Players to Watch
WR/KR- C.J. Jones- The undrafted free agent out of Iowa is making a name for himself as a receiver and returning kicks. Against the Tennessee Titans, Jones racked up 114 combined yards. C.J lacks receiver size but makes up for it will excellent size and hands.
LB-Barry Gardner (Eagles)
C- Jeff Faine
MLB- Andra Davis- Has been a workout star over the off-season and has unseated veteran Barry Gardner for the middle linebacker job. Davis is a new breed of linebacker the team wants for its system, a fast linebacker who can cover. Look for him to continue to impress on Saturday.
WR- Andre Davis- Yes you read that right, "Andre" Davis is a rising star in the receiving corp and don't be surprised if he is starting for Kevin Johnson by season's end. Davis was a touchdown machine last year and with his great speed and playmaking ability, he is one to be watching on Saturday.
DE - Courtney Brown- Although the former first pick will only see limited time because of a minor injury, look for him to make something happen while he's in there. He is having standout practices and is impressing coach Butch Davis. His career has so far been hindered by injury but he has shown to be a solid end when healthy. Its basically a put up or shut up year for Brown, and he is going to want to make an impression quickly.
RB- Jamel White - Talk about a dual threat, Jamel White scampered for 470 yards rushing (4.4 avg.) and 452 yards receiving (63 receptions!) last season and he will likely see a good amount of time Saturday, look for him to have an impact, on the ground and through the air.
Despite the fact that the Browns have one of the most deadly passing attacks, look for the team to do more work on the ground this year then they did in 2002. Davis is a firm believer in the run, and it showed in the final weeks of the season, when William Green was over his injuries, Davis constantly fed him the ball and it proved to be the difference maker. Last year, by halftime the defense had dug the team into a hole on several occasions. Enter the spread offense. Davis let it hang out last year when the team was down and it remains to be seen if he will have do the same, but with a better run game, look for the team to use better clock management and not get into as many desperate situations. An eye watering stat is the fact that the Browns scored 30 points last year in the final minute of the fourth quarter, yet it's a stat the team doesn't want to repeat.
Well its pick your poison in the passing game, Johnson and Morgan are a solid combo, along with Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis, who could start on most clubs. Probably the most depthful group in the league, coupled with good receiving backs and a solid quarterback in Kelly Holcomb, the teams passing attack is basically bulletproof. Running Back William Green ended the season with a bang and he should have a solid year, barring any injuries which plagued him early on last season. The team has great depth as well; Jamel White and Lee Suggs are very capable backups.
The Browns still need have questions on the offensive line. Ross Verba and Ryan Tucker are solid at tackle, but both have had injury riddled careers thus far. Jeff Faine is a future pro bowler but still has a lot to learn as a rookie starter at center. The guards, Shaun O' Hara and Barry Stokes are only average run blockers and the line as a whole isn't ideal for a team that wants to establish it self on the ground. Another issue is the inability of the tight ends to be effective in the passing game. Mark Campbell was dealt for a draft pick leaving Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea as the remaining tight ends. Both Heiden and Shea have been effective blockers their whole career but haven't made much of an impact as receivers.
New defensive coordinator Dave Campo has made it a point that he wants more speed on defense. This was the sole reason to the hacking of the 3 starting linebackers Dwayne Rudd, Jamir Miller and Earl Holmes. Starters Andra Davis, Kevin Bentley and Ben Taylor along with draft pick Chaun Thompson, do bring a considerable amount of speed to the table and should help the team out in coverage situations. Expect Campo to use them on the blitz as well, because the team struggles to get a consistent pass rush, the speedy backers could add much needed help if they prove effective.
Theres not many on this defense but the biggest strength is the safety play. Free safety Earl Little and strong safety Robert Griffith are very solid veterans that help limit the big play ability of opposing receivers. Griffith is a consistent force in the box and he helps out a great deal against the run. The pass defense in general is pretty good, ranking 15th in total pass defense last season and 10th in interceptions despite having virtually no pass rush. The defense does a decent job in the red zone as well.
Really where do you start? The defensive line has two big underachievers in Gerald Warren and Courtney Brown, who so far have been injury prone draft bust. Brown has had a pretty good off-season and has won the confidence of coach Butch Davis who has praised him several times the past few weeks. Warren is a different story, his uninspiring offseason is apparent in the fact he is yet to record a tackle in the preseason, despite playing in both games. It's still doubtful these two can stay healthy and step up to improve a terrible rush defense. Also, something has to be done about a better pass rush. The Browns ranked 27th in sacks last year and didn't make any changes along the defensive line to add better pass rusher or performer in general. The linebackers are athletic but lack starting experience. Alot will be asked of them this season and they will make their fair share of mistakes. Look for the lions to take advantage of this aspect.
This is an area the team is very good in. Place kicker Phil Dawson proved to be reliable last season, especially from long range, scoring over 100 points for the first time in his career. Chris Gardocki is a solid punter as well. He does a great job pinning opposing teams deep inside their own territory, having 27 punts inside the 20 last year. Dennis Northcutt is an exceptional returner, especially on punts, where he averaged 14.7 yards a return last year, while also scoring two touchdowns. Andre Davis does a good job on kick returns as well, last season he averaged 21.4 yards and also scored a touchdown. The coverage teams aren't anything special but they get the job done.