Thoughts on the Browns pre camp: part two – what to expect from this year’s camp

Another year, another coach and a lot of misplaced hope which can only mean one thing, that’s training camp time. Camp kicks off in Berea at 9.30 today. There lots of new but the majority of the team that went 4-12 last year remains intact except for the noticeable absences of D’Qwell Jackson and TJ Ward who have moved onto pastures new. Some of the new faces include Karlos Dansby from the Arizona Cardinals and Ohio born Donte Whitner who arrives from 49ers along with this year’s crop of rookies (more on them later). This will also be the new regime’s first year with the hard-nosed Mike Pettine bringing in a version of Rex Ryan’s defence from Buffalo where it had 57 sacks where it was good for 2nd in the NFL. There will also be a new offensive under Kyle Shanahan who is a versatile Coordinator, having worked with a variety of QBs from Matt Schaub and Robert Griffin III.

The main things you want to see in camp are the rookies and the key battles. This year’s crop of rookies are Justin Gilbert (8th overall), Johnny Manziel (22nd overall), Joel Bitonio (35th overall), Christian Kirksey (71st  overall) and Pierre Desir (127th overall) with the most notable undrafted free agents being Connor Shaw and Isaiah Crowell. Out of the rookies Justin Gilbert and Joel Bitonio are the only ones likely to be starting this year. Former Gamecock QB Connor Shaw could be a surprise inclusion to the final roster if he performs better than Tyler Thigpen while Isaiah Crowell could also make the roster ahead of Dion Lewis or Edwin Baker. All the other rookies will make the final roster but probably won’t start barring injury.

Ben Tate Terrance West

Terrance West [no. 20] is battling with Ben Tate [no.44] for the starting job

Going into camp into camp the main battles are at Running Back, Right Guard and Right Corner back. At RB Ben Tate was brought in from Houston to be the presumptive starter but a strong showing from Towson rookie Terrance West has led to HC Mike Pettine to call it “our best completion” and for him to say he “really like him [Terrance West]”. A recent failed conditioning test would be forgotten about with a strong camp performance. Behind the front two there is also a battle between Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis and Isaiah Crowell to see which two make the roster. Baker was a pickup from the Chargers practise squad last year and performed well in the last three games gaining 171 yards. Lewis had a strong camp last year and was expected to backup Trent Richardson before a broken leg in a preseason game ended his season. Crowell is a rookie who dismissed from Georgia for the field issues and dominated at a lower level at Alabama State. Crowell has plenty of talent and some reckon he could be the steal of this draft if he can focus and leave the off the field issues behind him. Although talented he will likely end up on the practise squad for this year at least, that’s if no one else decides to pick him up.

With rookie Joel Bitonio expected to slot in between All-Pros Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, there will a strong completion for the guard spot. The main contenders are John Greco and Jason Pinkston with Paul McQuinst and Garrett Gilkey having a long shot as well. It’s a tough one to call as Greco started all 16 games last year with 14 at LG and 2 at RG while Pinkston who is a better fit has battled with injuries the last two years after starting all 16 games his rookie season and only playing in three games last year due to a high ankle sprain. If Pinkston can prove he can stay healthy this is his job to lose but Greco may bend up outlasting him.

Buster Skrine Justin Gilbert

Buster Skrine [no. 22] is trying to defend his job against 1st round pick Justin Gilbert [no.21]

At RCB, it will be a battle between 1st round pick Justin Gilbert and incumbent Buster Skrine. Both are tremendous athletes with Skrine arguably the fastest player on the team while Gilbert has great hands and size for and is no slouch either with a 4.37 40 at the combine. While Skrine has repeatedly said he wants to play outside he plays better when inside in the slot with Pro Football Focus ranking him as one the best in slot coverage and this helps overcome concerns about his height as well. Gilbert meanwhile will probably start opposite All-Pro Joe Haden and will fit well in Mike Pettine’s man coverage scheme but may struggle as he will plenty of targets as the QBs try to avoid Joe Haden.

There are some smaller battles at WR and QB too with the Hoyer vs. Manziel stealing all the headlines here despite the fact that the other QB between Tyler Thigpin and Connor Shaw is much closer and interesting. Hoyer is “the guy” until Manziel or anyone else proves otherwise and most likely will be under centre entering week one in Pittsburgh with Manziel. Many reason but the main are experience, Hoyer’s connection with Cameron and the fact that he is a fan favourite being from Cleveland. With the other two battling for QB3 it’s a case of Experience vs Potential as Thigpin with several years of NFL experience faces of against rookie Connor Shaw. Thigpin is average in most areas without excelling in any while Shaw is a smart QB and is mobile enough to extend drives with his legs and only threw one INT last year at South Carolina to twenty four TDs. Shanahan did keep the experienced Rex Grossman on as third string QB during his three seasons to help rookies Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins but with Brian Hoyer around for experience he’ll probably opt for Connor Shaw.

At WR it seems the Browns are set to go, Josh Gordon or not, with Miles Austin and Nate Burleson to start outside and with Andrew Hawkins in the slot. If Gordon is available, Austin will move over to WR2 while Burleson drops to the bench.

Brownies to watch:

garrett gilkey

Garrett Gilkey, a sixth round pick out of Chadron State last year Gilkey plays with a mean streak and never stops until the whistle goes. Expect him to make an impression on coaches and to get in a few scuffles with the defence.

John Hughes Billy Winn

John Hughes and Billy Winn, the backup DEs could potentially steal a lot of playing time from Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin with Rubin in particular under pressure.

jabaal sheard

Jabaal Sheard, Sheard has seen his sack total decrease every year since his rookie year but that should change this year as he plays a hybrid DE/OLB role and won’t be asked to drop back into coverage in Mike Pettine’s.

Leon McFaddenAaron Berry

Leon McFadden/Aaron Berry – both of these guys are interesting cases. McFadden was a third round only last year but is under pressure to justify his roster spot with two new rookies coming this year while Berry is playing for the first time in a year after missing all of last year due to an ACL tear and has prior experience playing under Mike Pettine in New York.

Cleve Browns vs. Buffalo Bills Green Bay Packers Mini Camp

Travis Benjamin/Charles Johnson – Both WRs are explosive athletes when healthy but both suffered ACL tears last season which derail their seasons. Both could make the roster if the show they are as explosive as they once were.

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Thoughts on Browns heading into training camp: part one – Reviewing last year’s false hope

Training camp is only a few days away and the long wait for meaningful football is nearly over. Coming into this year, I feel more confident as do a lot of Browns fans than last year and now before this year’s camp starts I want to look back at how I felt going into last year. The real kicker looking back now was about the sophomore trio of Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon who I felt could ignite the offense and that they would thrive in Norv Turner’s system similar to the way Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin did as they lead the Cowboy’s to three Superbowls when Norv Turner was the Offensive Coordinator. The combo of the power run game and deep play Air Coryell pass scheme played to their strengths and they were bound to have a big year, right? I also thought we were going to see two real dependable options at wide receiver in Greg Little and and Davone Bess with a possible breakout season for Jordan Cameron in first season as a starter. I also expected the defence to be a top10 unit under new Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton. Expectations for individual defensive players were mixed, I felt Joe Haden might finally get the recognition he deserved and go to the Probowl while I expected Tashaun Gipson to struggle in his first season as a starter and Craig Robertson to make an immediate impact in his. With such a talented roster and good coaching I felt we might even be able to make a playoff push.

Emmitt Smithaikmanirvin

Trent Richardsonwpid-images.jpegwpid-josh-gordon-loose-ends.jpg

 

Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon were hoping to emulate the triplets of the 1990’s Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin

Some of this happened (Gordon and Cameron turned into stars and the defence was top 10) but most fell flat on their face in typical Browns fashion. When he was on the pitch, Brandon Weeden stunk the joint up bar one game against where he came into relieve an injured Brian Hoyer against Buffalo. Trent Richardson was shipped off to Indy in a blockbuster trade in exchange for a first round pick before anyone realised how bad his injuries were and his struggles adjusting to the NFL were i.e. his lack of decisiveness and struggling to hit the hole. Devone Bess was a major disappointment as he was supposed to be a veteran third down receiver who the Browns could rely on but his season was marred by inconsistency and his season ended with a trip to rehab in Florida. Before it all went down the toilet he did pull off this memborable move against the ravens to go for a Touchdown.

Meanwhile with Greg Little it turned out to be more of the same, lack of game changing pace, not utilizing his massive bosy and dropping an NFL leading number of passes. As for the predictions about Gipson and Robertson? Right roles, wrong persons. Gipson had an outstanding season with 5 INTs which was good for 5th best in the NFL while Robertson struggled and often looked lost on plays. At least I managed to predict Joe Haden going to the Probowl.

gipsonrobertson

 

Gipson had a good year while Robertson struggled

Those thoughts about a playoff push? Up until week 5 it was looking good with the Browns sitting at 3-2 after win over Cincinnati, Minnesota and Buffalo lead by local hero and St. Ignatius product Brian Hoyer. Then in one play against the Bills the hopes disappeared with Hoyer suffering an ACL tear in his knee. From there the Browns went on to lose 10 of their last 11 games which got first year Head Coach Rob Chudzinski fired along with the Front office of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi. It left Browns fans saying, it surely can’t be that bad again this year, can it? Only for them to realize that this is the Browns after all.

The LeBron Special

This usually is a football blog but if there is one guy who transcends NFL and all pro sports, it’s LeBron James. The single best player to play in NBA without a doubt, James was a somewhat polarizing figure during period in Miami after teaming up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and scorning Cleveland in the process. After the decision to have the Decision tv special and not realizing the fallout, James lost a lot of respect because of the way he handled everything.

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LeBron with Jim Gray four years on the Decision

Now four years later, James has a decision to make again. After four years and two titles in Miami, James has tested the waters again after opting out the final year of his contract. The King has taken his time and considered all of options although realistically it had to be Miami or Cleveland as any legacy LeBron wants to leave behind would be destroyed by joining a third team. At first many assumed that it would be to simply resign and get a longer contract with the Heat but the longer we heard nothing from James’ camp the more likely seems that LeBron isn’t resign as why would he delay if he returning.

Then yesterday the Cavs made themselves available by trading away Jarrett Jack, Sergey Kaserev, Tyler Zeller and a first round pick for cap space to fit a max contract. Once the news broke, Cleveland just lost it mind, for those who think Cleveland hasn’t bought into the idea of LeBron returning again couldn’t be more wrong. All day on Cleveland sports radio it’s been a case of not if but when he returns. The perfect Cinderella story has been painted, the return of the prodigal son to his hometown team after leaving. To those who think that the Cleveland fans wouldn’t welcome him back and that they all burned their jerseys, you couldn’t be more wrong. It was an absolutely tiny minority that burned jerseys and that wouldn’t welcome him back. Cleveland isn’t desperate for LeBron but rather ready. The balls in LeBron’s court now.

Power Ranking Starting QBs Part 3

We’re down to the final ten as we reach Part three of ranking the starting QBs in the NFL (10-1). Part one is available here and part two here
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10. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)

The first pick in the 2011 draft and the heir to Peyton Manning’s throne in Indianapolis has lived up to expectations and lead the Colts to the playoffs in his first two years in the league. Hyped up as once in a generation prospect coming out of Stanford he has rejuvenated a Colts team that went 2-14 the previous year and threw 23 TDs and rushed for another 5. His numbers continued to improve as he halved the number of interceptions he threw and lead the league in 4th quarter comebacks. Luck is a true leader and this was highlighted in the Colts playoff win against the Chiefs where Luck led them from 28 points down to win 45-44. The Colts truly were “Lucky” that they landed him back in 2011.

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9. Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)

A criminally underrated QB who is in the press for any little mistake he makes, Romo simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves as a Franchise QB. So often you hear guys on ESPN, particularly Skip Bayless and on others on social media lambast him for his 4th quarter performance and call him a choker and conveniently leave out the fact that he has lead the most game winning drives over the last 4 years. To have Cowboy fans calling for Jerry Jones to draft Johnny Manziel when the have a QB when they have Tony Romo is just plain disrespectful.
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8. Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears)

Jay Cutler is a talented QB who struggled a bit in recent years with injuries mainly due to the fact he is the most sacked QB over the last 5 years although his O-Line did improve a lot with Free Agent Jerome Bushrod and Rookies. Although Cutler hasn’t fully maximized his physical talents, he still remains a game changer as illustrated with the $100m contract gave him at the start of last season.
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7. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

A two time Superbowl winner with the Steelers, Roethlisberger may have quietly had the best career of the 2004 draft class and despite owing a lot to the dominant defenses. A strong presence under center at 6ft 5in and with enough movement to be able to escape the pocket and extend a play, Roethlisberger looks the kind of QB a coach describes when he talks of his perfect QB. The only thing stopping him from being higher on this list is the fact he has only thrown 30+once in his career and the problems he had adjusting to Todd Haley’s scheme last year.
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6. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)

The third pick back in 2008 has lived to his billings as Atlanta’s franchise cornerstone as it moved on from the Michael Vick scandal but remains criminally underrated. Ryan has been consistently good as well, having thrown for atleast 26 TDs in each of the last four years and the only who can top that record is Drew Brees. Ryan will be hoping to rebound from a rough year last year in which his leading receiver, Left Tackle and Running Back were all injured (Julio Jones, Sam Baker and Steven Jackson) and return to NFC Championship game and the 13-3 of two years ago.
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5. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

Although not up to his usual Hall Of Fame standards, Brady still played to a high level in 2013 leading the Patriots to the AFC Championship game against the Broncos. This was done without his top four receivers from the previous season for most of the season (Wes Welker(Free Agency), Rob Gronkowski(injury), Aaron Hernandez(Arrested) and Danny Woodhead(Free Agency)). With a supporting cast of Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and Kendrall Tompkins and along with the legendary Bill Bilichick, the Patriots earned their way to a 12-4 record and dominated the AFC East once again. The talk this off-season about Brady no longer being a top 5 QB is ridiculous premature given all New England’s injury woes last season and he should it store for a strong rebound season with such a large chip in his shoulder.
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4. Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)

After a rough 2012 and finally rid of Norv Turner’s pass happy, River rebounded right back to his usual Probowl self throwing 31 TDs in first year in Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt scheme and leading the Chargers to the playoffs. There they upset the Bengals in the first round before falling to Broncos in second round. This was all with rookie Keenan Allen and aging HOF TE Antonio Gates as his main receivers. I would expect Rivers to regress slightly this year but he’ll still remain a dominant QB for some time to come.
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3. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)

A San Diego reject, Brees has managed to resurrect his career in New Orleans and has turned into a sure Hall Of Gamer. Much of this has to do with the almost telepathic connection between Brees and HC Sean Payton, who after all these years together are always on the same page. Brees who despite the concerns about his coming into the NFL has thrived and is the master of the spread offense down in the big Easy, using to win a Superbowl back in 2011. Although not quite as dominant anymore, Drew Brees still is good enough to earn the number 3 on this list.
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2. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)

Despite only playing only 9 games last year, Rodgers showed why he was so valuable to Green Bay. After Rodgers got injured in week 9 vs Chicago the Packers went from elite to one of the league’s worst going 2-5-1 until Rodgers returned in week 17 and lead the Packers to a win and the division title. This is all while throwing 17 TDs in 8 games and with two of his best receivers in James Jones and Randall Cobb gone for the year due to injury and with TE Jermicheal Finley struggling with concussions.
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1. Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)

I don’t think there is much debate here, with Manning breaking the record for TD passes and claiming a fourth NFL MVP trophy. Manning just continues to do what he does year after year, Manning dominates in a way in which no other QB comes close, homework and presnap reads/audibles including the famous “Omaha” call through last year’s playoff run. Manning is somehow improving with age as he had his best season yet despite not having the same arm strength after his neck surgery. For those who say he is a choker and point to this year’s Superbowl as example, I would say that if you went back and looked at the tape you’d find that it was the matchup of Seattle Offense on Denver’s defense that made the difference, with the Broncos just not able to get a stop.

If you disagree with how anyone ranked, please leave comment below

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