The 2007-2008 season officially begins this Sunday for the Cleveland Browns, meaning it's about time for our season preview.
Cleveland Browns Season Preview - 2007-2008 Edition
Offensive Depth Chart
Defensive Depth Chart
QB: Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn RB: Jamal Lewis, Jason Wright, Jerome Harrison FB:Lawrence Vickers, Charles Ali WR1: Braylon Edwards, Travis Wilson
WR2: Joe Jurevicius, Tim Carter, Joshua Cribbs TE: Kellen Winslow, Steve Heiden, Darnell Dinkins LT: Joe Thomas, Nat Dorsey LG: Eric Steinbach, Lennie Friedman C: Hank Fraley RG: Seth McKinney, Isaac Sowells RT: Kevin Shaffer, Kelly Butler
LDE: Orpheus Roye, Shaun Smith NT: Ted Washington, Ethan Kelley RDE: Robaire Smith, Simon Fraser LOLB: Antwaan Peek, Chaun Thompson, Willie McGinest ILB: Andra Davis, Leon Williams ILB: D'Qwell Jackson, Kris Griffin ROLB: Kamerion Wimbley, David McMillan LCB: Eric Wright, Kenny Wright, Jereme Perry RCB: Leigh Bodden, Daven Holly, Brandon McDonald FS: Brodney Pool, Mike Adams SS: Sean Jones, Gary Baxter
Fresh off of a not-so competitive quarterback battle with Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye will enter this season as the Browns' starting quarterback. Frye clearly demonstrated that he was more comfortable with the offense than Anderson, and was more consistent in delivering the ball to our primary playmakers. The big question regarding Frye will be how well he's able to close out a game. Last year, Frye was known for making horrible decisions at the end of both halves of a game. Entering his third season though, chances are that Frye will be looking over his shoulder all season long because of one man: Brady Quinn.
The Browns gave up their first-round draft pick in 2008 to acquire Quinn, a highly rated quarterback from Notre Dame. Quinn was coached by Charlie Weis in college, where he had the benefit of playing a system that was comparable to one you may find in the NFL. Despite missing about two weeks of training camp, Quinn made an immediate impact in the preseason, seeming to give the Browns momentum every time he stepped onto the field. While we won't see Quinn on the field this year if Frye does well, a couple of losses in the first several weeks will certainly call for the change. Grade: C
Last year, I wasn't very optimistic about our defensive line, but everyone was excited that we had signed Ted Washington to plug the middle of the line. As the season progressed, our defensive line was still a major liability, because of our defensive end positions. Alvin McKinley was clearly better suited for a 4-3 defense, and the Browns were usually forced to start Simon Fraser in place of the injured Orpheus Roye. That, to go along with Washington's old age, contributed to the Browns having one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL. How did the Browns try to correct this issue in the offseason? By signing Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith.
Robaire comes over from the Tennessee Titans, where he will be a definite upgrade over McKinley, but not a powerhouse. Shaun is an interesting prospect in the sense that he was shoved down on the Bengals' depth chart before the Browns acquired him, and he will either playing defensive end or defensive tackle in substitution duty. The Browns are confident in the ability of both players, but these aren't the men that are going to bring this unit to the next level. The best that this group may be able to do is provide an "ok" effort on gameday rather than a "pitiful" effort. Grade: D+
If I had to go through another year of seeing Reuben Droughns get stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, I don't know what I would've done to myself. A year after Droughns ran for over 1,000 yards, he went down the tank, along with our offensive line, creating a chain reaction on poor play on our entire offense for most of the season. Due to a few injuries with Droughns, we did get a glimpse at backup running back Jason Wright. Wright didn't show anything explosive, but he proved he could provide a few secure carries to spell the starter. As far as this year goes, hopefully running back is a strength for the Browns.
Phil Savage went out and got the man that was once hated by many Browns fans: Jamal Lewis. Lewis is the same man who broke the single-game rushing record several years ago against Cleveland, a memory that I'd still like to be permanently zapped from my head. Lewis' production dropped off the past two seasons, but after surgery in the offseason, analysts around the league and people who have seen him in person believe that he's back to his old form. Lewis won't be a 1,500 yard back with the Browns, but if he's able to churn out those yards down near the goal line to cure some of our red zone issues, then everybody in the organization will be happy. As far as the depth goes though, it is still very meager. The fullback position is still up in the air, as we really don't know what we have in terms of talent. Grade: C+
In last year's draft, we were introduced to three new linebackers: Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson, and Leon Williams. With all three men entering their second seasons, they form part of what is the deepest position on the team. Wimbley was one of the most impressive defensive rookies in all of football last year, dipping his shoulder to over ten sacks. Wimbley has worked on his move in the offseason and is poised to get by an offensive tackle early and often on gamedays. In the middle of the pack, Jackson and Andra Davis combine for a slightly above average combination, although it's about time that Davis becomes the true leader of the defense with his gameplay. He's never been a bad player, but he hasn't been able to rise to that "elite" level, something that's needed to define the heart of the defense.
Perhaps the team's most important free agent defensive signing will be able to contribute to the combined success of the unit: Antwaan Peek. Getting a chance to start in favor of the injured Willie McGinest, Peek has been a perfect fit for the Browns after coming over from the Houston Texans in the offseason. Behind the linebackers are Williams and veteran Chaun Thompson, both of whom give Todd Grantham the option to mix-and-match his defensive schemes comfortably. Grade: B+
If other people in the league haven't heard of your receivers, then chances are you don't have very good depth on your team. After letting Dennis Northcutt free in the offseason, the Browns replaced him with veteran receiver Tim Carter. Carter did not record a single reception in the preseason, as the same type of injuries that have followed him throughout his career continued to show up. That may not be such a big issue, except for the fact that he's entering our season as our third receiver, behind Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius. There are no complaints about Edwards or Jurevicius, although the expectations are extremely high for the former first-round draft pick to produce this year. Travis Wilson and Joshua Cribbs are the only other hopes, with Cribbs seeming to have a better shot at contributing through gadget plays.
With a lack of depth at the receiver position, where could the Browns turn? The tight end position. Kellen Winslow will almost act as our third receiver this year and will probably line up on the field in many of the same ways that Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts does. When Winslow does split out, or even when he is in at tight end, the team still has the reliable Steve Heiden, a former starting tight end, ready to step in and fulfill his duties. Grade: C+
When you look at the final stats last season, it seems as though the secondary really didn't have that good of a year. I reality, the unit did an amazing job for being without a starting cornerback for most of the season. Leigh Bodden and Gay Baxter were both forced to miss significant playing time, often forcing the Browns to start someone such as Ralph Brown (are you kidding me?). There were some shining lights all season over the middle of the secondary though, being the combination of Sean Jones, Brodney Pool, and Brian Russell. Russell is no longer with the Browns, as the team expects Pool to raise his game to another level this year, something many fans seem to be "assuming" he will do.
Now, in regards to the cornerback position again, the Browns hope they got the steal of the draft by drafting Eric Wright in the second round. Wright was believed to be the best cornerback in the draft class by many people, but a somewhat controversial background lowered his ranking. Wright covered receivers well several times in the preseason, even when opposing veteran quarterbacks attempting to target him early. Last year brought out the emergence of Daven Holly, who will look to flourish in the nickel back role this year. A wildcard in the whole scenario could be how often Gary Baxter plays, who is returning from torn patellar tendons. Grade: B
Maybe I'm being slightly optimistic, but I sincerely believe that the Browns have finally solved the offensive line problems. Although we're not getting LeCharles Bentley back, at least to start the season, the combination of Eric Steinbach, Joe Thomas, and Seth McKinney reshaped over half of the offensive line during the offseason. If you include Kevin Shaffer's move to right tackle, then the only thing remaining of last year's line is basically at center with Hank Fraley. And, quite frankly, Fraley was our best offensive lineman last year.
The biggest improvement this year should be recognized in pass protection. Frye and Quinn are mobile quarterbacks, but not enough to the point where they are able to dodge defenders as soon as the ball is snapped to them. It is crucial that our quarterbacks have a pocket they can step into, and that's what the line provided throughout the preseason without Steinbach available. The run blocking isn't expected to be as strong, but when other elements of the game are fairly strong, it'll at least be better than the crap we saw last season. Grade: B
I didn't think that our special teams would be as strong this year without Dennis Northcutt at punt returner. After seeing that Cribbs is comfortable fielding punts, and the type of burst he's able to also get on punt returns, I believe he could have a better year than Northcutt even did during his stay in Cleveland. Punter Dave Zastudil could be an MVP this season, and that's not a bad thing because he has Pro Bowl material written all over him. If Zastudil is able to back opponents up consistently, that has a major impact on field position.
Phil Dawson is back for another year, but if he's not able to produce some more "clutch" kicks this year, some of the once loyal fans could finally be giving up on him. Overall, our special teams is extremely solid, including kick returns, punt returns, kicking duties, and coverage teams. Grade: A
How The Season Will Go
Pittsburgh - Win
Cincinnati - Loss
at Oakland - Win
Baltimore - Loss
at New England - Loss
Miami - Win
at St. Louis - Loss
Seattle - Loss
at Pittsburgh - Loss
at Baltimore - Win
Houston - Win
at Arizona - Win
at NY Jets - Loss
Buffalo - Win
at Cincinnati - Loss
San Francisco - Loss
AFC North 2007-2008
Predicting the Browns to win seven wins would seem laughable to fans from other teams around the league, but I'm sticking with it. The Browns have a fair combination of difficult teams and then a couple of "easier" games. I'm projecting that Frye will lead us to a 3-3 start, which will keep his job safe following the Bye Week though. Then, after a string of three losses, all of which represent the brutal point of our schedule, I expect Brady Quinn to make his debut with a shocking victory on the road against the Ravens. Then, Quinn will bring us back to .500, but inevitably end the season a game below that mark, providing for some high expectations heading into next season.
If you have any comments to add about the Browns' expectations this season, including record projections, please post them in this topic.