BEREA, Ohio--As the Browns get set to start the preseason Saturday against the Green Bay Packers, it will be an opportunity to take a look at the hopefully, ‘new and improved' Browns.
Jake Delhomme is not going to make anyone forget about Otto Graham or Bernie Kosar, but he has brought a steadying force to the team. If Delhomme can eliminate the mistakes-- namely interceptions-- the offense will be way ahead of last year.
The Browns aren't a good enough team to be in the negative area in the turnover ratio.
From the observations at training camp on a daily basis, the likes of Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis are going to be Delhomme's best friends. The quarterbacks are all throwing a lot of shorter pass routes and thus far haven't thrown the ball down field a whole lot.
Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey and Josh Cribbs have been impressive thus far in catching the ball, it remains to be seen what they will be able to do when the real bullets start flying.
Seneca Wallace looks as though he will really be integrated into the plan of attack and he along with Cribbs should legitimately inject some life into the offense.
Shawn Lauvao has shown good progress at right guard and Floyd Womack was playing right tackle at the end of last season when the Browns were leading the NFL in rushing. Tony Pashos has been slowed by a shoulder injury but should be able to strengthen the right tackle spot. John St. Clair has been working with the first team at right tackle in Pashos' absence and Eric Mangini said he's been doing well.
The team is counting on running the ball. Harrison showed he can be a very productive back in the final stretch of last season. Hillis was added to the stable and James Davis has looked good in his comeback from a season-ending shoulder injury. Rookie Montario Hardesty hasn't made it to the field since training camp started with a twisted knee, but he is expected back shortly.
Defensively, there is no question the Browns secondary was weak ranking 29th in the NFL. Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Larry Asante appear to have solidified the secondary. Ward has moved into the starting lineup and has shown good improvement in the early going. Mangini gave Ward unsolicited praise three days in a row this week.
Brandon McDonald has had a pretty good training camp—at least on the field-- and if ends up the fourth cornerback, that bodes well for the defense, given the fact he started the past two seasons.
The linebacker corps appears very deep. Even with the injury to D'Qwell Jackson, the team has at least three potential replacements that have started many NFL games in Eric Barton, David Bowens and Jason Trusnik. Mangini said that second-year linebacker David Veikune has improved as much as Robiskie has on the defensive side of the ball, but that remains to be seen on the field. Kaluka Maiava also started a couple of games last season on the inside and is in the mix.
The defensive line has been without Shaun Rogers and C.J. Mosley and it appears that Ahtyba Rubin will start the season as the nose tackle. Robaire Smith and Kenyon Coleman are holding up at the ends.
If Rogers or Smith are suspended by the NFL for gun-related charges, the line might be thin in the early going of the season. Brian Shaefering has shown flashes, but C.J. Mosley hasn't come off the PUP list yet. Cliff Geathers has potential, but he is raw and slated to be a developmental player this season.
The special teams has been one of the strengths of the team for the past several seasons and there is no reason to believe that Phil Dawson, Cribbs and the rest of the crew will disappoint. The biggest question is whether Dave Zastudil is going to be able to punt this season, as he is a major weapon for the Browns in pinning opponents back inside their 20.
Most Browns fans are hoping the team is heading in the right direction and it appears they are. They have leadership in place and appear to have added some nice pieces to the roster. Time will tell if these players will pan out, particularly the younger players.
The 2010 season is about finding core players for the coming years. Most fans are not expecting the Browns to make the playoffs this season, but most fans are looking for improvement.
Whether the team is 6-10 or 8-8, most Browns fans will be happy if by the end of the season it appears the Browns are going to be ready to contend for a playoff berth in 2011.