COACHING: Eric Mangini, 5th year (28-37), second with Browns (5-11).
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 5-11 (last in AFC North); the Browns finished hot by winning their last four games.
PREDICTING: 2010 regular season record: 6-10 (last in AFC North); improvement might not show in the record.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
Starter -- Jake Delhomme
Delhomme and Wallace will be a two-man show. Delhomme is the clear starter, but Wallace will sub for him and line up with Josh Cribbs in Wildcat situations. Delhomme was 38 of 48 passing in the preseason. His leadership in the locker room and on the field is welcomed by his teammates. It is a contrast to last season when players did not know week to week whether the starter was Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. Delhomme is convinced last season's eight touchdown-18 interception fiasco in Carolina was an aberration.
Starter -- Jerome Harrison
Harrison in preseason did not show the fire that made him one of the most productive runners in the league at the end of last season. Plus, he fumbled twice. He said he is not worried. Hillis won't push Harrison for a starting job, but Hardesty might. Rookie Montario Hardesty tore his ACL on Sept. 2 after he'd missed the first three preseason games because of a bone bruise in his right knee. He tore the ACL in his left knee against Chicago in the final preseason game, which was his first game action with the team. Hillis has speed and can catch the ball. He should be a short-yardage specialist behind Vickers. Davis is insurance and won't get many opportunities if the backs ahead of him stay healthy. With Hardesty out, opportunity may be knocking already.
Starter -- Benjamin Watson
Watson is a huge upgrade over last season when Royal was the starting tight end. Watson is fast enough to draw coverage down the middle. Even when he isn't catching passes he opens space for the wide receivers. He and Moore could catch 30 passes apiece in the tight end-friendly offense being run by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Royal is primarily a blocker, but he is one of the best on the team and was a large part of the run surge at the end of 2009. Smith, who played for the Buccaneers and Eagles, has good hands and is a decent blocker.
With all the criticism directed toward the Browns' receivers last year, team president Mike Holmgren decided the real problem was at quarterback. The only players added were Mitchell, a sixth-round draft pick who beat out the other addition -- and recent roster casualty -- Bobby Engram. Robiskie was the most improved offensive player through minicamp and continued that trend in preseason. There will be some games when Cribbs starts depending on the package being used. He also has developed into a reliable receiver. The Browns scored 11 touchdowns through the air last year. That number could double. Stuckey can move the chains on third down.
The Browns set out to upgrade the right side of the line and are happy with the results of adding Lauvao and Pashos. Pashos is a bulldozer, and if the Browns stick to the ground Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis will be following him. He battled a shoulder injury in August. St. Clair and Womack are reliable backups, but Womack missed all preseason with a knee injury and St. Clair missed more than a week with a personal issue. Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowler. His quick feet make him difficult to beat. Steinbach is steady. Mack has settled in and should be the Browns center for 10 years.
After the draft Holmgren said not every problem could be fixed in one year, and the defensive line is the prime example of what the Browns president was talking about. Smith is in his 11th season, Rogers his 10th and Coleman his ninth. Rubin, in his third year, and Schaefering, a first-year player, are the exceptions. Rogers was activated from PUP after missing all preseason. He might be the best athlete on the team, but he is coming off a broken ankle. Smith led the defensive linemen with 62 tackles last season. Coach Eric Mangini will take that again. The line in a 3-4 doesn't have to lead the team in tackles, but Mangini wants them -- particularly Rubin -- to tie up the blockers so the linebackers can flow to the ball.
Fujita was the big free-agent acquisition for general manager Tom Heckert. Fujita is valuable because he can play inside or out. He is starting outside according to the depth chart, but early in the season he might be inside more while Jackson recovers from a pectoral injury. Fujita did not overwhelm in preseason. He missed a tackle on the goal line in Green Bay. The Browns traded Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason and Bowens faces a reduced role. They totaled 12 sacks last year. Roth and Benard are the Browns' best pass-rushing linebackers. Trusnik has flexibility to move in or out. Costanzo led the Browns in special teams tackles last season. This unit overall is slow. Barton and Bowens are in their 12th season. Coach Eric Mangini says the defense is built for power. Positioning on each play is critical because the Browns are not quick enough to recover from repeated mistakes.
The secondary was revamped, not just because the Browns yielded 22 passing touchdowns last year but because tackling has to improve. Haden and Ward, the top two draft picks, demonstrated in preseason they can take a ball carrier down. Haden could replace Wright as a starter, but whether he starts and Wright is the nickel back -- or whether their roles are reversed -- the secondary is better off than last year. Brown replaced McDonald as the right corner. Brown might have difficulty staying with speedy receivers. Depth is strong with Adams able to play corner or safety. Ventrone and Sorensen are key players on special teams. Sorensen might be inactive in early games because he suffered a concussion Aug. 28 in a preseason game in Detroit
Year in and year out, special teams is the Browns best unit. That could be tested in 2010 because Dave Zastudil, the punter since 2006, is on injured reserve. Dawson will surpass 1,000 career points this season barring injury. He has made 83.3 percent of his field goal tries (229 for 275) and has kicked 12 game winners for a team that had only two winning seasons in 11 years. Pontbriand is so automatic on his snaps that holder Hodges sets up inches short of eight yards on each field goal try because when he does he catches the ball with the laces in the same precise location each time; Hodges does not have to spin the ball before setting it down. Returning kicks and punts is what Cribbs does best. He has returned eight kicks for touchdowns and two punts for TDs. His role on offense has increased as a receiver and in various Wildcat roles. The coaches don't want to spread him so thin he is diminished as a return specialist.