Passan: Depth Isn't Everything

The Browns may have turned over their roster, making it somewhat green, but change is far from a guarantee of success. Rich looks at the new roster, and offers one thing that will be sure to change with the 2009 Browns...

The general consensus among Browns fans with regard to the 2009 edition of the team is that depth will be a major factor in how well it performs.

Never mind that the talent quotient of the team hasn't improved. And never mind that throwing stuff against the wall in hopes some of it sticks isn't a guarantee for improvement.

It doesn't happen that way in the National Football League. Talent is the great equalizer and unless you own that talent, numbers are meaningless.

Since assuming control of the Browns, coach Eric Mangini and General Manager Kokinis have slapped together a panoply of players from hither and yon in hopes of striking it rich by sheer luck.

Of the 87 faces on the current roster (that number will be pared to 80 by the time training camp starts later this month), 40 have never worn a Cleveland Browns uniform. That's nearly half as the big turnover begins. And of those 40, as many as 25 should make the final roster.

We know, almost for certain, that the eight-man draft class will make it barring any egregious error in talent judgment.

But no one among those 25 can be considered a top-flight player, a difference maker, a playmaker, someone who will be what coaches and scouts like to call an impact player.

They are, for the most part, either rookies or journeymen, players who are either unproven or haven't proven much.

It's nice to get excited about the new season with all the new faces and new attitudes. But when you seriously break down the Cleveland roster and reveal its warts, it's difficult to get too sanguine about what lies ahead.

Yes, the falloff in talent won't be as great this season should injuries rack the club again or some starters don't perform up to the standards of the coaching staff. But when the starting talent isn't that solid to begin with, what difference does it make what the bench looks like?

The quality of coaching will be the great equalizer. The ability to ferret out and hone the best qualities of the players can make a difference.

The offense will struggle at first, largely because of the new system being installed. That's only natural. Mistakes will be made. But they'll be tolerated for just so long.

Ditto for the defense, again because of a new philosophical approach by a new coordinator. Nearly half the members of what will be the starting defense wore the green and white of the New York Jets last season.

And to be perfectly honest, that Jets defense was not worthy of fan excitement. It surrendered 24 or more points in half their games and faltered badly down the stretch, allowing 122 points in the final five games as they tumbled out of the playoff race.

But considering how badly the Cleveland defense has played the last four seasons, the new defense might be considered an upgrade. If so, that's playing a dangerous game of lowering the bar.

You can be excited about the new-look Browns. But never lose sight of the notion that mediocrity arrives in many different forms. And just because the depth factor has been addressed doesn't mean that all will be better this season.

Quite the opposite. Dreaming and hoping will not make it so, especially in what most likely will be an improved AFC North.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a Super Bowl victory; the Baltimore Ravens rebounded nicely last season; and the Cincinnati Bengals very well could be the surprise team of the division with a healthy quarterback and an improved defense.

How the Browns perform in the six games against division opponents will go a long way in determining just how much progress they make this season. Mangini can't help but improve on his predecessor's embarrassingly poor four-year record against the AFC North (5-19).

Relatively speaking, there is no question the Browns will be better. But being better isn't saying much, considering they overwhelmed just four opponents last season.

This season will be different because the club will benefit from higher quality coaching at the top. If nothing else, the 2009 Browns will not do something most of Romeo Crennel's teams did: Underachieve.

Mangini will see to that.


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