QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Bruce Gradkowski. Backups -- Richard Bartel, Josh Cribbs. Injured reserve -- Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey.
Quinn (finger) and Anderson (knee) were on injured reserve for the last quarter of the season, and Dorsey was exposed as an inept passer before going on IR for the final game. Gradkowski was a rent-a-player and a non-factor. His passer rating in his only start, a 31-0 loss to the Steelers, was 1.0. No one can say with confidence the Browns have a starting quarterback for 2009. New coach Eric Mangini has not committed himself to Quinn, at least not publicly. Quinn started only three games before being sidelined and did not prove he is the uncontested starter. He completed barely half of his passes -- 45 of 89 -- while throwing two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Anderson is convinced his days in Cleveland are over, but he won't be easy to trade. He has a guaranteed bonus of $5 million due in March. The Browns could pay it and then trade him, but that seems like a bad investment.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Jamal Lewis, FB Lawrence Vickers. Backups -- RB Jerome Harrison, FB Charles Ali. Injured reserve -- Jason Wright.
Lewis rushed for more than 1,000 yards, but barely. His final carry, No. 279, was for 4 yards to give him 1,002 after he rushed for 1,304 yards the previous season. The explosion wasn't there. Mangini has to decide whether the problem was Lewis, the offensive line or a combination of both. Harrison showed quickness and promise of a brighter future. Wright is a free agent. His role dwindled as Harrison's increased. Ali is a better blocker than Vickers, but Vickers is more versatile as a short-yardage runner and receiver.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kellen Winslow Jr. Backups -- Darnell Dinkins, Martin Rucker. Injured reserve -- Steve Heiden.
Winslow had a bad season. After catching 82 passes in 2007, he caught 43 in 2008. He missed two games for staph-related problems, bumped heads with management and missed four games with an ankle injury. He wants a new contract, but he didn't do anything in 2008 to earn it. Rucker caught two passes, hardly enough to prove he can replace Winslow. Heiden is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. He hopes to be back for the season opener.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth. Backups -- Syndric Steptoe, Joshua Cribbs, Paul Hubbard. Physically unable to perform -- Joe Jurevicius.
Edwards led the NFL with 16 dropped passes. Stallworth missed five games with a quadriceps injury, and Jurevicius missed all season because of complications from a staph infection. Those three factors contributed mightily to the Browns finishing 4-12, Anderson being benched and Crennel being fired. Edwards caught three touchdown passes after catching 16 last season. He never got on track after a freak training camp accident. He removed his shoes to run sprints and was spiked by Stallworth. He needed stitches to close the gash and missed the final three preseason games. He was rusty in the beginning and the Browns started 0-3. Edwards is entering his contract year. Jurevicius vows to play in 2009. The Browns could use him; he caught 50 passes in 2007, 29 of them for first downs. He is a steadying influence on a team that needs one. Stallworth was a major disappointment with 17 catches in 11 games.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach, C Hank Fraley, RG Rex Hadnot, RT Kevin Shaffer. Backups -- T Isaac Sowells, G Scott Young, C Seth McKinney. Injured reserve -- G/T Ryan Tucker, G/C Lennie Friedman. Non-football injury -- Eric Young.
The offensive line did not play as well as a group as it did in 2007. The competition from opponents was much better, and Tucker played in only one game -- the 35-14 victory over the Giants. It was the Browns' best game of the season. Steinbach had on-and-off back problems. The Browns lost to the Colts because Thomas gave up a sack on a bull rush by Dwight Freeney. Anderson fumbled and the Colts returned it for a touchdown in a 10-6 final. Later in the game, Shaffer gave up a sack on a bull rush to Robert Mathis. Anderson suffered a torn MCL. Next season, if Tucker is healthy, he will replace Hadnot. Friedman missed all season with a shoulder injury. He is a valuable backup.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Corey Williams, DRE Shaun Smith, NT Shaun Rogers. Backups -- LE Santonio Thomas, NT Ahtyba Rubin, RE Louis Leonard. Injured reserve -- DE Robaire Smith, DE Chase Pittman.
Rogers was well worth what the Browns traded to the Lions to get him: a third-round draft choice and CB Leigh Bodden. For that they got their sack leader with 4.5, their leader in tackles among defensive linemen (81) and a player who definitely benefited from a change of scenery. But that was it for the Browns defensive line. Williams played with a shoulder injury and did not fit in the 3-4 defense. After recording seven sacks in both 2006 and 2007 with Green Bay, he had a half-sack with the Browns. He made 58 tackles -- three more than the previous year in Green Bay. Robaire Smith is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon. Shaun Smith's most notable action was getting into a fight with Quinn in the weight room in December -- not the best way to make an impression on the new coach. The drop-off wasn't big when the Browns had to go to Thomas or Leonard.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Willie McGinest, ILB Andra Davis, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, WLB Kamerion Wimbley. Backups -- SOLB Alex Hall, ILB Leon Williams, Kris Griffin, WOLB Shantee Orr. Injured reserve -- SOLB Antwan Peek.
The pressure on the quarterback in a 3-4 defense is supposed to come from the linebackers, but starters McGinest and Wimbley combined for only five sacks. Rookie Hall had three sacks after five games and none in the last 11. Davis is a free agent and is unlikely to be re-signed. Jackson led the Browns with 191 tackles, but the Browns were still near the bottom of the league in run defense. Wimbley has been a mystery for two seasons. He had 11 sacks as a rookie, five in 2007 and four in 2008. After getting 20 quarterback pressures a year ago, he had three in 2008. Coaches kept making excuses for him. The new staff might not be as kind. Peek is making good progress from a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss the season. He will help the pass rush, but he is not a magic cure.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Brandon McDonald, LCB Eric Wright, SS Sean Jones, FS Brodney Pool. Backups -- DB Mike Adams, LCB Terry Cousin, RCB Terry Daniels, RCB Gerard Lawson, S Nick Sorensen, S Hamza Abdullah. Injured reserve -- CB Daven Holly.
The Browns went through some growing pains by starting two second-year cornerbacks. McDonald hit a slump in midseason and gave up three touchdown passes in a two-game span. He lost his starting job for one game (actually one play) against the Redskins and played well after that. Wright played poorly in the last four games, so he has to take that with him into the offseason. Depth became a problem when Holly was injured the first day of OTAs. Holly is a free agent. The Browns will be looking for at least one cornerback if he does not re-sign. Jones missed four games recovering from knee surgery. Jones and Adams are free agents, too. With all their problems in the secondary -- health issues, young cornerbacks and a feeble pass rush -- the Browns cut their passing touchdowns allowed from 29 in 2007 to 19. On the flip side, they allowed 16 rushing touchdowns after giving up eight in 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Phil Dawson, P Dave Zastudil, LS Ryan Pontbriand, KR/PR Joshua Cribbs.
Year in and year out, special teams is the strongest unit for the Browns, and 2008 was no exception. Dawson toils for a losing team; otherwise he might be a Pro Bowl player. He made 30 of 36 field-goal attempts and scored 100 points for the fourth time in five years. Zastudil bounced back from a sub-par 2007 to finish with a 45.5-yard average and a 39.4 net. The previous year, those numbers were 41.8 and 34.6. Pontbriand, a Pro Bowl player in 2007, was flawless on his snaps. Injuries and changes on the blocking wedge prevented Cribbs from matching what he did last season. His kick returns slumped to 25.2 yards a kick return from a league-best 30.7 the previous year. He averaged 8.1 yards a punt return after averaging 13.5 a return in 2007. Part of the problem was his success in 2007. Teams did their best to kick away from him.