Delhomme is trying to reassert himself in his first season with the Browns after seven seasons in Carolina. He threw eight touchdown passes and 18 interceptions last year. Browns president Mike Holmgren is convinced that will not happen again. Delhomme threw the ball well in minicamp last month and his teammates say he has taken on a strong leadership role. Wallace won't start, but he will get plenty of opportunities as a Wildcat quarterback with Josh Cribbs on the field. Coach Eric Mangini said he might keep four quarterbacks, but that is unlikely, which means Ratliff will be squeezed out by rookie McCoy.
Harrison goes into training camp as the incumbent, but it would not be a major shock if Hardesty beats him out. Hardesty weighs 225 pounds, 20 more than Harrison, and until Harrison rushed for 561 yards in the final three games last season Harrison's success was very spotty. No matter who starts, the Browns are going to be a run-oriented team. The second back could average 10 or more carries a game. Harrison was the backup in 2008 and averaged two a game. In 2009 Jamal Lewis began as the starter, but was injured, so the number of carries the backup got is skewed. The Browns like Hillis, the running back acquired from the Broncos in the trade sending Brady Quinn to Denver. Hillis weighs 250 pounds and is like having an extra fullback on the roster. Vickers believes he is a Pro Bowl fullback. Playing time for Davis and Jennings will be scarce.
Tight end is a weak position for the Browns. Watson caught 29 passes with New England last year and is the Browns' best tight end. The rest of the group is made of spare parts. Royal is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season in which he caught only 11 passes while playing with a dislocated finger. Moore could be one to watch. He wasn't on the team for the first half of the season and then spent three weeks on the practice squad. He played five games and caught 12 passes. He is reliable and knows how to get open. The tight end is essential in the Browns' scheme because it is not a big-play offense.
The Browns did not have a dominant receiver last year after trading Braylon Edwards and could be in that situation again. Massaquoi led the Browns with 34 catches in 2009. That is hardly dominant, and he doesn't have a great supporting cast. Robiskie was the most improved player on the team in the offseason. He is benefitting from a year in the NFL and from having a dependable quarterback in Delhomme. Stuckey caught 19 passes in 11 games with the Browns, but nine of those occurred in two games. He and Engram will battle to be the slot receiver. Stuckey will benefit from training camp with the Browns; he was acquired Oct. 7 last year in the Braylon Edwards trade and had difficulty adjusting. Cribbs can be plugged in anywhere and is most valuable in the Wildcat. Mitchell could end up on the practice squad or take the fifth receiver spot from Engram. Either way, the rookie is a project for 2010.
Starters -- LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach, C Alex Mack, RG Floyd Womack, RT Tony Pashos. Backups -- RT John St. Clair, G Shawn Lauvao, G/C Billy Yates, OL Joel Reindeers, G Pat Murray, OT Scott Kooistra, OL Paul Fanaika, OL Casey Bender.
One of the more intriguing projects of training camp will be finding the best combination of players at right guard and right tackle. Offensive line coach George Warhop used minicamp to get a preview of which players work best together. Pashos could start at guard or tackle and so could Womack. St. Clair started 14 games at right tackle last year, but the Browns signed Pashos in free agency because they want an upgrade. Thomas, Steinbach and Mack are solid. Thomas has been to the Pro Bowl all three years of his career. He and Steinbach are athletic more than physical players. Mack was not a sexy first-round choice last year, but he is strong and solidifies the line. Depth is better than it was last year. Yates' flexibility makes him valuable. Lauvao, the fourth-round rookie, could push his way into the starting lineup. If St. Clair does not start he becomes a valuable backup.
Starters -- LDE Kenyon Coleman, NT Shaun Rogers, RDE Robaire Smith. Backups -- NT Ahtyba Rubin, NT Brian Schaefering, DE Derrick Robinson, NT Titus Adams, DL Kwaku Danso, DE Clifton Geathers, DT Swanson Miller, DL C.J. Mosley, DL Brian Sanford.
Mangini has a dilemma it is safe to say not many coaches have encountered; Rogers and Smith face possible suspension because each was arrested for carrying a handgun in his carry-on baggage in an airport. Smith's arrest occurred on Nov. 6 last year. Rogers was nabbed in Cleveland on April 1. Each told police he forgot the gun was in his bag. The line will be severely affected if both are suspended at the same time. The Browns are deep at nose tackle but not at end, which is why the coaches are thinking about playing Rogers at end instead of on the nose. Rubin is strong against the run and so is Schaefering. Coleman's durability is a concern. The Browns picked Robinson up late last year. He will get a chance to prove he deserves a roster spot. Geathers is raw. He has to learn to play under control. Mosley could plug in anywhere on the line. Any chance the Browns have of improving their run defense starts with the defensive line.
Starters -- WLB David Bowens, ILB Scott Fujita, MLB D'Qwell Jackson. SLB Matt Roth. Backups -- OLB Marcus Benard, ILB Eric Barton, ILB Titus Brown, ILB Blake Costanzo, OLB Chris Gocong, ILB Kaluka Maiava, ILB David Veikune, LB Jason Trusnik.
The Browns' linebacking corps has been in a state of flux for years, which partially explains why they annually rank near the bottom in run defense. Fujita was signed in free agency and Gocong acquired in trade because both are flexible enough to play inside and outside. Trusnik and Bowens can also move in or out. Jackson is not flexible and might be a better fit in the middle of a 3-4 defense. Jackson (pectoral surgery) and Barton (neck) finished last season on injured reserve. Jackson is healthy and playing with a chip on his shoulder because he expected more than a one-year tender when he hit free agency. Veikune was lost last season. He did not make a single tackle, but he shed 20 pounds and is now concentrating exclusively at inside linebacker. Maiava is a good plug-in inside and Benard could be a situational pass rusher. Last season in limited chances he had 3.5 sacks in six games. Last year the Browns allowed more first downs (336) than any team in the league. The hope is Fujita and a healthy Jackson will change that.
Starters -- LCB Eric Wright, RCB Joe Haden, FS D.J. Ward, SS Abe Elam. Backups -- CB Brandon McDonald, CB/S Mike Adams, SS Larry Asante, S Nick Sorensen, CB Coye Francies, S Ray Ventrone, CB Gerard Lawson, DB Sheldon Brown, DB Chris Chancellor, DB Chris Roberson, CB DeAngelo Smith.
Sorting out the secondary will be a primary goal of training camp, because both safety positions and both starting cornerback jobs are up for grabs. It would seem Elam would return as the strong safety, but he has to show he can defend the pass better than last year. Likewise, Wright has to show he can defend the run as well as the pass. Otherwise he might be relegated to nickel duty. That would leave Brown and Haden as the starting corners. Ward would likely be the free safety, but a hamstring injury prevented him from participating in minicamp. Adams is a valuable player because he can play corner or safety. He'll fill in wherever the coaches need him. McDonald, a starter last year, is fighting for a job. He was especially vulnerable to deep passes last year. Sorensen, Ventrone and Lawson are key players on special teams. Last year opponents scored 22 passing touchdowns on the Browns. It is why they took Haden with the seventh overall pick, drafted Ward in the second round and Asante in the fifth and why they traded for Brown.
For years, special teams have been the Browns' most productive unit. That is unlikely to change in 2010. The only real question is whether Zastudil can return to his 2008 form. A knee injury ended his 2009 season prematurely. Hodges finished as the punter and is still on the roster. If nothing else, he will take some of the workload from Zastudil in training camp. Dawson won't have that luxury. He was the only kicker in camp last year and, coincidence or not, he missed five games with a calf injury. Cribbs is the most exciting player on the roster. His workload on coverage teams will be reduced because of his extended role in the Wildcat, but he will continue to return punts and kicks. Incredibly, only one draft choice made between 1999-2005 is still on the roster -- 2003 fifth-round pick Pontbriand. He is as automatic as they come as a long snapper.