I attended camp over the opening weekend. If you've been reading the site, you've seen some details on what the team did. Let me step back a bit to the big picture of what I observed.
There are certainly a lot of new faces in camp. Since the Browns have lacked depth since their return to the NFL, it appears to me that this is an area that is better than in the recent past. Players that have been on the team for a while might be in danger of being bumped off the bottom of the roster. This is a good sign that things are progressing.
My bottom line is that the team appears to be improved, but will only go as far as the quarterback play will take it. The quarterbacks were pretty underwhelming. I thought perhaps Derek Anderson would use his brief stint starting last year as a springboard to improvement. Instead he was erratic. Even short simple throws were off target. He threw one pass that I had no idea to whom he was throwing. There were only defensive players in the neighborhood, and it was picked off.
Meanwhile, Charlie Frye was workmanlike. It will be hard to tell if he has improved until he has to make reads and so forth, but he completed passes and generally looked like he was getting the new offense down. I'm skeptical about Frye, but if he can just play at a credible level, the talent around him might make another year of Frye tolerable. Keep an eye on this as camp continues and the preseason unfolds.
I'm also taking a "wait and see" attitude on Jamal Lewis, but he appeared to have quick feet, and that surprised me. Beyond Lewis, there is a lot of sorting out to be done. Of the other backs, it seemed to me Jason Wright was the most comfortable. They were running some sets where Wright was split wide, taking advantage of his hands. Jerome Harrison did not impress me, but I'm hoping he will step up as camp goes on.
The receivers are also a work in progress. Beyond Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius, there are a lot of contenders. I liked the fact the Browns were using Josh Cribbs in creative ways even this early in camp. The book on Tim Carter seems correct: good speed, questionable hands. Travis Wilson struggled more than I would have expected. He is blowing a golden opportunity to seize a spot. Of the other players competing, I like Kendrick Mosley. He has reliable hands. Mason, Steptoe, Mann, and Sanders did not do a lot. I did notice Sanders out running around long after the Saturday morning session was over. Someone is going to have to step up.
The tight ends looked great. The buzz about Winslow not being ready to play is dead wrong. He looked fantastic. Steve Heiden is also his usual self. Darnell Dinkins may find himself in a battle with Ryan Krause for that last spot. Krause looks to be more of a receiving tight end, and I think Dinkins brings better blocking to the table, but they were throwing to Krause deep down the numbers and the guy looks like he has great hands.
The offensive line really seems improved. I like the fact that the Browns finally have some depth at this crucial position. While Joe Thomas wasn't perfect, he looked great. He was eating up the second team, and in particular Simon Fraser, but he will find his challenge going with the ones. By halfway through the session, the Browns tried running with Kevin Shaffer at right tackle and Thomas at left. I noticed a long one-on-one conversation between Romeo Crennel and Shaffer after practice. I wondered if Crennel might have been talking to Shaffer about a role change. Among the backups, nobody jumped out at me, but Rob Smith, who is a longshot, seems to be a really hard worker.
I didn't see a ton with the defensive line over the weekend because of my various vantage points, but I must say that Chase Pittman surprised me a bit. Keep an eye on him. With Nick Eason out of the picture, there is a backup spot at end to be won.
The linebackers looked very solid. I like Leon Williams. I have a hard time believing he won't see significant playing time.
I was lucky to have a spot during Saturday 11-on-11 drills where I could see Mel Tucker working with the defensive backs. He's definitely a teacher. Eric Wright missed Friday due to travel problems, but what I saw of him once he arrived, I liked. I also think Adams looks like solid pickup at safety.
I was very impressed with Wes Chandler and his handling of the receivers. I think it sends a great message that when you drop a ball or flub a route, you are going to do push ups. I went into this thing concerned about Ted Daisher after his tenure in Oakland, but I liked some of not only his fire laced with colorful metaphors, but also some of the techniques being used. The guys working on fielding punts were using some interesting tools to help them. For example, they used a cloth that looked like two arms of a sweater sewed together. The guys fielding the punt had to wrap it around him. That way, if he gets his arms too far from his body, he'll drop it. Also, they were catching punts while holding another ball. If you don't use good form, the punted ball bounces off the one you're holding and you muff the catch.
While the Browns appear to be the most improved team in the AFC North, the gap between them and the rest of the division was a wide one. Despite the strides taken so far, the problems at the quarterback position are going to hinder the progress of the team. If the line can hold up and the Browns can establish a credible running threat, Frye might be able to play at a level good enough for the team to be solidly competitive. I'll be watching this closely as we get into the preseason games.
The season is short. Bark hard!