Training camp in an event of the past, preseason games have come and gone. The 53-player roster has been set and preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers is at the forefront. Offensively challenged in recent seasons, the Browns look to pull a fast one on not only the Steelers, but the entire National Football League.
Coming off a season in which the Cleveland Browns was once again near the bottom in the league in offense, the organization conducted a search for a new offensive coordinator, as well as securing talent to increase the probability of production.
The search led to the Browns naming Rob Chudzinski as the new offensive coordinator. Former Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer permitted the former quarterbacks coach under Schottenheimer in San Diego to interview for the Browns, even-though the offensive coordinator in San Diego, Cam Cameron was on his way to be named the head coach in Miami.
In Chud, as he is referred to by many, the Browns receivers and tight-ends are expected to become better blockers, as well as proficient in pre-snap motion and of course, catching the football. Precision and timing are critical aspects of the new Cleveland offense, which has been a slow growing process, since practice sessions in the spring began.
Heading into training camp, the Browns were looking to gain continuity and find a receiver to fill the important role of number-three receiver. Veteran Tim Carter looked very good in spring and mini-camp settings, but failed to produce in training camp and is a large question mark of the organization. Counting on Carter to produce could be a short trial for a team looking to improve the overall production and consistency, of not only the position, but the entire offense.
Second-year receiver Travis Wilson was terribly inconsistent, but showed glimpses of his athletic and explosive ability, which helped him maintain a roster spot. Wilson possesses better than average speed, nice size, and jumping ability, but his problem appears to be the mental requirements of the game. These lapses result in dropped passes, incorrect routes run, and a drop in confidence due to the mistakes.
On a side note, Wilson looked polished and poised when working with rookie quarterback Brady Quinn in the Browns last preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Working on the same squad in many practice settings, the familiarity between the two helped produce the positive results, which may be the turning point of the season for the receiver.
The most impressive of the backup receivers has to be the development of Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs, a former quarterback at Kent State has been an explosive and reliable kickoff return specialist for the team, while learning the receiver trade.
Somewhat inconsistent in training camp at the receiver spot, Cribbs must improve using his hands to catch the ball, rather than letting the ball get to his body. Additionally, his concentration wanders at times, as he tends to look up-field prior to making the catch. An explosive talent with the ball in hands, the deficiencies in Cribbs’ game is coachable and the team seeks playmakers.
Getting to the meat and potatoes of the receiving game, enter starting wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius. Edwards is now 100-percent healthy following a knee injury late in the 2005 season and he vows to show the world how good a receiver he is. Throughout training camp, Edwards worked hard, stayed after practice working with the quarterbacks and displayed an improved mental conditioning to the game and his teammates that had been missing during his first two seasons in the league.
Due to his conditioning and desire, Edwards looks much more explosive than he has in the past and is running routes with much greater precision. While receivers were dropping passes at an alarming rate throughout camp, Edwards was very consistent, with his two drops in the final preseason game being nearly as many as he dropped throughout the summer. If he stays healthy and keeps his mental focus on the game, Edwards could be in for a very productive season.
Jurevicius is the type of player which does not seek the publicity and recognition, many other athletes require. Very workmanlike in his approach to the game, the veteran receiver fills a major role in the Cleveland offense, which is a receiver than use the middle of the field and can utilize his physical height and skill in the red-zone.
Heading into training camp, the coaching staff was looking at Tim Carter as potentially a player that could replace Jurevicius at the number-two spot, due to his speed and quickness. This notion was immediately quashed, as Carter could not stay healthy and did not catch the ball well. A solid possession receiver, who is proven as a blocker, Jurevicius is dependable and will make plays, due to his ability to gain separation.
Tight-end Kellen Winslow is one of the best in the league at the position, even following major setbacks during his first two seasons in the league, due to a broken leg and multiple knee surgeries.
Now, as healthy as he has been in years, Winslow is a major component in the Cleveland offense. His receiving skills are second to none on the roster and he maintains the ability to beat defenders in the open-field. Though his blocking skills have deteriorated due to the multiple lower leg issues, Winslow is a serviceable blocker, but his main priority is in the receiving game. Due to the questionable overall state of the wide receiver position, Winslow could see significant playing time lined up wide.
If not for Winslow’s presence, Steve Heiden would be a much more noticeable player on the browns roster. Himself a good receiver, Heiden has developed into an above average blocker and handles this role when the team utilizes two-tight-end sets, with Winslow in the line-up. When Winslow is split wide, Heiden generally is the receiving tight-end in formation, with blocking tight-end Darnell Dinkins filling the blocking role.
The versatility and improved skill level of Heiden provides the Browns some comfort, in the event Winslow were to go down to injury.
Dinkins, the third tight-end on the depth chart provides little in the receiving department, but is a valuable blocker, especially in short yardage situations. During training camp and preseason games, Dinkins displayed the ability to find the dead spots in the coverage and catch the ball, but his role in the actual receiving game is limited.
While the depth at the wide receiver position is questionable and limited, the tight-end position is well manned with talent, which will be a factor in the passing game. With the further development of the Browns quarterbacks, players such as Edwards and Winslow could be headed for highly productive seasons, which this team will certainly accept, as well as need.