With each passing practice session in training camp, progress, development and ability are all critical aspects of player performance for the Browns coaching staff to evaluate. Within these facets comes competitiveness and awareness in playing in the team environment, something head coach Eric Mangini insists upon.
Rather than tuning into the Browns pre-season game Saturday evening and expecting the second coming of the 1964 Cleveland Browns, look for the development of positions, specific players and how well the team adapts to the adversity of losing as they did one week prior.
Training camp is a time to get players on the same page, to work new talent into the system and prepare for the long and grinding NFL season ahead. In Cleveland, the focus is on Mangini to quickly add respectability back to the Browns.
After eight months on the job, the true evaluation process on Mangini begins.
As we watch the team play and hold the head coach accountable, here are a few points of interest while viewing the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions on Saturday evening.
- Can the QBs gain consistency? Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson continued their roller-coaster ride at the position this week, with each player taking turns committing turnovers and making poor throws. Watch the activities on game day to see if Quinn again steps-up his play against live competition in a game setting. Anderson will need to find a rhythm early and maintain it with consistent reps. Watch to see where Anderson goes with the pass attempts and how quick and decisive he is in his decision-making process. It matters little between the first and second units in this competition; much more is riding on which player excels and conducts themselves as a leader on the playing field.
- On the ground the Browns have been lackluster recently in practice sessions and the case was no different in the pre-season opener. RB Jamal Lewis does not possess the quickness to hit the hole nearly as well as he did in the past. With an offensive line struggling to find its way early, Lewis and the running game could look mediocre. Jerome Harrison has been sitting out practice with an undisclosed injury, while James Davis has been back for nearly a week after missing time due to a dental procedure. Lewis is the starter by default, but one of the other backs could ignite a flame within the staff if they can perform well. Watch how well the backs handle their blocking assignments, as well as recognizing and hitting the hole.
- What the Browns coaching staff does not want to see is a repeat performance by the offensive and defensive lines against the Lions. Mangini was upset that each line was outworked and pushed off the ball. Offensively, pay attention to the play of the interior linemen as this is an area of concern. Defensively, the ends must do a better job of containing the perimeter while maintaining their gap responsibilities. Players such as Corey Williams, Ahtyba Rubin and C.J. Mosley should be watched closely; Williams as he attempts to develop into a 3-4 end while fending off veteran Robaire Smith and the endless motor of Mosley, while Rubin is likely to see significant playing time at nose tackle.
- If the defensive line takes care of business, the linebackers will have the lanes to flow. In camp sessions the inside linebackers have been active and communicating well in recognizing the gaps. During the pre-season opener, the ILB's had a difficult time in making plays, some of which was due to being overly aggressive, as well as struggling behind a line that did not play well.
- OLB Kamerion Wimbley will again be moved around in an attempt to maximize his quickness. Wimbley and David Bowens make up what could become a solid set of pass rushing OLB's, if the play surrounding them permits man-on-man work. Young Marcus Benard will assuredly see plenty of playing time coming off the edge and could thrust himself firmly into the spotlight with another solid showing. Rookie David Veikune will see the majority of his reps at ILB, but will lineup wide as a pass rusher on occasion.
- An interesting battle is developing in the Browns defensive backfield. Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are the starters at CB, but the door appears wide open for the nickel and dime back spots. Veteran Rod Hood has been solid in camp and figures to be the first man off the bench, while veterans Corey Ivy and Hank Poteat battle rookies Coye Francies and Brandon Anderson. While Mangini likes to have a veteran presence within the locker room, he is far from shy in giving young players an opportunity. In practice sessions, Francies and Anderson have locked up with the WR's and fared well.
- During the off-season all eyes were on the Browns' lack of talent and depth at the WR position. Upon selecting two WR's (Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi) in the draft and signing a couple veterans (David Patten and Mike Furrey) in free agency, the hopes were to find a player capable of simply helping. What the team has uncovered in the weeks following spring practice sessions has been surprising.
Josh Cribbs, Massaquoi and Furrey are locked in a battle for the number two and three roles at WR, while the Browns' first of three second-round draft selections, Robiskie, has not elevated his practice work to become a legitimate option presently. With the development at the position, Patten's role remains the great unknown. Often working out on his own and making brief appearances on the practice field, Patten has been a positive influence on the youth at the position due to his experience and make-up -- but does he have a role on the active roster heading toward the regular season?
- Remember, this is the pre-season. While you want to win every game, this is a period when progress and evaluation remain the critical aspects -- but again, winning is always nice, especially for an organization accustomed to be on the losing end of the scoreboard.
But, if this team shows progress on the playing field and limits the mental mistakes, it will be a win and sign that Mangini's system is beginning to take hold.