the professional level and provide a veteran presence and fit within the offensive scheme and specifically the passing game that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo requires.
One of the biggest issues a season ago was getting the ball to the receivers downfield. Quarterbacks for the Browns failed on a consistent basis to complete passes to open receivers 20-plus yards downfield.
Heading into training camp, the Browns have 90% of their new offense installed and they have shown some solid ability in the passing game. Through the OTA sessions, Bowe has looked good. He has displayed the ability to beat coverage due to his surprising quickness and size. Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins have looked very quick and reliable in these sessions.
The Browns are relying on their excellent quickness at the position to help them make gains in a modified West Coast offense that will rely on the running the ball and getting the ball to receivers in space to utilize the speed and quickness. Yardage after the catch is a specific need in this offense.
We’ll see much more when we get into training camp, but coupling the experience and arm strength of Josh McCown along with an entirely different type of offensive play-caller in tow, the passing game could be a developing aspect of this team.
Q: After looking at the Browns needs and how they drafted, I am somewhat confused about selecting three front seven defensive players so early in the draft. Why select another outside linebacker and two defensive linemen with the numbers we have on the roster? James W, Elyria OH
Fast Lane: What you have with this Browns team is a head coach that wants to play very physical, aggressive defense without subjecting the unit to being exposed. The 2014 Browns defense had to blitz often to generate pressure, not only on the opposing QB, but against the run as well.
A season ago, the Browns defensive line suffered from injuries and did not have the talent the defensive coaching staff believed could be proficient, dominant and sustainable.
The selection of NT Danny Shelton is a simple one to understand. The Browns were poor against the run, the interior of the defensive line was pushed around, quality and depth of returning players was questionable and the division the Browns play in is physical.
You need a presence to anchor the interior line and Shelton shows every quality to be a mainstay for this Browns team going forward.
OLB Nate Orchard was selected due to what he does play-in and play-out on film over the last couple seasons. He is physical, he is aggressive, he generates pressure off the edge and is a football player, not an athletic marvel on a stop-watch.
With injuries and losses in free agency, the Browns aggressively sought what they as an organization believe is as good a pass-rusher in the draft as there was in Orchard.
As Shelton and Orchard garner the immediate attention, defensive lineman Xavier Cooper may ultimately be the diamond in the rough for the Browns. Again looking to bolster their ability to generate pressure, Cooper displays an explosive first step and his hand-fighting has already improved with coaching in OTA sessions.
The additions of Shelton and Cooper, teaming with returning linemen Desmond Bryant, John Hughes along with veteran Randy Starks via free agency enables the Browns to have a deep rotation of linemen that can play within three, four and five man sets.
Q: A year ago the Browns wasted a first round draft pick on cornerback Justin Gilbert. They let Buster Skrine walk, signed an expensive free agent Tramon Williams from Green Bay while having K’Waun Williams and Pierre Desir waiting in the wings.
Why waste the money on Williams and time on Gilbert, when you can pay Tashaun Gipson and play the young guys? What are they going to do with all these guys and what’s the deal with Gipson’s contract? Ed H, Middleburg Hts, OH
Fast Lane: Let’s start with Justin Gilbert. The young man had some personal issues a season ago he dealt with, headed into the off-season with a plan to develop himself, personally and professionally, and the Browns have been supportive.
Some of these young guys take a little longer than others. The mental aspect and the physical aspect don’t always meet at the same time, as was the case with Gilbert. The second year CB has been excellent in the OTA sessions – he is night and day compared to a year ago.
Buster Skrine made the decision to leave the Browns. The Jets made a compelling offer to the CB, he believed he has a true opportunity to start and went with it. The additions in the Jets defensive backfield may relegate him to a nickel role once again.
Signing CB Tramon Williams was a move for the Browns in free agency that provided the defense a starting quality, experience CB opposite Joe Haden. The philosophy within the Browns coaching staff is they can never have enough quality defensive backs, as the scheme is DB heavy.
When you look at the Browns CB’s, it’s Haden, Tramon Williams, K’Wuan Williams, Gilbert and Desir as the top-five CB’s heading into camp. This is a solid mix of veteran leadership and developing youth. In this defensive scheme the Browns can easily see 3–4 playing at any given time.
Tashaun Gipson and his contract situation will ultimately come to a head. Gipson signed the restricted tender, he is under contract for the 2015 season and can become an unrestricted free agent following the season.
Many look at the Browns tendering of the player and believe they don’t appreciate or low-balled Gipson. The Browns actually took the contract situation in a different light.
The Browns placed the second round tender on him with the anticipation a team may be inclined to do the leg-work and offer him a contract – of course this did not occur.
A major issue which led to Gipson signing the tender and not receiving a long-term deal to date can be related to the contract Devin McCourty signed this off-season (5 yrs, 47 million). There wasn’t a team, including the Browns, that believed offering Gipson, a restricted free agent at the time a similar contract was necessary.
The Browns will attempt to secure a long-term deal with Gipson prior to the end of the 2015 season.