Berea, OH. --
Last year at this time, the Cleveland Browns were hoping to be good.
This time around, they're not just hoping, the expectation is that they will be good.
Being here you get a sense of confidence in the air but not overconfidence. Players were trying to find their way on both sides of the football in 2007. The players don't have to find their way now, they seem to know how to get there.
No longer is depth a major issue for this football team. There's actually a broad competition at various positions and you can see some players feel a sense of urgency to make the final 53-man roster. I don't know if that was the case in the training camp of 2007.
Here's an overview of how each position is progressing along with a projection of their final 53-man roster.
We'll look at the offense in this report.
• What a difference a year makes for Derek Anderson. In last year's training
camp, he struggled mightily. So bad was he that there was strong local
speculation that his spot on the roster was in jeopardy.
Anderson seems very comfortable in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense. There's a sense of calmness with Anderson--something he didn't show in the training camp of 2007.
Anderson truly seems to understand what he's being asked to do.
He also seems to understand what the defenses are throwing at him.
Several times during Tuesday's practices Anderson called out what defensive front he saw.
For instance, if I'm not mistaken, the defense lined up in a "Bear claw" or "Bear" front. That's where a few extra defenders move up to create a five or six-man front (instead of the usual 3-4 alignment).
Anderson saw it immediately and alerted the offense to this by calling it out.
I saw this a few more times during the practices and his blitz recognition seems to be much better than I've seen from him previously.
What you also have to like is he's willing to throw the ball into tight quarters. That's an important trait for a young signal caller to have and I'm not sure if it's something that can be taught. It's more about the willingness of the quarterback to make tight throws with hands around him.
Anderson will make an occasional bone-headed throw but in general, he's under control and is ready to take the next step in his career.
• Brady Quinn seems fairly comfortable in Chudzinski's scheme.
Like Anderson, he seems willing to throw into a short window. You really need that at this level. There are plenty of starting quarterbacks who won't throw the ball to a receiver unless he's wide open.
He really seems willing to make the tough throws during last week's game and through most practices during camp.
He also seems to be fairly under control.
But there's a problem that has existed seemingly all camp and through the first pre-season game.
While Quinn is doing a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly, he seems to be intent on not turning the ball over--too much so.
Quinn, as far as we can tell from watching him and talking to various practice observers, isn't going through his progressions fully. Rather he seems to lock into a passing target no further than 10 yards down field.
Although we don't have access to the playbook and we don't know the play that's being called, this isn't something that's occasionally happening. It seems to be a consistent and yet an odd problem.
It's good that he's not taking sacks and for the most part, he's been accurate with his passes.
It's not Quinn doesn't have a decent arm. He hit second-year WR Syndric Steptoe with a 40-yard strike down the left side line during Tuesday's second practice.
While Quinn's pre-draft scouting report had him as an intermediate thrower, he's certainly capable of throwing the ball deeper. So it's kind of puzzling why he's not throwing it a little further down field.
This isn't a huge issue and one that will be overcome the more time he has with the first-team offense. This situation could be more of a product from working some with the second-team offense.
He has to trust his targets and trust what's being called.
• If I was calling the shots, Ken Dorsey would be an assistant coach, not the third quarterback. Ask yourself this, if the top two quarterbacks were injured, would you be comfortable putting Dorsey in?
While Dorsey is a smart quarterback, I don't see him being able to be a starter for an entire game.
Every once in a while he'll make a strong throw but to ask him to run this offense the entire game and be productive is probably asking too much.
And don't think the third quarterback isn't important.
Back in 2002, the Philadelphia Eagles lost their top two quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb to a broken ankle and Koy Detmer to a dislocated left elbow) and had to go to little known third-stringer A.J. Feeley.
As things turned out, Feeley saved Philadelphia's season and the former fifth-round pick played well during his five starts.
• Projected to Make Roster: (3) Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey
• This scheme, a derivative of former NFL head coach Don Coryell's vertical stretch offense, works best off of play action along with a good running game.
For the passing game to work, the defense must buy the play action fakes. The defense must respect the running game.
It appears Cleveland should get that respect with Jamal Lewis who seems just a tad faster this summer.
Lewis seems to have his weight under control and from watching him practice this week, I could see the team picking up his $4 million roster bonus for next season.
This scheme is based in a power rushing attack and Lewis fits that mold well.
• Jason Wright may not be a sudden runner, but he runs with very good vision and he lines up his blockers well.
He runs with good patience and accelerates well through the hole.
Wright could do well if he had to start a few games but if was asked to start half the season or more, the team would have to get him some help.
• There's no questioning Jerome Harrison's speed and ability but there are some issues that he has that need to be improved upon.
It's not a secret that pass protection has been a problem for him and while he's getting better in that area, time will tell if the coaches trust him yet.
Harrison also has the propensity to try to break many of his runs to the outside.
This is a common issue for smaller backs coming out of college (see Reggie Bush) who believe they can beat defenders with their speed.
Wright needs to hit the hole that's set up for him, not the one that isn't there.
And as head coach Romeo Crennel has said repeatedly, Harrison also has to perform well on special teams.
While Harrison is a decent bet to make the team, he's far from a lock.
Looking at the two undrafted free agents, Travis Thomas and Austin Scott, Thomas seemed to have more speed and runs with more patience.
Scott is more of an upright and powerful runner.
Thomas also seems to have some upside which could make him an attractive practice squad candidate.
• Projected to Make Roster: (3) Jamal Lewis, Jason Wright, Jerome Harrison
• Practice Squad Candidate: (1) Travis Thomas (R)
• Starter Lawrence Vickers may have better athleticism that his backup, Charles Ali.
But Ali can block so it will be interesting to see if they keep just one player at this position or two.
Projected to Make Roster: (1) Lawrence Vickers
• There's no question that Braylon Edwards is one of the top receivers in the NFL. He's worked hard to get to the level where he's at now.
The issues remain with who will be backing him up.
• Donte' Stallworth is being asked to stretch the field vertically and he looked up on a beautiful deep pass from Anderson during one of Tuesday's practices.
Stallworth has worn out his welcome with other teams due to inconsistent play. Some have questioned his route running and effort in the past and point to those areas for the reason why he's now playing for his fourth team in the last four seasons.
But when Stallworth is at his best, he's capable of making a big play at any time.
Wide receivers coach Wes Chandler is constantly coaching and pushing the veteran receiver in practice and the hope is that Stallworth will be more consistent.
• While the light finally seems to be on for third-year WR Travis Wilson, consistency is still an issue.
Wilson has made several outstanding catches in camp (also see last week's pre-season game), but he still has to improve a little on his route running and concentration.
Because he's being groomed for the all-important third receiver role, which is a possession role, it's a must that he runs precise routes since much of his playing time will be on third down.
• Unfortunately, Kevin Kasper hasn't been able to practice in the last two weeks because of a hamstring problem but he was off to a great start in camp and he also did well in their OTAs.
If Kasper can get healthy soon, he's the kind of veteran that is versatile enough to keep around for depth.
He still runs well and has decent hands.
• One of the most intriguing prospects at this position is Steve Sanders.
The second-year pro has really good size and made several nice catches in traffic this week and has better hands than expected.
Because there's a lack of quality depth at this position, Sanders now has to be in the mix for a roster spot.
• The most intriguing receiver on the field this week has to be Josh Cribbs.
He has an amazing understanding of space and how to run to daylight. He also has a great combination of speed and strength.
He seems to know or sense how the defender is playing him and despite his lack of time at this position, I think the coaches have to reevaluate how they plan to use him this season.
It's not a secret that they plan to only use Cribbs for a handful of plays in each game but that might be foolhardy.
From watching him this week, they actually could have a really good receiver on their hands--not just a great return specialist.
While there's obviously some risk involved in getting him on the field more, the risk may be worth it.
• Syndric Steptoe offers good speed, no question especially after watching him practice. But I'm not sure if he has a solid enough overall package to make this team.
• Rookie Paul Hubbard has nice size but doesn't seem sudden in his movements. He's more of a practice squad candidate from this view.
Projected to Make Roster: (6) Braylon Edwards, Donte' Stallworth, Travis Wilson, Steve Sanders, Kevin Kasper, Josh Cribbs (KR/PR)
PUP List Candidate: Joe Jurevicius (doesn't count against active roster)
Practice Squad Candidates: (2) Paul Hubbard (R), Syndric Steptoe
• Even though starter Kellen Winslow may not ever be the same after a series of knee problems, he's still special and one of the most talent and competitive players in the league.
Winslow is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and he has very good chemistry with his starting quarterback.
He's one of the best safety valves in the game.
• Steve Heiden still is one of the better blocking tight ends that you'll find in a backup.
While he turns 32 in September, he still should have a few decent years left in him.
• I was surprised that Martin Rucker fell to the fourth round of this year's draft.
Rucker isn't the best blocker in the world but for a player of his size, he runs well.
He'll give teams something to think about when he's on the field with Winslow.
• Because of Rucker's knee injury, Darnell Dinkins is almost certain to make the final roster.
Projected to Make Roster: (4) Kellen Winslow, Steve Heiden, Martin Rucker (R), Darnell Dinkins
• LT Joe Thomas has already established himself as one of the top-five players at his position--only after one season.
That seems almost hard to believe but after seeing how he performs on the field up close, there's no question in my mind his upside is enormous.
He essentially has no real weaknesses.
It was believed he wasn't strong enough coming out of college but that perceived weakness just isn't there.
He might have the best feet of any left tackle in the game today.
• While Hank Fraley might not standout from the pack, his leadership and durability are keys to the success of this offensive line.
With small cap numbers through the final three seasons of his contract, I see no reason why he won't be able to play it all out.
• The guard position is deep and LG Eric Steinbach remains one of the best at his position in the league. While some personnel evaluators would call him more of a finesse player, Steinbach is plenty strong and he's technically sound.
I continue to hear that once Ryan Tucker's surgically repaired hip is 100 percent, he'll be back starting. If true, I still think he needs at least two weeks of practicing to get his timing and conditioning back. So it wouldn't be a surprise if Rex Hadnot starts off the regular season with the first-team offense.
• Isaac Sowells or Cliff Louis figure to make the final roster since they offer the team the chance to play tackle--something the other veteran lineman aren't really suited to do.
• Rookie James Lee has enough upside to challenge for a roster spot but at the very least, he should go to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Projected to Make Roster: (9) Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Hank Fraley, Kevin Shaffer, Ryan Tucker, Rex Hadnot, Seth McKinney, Lennie Friedman, Isaac Sowells or Cliff Louis
Practice Squad Candidates: (1) James Lee (R)
Note: Coming later this week, a look at the defense.