The Browns and Chiefs provided the most exciting regular season game in 2006. Don't expect the same type of drama but this game has a tremendous amount of value to the players that are competing for starting positions and roster spots.
It wasn't long ago when the Chiefs consistently produced the best offensive line in football but age, injuries and retirement has left many unresolved questions. Left tackle Damion McIntosh will likely be out for an extended period of time and former NFLE tackle Will Svitek will take over the most important position on the offensive line. If he isn't able to hold his own, this will force future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales to provide additional help at the line instead of blocking into the second level, taking away from his threat as an offensive weapon receiving the ball.
The Chiefs offensive line appears much more stable than their running back and quarterback positions. Running back Larry Johnson is holding out due to a contract dispute. While 99.9 percent of the time I will take sides with ownership when it comes to a contract holdout, this time Johnson has every right to demand a raise. He has single handedly carried this offense on his shoulders, carrying a heavy load, yet the Chiefs front office is afraid to invest top running back money because of the load Johnson has carried.
Instead of coming to terms with the franchise back, the Chiefs are turning to Priest Holmes and Michael Bennett. Soap operas do not provide anywhere near this much drama.
The Chiefs quarterback situation has provided an equal amount of drama with Trent Green's exodus, but the Chiefs still must find a quarterback. It will be veteran Damon Huard trying to hold off the untested Brodie Croyle. Huard played very well last year when Green was lost to injury but Croyle has the big time arm as well as greater perceived upside. Both should see plenty of playing time Saturday as the Chiefs look to settle the position.
I expect Croyle to take charge of this team and emerge as the Chiefs starting QB for years to come. Croyle is tough mentally and physically, and will stand in the pocket and take the hit to deliver the ball. He simply has natural leadership qualities which will emerge at some point this season.
The Chiefs receiving options must step up, especially rookie Dwayne Bowe and veteran Eddie Kennison. Kennison is one of the most underrated receivers in the league due to the attention paid the Chiefs running backs, but he has the talent to easily produce another 1000 yards receiving. If Bowe can live up to the lofty expectations this could be one of the most surprising tandems in football.
Head Coach Herm Edwards is known for defense and I believe the Chiefs will produce on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Tamba Hali is coming off of a very effective rookie campaign and should be vastly improved. Hali now has a year of experience under his belt and a year in the Chiefs conditioning program. With Tamba improving, Jared Allen should produce double digit sacks this year thanks to teams shifting some of that protection away from him and to the second-year lineman.
The Chiefs linebacking corps is the heart of the defense. Derrick Johnson, Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards make a very athletic trio that should excel with a better understanding of Edwards zone-based philosophy. Kendrell Bell has been a disappointment thus far and could be fighting for a roster spot.
The biggest question with the Chiefs Defense will be their secondary. While on paper this should be an excellent unit, as a whole they have yet to live up to the billing. That could change if Bernard Pollard steps up his game at strong safety. The Browns will be looking to test the second year safety early and often.|
With veteran tackle Ryan Tucker enduring a 4 game suspension, center, LeCharles Bentley still rehabbing and this years top free agent acquisition Eric Steinbach suffering a bruised knee, it would appear as if the Browns offensive line is set for another year of injured quarterbacks as well as one of the most ineffective running games in all of football.
But that is not the case.
Most have forgotten just how good right guard Seth McKinney can be due to his injury. Also, the Browns have the franchise left tackle fans have been screaming for in rookie Joe Thomas. Last year's starting left tackle, Kevin Shaffer, has now moved over to right tackle. Shaffer had a much better year than anyone gave him credit for in 2006, thanks to a quarterback that simply refused to step up into the pocket as well as horrible guard play. This unit's athleticism should be equal to any line in football and with Hank Fraley making the line calls they just might surprise everyone early on.
Former Raven running back Jamal Lewis is ready to return to his old form and looks to have regained some of the speed he seemed to lose over the last 3 seasons. Lewis never appeared comfortable in a single-back scheme used of late by the Ravens, and was at his best when he could follow the fullback and put himself into position to go one on one against the smaller defensive back. Look for Lewis to have a very good year for the Browns behind a solid line and fullback Lawrence Vickers.
The battle to watch in this game, however, will be between the three backup running backs. Jerome Harrison has the talent but his blocking remains a huge question. Jason Wright is simply a workhorse type of back that will make his way onto the team by doing whatever is asked, be it running the ball or being a suicide assassin on special teams. Chris Barclay is the wild card - he is undersized but that isn't an issue for a 3rd down scat back if he blocks. Barclay is very effective at picking up the blitz and also has very good hands receiving the ball.
The Browns quarterback position always appears to be disaster in the making. This year is no exception as Charlie Frye, Derrick Anderson and rookie Brady Quinn will compete for the starting position. Both Frye and Anderson have had opportunity to lock up the starting position while Quinn was sitting at home waiting for his rookie contract to be settled, but have left the door open for the rookie to shine his way into the starting role. This game will go a long way to indicate as to when Brady Quinn becomes the Browns starting quarterback.
The Browns are set at the tight end position with Kellen Winslow and Steve Heiden. In Rob Chudzinski's new offensive scheme, we will likely see a great deal more of the two tight end sets. KW2 had an amazing season last year even though he wasn't anywhere close to 100%. Heiden simply goes out, makes big plays, and is vastly underrated as a blocking tight end.
Fullback Lawrence Vickers will be counted upon heavily as the lead blocker for Lewis but should see increased opportunity as a receiving option. Vickers has shown an ability to find and attack the linebacker in camp but also has an ability to slide through off the play action and make himself a valuable receiving option.
The receiving corps for the Browns remain a bit of a question. Braylon Edwards has been the perfect camper thus far and has also shown better hands and
speed in creating some yards after the reception. The number two and three
receivers are where the questions lie. Joe Jurevicius will likely get the first
shot, but his injury questions and lack of speed could open the door for Travis Wilson and Tim Carter. Keep your eye on Steve Sanders; he is very deceptive with
his speed and has good hands. He is my long shot surprise to make the roster on
The best competition should be on the defensive side of the ball. With an injury to defensive end Orpheus Roye, opportunity has arisen for several young players to not only earn a roster spot but also to receive significant playing time. The likely beneficiaries are Simon Frazier, Chase Pittman, Orien Harris and Babatunde Oshinowo.
With Roye out, Shawn Smith will slide from the backup NT to starting LDE. This allows Simon Frazier to become that third down rush end and that in turn will allow Oshinowo to compete with Ethan Kelly for the backup nose tackle role.
Orien Harris was highly regarded coming out of college but slipped in the draft. Along with rookie Chase Pittman, Harris should produce a great battle for the backup behind free agent acquisition Robaire Smith.
A lot of eyes will be on OLB Kamerion Wimbley as well. Wimbley is coming off of a great rookie campaign and should be licking his chops at the prospect of lining up against the unproven left tackle of the Chiefs.
The real battle will be for the two inside backer positions. Andra Davis is the seasoned vet. D'Qwell Jackson was a high second round draft pick last year and began to shine just before he went down with an injury. That injury opened the door for another rookie linebacker, Leon Williams.
Williams is arguably the most athletic defender on this Browns defense. He will be pushing both starters for not only increased playing time but also for a starting position. I could see Leon becoming a starter due to his natural instincts at playing the run while pushing Andra Davis into the role of a third down pass defender.
The Browns defensive backfield was a train wreck last year, but with several players returning from injury and players like Sean Jones and Daven Holly emerging amidst the rubble, the Browns defensive backfield now almost has a log jam of talent. Eric Wright, Kenny Wright, and Daven Holly are in tight competition for the starting corner position opposite Leigh Bodden.
It will also be very interesting to see how safety Brodney Pool handles full-time starting duties. He was moved around a great deal last year, which stunted his growth as a safety but gave him valuable experience. If Pool lives up to his billing, he along with Jones could provide one of the better safety tandems in football.
The Browns special teams unit was easily one of the best in football last year even with a sub-par year from Phil Dawson. With a change in special teams coach and also the loss of punt returner Dennis Northcutt, what was once the only unit that could be counted on is now a question mark.
Look for several players to receive an opportunity returning punts. For a
player like undersized rookie Sydric Steptoe this will be his opportunity to
play at the NFL level. This is my favorite part of preseason football because of
the intensity with so many young guys trying to earn a roster spot via special
Look for the Browns offense to come out very sluggish as it will take time for the offense to adjust to the new system under Rob Chudzinski. Chud runs a very complicated system, which is bad enough, but when you add in the questions at quarterback it becomes much harder for the timing to develop.
The Chiefs will likely give Brody Croyle an extended look and also test drive their running game without Larry Johnson.
One should expect a hard hitting physical game in which the defense tends to dominate. If the defenses are struggling, then these two franchises may have a lot more questions than anyone thought.