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Team checklist: Cleveland Browns

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With the lockout possibly less than two weeks from ending (if you’re “borderline insane”) or less than three weeks from ending (if you’re a borderline genius), I’d better get more of these space-filling “checklists” finished, or I could be borderline unemployed.

I’ve got the AFC North and the NFC North.  I’ve done one to date.  It’s time for No. 2.

And then for my second team checklist.

With the Browns yet again in the midst of an overhaul, let’s consider the top five things on which they should be focusing:

1.  Figure out the quarterback depth chart.

This is about much more than finding a starter.  This is about first determining which quarterbacks will be on the roster, and then which will be the starter, the backup, and the emergency option.

Jake Delhomme, whom I continue to believe Jon Gruden recommended to Mike Holmgren given the way Delhomme played against Gruden’s Bucs, surely will be gone.  Seneca Wallace could be back, given his familiarity with the West Coast offense that will be embraced under new coach Pat Shurmur.  Colt McCoy expects to be the starter.

The real question for Holmgren, Shurmur, and company is whether they’re content to groom McCoy on the fly, or whether they’re interested in trying to nudge McCoy to the back burner while a guy like, for example, Matt Hasselbeck is brought in to run the offense for a year or two.  This year’s crop of available veteran quarterback consists of plenty of guys with plenty more experience than McCoy.

2.  Get help for Peyton Hillis.

Madden curse notwithstanding, Hillis can’t continue to churn out 330-plus touches per year without snapping, crackling, and/or popping.  Last year, Hillis fell into the workhorse role after second-round pick Montario Hardesty suffered a season-ending knee injury during his preseason debut.  Arriving in October via trade that sent Jerome Harrison to Philly, Mike Bell gained only 71 yards on 31 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per attempt.

This year, whether it’s Hardesty or Bell or a free agent or someone else, the Browns need to lighten the load for Hillis with quality players who can move the chains when Hillis is catching his breath.

Several intriguing options are available, especially with Tiki Barber making a comeback and Reggie Bush likely to be available.  Getting a player with a little sizzle attached to his name could have other benefits for a city that, when it comes to its pro football team, hasn’t seen much sizzle since the Cuyahoga smoldered.

3.  Load up on 4-3 defenders.

Under Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, the Browns acquired plenty of 3-4 defensive players.  With Shurmur hiring Dick Jauron to run the defense, the 4-3 is back — and the Browns consequently need guys in the front seven who have the skills best suited for that attack.

Having linebackers with 4-3 experience like Scott Fujita helps.  Rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard will help the team make the transition on the defensive line.  The Browns need some veteran linemen who can perform in the 4-3.  Defensive end Robaire Smith, who played in that front with the Titans, is due to become an unrestricted free agent.  He could provide some continuity and leadership to an otherwise young unit.

Other possibilities are Pat Williams, Tommie Harris, and Brandon Mebane, who was drafted by the Seahawks when Holmgren was the coach — and who will be an unrestricted free agent if the threshold moves back to four years.

On the outside, defensive end Ray Edwards could be an intriguing option.  But he doesn’t have the same name recognition, or ability, as a certain high-profile free agent defensive end whom Holmgren lured to Lambeau in 1993, his second year with the Packers.

Then again, who does?

4.  Get a quality veteran receiver.

The Browns have some young wideouts with potential, including Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and rookie Greg Little.  And the Browns resisted (perhaps wisely) taking a chance on Julio Jones with the sixth pick in the 2011 draft, opting instead to accept a peck of picks from the Falcons instead.

They could use a veteran presence — preferably with some speed — to help stretch the field and open up the many underneath routes of the West Coast offense.

Plenty of wideouts will be available this year; the question becomes fixing the right price and accepting the diva factor.  If he’s cut by the Vikings, Bernard Berrian could help pull safeties deep, likely at an affordable contract.  His teammate, Sidney Rice, could be an even better option, but he’s a luxury that the Browns may not be able to justify until they have a quarterback who can get the most out of him.

Regardless of what the Browns do, here’s hoping that they realize Josh Cribbs is best used as a return man and a Wildcat option, not as a full-time receiver.

5.  Improve the other half of the secondary.

The Browns are in very good shape as to 50 percent of their all-rookie secondary:  cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward.  They now need a complement for both players.

For several years, the possibility of sliding Sheldon Brown to free safety has been considered, and if a quality corner could be acquired in free agency, perhaps it’s time for Brown to make the move.

Unfortunately, there won’t be a glut of quality cornerbacks available in free agency.  Though the Browns applied a second-round tender to Eric Wright, he’ll be unrestricted if the new labor deal reduces the minimum back to four years.  Then again, they may not want Wright back in the starting lineup, given that he received death threats last year after being burned more often than a redheaded roofer.

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25 Responses to “Team checklist: Cleveland Browns”
  1. citizenstrange says: Jun 17, 2011 1:03 PM

    No joke because this is a serious medical condition that I would not wish on anybody but …..

    Did the Browns ever get past what seemed like an epidemic of staph infections?

    I may be remembering it wrong but it seemed like a very serious problem they had with it.

    Is everything OK now? Did they ever find out what was causing it to be so bad?

  2. hobartbaker says: Jun 17, 2011 1:06 PM

    I think Browns are players (second round bid) for Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.

  3. trbowman says: Jun 17, 2011 1:14 PM

    “Get help for Peyton Hillis.”

    I knew that was going to be in here, and I came in to say that Montario Hardesty will be fine.

  4. billygoat says: Jun 17, 2011 1:14 PM

    Step one – Fire everbody except Peyton Hillis.
    Step two – Disinfect all team facilities.
    Step three – Start over.

  5. bubbabart says: Jun 17, 2011 1:23 PM

    I’m 62…what are the odds I see my beloved Browns in the Super Bowl before I die…not good!

  6. supashug says: Jun 17, 2011 1:40 PM

    Bubba, unless you have your body frozen and come back in the next milenium the Browns will not be in the superbowl in your lifetime, maybe not even playoffs

    playoffs!!!????

  7. svallen says: Jun 17, 2011 1:40 PM

    Found this – list of free agents for the Browns. Who is the biggest Brown free agent that is a MUST sign, if any of them?

    http://www.spotrac.com/free-agents/nfl/cleveland-browns/

  8. therevdewitt says: Jun 17, 2011 1:53 PM

    One by one:

    Yes, the staph infection thing is over.

    2nd Round for Pryor? No thank you.

    If Hardesty can stay healthy, he’ll be good. He’s got skills and soft hands, so he fits the system. But it’s a big IF on the health. He got injured as a volunteer a couple times too.

    Step One: Express a narrow uninformed opinion.
    Step Two: Go away.

    Bubba – You’re 62. If you think you can make it to 72, I’ll lay money you see the Brown finally go get the ‘ship. (Which would be our 9th national championship)

    I’m gonna skip supashug’s nonsense.

    Svallen – Biggest one to me is Phil Dawson.

  9. gjshihadeh says: Jun 17, 2011 2:03 PM

    Sign Asomough to lock up the secondary and pick up Rice to finally get that deep threat we have been looking for. I’m not sure about Hardesty being healthy, and another option at RB is definitely needed. The Browns can put things together and have a good year. Wait and watch…

  10. oldbrowndawg says: Jun 17, 2011 2:19 PM

    Remember that you read this here: The Browns receivers are going to thrive in the WCO scheme and surprise a lot of people, hopefully first and foremost Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Key to Browns 2011 season is offense:

    Hardesty needs to come back and stay health
    Receivers need to step up and thrive on YAC
    McCoy needs to learn from S. Wallace and thrive
    Run the ball early (September); transition to short
    passing game & YAC in October and November;
    and pound the rock hard in December against
    Ravens’ and Steelers’ aging defenses.

    8-8 would be a good season. 9-7 would be awesome. Continue to build for 2013.

  11. nickwillis99 says: Jun 17, 2011 2:22 PM

    If Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty are both healthy, then the Browns will have the meanest, hardest-hitting backfield in the NFL. Scary to think about for those poor DB’s.

    Unfortuntely, Montario Hardesty only had 1 healthy year in college and things aren’t looking any better. I say the Brownies cut Mike Bell, take a chance on an undrafted rookie, and keep their fingers crossed for Montario.

  12. Deb says: Jun 17, 2011 2:24 PM

    “Get help for Peyton Hillis.” I’d be happy to help him … oh, guess we’re talking about football here. Never mind ;)

    McCoy did a fine job leading the offense last season and winning the respect of his team. Benching him now in favor of a seasoned vet like Hasselbeck would only undermine his confidence. And for what? Theoretically, he should continue improving the more he plays. If he needs backup, Wallace can ably provide it. The future is now–why delay it by making McCoy take a step backward?

  13. pmars64 says: Jun 17, 2011 2:28 PM

    As a Browns fan, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team struggle this year then ship two, maybe three 1st round picks (they have two next year) to move up (if they don’t have the first pick, which they might – Scout.com thinks they will) and draft Andrew Luck. All the nice things being said about McCoy is public-speak to me. He’s a good kid, hard-working, smart, commands respect among his teammates and will have a good, long career as a back-up. He’s not big enough and his arm isn’t strong enough. Until the Browns find that franchise QB, they’ll always be looking up in the standings at Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

  14. ludwig1029 says: Jun 17, 2011 2:46 PM

    The browns aren’t that far from being a good team. You put them in the NFC west and they could very well be 9-7. Also I think hardesty will be a good back up to hillis but wouldnt Bush be a perfect change of pace back for him. Unlikely to happen but still an idea

  15. lbcoach34 says: Jun 17, 2011 2:52 PM

    How can there be nothing on the O-line including the TEs???

    Both G positions need strengthening, and the RT spot is up for grabs is the rookie can knock off oft-injured Pashos…the TEs look very very strong and very very athletic if Jordan Cameron is tough enough to play football like a football player who happens to be good at basketball…add FB Marecic to the grouping and you have the strength of the team

  16. hikohadon says: Jun 17, 2011 3:04 PM

    Here’s my checklist for the Browns to have a chance this year: Get the lockout over with as soon as possible.

    New Coach (who is also the new OC), new D Coordinator, new Offensive System, new Defensive System, young QB, lots of rookies or 2nd year players at key positions… hard to think of a team that will be hurt more by a lack of an offseason.

  17. buckeyefan1026 says: Jun 17, 2011 3:06 PM

    Honestly, I could see the browns record being from 6-10 to 10-6. Id say that is the floor/ceiling for them. I definitely lean towards a 7 win season since our off and def is transitioning to new schemes, but there is alot of talent on this browns team, good chemistry building, and they have a desire to win. With that said, our schedule is on the lighter side this year.

  18. schmitty2 says: Jun 17, 2011 3:42 PM

    oldbrowndawg says:
    Jun 17, 2011 2:19 PM
    Remember that you read this here: The Browns receivers are going to thrive in the WCO scheme and surprise a lot of people, hopefully first and foremost Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Key to Browns 2011 season is offense:

    Hardesty needs to come back and stay health
    Receivers need to step up and thrive on YAC
    McCoy needs to learn from S. Wallace and thrive
    Run the ball early (September); transition to short
    passing game & YAC in October and November;
    and pound the rock hard in December against
    Ravens’ and Steelers’ aging defenses.

    8-8 would be a good season. 9-7 would be awesome. Continue to build for 2013.

    Hate to tell you oldbrowndog but being a Ram’s fan and Shurmur was our OC last year dont bet on your WR’s thriving. Get used to A LOT of 3-4 yard dump off passes

  19. Magnakai Haaskivi says: Jun 17, 2011 4:08 PM

    I’ve always thought the staph infection thing was more a Cleveland Clinic problem that a Cleveland Browns problem, and the Browns took it on the chin to help out their corporate sponsor. Kellen Winslow and Lecharles Bentley – the two highest profile infections, and the first two – had little to no contact with the Browns compound (Winslow was injured off-site and treated at the Clinic, Bentley had no open wound at the Browns facility and developed staph after sitting in the Clinic for several weeks).

    Lots of the other players had infections AFTER surgeries, or – like Brian Russell’s – had a different strand that wasn’t anywhere near as debilitating.

  20. brownsdawg1984 says: Jun 17, 2011 4:35 PM

    @therevdewitt – just to remind you, Phil Dawson was Franchise tagged just before the lockout, so he’s not going anywhere for now.

  21. erikinhell says: Jun 17, 2011 4:36 PM

    schmitty2 says:
    Jun 17, 2011 3:42 PM
    Get used to A LOT of 3-4 yard dump off passes
    =================================
    I don’t care, as long as they keep the chains moving. I’d rather they be boring and win than exciting and lose.

    The WCO is built on short, accurate passes to WRs, TEs, and RBs out of the backfield. This system is supposed to confuse defenses by not following a pattern on who will get the ball. This eventually opens up plays for large gains. Seeing as we have the guy that ran the WCO for one of the most successful franchises of the 80s for a team president, I am hopefull the Browns can work out the kinks this year, and be on the path to become a consistant winning team soon.

  22. lbcoach34 says: Jun 17, 2011 4:36 PM

    Oh yeah – we have one of the best punters in the NFL year in year out – we always have the punter position locked down

  23. 4512dawg4512 says: Jun 17, 2011 5:01 PM

    I’m excited to see Hardesty split carries with Hillis this year.

    Browns should sign T.O to a two year deal, he’d stretch the field and teach Gregg Little how to run good routes

  24. fancyleague says: Jun 17, 2011 10:19 PM

    6. Move to Los Angeles.

  25. marjax says: Jun 18, 2011 4:05 PM

    Couple things I disagree about this list:

    As for RBs, I think they’re set with Hillis and Hardesty. Unless someone gets injured, I don’t see them adding a big name veteran free agent into the mix. I think they’re more content to sign an undrafted rookie as a change of pace/scatback kind of option. A Darren Sproles type to trio with the two big bruisers.

    As for the 4-3 defense, yes we need to add 4-3 guys, but not as many as you made it out to be. Fujita and Chris Gocong were both 4-3 guys when they came in (Saints and Eagles). D’Qwell Jackson has long been talked about as a misfit in the 3-4, and would thrive more in a 4-3 system. So, our LBs are set. And with the first two draft picks this year, we only need to add a free agent DE. We have one of the best nose tackles in the league in Ahtyba Rubin, and I’m excited to see him and Phil Taylor, two big ol run stuffers in the middle of the line. I don’t think we’ll be adding any big name interior linemen, but we definitely do need a bookend to Jabaal Sheard. We definitely need to improve the depth, but we’ve got a good starting core to build around.

    I don’t see us adding a big name WR either. I’m not even sure we’ll add any free agents at WR. We have so many young guys, and we really just need to find out if they’ve got what it takes to make it in this league. Little sounds like he could be our #1 receiver and be a great YAC threat. Massaquoi has shown flashes, but still waiting on him to turn the corner; Robiskie has shown even less and has farther to go in my opinion. And we still need to get Carlton Mitchell on the field. Bringing in a veteran will only take snaps away from these young guys, and I’d rather sit through a less stellar offense for a year to figure out who we wanna keep and who’s not gonna work out — and it’s a good year to do it, cuz we’ll be making the same evaluation for McCoy.

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