Last week, the Browns took a look at seven players, bringing in one, and not making moves with respect to the other six, according to NFL sources who have contacted the Orange and Brown Report. Six of the seven players were either wide receivers or tight ends, and none are front seven defensive players.
Throughout their expansion years, Browns fans have gotten used to their team constantly working with the bottom of the roster in a constant effort to find talent which could grow with the team. Butch Davis was relentless in this respect, turning over the bottom five of the roster frequently as he searched for players.
The 2006 and 2007 Browns, however, seem more sanguine with respect to their 53-man roster and eight-man practice squad during the season.
Still, the team occasionally takes a look at players, this list which may surprise Browns fans in their apparent lack of interest in defensive linemen. The Browns defense ranks among the worst in the NFL at this point, with fingers pointed primarily at the defensive line.
Part of the reason for this lack of interest in trying out linemen may stem from the fact that the Browns have stashed two draft picks, DE Melila Purcell and DE Chase Pittman, on the team's practice squad. Listed as defensive ends, two are nonetheless different types of linemen, with Purcell being small for the position in the 3-4 (he looks more like an OLB to these eyes) and Pittman being a more typical 3-4 DE, albeit one with a limited upside according to most scouts.
One position where the Browns have been focused since late last year is tight end, where they gave long looks to Buck Ortega and Ryan Krause before dumping both at the end of the pre-season. Both looked to be solid receivers during the exhibition season, and Krause had prior experience with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, but neither was able to stick behind starter Kellen Winslow and back-ups Steve Heiden and Darnell Dinkins.
Last week, the Browns tried out tight ends Stephan Sprach (Fresno State) and Richard Angulo (Western New Mexico), signing the much-travelled Angulo to a practice squad deal. Angulo is different from Ortega and Krause in that he's a big blocking TE who has, in the words of Scout.com NFL analyst Adam Caplan, "bricks for hands". Another tight end, Jonny Harline, was cut to make room for Angulo.
With Steve Heiden and Kellen Winslow solidly entrenched at TE with long-term contracts, and special teams contributor Darnell Dinkins on the roster, some may wonder why the Browns continue to look at tight ends, which is not generally considered a problem area for the team. Part of this may represent a desire to look at alternatives for the veteran Dinkins, and part may be due to Rob Chudzinski's use of multiple-TE sets and focus on the position.
Chudzinski has coached tight ends at various points in his career, including his previous stint with the Browns. Because of Chudzinski's offense, the team needs to be deeper at TE than other squads, and seem to be continuing to focus on finding prospects who play the position.
The Browns are obviously concerned about depth at wide receiver as well, and tried out four players during the bye week. The Browns have struggled to find reliable WR depth this year behind Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius, and have largely utilized inconsistent and injury-prone WR Tim Carter as their third receiver. Behind Carter are the relatively inexperienced Josh Cribbs and third-round disappointment Travis Wilson. Steve Sanders and Syndric Steptoe are currently occupying spots on the Browns practice squad.
Based on the players worked out by the Browns, they may have an interest in looking at potential kick returners in the event of an injury to WR Josh Cribbs. Several of the receivers are speedy veterans who have some kick-off and punt return experience. All have been around the NFL at least two years.
Of the four receivers who got a look-see from the Browns this weekend, David Kircus is probably the name most familiar to fans. Kircus, a product of small Grand Valley State, spent time with the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos. Kircus also made headlines earlier this year due to a felony assault charge stemming from a party in Denver last May. Kircus' trial date has been set for January 28, and the receiver could get five to sixteen years in prison. Kircus was released by the Broncos late in pre-season, although Broncos coach Mike Shanahan claimed that the release was not due to his problems with the law.
The Browns also tried out WR Johnnie Morant, a fifth-round pick by the Raiders in the 2004 NFL draft. Like Kircus, Morant brings sheer speed to the table, and used that speed to stick with the Raiders through final cut-downs this season. Morant had appeared in 16 games with eight reception during his three years in the league. His best season was 2006, where he played in eleven games and pulled down seven passes for seventy yards.
Ex-Steelers WR Lee Mays was also given a look-see. Mays was with the Steelers from 2002-2006, during which time he returned 36 kick-offs for 750 yards (mostly during his rookie year) and caught eleven passes for 154 yards. Mays was out with injuries (notably hamstring problems) the entirety of the 2005 season and generally spent his years in Pittsburgh buried on the depth chart.
Finally, WR Todd Devoe got a workout from the Browns. Devoe, who is likely familiar to Phil Savage as he was on the Ravens practice squad in 2003, is yet another veteran receiver who has been deep on depth charts throughout his career. Devoe has only nine NFL catches for 87 yards, and has spent some time in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts.
The only defensive player we know of worked out by the Browns during their bye week was Safety Jack Brewer, possibly reflecting concern about the thin Browns unit at safety. Brewer is a five-year veteran who has spent time with the Vikings, Giants, Eagles, and Cardinals. His best season, statistically, was his 2002 rookie year with the Vikings where Brewer finished the year with two interceptions and 33 tackles. Brewer has had some knee problems in the past, including arthroscopic knee surgery in 2005.