Upon settling in to his new gig as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Eric Mangini had to sit down and evaluate his new team. Considering the number of roster transactions the Browns made during the off-season, it would be safe to assume the coach was far from impressed.
Mangini and general manager George Kokinis brought numerous veterans into the fold with ties to the coach, in the hopes it would create a competitive environment. To further expedite the process, the duo in charge of changing the complexion of Cleveland football went to the well again and completed a draft-day blockbuster deal with the Jets for more of Mangini's former pupils in New York.
Amongst the changes, the college player draft could provide immediate dividends to a team only a season removed from being a playoff contender.
Lacking quality and depth at key positions, the Browns draft-day workings are expected to produce and contribute, in some cases immediately.
Rookie wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi have not disappointed. Since arriving in Cleveland days following the draft, each receiver has displayed the qualities that enticed the organization on draft day.
Robiskie, sure-handed and precise, and Massaquoi, quick and explosive once catching the pass, both fill a void for this team. In spring sessions and into the training camp portion of their respective careers, each receiver has built upon the talents that made them Cleveland Browns. As with any player, especially rookies competing at the level for the first time, there is an adjustment period expected.
The sure-handed Robiskie has dropped a few balls, although that doesn't overshadow the precision he plays with or the success he is having within the process. Rarely out of position in the receiving game, Robiskie utilizes excellent body control to keep a defender off the ball and fluid moves to gain separation from a defensive back. Much more quicker than speedy, Robiskie appears well-versed in becoming the type of receiver that will be dependable and a definite player you'd look toward on third down to move the chains.
Much of the same can be noted regarding Massaquoi. A handful of drops hasn't dampened his spirit as this rookie continues to improve in every aspect of the game. Not a polished product like Robiskie, Massaquoi needs to keep progressing in his route running and concentration. At times the rookie will let the ball get to his body, creating difficulty in making a reception. But, once Massaquoi gains possession, his ability to gain yardage after the reception borders on explosive.
Alex Mack, the Browns' first-round draft selection, is the center of attention. Holding the acclaim of being the first player selected in the Mangini era, Mack has been under the gun. Expected to replace a popular and well-respected veteran player within the locker room in Hank Fraley, the rookie has not had the easiest of times at one of the tougher positions in the game to learn.
At times Mack looks every bit as the best center, the first player off the board at his position. At other times, Mack appears to be thinking through the process, with the slightest amount of indecision allowing a defensive lineman to run-through an inexperienced rookie such as Mack. Practicing again one of the best in Shaun Rogers will make him a better player quickly -- the problem presently, though, is Mack is struggling at times against the likes of Ahtyba Rubin and Shaun Smith, and neither player is in the same class as Rogers.
When he's on, Mack has looked solid in practice drills. When he's not, Mack appears ordinary. With each passing session, the rookie seems to minimize the number of mistakes he makes -- as a quick study such as Mack reportedly is normally does. When Mack keeps his pads low, he sets well and is powerful; the problem is defensive linemen have been gaining leverage on the rookie, which enables the defender to get into Mack and neutralize his athleticism.
Linebacker David Veikune could be a diamond in the rough for this team in the future. Whether in 2009 or 2010, Veikune appears to be fast-tracking his way onto the football field due to his raw determination, physical nature and aggressiveness until the whistle blows. This rookie is fearless.
Neither the fastest nor the quickest LB on the field, Veikune has excelled in the classroom, and his intensity and study habits are translating to the practice field. This rookie does not shy away from putting a helmet on an opposing offensive player; in some cases while watching Veikune, he appears to simply enjoy the game -- as well as blasting a lineman or running back in the hole.
While most believed Veikune would be immediately slotted at outside linebacker to help a team that has issue getting to the QB, the rookie has been primarily playing inside, with the occasional appearance outside thrown in. In either role, Veikune has not disappointed, though he is not in position to step in and become a force at this early stage.
Veikune, not unlike the other Browns day-one selections in the draft ,needs time to develop in the system. While players such as Robiskie and Massaquoi may be ahead of the curve in a sense, it would be unrealistic to place the expectations of this club on the shoulders of rookies that have never taken a snap at the professional level.
Today, these young men need time in the process -- which may be enough time come September for each to play a contributing role in what could be an interesting season of Browns football.