When the Cleveland Browns got to Training Camp, it was clear that the roster was more talented than in years past. Not only was it more talented but it was also still quite young. The team brought in the best free agent QB, which isn't saying much, that changed teams this off-season, Josh McCown, signed two veteran wide receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, and drafted a stud to upgrade their league worst run defense, Danny Shelton.
The current 53 man roster speaks to a number of things about the team:
Joe Banner's Late Departure and Ray Farmer's Late Arrival Still Haunting
When Jimmy Haslam decided to move on from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, they had already hired HC Mike Pettine and were behind other teams making a switch in the Front office. While Ray Farmer had been with the Browns as the Assistant GM, his philosophy does not lineup directly with that of Banner and Lombardi. With the late change, the Browns were not only a month behind but had to rebuild their scouting department, grades and start over from scratch to some extent.
The Browns continue to be haunted by that. With limited time, it seems like the Browns had to take some short cuts and background/character checks were not done to the depth needed. Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert have struggled in part, or whole, due to character issues. Now this weekend Terrance West was traded for close to nothing because of reported similar issues. Have to wonder if their limited time to prepare is the reason Farmer was comfortable only bringing in 6 players, trading away a number of picks, including to trade up for West.
Farmer added to his Front Office prior to this season but also may have gone in the opposite direction to draft "choir boys." Disregarding character is a poor decision as much as overemphasizing it can be. Only two players from Farmer's first draft, Joel Bitonio and Christian Kirksey played regularly their rookie year, with hope that Pierre Desir will produce this year. Either way, Browns are paying for the late Banner/Farmer decision.
Playing for the Now (i.e. Special Teams Matter)
The Browns made it clear that winning this season is important to them. From statements made by Haslam, Farmer and Pettine to drafting Shelton who can impact the team quickly, the Browns want to win. Their 53 man roster was another statement about winning now. The Browns kept three players who are basically special teams players, over long term, upside players.
Johnson Bademosi, Marlon Moore and Tank Carder will rarely, if ever, see the field on offense or defense. However, special teams is the other third of the game. Bademosi, Moore and Carder provide the team with great coverage, as well as blocking for returns. Instead of keeping Josh Lenz, Vince Mayle or Hayes Pullard, the Browns made a clear statement about wanting to win Special Teams.
Trading for punting standout Andy Lee was another off-season move to have a great Special Teams group. He has been great all preseason and has fans excited for how he can turn the field.
Pettine has made it clear that versatile players on the defensive side of the ball is key. Kirksey can play inside and out. Desir, Bademosi and Jordan Poyer have played both corner and safety. Malcolm Johnson and E.J. Bibbs will play both tight end and fullback. On the defensive line, the Browns kept players who can play inside and outside on the line, as well as players like Armonty Bryant who can play with his hand down as well as standing up as an outside linebacker.
The biggest name in the versatile, upside group is obviously Terrelle Pryor. Pryor didn't show much during the preseason but showed enough versatility and upside that the Browns couldn't cut him. Pryor is the big receiver with great speed and impressive hands. His work ethic has excited the team but his versatility will be key.
When Pryor talked about playing the "Slash role" I was concerned that he didn't want to invest at the receiver position alone, as the Browns had publicly stated he should. It looks like the team has, or had already, decided that Pryor's role would be slash oriented. In his lone game, he took direct snaps as well as outside at receiver. In practice he was used on end arounds and reverse passes.
Not only is Pryor versatile, like many other players on the Browns, but he also has high level upside that doesn't exist anywhere else on the Browns roster. In a year or two, Pryor could be a top level receiver that is currently not on the Browns roster.
The Browns were setback by the timing of GM Ray Farmer's hiring last year, and those sins are coming back to haunt us. Yet the team clearly plans to win with special teams and versatile players with upside. While the offense may not be where fans want it to be, the Browns have setup to have an elite defense and special teams. Winning those two phases of the game, along with a great offensive line and some versatile talents on offense, is the Browns plan to win.
Will they? We shall see!
What big picture takeaways did you see from the Browns 53 man roster?