Vinny the Fly: Whispers in the Corridors

Vinny the Fly has given Browns fans in the inside scoop on this team that you're not really supposed to know throughout 2007. Here's the latest from the only OBR writer with a fully operational exo-skeleton, including the latest on the team's defensive line situation and the status of injured OL LeCharles Bentley...

While the Browns deserve accolades for overcoming an embarrassing season opening defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are unresolved issues that still concern the gang in Berea.

Some of the best offensive teams to ever play the game struggled to be playoff caliber teams. As the Browns offense has been much improved, it is the defense which has raised the concerns within the organization.

Four games into the season, this Cleveland organization did not realistically believe they would have been a blocked field goal from being 3-1. The overall production of the offense has exceeded expectations, with the play of quarterback Derek Anderson and the gelling of the offensive line receiving kudos.


CRENNEL ON THE LINE

On the defensive side of the ball is where the immediate questions must be answered. The interior of the line has been terrible, with Ted Washington and Ethan Kelley taking turns as the matador in the Browns defense. The Browns have been unable to stop the run, get to the quarterback, or cover in the secondary. All are tied to an inability to stop the run, which leaves the Browns helpless when opponents are in a position to attack the defense.

Following the 2006 season, I was told by a team source that head coach Romeo Crennel wanted to keep NT Ted Washington on the roster heading into the 2007 season. A couple voices within the organization thought parting company with the veteran would be the right thing to do if the team's defensive line was going to have a legitimate chance of improving.

A compromise was reached, with Washington remaining on the roster and the team deciding to add a viable alternative or backup to the mix. This player turned out to be DL Shaun Smith, signed from the Bengals as a restricted free agent.

Again, the question was posed within the organization during the off-season in regards to quality veteran depth at the position, to no avail, and the Browns were unable to secure a veteran presence along the line (outside of Robaire Smith at the other end position). Unable to land a starting quality type end, the Browns headed into the spring hoping Roye would rebound from a season which he struggled with knee woes.

An injury to defensive end Orpheus Roye took Smith out of contention at the nose tackle position, and his versatility landed him as the replacement to Roye during training camp.


BACKFIELD IN MOTION

The defensive backfield was an area of perceived strength on the Browns roster heading into the 2007 season.

The Browns have been poor against the pass in the early stages, however, with a number of variables factoring into the equation.

At this point, replacing veteran safety Brian Russell with third year pro Brodney Pool doesn't appear to have been a good move. Pool, a Phil Savage second-round pick in 2006, was believed to be ready to step into the starting safety role, despite the second-year player's limited experience. Russell was not even offered a deal by the team. Upon the team showing no interest, Russell was quickly signed by the Seattle Seahawks.

In Russell's absence, the safeties have been terribly inconsistent, with Sean Jones not nearly displaying the coverage skills and aggressive play which earned him significant praise around the league last season. Coupling this with cornerback Leigh Bodden playing at less that 100-percent and rookie Eric Wright being stung by rookie inconsistency, the pass defense has been slow in developing.


WHISPERS IN CORRIDORS
       

  • The Browns offensive coaching staff is hopeful the rushing game will gain consistency in the coming weeks as the unit gels. While the pass blocking has been exceptionally effective, run blocking has been an overall weakness through four games. The right side of the line is where the most improvement is expected... and needed for this team to display the ability to run the ball with consistency.

  • Linebacker Chaun Thompson is in line to receive more playing time, especially if the team's inside linebackers continue to struggle. While the inside linebackers are due criticism for their inability to make plays with regularity, it should be noted that the team's situation on the defensive line only magnifies issues at the position. D'Qwell Jackson simply struggles to get off blocks and Andra Davis is a gamer, but a step short of making plays. Second year linebacker Leon Williams was expected to have the opportunity to play considerable minutes, especially against the run, but has not shown the explosive abilities he showed late last season.

  • The lack of depth at wide receiver could haunt this team, as players like Tim Carter and Travis Wilson hold down roster positions, while producing little to nothing. Look for the Browns to keep the pair intact for a short time longer, as Wilson has been doing the little things better in practice. Steve Sanders, a practice squad receiver, could find his way to the active roster if the Carter and Wilson fail to show improvement.

  • As the weeks pass, the likelihood of center LeCharles Bentley making back on the field improves. Bentley's knee continues to improve and he is not the long-shot to play as many thought during training camp.

  • The team is encouraged by the progress of defensive back Gary Baxter, but do not want to rush him in any way. The team knew the process of getting him back on the field would be slow and there are some hopes that he can lightly contribute within the next month, if not sooner.

Until next time,

V


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