Passan: Taking Stock

Rich Passan takes a look at the Browns 2006 roster - at least how stands at the moment - and offers his thoughts on the status of each unit and the impact on the upcoming NFL draft. And, yes, that is Kellen Winslow on a football field pictured above. Hopefully, there will be many more on these pages in the months to come...

Taking stock of the Browns, position by position, after the Savage flurry of the last 10 days with an eye on next month's college draft.

Offensive line

New guys on the block: LeCharles Bentley, Kevin Shaffer and Bob Hallen.

Gone (and quickly forgotten): L.J. Shelton.

On the bubble: Jeff Faine, Nat Dorsey, Jonathan Dunn.

Overview: For the first time since they returned in 1999, the Browns now have an offensive line that will not rank in the bottom third of the league.

Bentley will give them something at center - and he will play center - they haven't had since the days of Mike Baab: Toughness and brains. No longer will you see defensive tackles maul the interior of this offensive line.

Bentley also plays with attitude, an aspect of the game that has been sorely lacking in Cleveland. The St. Ignatius and Ohio State alumnus brings a swagger that he more than backs up with his fine play. A clear upgrade at a vital position on the line. Faine is as good as gone.

Shaffer, an overachiever since being drafted in the seventh round by Atlanta four years ago, is another clear upgrade over Shelton, who was big and slow. He brings a mean streak to work. Nothing wrong with that. Critics say he has trouble with speed rushers. Very few offensive tackles don't have trouble with speed rushers.

In Hallen, the Browns now have a quality backup in the event injury-prone Joe Andruzzi or Cosey Coleman go down at guard. No dropoff here.

And it'll be perform or get off the pot for youngsters Dorsey and Dunn at tackle.

Draft: It's possible Phil Savage might grab a tackle on day 2 unless one of the top-rated guys drops into the third round.

 

Tight end

New guy on the block: Darnell Dinkins.

Gone: Aaron Shea, Keith Heinrich.

On the bubble: Paul Irons.

Overview: With the (hold your breath) return of Kellen Winslow Jr., the Browns appear to be in decent shape. That is, of course, he does something stupid again, which cannot be automatically dismissed.

Assuming he concentrates on football, Winslow gives the offense a dimension it desperately needs. Stretching the middle of the field is essential, especially against cover-2 schemes. His speed and quickness, in addition to his ability to get open, puts pressure on a defense.

Steve Heiden, who will play only in two tight-end sets, comes nowhere close to Winslow in any of those departments. And Dinkins will fight with Irons to be the third tight end.

Draft: This is one position that Savage most likely will not even consider.


Wide receiver

New guy on the block: Joe Jurevicius.

Gone: Antonio Bryant.

On the bubble: Dennis Northcutt, Frisman Jackson and Brandon Rideau.

Overview: Braylon Edwards, when he returns from his knee injury, gives the club a legitimate deep threat. And by signing Jurevicius, the Browns add a dimension that has been AWOL for some time: The big possession receiver; the big target the quarterback can go to in a clutch situation.

No question that the addition of Jurevicius is an upgrade over Bryant, who dropped way too many passes (he averaged one a game) and helped kill drives. Jurevicius is a disciplined route runner with good hands and should be a favorite of either Charlie Frye or Trent Dilfer.

If Northcutt is kept, the little guy can return to doing what he does best - playing the slot. His most productive seasons were as a slot receiver when he was usually matched against a nickel back. That would signal the end of the line for either Jackson or Rideau.

Draft: It's possible Savage might look for someone here in the latter rounds. However, this is not a deep draft at the position.


Running back

New guy on the block: Everyone returns.

Gone: No one. Yet.

On the bubble: William Green and/or Lee Suggs.

Overview: After a breakthrough year for Cleveland running backs, let's see if Rueben Droughns can gain 1,000-plus yards again. With a substantially improved offensive line, that should be a given. And look for fullback Terrelle Smith to finally be more active in Maurice Carthon's smash mouth offense.

Green and Suggs most likely will be used a trade bait with Green gaining the most interest because he's young and relatively unused. Surely, someone is interested enough in the former No. 1 pick to give up a late-round pick. It might be more difficult to trade Suggs since he can't stay healthy.

Jason Wright should serve as a nice backup to Droughns.

Draft: If the top defensive players are off Savage's board by the time the Browns pick in the first round, don't be surprised if he adds strength and depth to the running game and takes either LenDale White or DeAngelo Williams. Not saying it will happen, but don't be surprised.
 

Quarterback

New guy on the block: Everyone returns.

Gone: No one.

On the bubble: Lang Campbell.

Overview: A big question mark hangs over this position. Coach Romeo Crennel says there will be open competition for the starting job, but it seems that just about everyone believes Charlie Frye will keep Trent Dilfer on the bench. It'll be his job to lose.

The main knock on Frye is arm strength, a negative he said he worked on during the offseason. No question he has the feet to keep him out of trouble and his presence on the field works in his favor. But unless he can throw the deep ball, defenses will crowd his receivers.

Draft: Another quarterback here most likely will come from the free-agent market.
 

Defensive line

New (huge) guy on the block: Ted Washington.

Gone: Jason Fisk.

On the bubble: Nick Eason, Ethan Kelley, Andrew Hoffman, Simon Fraser and J'Vonne Parker.

Overview: When Savage is finished, this will be the most improved area on the team. That's because it was so bad last season, especially against the run.

By plugging in the human dam (Washington) at nose tackle, the Browns automatically improve their run defense. No one is going to push the massive Washington around on first and second downs. No one. If nothing else, it will free inside linebackers to actually make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Consistent Orpheus Roye holds down one flank, but Alvin McKinley is not strong enough game in and game out to play on a regular basis. Eason, Kelley, Fraser and Parker did not show enough last season to lead anyone to believe they're the answer. Hoffman is a project.

Draft: Count on Savage to select at least one tackle and a pass rusher here, perhaps as early as the first two picks. High on his list are tackle Brodrick Bunkley and defensive end/outside linebacker hybrids Manny Lawson and Kamerion Wimbley.

Bunkley could be the run-stopping end in the 3-4 and pair with Washington in the 4-3, while Wimbley and Lawson are versatile enough to play upright in the 3-4 and put their hand on the ground at end in the 4-3. Defensive end possibilities include Tamba Hali and Quentin Moses.


Linebacker

New guy on the block: Willie McGinest.

Gone: Kenard Lang, Ben Taylor*.

On the bubble: Matt Stewart, Nick Speegle and David McMillan.

Overview: This group is clearly the beneficiary of the improved defensive line. Look for more tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage since opposing offensive lines will find it much more difficult to get to the second level.

The outside seems secure on the strong side with McGinest, who will double as a defensive end in the 4-3. The only problem on the other side is that Chaun Thompson, while improving somewhat last season, still isn't at the level he needs to be to be effective.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Crennel and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham move Thompson inside next to Andra Davis and draft someone who is a better pass rusher. Thompson would be more effective inside because he would have fewer responsibilities and better utilize his speed, quickness and strength as a tackler.

Stewart could be nothing more than a spare part by the time the regular season begins. And it's time for Speegle and McMillan to step up and show why the Browns drafted them last season.

Draft: Definitely an area of need. If the Browns decide to keep Thompson outside, Abdul Hodge of Iowa in the second round would be a terrific pick to pair with Davis. He's a little smaller than Davis, but a sure tackler.
 

Secondary

New guy on the block: No one.

Gone: Michael Lehan, Chris Crocker.

On the bubble: Ray Mickens.

Overview: With the emergence of Leigh Bodden last season and the return to health of Gary Baxter, the cornerback situation is in good shape. Daylon McCutcheon should make an excellent nickel back and hasten the exit of Mickens. And maybe this will be the season we see more of Antonio Perkins, who proved somewhat of a mystery last season.

It's also time to see what the young safeties can do. What with the trade of Crocker to Atlanta (how did Savage get a fourth-round pick for this guy?), it's time for Brodney Pool and Sean Jones, the club's last two second-round picks, to prove their selections were wise. There's always Brian Russell to turn to at free safety.

Draft: Not an area of great need. Maybe a second-day selection for depth purposes.


Special teams

New guy on the block: Dave Zastudil.

Gone: Kyle Richardson.

On the bubble: No one.

Overview: Kyle Richardson was booted gracefully via free agency and now the hope is that Dave Zastudil and brings back the glory days of Chris Gardocki. As for placements, no problem with Phil Dawson.

Will Joshua Cribbs be able to duplicate his fine rookie season as a kick returner? Will Perkins finally get a chance to return punts? Will the Browns ever learn to avoid committing penalties on long returns or at least commit them when the officials aren't looking? The answer to all three had better be yes.


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