Outside the Perimeter: Browns OL Third Worst?

Mark Leonard takes a look at this claim from the Sporting News and much more...

The October 12 issue of The Sporting News carries on page 64 a Dennis Dillon article focusing upon the best the NFL has to offer at the positions of OL and DL. More specifically, league scouts are asked to rate the ten best offensive lines, the ten best defensive lines, the three worst units on each side of the ball and the top three individuals in the categories of athletic ability, footwork, hand use, toughness and awareness/smarts among OL and body lean, footwork, quick hands, tenacity and instincts among DL.

Needless to say, the 0-4 Browns did not fare well at all. In fact, the only mentions that were Cleveland-related identified LT Joe Thomas as second only to Carolina's  Jordan Gross for footwork and the Browns' OL as third-worst overall. With that designation appeared the words: "Joe Thomas could start for any team in the league. Unfortunately, the other linemen are mediocre."

At least they're not the Lions, who were rated as the worst on both sides of the ball.

In the event you did not already know this fundamental truth about the sport of football, regardless of the level of competition, read what was attributed to NYG head coach Tom Coughlin: "The better you can be up front with your offensive and defensive lines, the more opportunities you have to provide yourself with strategic ways in which you can win. If you don't have those ingredients, you will find yourself very limited. "

Despite the issue displaying Pittsburgh as its 2009 choice for Best Sports City—Cleveland ranks 22, between Anaheim and Charlotte—the mag has a few other articles that may interest NE Ohioans. For example, the Charlotte-based publication has a photo essay constructed around a week spent in the company of former Browns' coach Butch Davis as he prepared the University of North Carolina Tarheels for last Saturday's home loss to UVa.  There is also a piece on Charlie Manuel's ballclub, the Phillies, under the headline "Here to Stay."

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What a difference a week can make, even if it brought yet another loss. Suddenly, the Browns, who lost in overtime to the now-3-1 Bengals, are absent from lists of the NFL's most dreadful teams. A Sunday victory over a beatable Bills club in Buffalo would also help considerably.

Fortuitous was that Cinn RB Cedric Benson is not particularly fast, allowing the Cleveland D to more easily contain the visitor's offense. Sure enough, it was upon the insertion or rookie RB Bernard Scott that the Bengals' O began to roll.  Buffalo RBs are also not especially fast.

The Browns were comfortably able to prevent Benson from achieving the edge, constraining him to between-the-tackles attempts, contributory to the many three-and-outs.

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This week's departure of #1 wideout Braylon Edwards continues new head coach Eric Mangini's emphasis upon a whole-team approach over the individual virtuoso.  It should be reminded that the unspectacular Troy Brown was the primary passing-game threat on Bill Belichick's first World Champion Patriots squad.

In fact, it has been upon the rather pedestrian collection of such unremarkable athletes as Kevin Faulk, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and those non-descript New England OL that Belichick constructed his winning foundation. It is, above all else, a team sport.

Mangini has yet to demonstrate he is remotely equal to Belichick, however—no small consideration, of course—but it is from that man Mangini draws his inspiration.

The principle is the point.

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As the Browns approach the season's second quarter, it seems quite evident Kamerion Wimbley is the best available among three-down OLBs, the team's best-all-around LB performer, a designation that may amount to truly faint praise.

That being said, it could be what the defense most needs as a complement to Wimbley outside is not so much another pass-rush threat as it is another 3-down athlete with speed, range, mobility, coverage skills and play-making differential.

On the subject of LBs, it should now be sufficiently clear that Jet imports David Bowens and Eric Barton are but stopgaps valued for their assignment excellence and familiarity with the coach and his schemes.

Among those things to look forward to will be the ultimate emergence of Hawaii's David Veikune as Barton's successor inside. Though he might've arrived sooner outside, his coverage discomfort and ineffectiveness would've been exacerbated and he'd have also done too little about improving overall team speed defensively. 

Ideally,  Veikune fills the bill as a strongside ILB next to D'Qwell Jackson, with Wimbley complemented by that 3-down athlete outside. Perhaps Kaluka Maiava will be that guy; maybe he fixates as a situational piece.

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Regardless of what exactly transpires positionally throughout the roster, youth will be served. Fans calling for veteran fixes should adjust their orientations. Nothing Mangini and GM George Kokinis have done since the start of camp indicates older personnel will be infused. Virtually every addition has involved a young vet or an outright rookie.

In fact, it would not surprise if more aged parts are subtracted in the coming weeks. The quickness and burst of Jerome Harrison's young, fresh legs surely ignited much of what was accomplished offensively versus Cincinnati.

Helpful, too, was former center Hank Fraley at RG instead of the injured Floyd Womack. Fraley is seasoned and experienced as an interior performer, with polished techniques and the advantage of natural leverage so critical inside.

Womack, on the other hand, has been characteristically employed as a versatile swing man, playing guard and tackle both collegiately and in Seattle.  It is not surprising that the taller Womack often struggles to maintain both techniques and leverage, complicating his capacities to get movement in the run game.

The Browns can be expected to make a quantum leap forward as a running team once it installs prototypes at the guard spots, something which may occur after the bye.

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Somewhat consistent with what Coughlin above referenced, this NFL season has demonstrated how critical it is to be stout up front and inside defensively. Carolina was 12-4 last season, but is winless without NT Maake Kemoeatu, being gashed weekly by oppositional running games. Similarly, the Chargers are floundering without standout NT Jamel Williams, especially now that they've gone small at ILB. Philadelphia was so concerned about its run D in light of the loss of MLB Stewart Bradley that they've brought graybeard Jeremiah Trotter out of retirement to start Sunday.

It is oversimplification to blame all that troubles 0-4 Tennessee on the defection of DT Albert Haynesworth, but there it is.

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Fans of Cleveland WR Mohamed Massaquoi may find it interesting to know he teamed with Giants' first-round WR Hakeem Nicks at Charlotte's Independence High, the alma mater of Florida Gator QB Chris Leak, famous for his NCAA National Championship performance over Ohio State three seasons ago.

Too often lost about the past three collegiate title games is that each featured coaching showdowns between Ohio-born coaches: OSU's Jim Tressel vs. Florida's Urban Meyer; Tressel vs. LSU's Les Miles; Meyer vs. Bob Stoops. These gentlemen hail, respectively, from Berea, Ashtabula, Elyria and Youngstown.


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