Frye started the last five games and showed good instincts, but he is still raw. He was sacked 21 times, an indication he holds onto the ball too long. That should change with experience. He does not have the strongest arm in the AFC North, but he makes up for it with excellent touch passes. Dilfer is capable of playing well in spurts, but he is not a long-term solution, though he still believes he is. He has proven to be a good mentor for Frye. The coaches believe that with Anderson they do not need to draft a quarterback. Campbell will compete with Anderson for the third quarterback.
Droughns became the Browns first back in 20 years to rush for more than 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,232 yards rushing. He set a franchise record with 309 carries. He is not fast, but he is a bruising runner capable of breaking tackles. He is under contract for 2006 but general manager Phil Savage wants to work on an extension this spring. Depth is a problem, and because of it Droughns wore down in December. Suggs has been injured each of his three seasons (eight carries, 15 yards in 2005) and Green disappears when the games start to count. Wright showed promise and could replace Green. Smith has played six seasons and has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in five of them. McIntyre could challenge Smith next training camp.
Winslow has not played since the second game of the 2004 season. He missed 14 games of his rookie season recovering from a broken fibula and ankle injury and all of 2005 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. His rehab is going well, though, and the Browns are counting on him in 2006. They are eager to see if he still has the speed he had before the injuries. Heiden set a personal high in 2005 with 43 catches. He is very capable as a second tight end and will start again if Winslow has a setback. Shea caught only 18 passes. He is an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return. Irons was activated at the end of the season. He could be the blocking tight end the Browns are missing.
Bryant caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards to lead the Browns, but he also dropped several key passes, and those drops weigh in the decision on whether to re-sign him. The Browns say they want him and Bryant says he wants to return. Edwards tore his right ACL Dec. 4 and had surgery Jan. 3. The goal is to have him ready for the season opener, but that could be wishful thinking. The Browns could have a potent pass offense with Winslow, Edwards and Bryant ready to go. Northcutt caught 42 passes, 13 fewer than a year ago, and that is not likely to change in the future. Jackson is a sure-handed fourth receiver. Cribbs and Rideau are still learning.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT L.J. Shelton, LG Joe Andruzzi, C Mike Pucillo, RG Cosey Coleman, RT Ryan Tucker. Backups - T Kirk Chambers, T Nat Dorsey, G Dave Yovanovits, C Dwayne Ledford, C Jeff Faine (injured).
The Browns offensive line was improved from 2004. Faine's value was illustrated when a torn biceps knocked him out of the last three games; Pucillo, adequate as a backup guard, struggled at center. Faine is rehabbing and expected to make a complete recovery. Shelton played well after a shaky start. Re-signing him before he becomes a free agent in March is a priority, but the Browns won't break the bank to keep him. Tucker had what he said was his best year. Andruzzi and Coleman both missed time with nagging injuries, but their play at guard is a reason Droughns got his 1,000 yards. His fade began about the time the injuries on the interior of the line piled up. Chambers and Dorsey are still projects. Ledford was just a late-season emergency fill-in.
The line was definitely the weak link of the defense, with the exception of Roye. Roye was heroic. He played most of the season on a bad knee and for last half of the season teams ran away from him, yet he still led the Browns defensive linemen in tackles. Fisk had to start because the Browns had no one better. Romeo Crennel tried using Ethan Kelly as a starter for a couple games, but Kelly injured a knee and ended up on injured reserve. Finding a nose tackle and a right defensive end have to be off-season priorities. Eason is a capable backup because he can play any position along the line. Parker could develop into a backup and so can Fraser, but neither is a starter at this point.
As with the defensive line, linebacker is in for a major overhaul. Davis led the team with 199 tackles and signed a five-year, $20 million contract extension in December. He does not have a lot of support around him, although Thompson is quick and can get to the quarterback in a hurry. Taylor will be an unrestricted free agent and not likely to be re-signed. He made too many of his 139 tackles 7 or 8 yards downfield. Stewart could be a backup if a pass rusher is discovered in free agency or drafted. Lang played hard with little to show for his effort, but he is due $4 million next season and he would have to agree to a massive reduction to return. McMillan and Speegle, rookies in 2005, did not play from scrimmage. McMillan showed pass rush ability in practice, but was inactive most of the time. Ruff does not want to return as a backup. Unck is a solid special teamer.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Leigh Bodden, LCB Daylon McCutcheon, SS Chris Crocker, FS Brian Russell. Backups - CB Michael Lehan, CB Ray Mickens, CB Antonio Perkins, CB Pete Hunter, SS Sean Jones, FS Brodney Pool, RCB Gary Baxter (injured).
Injuries of course are never good, but Baxter missed most of the season recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, and that gave Bodden an opportunity to start. He played well enough to get a four-year contract extension and next year should challenge McCutcheon for the starting job at left cornerback. Baxter is mending and should be 100 percent by minicamp in June. The Browns do not have a dominating safety in a division in which they must face the Steelers' Troy Polamalu and the Ravens' Ed Reed twice a season. Pool or Jones could be that player, but they were not in 2005. Mickens played well as a nickel back, but is unlikely to be back with Baxter returning. The coaches are counting on Perkins, a rookie in 2005, to be the fourth corner. Lehan has an injury history and Hunter was an emergency signing in December. Neither is likely to return.
Dawson does not get the recognition he deserves because he plays for a team that has had only one winning season in seven years. He was 25-of-27 on field goal tries in 2005 and has made 30 of his last 32. Richardson was erratic as a punter. He shanked too many off the right side of his foot to be re-signed. Cribbs made the team as an undrafted rookie. He set a team record with 1,094 yards in kick returns and was just as valuable on coverage, finishing second on special teams with 19 tackles. Northcutt's final numbers - 35 punt returns for 368 yards (a 10.5-yard average) and one return for a touchdown don't begin to illustrate how well he played. He had two returns for touchdowns nullified by penalty and neither penalty affected the play. His return for a touchdown against the Ravens in the final game was the winning play. Pontbriand was on injured reserve for the final five games with a back injury. Littleton did his best, but the Browns missed Pontbriand's accuracy as a long snapper.