Canonian1: How has Gary Baxter been performing as a cornerback considering he priced himself at $10M?
Bernie's Insiders: Baxter has been above-average at cornerback, although he's not the shutdown corner that his price tag may suggest, as Ravens fans well know. He stood out during the Browns win over Green Bay, effectively baiting Brett Favre into an interception late in the game that sealed the win.
Canonian1: What is the biggest weakness of the Cleveland Browns defensively?
Bernie's Insiders: The defensive secondary isn't nearly as big a concern as the front seven, which is still adjusting to the 3-4 and lacks the blocker-eating nose tackle the scheme needs. They can be beaten up the middle, and we expect ex-Patriot Ethan Kelley to assume a larger role at nose tackle as the season goes on.
To be specific, the Browns badly need to upgrade at nose tackle and at one inside linebacker spot. They lack an outside linebacker or defensive end that presents a significant pass rushing threat, although they hope that Chaun Thompson or David McMillan will someday fill that role.
RavenScallywag: How long do the Browns anticipate having Dilfer as the starter? I know you guys have Frye waiting in the wings and he definitely showed a big improvement in the preseason. Is Dilfer there as a legitimate starter for the next 3-4 years, or is he just holding the spot until Frye is ready?
Bernie's Insiders: The common wisdom is that the team won't play Frye this season except in the unexpected circumstance that they are on the winning side of a blow-out. It is also generally accepted that Frye will be a candidate for the starting job next year, although it's far from certain that he would be able to dethrone Dilfer.
The scenario reminds many of the Jon Kitna/Carson Palmer situation in Cincinnati, except that Romeo Crennel is unlikely to do what Marvin Lewis did and declare Frye the starter during the off-season. The Browns feel that they got a steal with Frye in the third round, and the pre-season indicated that was the case. However, we all know that the game speeds up considerably during the regular season. For that reason, there is an undercurrent of commentary which argues that the team should allow Frye to get some playing time this year to confirm what we thought we saw in pre-season.
RavenScallywag: Also, how has the team been enjoying Derek Anderson's ability?
Bernie's Insiders: He's a development project, obviously. Unfortunately, the Browns have had closed practices for the past several years. Anderson, since he was picked up after the end of the pre-season, is a mystery to most of the Cleveland media since none of us have been able to actually see him do anything but toss the ball around during pre-game warm-ups.
RavenScallywag: Will Lee Suggs ever truly get the starting RB job? He seems to never quite get a lock on it.
Bernie's Insiders: He as the number one back at the end of last season under interim coach Terry Robiskie, who is a big Suggs fan. When healthy and given the opportunity, he responded with three straight 100+ yard games to finish the season. This year, he went from being the #1 back going into training camp to #3 on the depth chart, primarily due to injuries. After suffering a high ankle sprain on a non-contact play in training camp, Suggs finally touched the ball three weeks ago against the Colts. Against the Bears, Suggs was the target of one pass, and promptly broke his thumb on kick-off coverage. He will miss the next month.
The oft-injured Suggs looks like he'll continue to tease Browns fans with his ability and frequent injuries. Crennel has moved on and given Droughns the starting job. Droughns has responded and is clearly Crennel's #1 back. It would require an injury or a real slump by Droughns for Suggs to sniff the top job again.
RavenScallywag: Do you foresee Droughns getting an extension to be the Browns featured back for the long haul, or are the Browns still hoping for Suggs to claim the spot?
Bernie's Insiders: Droughns has done a very good job for the Browns so far this year, leaving some of us to wonder why the team tends to pass almost twice as much as it runs (especially since the Browns offensive line is a better run-blocking unit than pass blockers). The team's hope for Suggs is merely to provide a change of pace for Droughns at this point, and it will be four weeks at least until we can see if he's able to come back to contribute this season.
Camdenyard: It was widely reported that Crennel was not Savage's first choice for head coach, that Savage wanted Nolan (who eventually landed in SF). Since then, describe the working relationship between the two men, and if their philosophies for building a team are in sync.
Bernie's Insiders: I'm not sure I'd say that it was "widely reported" that Savage preferred Nolan, rather it seemed to be a rumor that likely had some basis in fact. Rumors of conflict between Savage and Crennel have mostly been reported by out-of-town press with somewhat dubious sources and internet sites (such as ProFootballTalk.com) with an accuracy rate about that of the Weekly World News. The team's official stance, of course, is that Lerner, Collins, and Savage were in lock-stop selecting Crennel. We suspect that there have been some bumps in the road as the Collins/Savage/Crennel team has learned to work together, but that reports of conflict are exaggerated by folks who aren't very close to the team.
CHAMPRavens: Don't Browns fans who for the most part have been slamming Dilfer for the last 5 years, as a lucky QB who only won because of the D, etc... Find it a bit awkward that now they must now cheer for the guy whom they most likely hated for so long??
Bernie's Insiders: Not really. There may have been a few Browns fans who disparaged Dilfer for his role on the Ravens team, but he wasn't the focus of many, particularly since he left the team shortly thereafter. In fact, there may be some empathy with Dilfer as someone who wasn't treated well by the Ravens ownership or coaching staff. Since he's been in Cleveland, Dilfer has won a lot of fans with his leadership and focus on teamwork. Dilfer is probably the first quarterback since the team's return in 1999 who could actually be considered a team leader.
TSuggs5552: What was Phil Savage's mindset in signing Chester Taylor to an offer sheet? Was he trying to drive up the price for the Ravens or did the Browns think they had a legit shot at signing the future starter?
Bernie's Insiders: We suspect Savage felt that signing Taylor was a no-lose proposition. Savage's interest in Taylor was genuine and he felt that he could have been able to sign the RFA as insurance at a roster spot where the Browns had talented players with reliability issues. The worst-case scenario was that the Ravens would match the offer, in which case Savage had only increased the cap management challenges of a division rival.
MisterGG: Has Phil Savage received any criticism for signing ex-Raven players and making the Brown the Ravens of the West?
Bernie's Insiders: It's not perceived here that Savage is modeling the Browns after the Ravens. A stronger accusation might be that the Browns are trying to become Patriots of the West for signing Joe Andruzzi, Justin Kurpeikis, Antwan Harris and Ethan Kelley. The model of the players they like appears to be much closer to New England than Baltimore in the Newsome/Savage era. Keep in mind that Savage got his start in Cleveland under Belichick.
It's only natural that new coaches and front office execs will look to players they know well and like. At the same time, Savage clearly doesn't have blinders on in this respect as the Browns elected not to aggressively pursue Peter Boulware, and dropped Josh Harris, etc. In the same way, Crennel didn't pursue available Patriots like Rohan Davey and initially cut Justin Kurpeikis. After several years of Butch Davis' infatuation with Miami and other Florida players, as well as his reluctance to cut any of his own draft picks, both Savage and Crennel seem open-minded by comparison.
RayLewis52: The Browns are close to dead last in the rushing defense category and given this do you believe there is any chance that the Browns can stop Jamal?
Bernie's Insiders: We said on our radio show last week that Thomas Jones' performance during the third quarter last week looked too similar to the team's defensive collapse against Jamal Lewis in 2003 for comfort. Crennel, however, is a sharp defensive mind and the team's defense is already markedly improved since their first game against Cincinnati. Lewis will present another challenge for the Browns defense, but the situation with the Ravens is such that they're likely to stack the line against Lewis and try use force of numbers to slow. A lot of Jones' performance against a similarly stacked line against Kyle Orton and the Bears was due to the defense being in sub defenses and some poor tackling by the Browns defensive secondary (Brian Russell in particular). We expect that Crennel has got the team prepared to make fewer mistakes this weekend... it will be one more reason why this will be a fascinating game to watch!
RayLewis52: Are the Browns regretting the decision to trade their whole Dline given the success that many of them have had in Denver?
Bernie's Insiders: They didn't trade their entire defensive line. The Browns were wise to keep their most reliable defensive lineman, Orpheus Roye, an often-underrated player who is now the team's left defensive end. Courtney Brown was genuinely pursued by the Browns as a free agent, after they dumped him because of his contract, but elected to sign with Denver. The Browns essentially got Trent Dilfer for Gerard Warren and Michael Myers, which most Browns fans would probably say was a win for the team.
It should be noted that three of the players were with the team when Jamal Lewis was busy setting rushing records against them in 2003, and it's not too huge a surprise that they're doing better with Trevor Pryce playing alongside and Al Wilson behind them. In ridding themselves of Warren and by cutting Brown, the Browns got rid of two horrible cap-gobbling contracts which limited the team's flexibility. In addition, Brown and Warren were two of the most visible reminders of the draft mistakes of the Policy/Clark/Davis era. Getting them off the roster provided a way to make a break with the past and give the new brain trust a cleaner slate to write on.
RodGreen54: What is the general feeling of Cleveland since the Browns have been one of the worst teams in the league recently? Do the people feel that there is any hope with the new coaching staff and the draft wiz of a GM in Phil Savage?
Bernie's Insiders: There's a tremendous amount of hope in Cleveland with the new brain trust, and the initial results on the field have both fans and the media in a positive frame of mind. In addition to the changeover in the front office, the business side of the organization seems more attuned to the fans, and are quicker to recognize and correct mistakes than the Policy front office. The team has, for example, been aggressive in bringing alumni like Jim Brown and Paul Warfield into the organization and embracing the team's history. There's a sense that the organization is turning in a positive direction.
RodGreen54: Lastly, what was the point of the Browns in trying to sign Chester Taylor to an offer sheet when they already had 3 running backs that could be considered starters before the season?
Bernie's Insiders: We dealt with some this above, but keep in mind that there were two starting quality backs at the time (Droughns was added after the Browns lost out on Taylor). Both of those running backs had worrisome negatives as well: Suggs has been injury-prone and Green has had off-field problems as well as an a quirky history of performance on the field. Droughns provided an insurance policy that, in retrospect, has been critical to the team's stronger-than-expected start. Taylor would likely have been in Droughns' role by now.
Towlax: I'd like to know what the mood is in Cleveland towards the recent restructuring of Kellen Winslow's contract to allow him to play his way into most of the money he lost. I know that if Winslow had been a Raven, I would have wanted to see him off the team. I haven't been able to find much information on his rehab progress, so I'm wondering if the fans are still embracing him, or if there's a resentment towards him already.
Bernie's Insiders: There was a lot of initial hostility, but that was subdued by the fact that Winslow himself finally did the right thing by talking to the media and expressing his commitment to come back and play. In addition, Winslow paid a hard financial price in losing some very large bonuses. Those bonuses can only be earned back with quantifiable performance, and few Clevelanders can quibble with an incentive-based contract after seeing the vast amounts of money lost on overrated draft picks in recent years.
Towlax: Also, how long until Braylon Edwards comes back? Will we see him this Sunday, or is it more serious?
Bernie's Insiders: It looks like it will be 3-4 weeks before Edwards is able to return.
Towlax: A question has been asked about Baxter already, but how do you see him comparing to Anthony Henry, who so far seems to be doing a solid job in Dallas? The Ravens feel like they got an upgrade by taking Rolle instead of Baxter... do the Browns regret letting Henry walk for him?
Bernie's Insiders: General consensus is that the Browns replaced Henry with a player of similar caliber, although the cornerback position seems pretty settled by comparison to the team's front seven. The Browns run defense and lack of pass rush have been their most obvious problems, so the situation at cornerback hasn't gotten a lot of scrutiny.