In the preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, the Browns accomplished most of what they set out to do, but they didn't escape without a serious injury.
All-Pro linebacker Jamir Miller's season has ended as quickly as it began. Miller suffered a torn Achilles tendon and most likely will be lost for the entire season. What does this injury mean to the Browns? We'll find out immediately as the coaching staff prepares for life on the gridiron without Miller.
There are numerous options, but none expected to completely fill the void left by the injury. One of the rookie linebackers will have the opportunity to step-up. Linebacker Anthony Denman could see increased playing time, Lenoy Jones and Marquis Smith may be given the first-shot at helping fill the void. Don't be surprised to see rookie linebacker Ben Taylor make a statement at the strong-side along with defensive linemen Tyrone Rogers and possibly Arnold Miller take some reps at the strong-side linebacker spot. Bringing in a veteran linebacker is a strong possibility.
An long-shot could be rookie defensive lineman Michael Josiah. Josiah is a 240-pound lineman from Louisville that has enormous quickness and an aggressive side that may be worth a peek at the strong-side linebacker position. Though not playing the position in training camp up to this time, Josiah shows the physical attributes that could translate into a possible replacement or project.
None of these players are expected to field the position as well as Miller had done during the 2001 season. The team can only look for and expect a solid, consistent performance. Undoubtedly the defensive scheme will slightly change.
They were efficient moving the ball against the Vikings' first-team defense. Quarterback Tim Couch appeared to remember the words that he spoke to the media, he got rid of the ball quickly, was decisive in his play, and didn't attempt to make too much happen at one time.
He and the entire Browns first-team provided a workmanlike performance. Remember, this is only about one-quarter of the first preseason game. But the performance was uplifting coming off a less that stellar performance against the Buffalo Bills a week earlier. The Vikings are a team that is a serious transition period defensively to improve a unit that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yardage allowed per game.
The rushing game is going to be a work in progress, and there is a lot of work to be done. There isn't much of a question that Jamel White is the starting running back for this team. He has provided a spark to the offense, both coming out of the backfield as a receiver as well as rushing with the pigskin.
First-round draft selection William Green saw action with the first-team offense and didn't fare nearly as well as White. Coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a significant amount of practice during the week, Green rushed for 11 yards on six carries.
While Green is being groomed for the starting running back job, White has done everything that can be asked or expected from a player. It doesn't hurt matters that the team is productive with him on the field.
Much has been made of the revamped and improved Browns offensive line. The line was solid in pass blocking against the Vikings and the run blocking was better than the stats show.
The right-side of the Browns offensive line anchored by Shaun O'Hara and Ryan Tucker opened up enormous holes. As training camp continues the line should continue to gel. There are indications that the line is coming together. The Vikings never seriously applied a pass-rush against the Browns first-team offensive line and Couch was quick in his reads.
On three occasions in the first-quarter of the game, the running backs either hit the hole too quickly, failing to let the play develop or attacked the wrong hole. Case in point was Green. The rookie failed to cutback off right guard on two occasions when he could have run to daylight. With repetitions in camp, Green will probably make the correct adjustments, these were similar situations that he excelled at in college.
An area of concern has to be the fullback position. Aaron Shea has been noted as a good blocker, but was blown up on more than a couple occasions by a linebacker. This team needs a lead blocker to aid the running game, there isn't much doubt there.
Other efforts that should be noted was the play of running back Autry Denson and offensive linemen Joaquin Gonzalez and Paul Zukauskas. Running behind Gonzalez and Zukauskas, Denson was patient and waited until the linemen finished their assignments. Often, Denson would cutback behind the blocks of the linemen to gain positive yardage.
Defensively, the Browns did not perform as well as they wanted to as a first-team. Caught by surprise, the Vikings went into a short passing game and the Browns did not make the necessary adjustments on the Vikings initial series, which resulted in a touchdown.
On the Vikings second and third series, the defense adjusted and pressured the Vikings quarterbacks with zone blitz packages, which were successful.
If there was an obvious bright-spot on the defensive side of the ball was the play of defensive tackle Orpheus Roye, rookie linebacker Kevin Bentley, and defensive backs Kalvin Pearson and Lewis Sanders.
Roye was a disruptive force from the interior of the Browns defensive line. He appears to be comfortable lining up inside and has regained the quickness and confidence that he lacked during the 2001 season. The Vikings were unsuccessful running between the tackles against Roye and Gerard Warren.
Bentley could be to the 2002 Browns what Anthony Henry was to the team in the 2001 season. His presence on the field was evident, as Bentley was in on numerous tackles and was continuously around the ball. With the probable season-ending injury to linebacker Jamir Miller, Bentley is a leading candidate to play an important role on the 2002 Browns defense.
The play and depth in the Browns defensive secondary cannot go unnoticed. Going over the depth chart it is easy to pencil in Corey Fuller, Daylon McCutcheon, and Anthony Henry for roster spots. The next wave of players show that this Browns team has come along way since their inception.
Lewis Sanders was considered a fourth-round steal in the 2000 NFL draft. First-round talent and a history of injury that caused his slide, Sanders showed glimpses of that first-round potential during the 2000 season. Leg woes that later were determined to be caused by calcium deposits robbed him of his 2001 season. Now healthy, Sanders has progressed nicely in training camp and had a solid performance against the Vikings Saturday night.
If you did not know Kalvin Pearson before training camp began, you can bet that you know him now. Making a statement by laying out running back James Jackson on the first-day of training camp, Pearson hasn't looked back. Neither has the coaching staff.
Pearson has been one of the biggest surprises to many, but not the Browns. They watched a lot of film on Pearson and knew that he could provide athleticism and aggression to the defensive backfield. Once considered a long-shot to make the team, Pearson is right now in the mix and made his case stronger with a defining effort against the Vikings.
Next on the agenda will be the Detroit Lions, Saturday evening at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The building of the Browns will continue as they take the next step towards the regular season.