Cut-down day tends to have a surprise or two every year. As the Cleveland Browns become a more competitive team, the final roster cuts tend to be increasingly difficult, whether the results are a surprise or not.
As the team got down to the 53- player roster, a number of former draft selections were released. The expectation is the team is going to sign many of these players to the practice squad early in the week, although, some of the names were somewhat surprising.
The most surprising release of the day was second-year safety Justin Hamilton. While limited in his rookie season, Hamilton was thought to be a good special teams player and backup to Brodney Pool in the defensive backfield. With the Browns deciding to keep Gary Baxter on the active roster, despite progressing slowly in camp, Hamilton was expendable.
Releasing quarterback Ken Dorsey is a telling tale. The loser of the Charlie Frye / Derek Anderson competition was expected by many, including some within the team's front office, to either be traded or released. Both make the cut at this time, which could be a sign how uncomfortable the staff is with the state of the quarterback position. Dorsey has forged a good relationship with rookie Brady Quinn and was believed to be in position to mentor the rookie throughout his rookie campaign. With Dorsey off the roster at this point in time, quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer will be relied upon heavily in the mental preparation of the quarterback.
Rookie defensive end Melila Purcell and second-year nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo were among the surprising roster cuts made by the team today. Purcell and Oshinowo were two of the few defensive linemen which showed progress over the past couple weeks or camp and in preseason game play. With the limited depth along the line, the release of these two linemen could come back to bite this team. Especially in the case of Oshinowo, as the nose tackle position appears to be an area of weakness.
Purcell along with fellow rookie defensive lineman Chase Pittman is expected to be signed to the practice squad, barring an unexpected offer from another organization to their active roster. Much like Purcell, Pittman showed growth in camp, but has to gain experience and strength to become a factor at the professional level. Depth along the line was additionally weakened with the release of J'Vonne Parker, although the move should come as no surprise, as Parker displayed very little throughout the summer.
Hopeful for the return of defensive end Orpheus Roye for the opener, the Browns will move Shaun Smith back to his regular position, lining up at nose tackle behind Ted Washington. Getting Roye back on the field and adding Smith into the rotation with Washington should markedly improve the middle of the Browns defense. Smith was having a very strong camp until being moved to defensive end following Roye's knee surgery.
In one of the best training camp battles, second-year running back Jerome Harrison retained his roster spot, as the team released Chris Barclay. Barclay, an electrifying return specialist had a solid camp and can be an asset to a team if he returns. Both Barclay and Harrison displayed the ability to run with the ball, but it may have come down to Harrison appearing to be a better rusher inside the tackles, as well as having a larger physical presence to assist in the pass protection blocking scheme as a third down back.
Wide receivers Steve Sanders, Syndric Steptoe, and Maurice Mann lost out on roster spots to Travis Wilson, Tim Carter, and Joshua Cribbs. The decision to keep five receivers, with special teams ace Cribbs serving as one of the five, leaves the roster limited. Carter had a training camp to forget, while Wilson dropped about half of everything thrown his way over the last five weeks. Neither Carter or Wilson has laid claim to the third receiver spot on this team and could be under the gun early in the season. Look for Sanders and Steptoe to be in the running for practice squad opportunities.
In the end, the Browns desire to be a power rushing team, which left tight-end Ryan Krause without a roster spot, while keeping Darnell Dinkins in a Browns uniform. Dinkins, a solid blocker at the point of attack, is by far the team's best blocker at the position.
Another interesting development is the emergence of rookie Charles Ali. Backing up Lawrence Vickers at fullback, Ali displayed some devastating blocking ability in the Browns' final two pre-season games, as well as during the last two weeks of camp. Keeping two fullbacks among the final 53-players is surprising, but this team is looking to run the football, and now have two guys who can pave the way.
Releasing defensive back DeMario Minter comes as no surprise, as he was oft-injured and did not perform to expectations once on the field. Minter's injuries and a lack of experience cost this promising young man the opportunity.
Basically, the 53-player roster is not too far off what was expected over the past week or so, although some of the moves along the defensive line are puzzling. Hopefully the team has something up their sleeve, like an addition to the roster.
Time will tell, but the run defense remains a concern in this corner.