"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we're just excited that football is back. If the NFL Lockout offered one benefit, it is that it made the intensity of training camp, free agency, and trades all occurring in the same week a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One of the big stories of this year's training camp would be how the players would respond to new head coach Pat Shurmur. There were some issues in the old regime with Eric Mangini. I think players grew to respect him over time, but I never got the impression that the players would be shedding a lot of tears if someone else was brought in. Shurmur is doing the right things by making this his team. The West Coast Offense. A 4-3 defensive scheme. Ridding the roster of all of Mangini's Jets. Eliminating the constant crowd noise and motivational words painted on the field from training camp. Shurmur sounds like a normal, down-to-earth guy, and the respect the players will have in him will be bolstered by the fact that he is Mike Holmgren's guy. Don't undermine the coach, because there's still an intimidating presence above him.
If you haven't read Shurmur's first press conference transcript from a training camp session, go on and do so. He talked about several players, including free agent signings Brandon Jackson and Usama Young. He likes what Jackson brings to the table in terms of experience and feels that he will be very familiar with the terminology used in the West Coast Offense. He's a guy that won't need to be taught a lot and could contribute right away. Remember, Montario Hardesty is far from a sure bet of staying healthy given his history. If he goes down again, Jackson is a better alternative than Mike Bell was because he is good at catching the ball out of the backfield, something that backs in the West Coast Offense need to do.
When Shurmur was asked about Young competing for a starting safety spot, here is what he had to say: "Yeah, we think so. He’s another one of those guys whose had some production. He really is a tough guy and I know he played good ball down there in New Orleans. We feel good about what he might bring to our secondary."
Does that sound like an glowing review on Young? It's certainly not the glowing review he gave defensive end Jayme Mitchell, saying he thinks he is a "terrific pass rusher." Maybe Shurmur will hold an open competition between Young and Mike Adams. Personally, I'd be really interested in seeing what seventh-round pick Eric Hagg can do. In no way am I saying he'll start, but it just doesn't seem right that Young will come in and win the job by default after being a backup most of his career.
You might not be overwhelmed by the moves the Browns have made in free agency. I admit, it is tough to watch a team like the Eagles acquire a bunch of star cornerbacks or the Jets add receiver Plaxico Burress. The moves that Cleveland has made though speaks volumes in the confidence that our front office has in the players on the roster. For as high as the front office has been on Jayme Mitchell, I think they are even more excited about him than we can even imagine. Linebacker is a position they probably feel can be addressed next year in the draft. They didn't exactly fill their void at safety, but having three out of four superb starters isn't too bad. Guys like Brodrick Bunkley and John Greco are necessities if you are going to be a contending team. Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor aren't going to play every snap. Both offensive guards aren't going to start all 16 games without getting dinged up.
Right now, the only thing I'm weary about is our special teams unit. If we don't put Joshua Cribbs back on kick coverage, consider that we have not re-signed Blake Costanzo or Nick Sorensen. Linebacker Jason Trusnik went to the Dolphins. I can't see T.J. Ward being our leading special teams player again; he's too valuable on defense in year two. Who does that leave? Ray Ventrone is the special teams ace right now. That creates some roster opportunities for the likes of Titus Brown, Eric Hagg, or DeAngelo Smith. It's also probably the best way that UDFA's can make a splash and earn a roster spot on the team.