A glass-half-full, glass-half-empty early look at the 2009 Cleveland Browns.
The team's college draft class is strong. Discuss.
Glass half full: There can be no doubt the Browns grabbed the best center on the board in Alex Mack with their first-round pick. No question there will be marked improvement at the position. No longer will games against Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton and Baltimore's Haloti Ngata be one sided in their favor, thus improving the running game.
The two second-round wide receivers coach Eric Mangini selected should have an immediate impact on the club's offense. Brian Robiskie is a proven pass catcher with excellent hands, an extremely disciplined route runner and makes big catches in crowds. Mo Massaquoi has finally shaken his bad-hands label and will provide a vertical presence to quarterback Brady Quinn.
David Veikune, the "who's he?" pick with the third second-round selection, will show who he is quickly. He already has impressed Mangini in the recent minicamp with his athletic ability, intelligence and high motor. That athleticism will help him adjust nicely from defensive end to outside linebacker.
Fourth-rounder Kaluka Maiava could be another Lofa Tatupu, who became a significant force in the Seattle Seahawks' defense despite his lack of size. He'll probably play special teams at first, but don't be surprised if he gets reps at inside linebacker early on.
Don't minimize the selections of cornerbacks Don Carey and Coye Francies in the sixth round. One of them just might surprise fans and relegate Brandon McDonald to nickel back status. And running back James Davis is good enough to challenge Jerome Harrison for the No. 2 role.
Glass half empty: Mack is a nice player and will do well. And Robiskie will not embarrass himself as he acclimates to the National Football League. He is a coach's son and has a real good feel for the game. He should have little trouble adjusting to the NFL at first, but it'll be interesting to see how he develops as the league adjusts to him.
Other than that, it's a crap shoot with the rest of the class. Massaquoi won't be as fortunate as Robiskie once he sees sophisticated defenses. He will struggle based on his inconsistency in college. He's a boom or bust type who will have trouble getting on the field. Think Quincy Morgan.
Veikune and Maiava are terrific athletes with a strong desire to succeed, but the speed and quickness of the game ramps up in the NFL and there is no guarantee these two linebackers will be able to step in, especially with the two veteran linebackers Mangini imported from the New York Jets in Eric Barton and David Bowens.
Veikune might have that high motor, but it takes a lot more than that to successfully transition to the NF, especially at a new position. He and Maiava most likely will spend most of their rookie seasons on special teams, as will Carey and Francies, long shots to unseat Eric Wright and McDonald. The cornerback incumbents did not play that badly last season, victimized more by the club's inability to pressure the quarterback.
The Browns did well in big first-round trade with the Jets. Discuss.
Glass half full: There can be no question the deal that brought Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam, Brett Ratliff and Veikune to the club has improved the quality of roster depth. Coleman and Elam move in immediately as starters.
The Browns needed to plug a hole at strong safety with the loss of Sean Jones and Elam fits in perfectly with the Mangini way. Coleman provides stability in stopping the run (a weakness for way too long) and should work well next to Shaun Rogers. He must be doing something right after leading NFL defensive ends in tackles a couple of seasons ago.
Let's see: A starting center, two veteran starters on defense and an extra second-round pick. How can you argue with that?
Glass half empty: It's easy to argue. All the Browns received for the fifth pick overall, besides Mack, were a journeyman fifth-round pick in Coleman (who has had one good season in eight), two free agents in Elam and Ratliff and a second-rounder (Veikune). That's not nearly enough for a player (Mark Sanchez) the Jets have all but crowned as their savior at quarterback.
It's not known how far Mangini and George Kokinis pushed the envelope on the deal, but if the Jets wanted Sanchez badly enough, nothing less than next year's second-round pick, in addition to what they received, would have been acceptable.
And if the Jets had balked (supposedly, they had a deal with Jacksonville three picks later), the Browns could have taken Sanchez themselves and forced the Jets to offer a better deal. The Browns acquiesced too easily.
Coleman might have started for the Jets had he stayed, but he's not new Jets coach Rex Ryan's kind of player with just eight and a half career sacks. In his eight NFL seasons, Coleman has forced just one fumble. You'd think he would have at least a few more just by accident. He's average at best.
Elam would not have started this season in New York. Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard are the starters there. And Ratliff isn't nearly ready to step in and lead a team at quarterback. The Jets were more than happy to let all three go. A cheap price to pay for their future quarterback.
Coleman will be no better than Corey Williams and Robaire Smith (when healthy) at defensive end. All his acquisition does is move one of last season's starters to the bench and strengthen it. Coleman will start for sure, mostly to justify the trade. And Elam will start at strong safety, but he's no Jones.
Then to compound that, all the club received for trading down two more times in the first round was a pair of sixth-round picks. A meager price to pay for the teams moving up at Cleveland's expense.
The Browns' defense will be better this season. Discuss.
Glass half full: All's well now that Rob Ryan is on board. The new defensive coordinator will bring a brand new attitude to a side of the ball that badly needs an attitude adjustment. And if he's anything like his twin brother, Rex, Browns opponents will not recognize the Cleveland defense this season.
It's no secret the Browns have added more defensive linemen, so it wouldn't surprise to see the aggressive Ryan go to a 4-3 front more often on first and second down in an effort to create a pass rush. The image of Rogers and Williams playing side-by-side at defensive tackle in a four-man front is intriguing.
And when you allow linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and Alex Hall to put their hands on the ground and rush from a three-point stance, something they used to do very well in college, it excites to think of the possibilities. Last season's 17 sacks in 16 games will be surpassed before the bye week in early November.
Glass half empty: That's not saying much. Of course, the defense will be better this season. It was so bad last season, anything would be an improvement. They couldn't stop the run, couldn't stop the pass and couldn't rush the quarterback last season.
It'll be interesting to see how Ryan uses his personnel, if he does, indeed, use four-man fronts more often even though Mangini is a 3-4 guy and developed his reputation with that scheme.
If Mangini makes him stick more to 3-4 philosophies and play with the same two-gap approach espoused by Romeo Crennel, it'll be more of the same this season. It's possible, however, that if Ryan stays with the 3-4 but uses the one-gap technique used by the Pittsburgh Steelers, good things might happen.
The Browns' offense will be better this season. Discuss.
Glass half full: Of course, it will be better. How much worse can it be than last season? No offensive touchdowns in the last six games. Embarrassing. That won't happen this season. Not even close.
No matter who is at quarterback (if it isn't Brady Quinn, that'll shock a lot of people), the Browns will be able to move the ball. The offensive line will be better with Mack anchoring and Ryan Tucker back on the right side at tackle.
And this season, for the first time in a very long time, there is quality bench depth along the line with the likes of John St. Clair and Pork Chop Womack. In fact, a solid training camp by either Womack or St. Clair could push Tucker inside.
As a result, the running game that helped produce a 10-6 record in 2007 will return and the passing game, which kept Derek Anderson clean to the tune of only one sack a game on average, will join it. Jamal Lewis will conclude his Browns career in style and Quinn, comfortable with the new offense of coordinator Brian Daboll, will more than justify the club's trade-up move in the 2007 draft.
Glass half empty: Of course, Quinn will be the quarterback. Mangini likes quarterbacks who provide accuracy and Quinn is considerably better than Anderson in that category.
But the running game will not be far better than last season. Lewis turned into a tiptoeing running back last season, hitting holes well after they closed. And Tucker is a much better guard than tackle. If he winds up as the right tackle, the offense will suffer, especially on passing downs. The Browns need a quality right tackle and none is on the roster. St. Clair or Womack? Get serious.
Daboll is a rookie coordinator, which should warrant a red flag until he proves himself one way or the other. That's not to say he won't succeed. We just don't know enough about his philosophy and coaching tendencies to draw a positive conclusion at this point.
The coaching will be better this season. Discuss.
Glass half full: How can you not like Mangini? He's intelligent, always a step ahead of everyone else, meticulous to a fault and the antithesis of his predecessor. No wonder Randy Lerner went out and signed him.
Mangini will bring discipline to a dressing room that cried out for it last season. No longer will players slide by with average performances. Accountability will be first and foremost on the new coach's list. Unlike last season, mediocrity will not be tolerated. . Half-hearted play will be rewarded with a place on the bench. With Mangini, you play hard or you don't play at all.
He's the kind of coach who also thinks two or three plays ahead. His in-game decisions will be quick and decisive. He will be a genius compared to his predecessor.
Glass half empty: Sure it'll be better considering how poorly the team was coached last season. Mangini inherits a team that finished 4-12. With any kind of decent coaching, that record would have been no worse than 7-9. The Browns blew three games in which they held second-half leads.
Blowing leads should sound familiar to Mangini. His Jets won eight of their first 11 games last season and led the AFC East before collapsing and losing four of their last five games, finishing out of the playoffs.
There are some fans who believe Mangini will experience the same success as Bill Belichick did in his second attempt at head coaching. But there is one large difference. Belichick spent four more seasons as an assistant coach after leaving Cleveland before becoming the Patriots' head man in 2000.
That said, it's far too early to determine how receptive the club will be to a whole different approach. With Mangini, it's his way or his way. He no doubt will count on the numerous ex-Jets he brought to the club to pave the way for his coaching style. How the others react to him will go a long way in determining how well the Browns play this season.
So . . . are you a sycophant or skeptic? Is your glass half full or half empty? My skeptical nature forces me to always see the glass as half empty. I'd love to be proven wr-wr-wr-wr-incorrect.