Training camp has concluded. The initial wave of roster reductions has been made. Now, one preseason game remains and players on the bubble have one last impression to make on the coaching staff, in game conditions.
The stakes have been raised, and some players helped their cause against the Bears, which is critical to the progress of the Cleveland Browns in the 2007 season and beyond.
Offensive Line –
The offensive line of the Browns heading into the 2007 season could be an area of strength for this team. After years of mediocrity, the Browns anticipate the line being a starting point for bigger and better things for the team.
Backup offensive linemen Nat Dorsey continues to come on strong in the later stages of the pre-season. Switched to left tackle in training camp, Dorsey has displayed the ability to play the position, he handles the physically stronger defensive ends relatively well and has improved against the speed type rushers. In the final pre-season tune-up, Dorsey played between the left and right tackle positions and was solid against a mix of first, second, and third team players from the Chicago Bears. With Kevin Shaffer on the sidelines due to a concussion suffered Saturday evening in the Browns 17-16 victory over the Denver Broncos, Dorsey started at right tackle, ahead of Kelly Butler.
Offensive guard Isaac Sowells has shown steady improvement in the past two weeks. Off to a rocky start in training camp due to heat and head related issues, Sowells appears to be regaining confidence, with the increased number of reps he is getting. The improvement in his performance has been note-worthy, as Sowells is beginning to display the agility the team noted when scouting him, while becoming increasingly potent at the point of attack. He still is going to struggle against the quicker type ends and tackles, until he gains additional experience and learns to keep his leverage and better use of his hands.
Center Ron Smith continues to be a workmanlike performer in the middle of the Browns offensive line. While not expected to become the next All-Pro, Smith has been increasingly solid with the second and third team offensive units and could be the type of player to stick due to the suspension of lineman Ryan Tucker.
Wide Receivers –
The enigma known as second year receiver Travis Wilson took a turn for the better against the Chicago Bears. Running through his routes and holding onto the football, Wilson was at his very best against the Chicago second and third team defense. With rookie Brady Quinn at quarterback, Wilson was solid on the slant routes and was behind the defense on a couple occasions, though the ball was not thrown in his direction. The Browns coaching staff, in need of a legitimate number-three receiver had to come away pleased with the offerings of Wilson.
Joshua Cribbs, the do it all man for the Browns may be playing himself into an increased role with the team. Always dangerous in the return game, Cribbs is quickly becoming a threat at the receiver position, but he has to gain and maintain consistency holding onto the football. Against the Chicago first, second, and third team defense, Cribbs handled himself well, displayed the ability to gain separation, and block in the running game. Already the kickoff and punt return specialist for the team, he could find himself in a more prominent role at receiver, which could eventually open up a roster spot for another player in the return game.
Ryan Krause couldn't catch a cold in the very first days of being a Cleveland Brown. Throughout the summer, Krause has been very sure-handed and a threat in the passing game. His knowledge of the offensive scheme has been beneficial to his success, but his average blocking skills and superior receiving skills place him a dawg-fight with veteran Darnell Dinkins for the Browns third tight-end position.
Running Backs –
The decision at running back may be the toughest the organization has to make when getting the paring the roster down to 53-players. Second-year back Jerome Harrison has practiced and played well the past few weeks and provides a solid threat in the backfield. Whether rushing the ball or on the receiving end of an attempt, Harrison simply displays quickness, toughness, and productivity.
Chris Barclay is a threat in the return game, he is a solid special team's player, and can run the ball, when given the opportunity. Coming off a strong rushing performance against the Bears backups and bubble players, Barclay has refused to go down without a fight and has been noticed. I believe the Browns would like to retain him, but could get caught in the numbers game.