Straight-Up Line-Up Comparison, Part 1

Each year, NFL teams have unexpected success or unexpected failure, and it's sometimes harder than it looks to predict how teams will perform. Starting with the offense, though, John Taylor dives into the task, examining each roster spot and the players at each to divine what Browns fans may see in 2006...

There has been much made about the improvements orchestrated by the Browns over the course of the 2006 off-season, so we here at The OBR (translation: me) thought it would be interesting to do a position-by-position comparison of starting lineups.

Take the lineup that was on the field at the beginning of the 2005 season and compare it with the projected starting lineup for your 2006 Cleveland Browns.

It means little, if anything, as an NFL team works as a cohesive unit, but, what the hell, let's go for it.

 

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

2005: Trent Dilfer

2006: Charlie Frye

While this could end up in Frye's favor by the end of the season, right now Dilfer's experience tips the scales toward the ex-Browns and current 49ers QB. 

Simply put, the club does not know what it has in Frye like it did with Dilfer.  Starting five games is not enough to say that he is the answer at the position.

Conversely, five games are not enough to say that he is not the answer.

Right now, Frye is what he is: an unknown quantity being given the opportunity to prove that he deserved to have said opportunity thrown into his lap.

EDGE: Dilfer

RUNNING BACK

2005: Reuben Droughns

2006: Reuben Droughns

The Browns are hoping that a reliable, dependable and injury-free Jerome Harrison serving as a change-of-pace back will allow Droughns to finish the season with a flurry, as opposed to wearing down and ending it with a whimper.

The Browns had no one behind Droughns last season who they had the confidence in to either perform at an acceptable level or stay healthy.  Or both.

With production from Harrison, in addition to the return of Kellen Winslow and having a healthy Braylon Edwards for an entire season, the Browns would expect a fresher Droughns seeing his carries go down but his production go up, particularly in the latter portion of the season.

EDGE: 2006 Droughns


FULLBACK

2005: Terrelle Smith

2006: Terrelle Smith

For all of the talk of Smith being a bruising blocker, the times that has actually occurred in games remains few and far between.  It seems like Smith's reputation is more hype than actual substance.

(Waiting for the shower of beer bottles to let up.)

While not as powerfully built as Smith, rookie Lawrence Vickers is a solid blocking back, with the additional bonus of being versatile enough to run out of the tailback position and catch passes out of the backfield.

For that reason, the Browns drafted Vickers and are in the process of grooming him as Smith's eventual replacement. 

It would come as no surprise if Vickers were to supplant Smith at some point this season.  And, given the disparity in the 2007 base salaries for both players, it would cause no heart strain if Smith were on the outside of the roster looking in next off-season.

EDGE: 2005 Smith


WIDE RECEIVER

2005: Dennis Northcutt

2006: Joe Jurevicius

(The WR scenarios assume that, when completely healthy, Edwards takes over for Jurevicius, who would then assume Northcutt's spot, with Northcutt taking over the third receiver role from Edwards.)

Jurevicius is a big target who can use his length to bail out young Charlie Frye, particularly on third downs and in red zone situations.

Northcutt is short and falls down a lot.

(How's that for in-depth analysis?)

Seriously, ‘Cutt should not be viewed as a bad receiver at all; it's just that Jurevicius is a better option, particularly for a young QB.

EDGE: Jurevicius


WIDE RECEIVER

2005: Antonio Bryant

2006: Braylon Edwards

On the one hand, you have a receiver with a 1,000-yard season last year, but dropped several easily-catchable passes in crucial situations.

On the other hand, you have a second-year player who was slowed by a contract dispute at the beginning of training camp, then missed two games with an arm infection and the final four games of last season with a torn ACL.

Provided Edwards can return to close 100% health this season and remain that way for the entire year, the Michigan product is a tremendous upgrade over the talented but unreliable Bryant.

Edwards is more explosive—as evidenced by his 80-yard catch and run against Green Bay—and has more reliable, consistent hands.  His hands will likely never make one think of Cris Carter, but they also aren't reminiscent of… well… Bryant.

Which is good.

EDGE: Edwards


TIGHT END

2005: Steve Heiden

2006: Kellen Winslow II

In no way am I going to demean Heiden, because the veteran TE has been a steady producer on the field both as a receiver and blocker during his five-year tenure with the Browns.

However, Winslow has the ability to change games and force teams to adapt their game plans to what he may or may not be doing any particular week. 

Simply put, a healthy Winslow is a weapon and Heiden a cog.

And, obviously, the key is the word "healthy" when it comes to Winslow.

EDGE: Winslow II


LEFT TACKLE

2005: L.J. Shelton

2006: Kevin Shaffer

There is something that has been sticking in my craw, and I'm glad I finally got down to the left tackle position so I can dig it out.

There have been more than a few fans and media types who have questioned Shaffer's play in the pre-season.  Some have suggested that Shaffer is only a slight upgrade over Shelton, with the size of his contract pushing some into the "should've just kept Shelton" camp.

This causes me to pause and ask: what the hell are some people watching?

As far as I can recall from multiple viewings of each pre-season game, Shaffer was as advertised in the running game.  He was strong at the point of attack and showed the ability to push the defender wherever he wanted.

As far as pass protection, I believe he gave up two sacks, with one of those coming from what seemed to be a miscommunication between Shaffer and Joe Andruzzi.  Other than that, he was more than adequate in protecting Frye's blindside.

Has it been that long ago that some fail to remember how utterly mediocre Shelton was?  Or is the hefty contract signed by Shaffer making some expect Ogden instead of simply an above-average left tackle who still has a lot of upside?

I suspect it's a morsel of the former and a whole heaping (steaming?) plateful of the latter.

EDGE: Shaffer


LEFT GUARD

2005: Joe Andruzzi

2006: Joe Andruzzi

He's a year older and still in solid possession of a bad back.  When as healthy as is humanly possible for him to be, Andruzzi is a solid, gritty presence on the offensive line.

Isaac Sowells must get healthy and prove his worth as a stretch fourth-round draft pick, in addition to the Browns addressing this position in the off-season with some veteran, and relatively injury-free, depth.

EDGE: 2005 Andruzzi


CENTER

2005: Jeff Faine

2006: Hank Fraley

The easy joke here would be that Ace Fraley or Chris Farley in his current state would have been an upgrade over Faine.  Another easy one would've been comparing Faine to the Frenchies.

So, since I'm the epitome of laziness, I'll roll that way.

Ace Fraley or Chris Farley in his current state would have been an upgrade over Faine.

And what's up with a vegetarian offensive lineman?  Isn't that kind of like having a Frenchman as your Secretary of Defense?

(OK, got that out of my system.)

When he wasn't ending the season on the injured list, Faine was consistently abused by the opposition, especially by bigger defensive tackles.  That lack of size up the middle is a death knell in today's NFL, particularly in the AFC North.

The recently-acquired Fraley is not only an upgrade over Faine, but he's also an upgrade over the parade of centers brought in following the season-ending injury to LeCharles Bentley.

His veteran presence, in addition to his blocking ability, will be an absolute asset in the development of Frye.  That cannot be stressed enough.

EDGE: Fraley


RIGHT GUARD

2005: Cosey Coleman

2006: Cosey Coleman

(This may sound familiar)

He's a year older and still in solid possession of a gimpy knee.  When as healthy as is humanly possible for him to be, Coleman is a solid presence on the offensive line.

Isaac Sowells must get healthy and prove his worth as a stretch fourth-round draft pick, in addition to the Browns addressing this position in the off-season with some veteran, and relatively injury-free, depth.

EDGE: 2005 Coleman


RIGHT TACKLE

2005: Ryan Tucker

2006: Ryan Tucker

He's not Pro Bowl material by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a rock-steady member of a unit that seems to be in a perpetual state of flux.

His recent knee surgery won't likely slow him down as he wasn't exactly gazelle-like to begin with, even by offensive lineman standards.

EDGE: Push


TOMORROW: THE DEFENSE


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