"Tell me something I don't know, Phil," I answered.
He said, "Well, I'm really looking for answers here. Since you seem to know an awful lot about our team, I thought your analysis of our players would be helpful."
"Wow, thanks, Phil. It's always good to know that NFL general managers respect your opinion. I do need to get with Matt Millen sometime this week, and I'll have to work around that interview with Chris Berman, but I'm glad to share some of my insights with you if it will help the team."
Or maybe I just dreamed that…
Regardless, even if Phil Savage won't listen to me, I'm going to offer some thoughts on the state of the roster and the team in general as the 2006 fades into depressing memory.
In this installment, we'll start with the offense.
One of the goals of 2006 was to see if Charlie Frye could function as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Being an alumnus of the University of Akron, naturally I was pulling for Frye. "Local boy makes good" and all that. But Frye's stint at the end of 2005 left me concerned. He was careless with the ball, including way too many fumbles. What we saw was more of the same. Frye makes some good plays with his feet and the kid is tough. But we also saw a very horizontal passing attack as well as some bad decisions. I'm ready to give up on the Charlie Frye experiment.
Many might argue that Frye was hampered by a poor running game, suspect offensive line play, and receivers who weren't in the right spots. All are true. But when little-known Derek Anderson got a chance to play, we saw some things in a different light. Anderson tends to get rid of the ball faster and he will throw the ball vertically more. Anderson stunned the Chiefs in playing the second half and he did pretty well at Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but the wheels came off in a home loss to Tampa Bay where Anderson threw four interceptions and got knocked out of the game. The book on Anderson in college was "too many interceptions", and we saw some evidence of that. Anderson has no touch on the ball to go with his good arm which led to a lot of dropped passes and deflections. While I think Anderson could be a capable backup, I don't see him as the answer, either.
Ken Dorsey threw two passes, both incompletions, but mercifully, he did not play beyond that.
Analysis: Unless Frye mentally makes a huge leap in the offseason, he is not the answer. I will at least leave the door open for radical improvement, but it seems highly unlikely. Anderson has possibilities, but given his track record, he is probably never going to be a starter-quality player. At this moment, I'd probably opt for Anderson as a slightly better option than Frye. The Browns really need someone else at QB. I'd prefer a veteran like Damon Huard as opposed to drafting one of the big-name quarterback prospects.
Reuben Droughns had the best year of any Browns running back since the days of Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner in 2005. In 2006, Droughns was injured, slow, and fumbled way too often. The biggest difference to me was vision. In 2005, Droughns would bounce to the outside or cutback to make yards. We didn't see those things out of him until the final two meaningless games this year. Even the power running of a year ago was gone. I hope that maybe Droughns was just hurt and will rebound from this, but this bears watching in camp.
Jason Wright was an emergency pickup in 2005 and did OK in spot duty. This year, Wright was a nice change of pace from Droughns. He was quick and made some nice plays catching the ball, though he didn't always show sure hands. Wright is certainly not the answer at running back, but he might be a nice backup assuming he can heal from his knee injury suffered at Baltimore.
Jerome Harrison was a sensation in the preseason, but when the lights went on, he didn't do a lot. Despite a couple of nice plays, Harrison was a huge liability, especially on third down, because he was worthless picking up the blitz. Since Browns quarterbacks got pounded throughout the year, Harrison was a liability the Browns could not afford. Harrison ended up inactive for the vast majority of games. If he can improve his all around game, he could be a factor in 2007.
When he came to Cleveland, fullback Terrelle Smith was considered one of the best blockers in the game. But over his time with the Browns, we just haven't seen that nearly enough. The Browns also tried to use Smith as an offensive threat running the ball or receiving way too often, especially under Maurice Carthon. Frankly, the Browns should not have been wasting plays on Smith with the ball. I'd far rather see Heiden catch it or someone else running it. Even blocking was spotty from Smith, but he seemed better toward the end of the season.
Lawrence Vickers was the top fullback picked in the draft. He made some nice plays here and there, but he will most be remembered for an ill-advised fullback option pass on third and short in Carolina. Vickers showed potential, but the Browns didn't use him enough to get a real idea of what he could do.
Analysis: Since Droughns is under contract, I'd bring him back. If things don't improve, he can always be released after June 1. If the Browns think Droughns won't bounce back, and that is quite possible, they will have to find a capable replacement, as neither Wright nor Harrison is that player. The Browns have to get Harrison to the point where he is a viable option on third down. I'm ready to allow Smith to move on, but I'd have been a lot more comfortable doing so if we'd seen more of Vickers. There are a lot of question marks here.
This position was supposed to be a strength heading into the 2006 season. Instead, it ended up being a mess.
The Browns worried through the offseason that Braylon Edwards would not be able to return until the middle of the year. He managed to get back on the field in the preseason, which was impressive. Edwards hauled in a 75-yard pass for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the season, but it was wiped out by a holding call. For most of the rest of the year, it was downhill for Edwards. He failed to make a catch that would have given the Browns a chance to win the opener. He dropped balls, ran wrong routes, and gave half-hearted effort that contributed to interceptions. But Edwards also made plays deep here and there throughout the year and sometimes made the circus catch. The biggest thing that mars his season were the off-the-field issues: missing meetings, going AWOL for the Ohio State-Michigan game, sideline tirades, and some pretty ridiculous comments about teammate Brian Russell. Edwards ended up benched for part of the Tampa Bay game.
The Browns brought in veteran Joe Jurevicius for his experience, sure hands, and local ties. He was hurt making a tough catch in the opener, and after that, his use became an enigma. There was some dispute in the media about the severity of the injury, with Jurevicus saying he had a broken bone but the team denying it. When he was ready to return, the Browns chose to play others ahead of him. Jurevicius had one bad game and made some comments on the radio after the game about the fans and media that were unwise, but I understood what he was trying to say. For the most part, though, Jurevicius did his job well. Besides not being used on the field, it appears that players like Edwards did not avail themselves of the wisdom of a veteran with big game experience.
Dennis Northcutt once again spent part of the year as a starting receiver. He had a miserable season. A pass he deflected was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in Oakland. His lackluster effort and four drops were a lowlight of a dismal game in Pittsburgh. The Browns tried to use him on some gadget plays, but one of those led to a costly fumble after a nice run. Once in a while he'd make a big catch. Yet, despite a consistent lack of productivity, Northcutt continued to be used over other players until the very end of the season.
The Browns talked about using Josh Cribbs more at receiver. He played there some, mostly in spot duty. Given his background as a quarterback, many observers expected the Browns to use Cribbs more on gadget plays, but those didn't come until late in the season. Cribbs lined up at quarterback and had a nice run in the Kansas City game. Hopefully this was a growth year and with a long-term extension, Cribbs will get more chances.
It was clear the Browns were going nowhere after six games. Yet, Travis Wilson languished on the bench throughout 2006. When he finally got a chance to play in the final three games, he made a few plays. He had nice catches at Baltimore and Houston. The Browns don't really know what they have here at this point.
Analysis: Dennis Northcutt won't be back, so the Browns will need to find another receiver. A free agent pickup to fill the spot might need not break the bank. They will also need Wilson and Cribbs to step up. It's way too early to give up on Edwards, but I know my patience with his antics has grown thin. The Browns need to use Jurevicius in a way that will take advantage of his strengths.
Kellen Winslow set the tone in his first full season. Despite a bum knee, he still tied Ozzie Newsome's team record with 89 receptions. I can only imagine what Winslow might have done if he had his pre-accident form. Winslow had some negatives, though, including some poor blocking, some questionable comments to the media, and a pretty bad late hit on James Farrior at garbage time in Pittsburgh. One thing about Winslow, though, when he talks, he generally backs it up. Clearly, Winslow does not accept losing, an attitude the Browns need to spread throughout the team.
Steve Heiden might be the best #2 tight end in the NFL. He has good hands and was often a nice decoy when Winslow was on the field. Heiden is a so-so blocker, and that hurt at times, and he had one shocking drop in the Tampa Bay game that was completely out of character for him. Heiden had a very productive year.
Darnell Dinkens had some injuries throughout the year, but he is a solid #3 tight end. He was rarely used in the passing game, but made a few key catches throughout the year. He is a solid blocker and makes plays on special teams.
Analysis: The Browns need to get Winslow healthy, but other than that, this position is set. Top to bottom, this was the most productive position for the Browns in 2006. My only complaint is that the Browns probably could have done more with the tight ends than they did. That's saying something.
The Browns went into 2006 thinking they had improved the line. But on that July day when LeCharles Bentley went down, dominos began to fall that sent shockwaves through the entire season. As crazy as it sounds, the Browns never recovered. By opening day, the Browns had tried seven different centers, and the starter that day had not played a down with the team in the preseason.
The veteran anchor of the line was supposed to be Ryan Tucker. When he played, he was solid. But Tucker missed the entire preseason with an injury, and half the regular season with injuries and an unspecified mental condition. Kevin Shaffer was brought in from Atlanta for big money to man the all-important left tackle position. His year was mixed. He had a lot of penalties, including the holding penalty on the first offensive play of the year that wiped out a 75-yard touchdown. But he was also hampered by dismal guard play.
Veteran Joe Andruzzi had a terrible year. On many sacks, it was Andruzzi who lost his man. Watching him struggle to even get back to the huddle, I know he was toughing it out, but it says a lot that the Browns had no better option than to let him struggle. I've never been a Cosey Coleman fan. He had an OK year at best.
Hank Fraley is no LeCharles Bentley, but he did a decent job at center. One thing I like about him is his effort. He was the one lineman you saw consistently getting downfield on running plays. He had few penalties and in general did his job. Lennie Friedman was brought in to compete for the center job in camp but largely ended up playing guard. I was far from impressed by his play.
With injuries and age, the Browns had chances to see some of the backups in action. Kelly Butler started 16 games for the Lions in 2005. One sees why they gave up on him. His footwork is bad and he is eaten alive by speed rushers. He held his own in a couple of games, but was manhandled by the Chargers. Once he was injured, the Browns had to go to Nat Dorsey. He is horrendous. Hard to believe the team traded a decent player like Melvin Fowler for this stiff. Rob Smith played decently in the finale, but remember, that was against an underwhelming Houston defense. Fourth-round pick Isaac Sowells played only in the last game. His injury in camp was a huge setback. It was hard to judge much from that one game, but he has potential.
Analysis: The offensive line was a disaster, and that set the tone for the season. Literally, the team never recovered from Bentley's injury and the bizarre center-situation in the preseason. Shaffer may turn out to be a decent player, but I don't see him as a premier left tackle. Tucker is getting older and one has to wonder whether he will be able to return without having a relapse of his mental issue. The Browns certainly can't count on his return right now. If Andruzzi does not retire, the Browns need to move on. I'm no Coleman fan, but it might be prudent to resign him to a modest contract as insurance. He might be a decent sixth man if he'd be willing to come back without any guarantee of starting. It is a must to resign Fraley, who can also play guard. It's hard to say if Butler has upside, but Nat Dorsey can go. One of the many disappointments of 2006 is getting no real read on Sowells. Smith has heart, but he is a backup at best.