The glaring lack of quality depth at the cornerback position.
The Browns have been getting beaten deep early, late and often by a list of players who you won't exactly find with a quick scan of a Who's Who list of upper-echelon receivers. From Hank Baskett in the Philadelphia pre-season opener to Peerless Price in last Saturday's win over the Bills, toast has become a dietary staple of the Browns' secondary.
In particular, Ralph "Scorched" Brown and Pete "Earth" Hunter have been the toastee's on more than one occasion.
To that end, Baxter is vowing to return from his torn pectoral muscle in time for the start of the regular season on Sept. 10. And head coach Romeo Crennel, for one, cannot wait for the veteran to be back on the field.
" We talked to (the defensive backs) about not giving up long passes, but during the preseason, we seem to give up a pass or two a game," Crennel said. "If we can get a Gary Baxter back on the field, I think it would help solidify the position."
Baxter took yet another step toward achieving his goal yesterday as he practiced for the first time since suffering the injury against the Eagles, albeit only in non-contact positional drills.
"I think… no, I know I will be ready for the first game," Baxter vowed.
The news on McCutcheon, on the other hand, is not quite as optimistic.
The eight-year veteran has been limited to riding a bike and, at least on Monday, running on the sideline in lieu of any type of practice. What at one point looked likely—playing in the opener—is quickly becoming more and more unrealistic.
McCutcheon, recovering from knee surgery performed early on in camp, has not progressed as rapidly as expected. While he has suffered no setbacks, the knee is simply not healing at the rate first thought by the Browns' medical staff.
The Browns released a new depth chart yesterday, and there were only a couple of changes of note.
As expected, D'Qwell Jackson has leapfrogged Chaun Thompson into the starting inside linebacker spot opposite Andra Davis. While Thompson played well in last Saturday's game against Buffalo, it likely won't prevent what, for weeks, has looked like an inevitability.
In addition to the Jackson-Thompson flip-flop, rookie Kamerion Wimbley did his own flip on the chart, moving into the backup spot at strong-side outside linebacker behind Willie McGinest. In the first depth chart of the pre-season, Wimbley was listed as the backup to weak-side outside linebacker Matt Stewart.
Just to show that pre-season depth charts mean about as much as the results of pre-season games, though, rookie running back Jerome Harrison is listed as the fourth back, behind both William Green and Lee Suggs and just ahead of Jason Wright.
Harrison has, by all accounts, locked down the change-of-pace back job, is possibly pulling ahead in the battle to be the #2 back and is the only player on the roster to have played in each quarter of the last two pre-season games.
Meanwhile, Green didn't enter the regular-season dress rehearsal until halfway through the third quarter and Suggs did not get a play from scrimmage.
Other depth chart notes:
With rookies seemingly stepping up on a daily, or even hourly, basis, one expected to provide quality depth almost immediately has been relegated to sideline duty.
Offensive lineman Isaac Sowells returned to practice yesterday for the first time since early on in camp after suffering a high-ankle sprain in an intra-squad scrimmage. The fourth-round draft pick, if healthy, would offer much-needed depth at the guard position.
As it stands now, the only thing standing between Dave Yovanovits (six games in three years) and Andrew Hoffman (converted from DL to OL early in camp) seeing meaningful action is Cosey Coleman's creaky knees and Joe Andruzzi's balky back.
Brandon Rideau was the only "big-name" release in the Browns first round of cuts yesterday, and the play of fellow wide receiver Kendrick Mosley led directly to the 2005 training camp sensation's release.
"He's not flashy… He doesn't take your breath away, but he catches the ball," Crennel gushed when speaking of Mosley.
Mosley will likely be in a fight with Frisman Jackson for the sixth and final WR spot on the 53-man roster.
Crennel has told both Ken Dorsey and Derek Anderson that neither of them has played well enough to rule out the possibility of adding another veteran quarterback to the roster.
In other news, the head coach informed both QBs that water is indeed still wet.
Andrew Pace is an undrafted rookie free agent that almost nobody with much of a life has heard of or thinks about when it comes down to predicting a final 53-man roster.
The safety, who would make the final roster or practice squad based on his special teams prowess, played four years at Vanderbilt and was invited to mini-camp only after a family friend phoned general manager Phil Savage seeking a favor for Pace.
He has not only survived the mini-camps, but also the first round of cuts. Now, Ray Millick of the Birmingham News puts a story to the name of a player who wasn't expecting to be a member of the Browns past June much less deep into the month of August.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If we can get a Gary Baxter back on field, I think that will solidify the position. In the meantime, we're taking a look at guys like Ralph Brown, who can come in and do some things. But he's not Gary Baxter."—head coach Romeo Crennel, preaching to the right church and the proper pew.
QUOTE OF THE DAY, THE SEQUEL: "To go from quarterback to receiver, you're going from a lazy position to a working position. Quarterbacks are lazy. Go five steps, throw the ball. They don't run like receivers run."—wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, on Josh Cribbs' transition from college QB to NFL WR.