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2011 Cleveland Browns preseason preview

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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The fans seem to take to Colt McCoy. But can he take the Browns to the the Super Bowl? (US Presswire)  
The fans seem to take to Colt McCoy. But can he take the Browns to the the Super Bowl? (US Presswire)  

2010 RECORD: 5-11 (third, AFC North)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002 season, lost to Pittsburgh, 36-33, in AFC wild card

COACH (RECORD): Pat Shurmur (first season as a head coach)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Shurmur

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dick Jauron

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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 20th rushing, 29th passing, 31st scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 27th rushing, 18th passing, 13th scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: RB Brandon Jackson (from Packers), WR Greg Little (2nd round, North Carolina), TE Jordan Cameron (4th round, USC), G John Greco (from Rams), S Usama Young (from Saints), CB Dimitri Patterson (from Eagles), DT Phil Taylor (1st round, Baylor), DEJabaal Sheard (2nd round, Pitt)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Jake Delhomme (released), FB Lawrence Vickers (to Texans), OL Floyd Womack (to Cardinals), S Abe Elam (to Cowboys), CB Eric Wright (to Lions), P Reggie Hodges (out for season/injured), LB Jason Trusnik (to Dolphins), LB David Bowens (retired), DT Shaun Rogers (to Saints)

SQUEEZING BLOOD FROM A ROCK: The Browns have plenty of WRs in camp. But quantity does not translate into quality. They hope 2010 starters Mohamed Massaquoi (36 catches, 484, yards, 2 TDs) and Brian Robiskie (29 catches, 310 yards, 3 TDs) were victims of a disorganized offensive system under previous coach Eric Mangini. They hope Greg Little will be the steal of the second round. They hope young, athletic receivers such as Carlton Mitchell and Jordan Norwood emerge. The hierarchy claims all of the above could happen, but if it doesn't, how can they judge the talent and potential of QB Colt McCoy? Massaquoi regressed last season and is out with a foot injury. Robiskie showed some promise at the end of 2010, but was arguably the worst starting WR in the NFL. Neither has displayed the quickness or speed to separate. Mitchell and the blurry-fast Norwood are more athletic, but inexperienced. Add to the mix the annual predictions that Josh Cribbs (23 catches, 292 yards, 1 TD) will blossom at WR and you have hope that somebody will rise to become a featured receiver. It better happen or the Browns are headed for offensive disaster again in 2011.

BATTLE AT THE FRONT: The Browns focused on rebuilding an old and leaky defensive line during what there was of the offseason. They used their top two picks to select DT Phil Taylor, a stout run-stopper, and pass-rushing DE Jabaal Sheard. They also made a commitment to move Marcus Benard from OLB to DE and re-signed DE Jayme Mitchell. It's assumed Taylor will start alongside 2010 surprise Ahtyba Rubin inside and that Sheard, perhaps the Browns' best pass-rusher already, will open at one end in the new 4-3 scheme. That leaves Mitchell and Benard to battle for the other DE spot. The likely starter is Mitchell, who arrived via trade from Minnesota and was promptly and strangely placed permanently on the bench by coach Eric Mangini. Benard will probably be used often as a situational pass rusher, but could push for a starting spot if he continues his improvement against the run. Mitchell, after all, has never started a game in the NFL.

GO WEST, YOUNG MEN: Whatever the Browns were doing offensively in 2010 -- and many wondered what it was -- wasn't working. It seemed to be a hodgepodge of running plays and passing routes that didn't bring out the potential of the QBs or WRs. Enter head coach Pat Shurmur, who will also serve as play-caller and offensive coordinator. The West Coast system does seem to be an ideal fit for starting QB Colt McCoy (1,576 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs), whose greatest attribute is pinpoint accuracy. The Browns are determined to decide if McCoy boasts the ability to lead them to a Super Bowl, so the importance of providing him with a perfect fit can't be understated. The only problem is that his best targets are TEs and RBs. It can be argued that Benjamin Watson (68 catches, 763 yards, 3 TDs) and Evan Moore are his best receivers while fellow TE, rookie Jordan Cameron, has vast potential. RBs Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jackson are also capable targets. But success in the West Coast is predicated upon gaining separation and yards after the catch. There is not one player on the roster who has proven he can consistently get open and take a pass in stride for a long gain.

NO MORE PASSING FANCY?: One disturbing constant for the Browns since returning to Cleveland in 1999 has been their defensive generosity. Third-and-10 has never been a problem for opposing offenses because the Browns have too easily surrendered yards through the air. The focus over the past two seasons has been to not only improve the run defense, but to upgrade the secondary and pass-rushing spots. Part of that mission was accomplished last year with the addition of CB Joe Haden, who was considered a Pro Bowl candidate as a rookie, and safety T.J. Ward (team-high 123 tackles), who added a badly needed physical presence to that position. But there is plenty to do to ensure the improvement of the pass defense. Potential battles at CB between Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson and at safety between likely starter Usama Young and Mike Adams indicate the lack of a standout at either spot. And though the Browns might have more productive pass-rushers at DE with Jabaal Sheard, Marcus Benard and Jayme Mitchell, all are inexperienced and unproven. The drafting of Haden and Ward is a promising start to improve the pass defense. But until others emerge, opposing quarterbacks won't be sweating on third-and-long.

FINAL WORD: GM Tom Heckert has made it clear that the Browns will be building through the draft. Winning in 2011 will be secondary to creating a foundation resulting in annual playoff berths. No matter how it develops during the preseason, this team simply does not boast the talent or experience, particularly at wide receiver and defensive line, to win this year Their lack of aggressiveness in free agency indicates that Heckert will be true to his word. But if QB Colt McCoy emerges as a viable starter and the young DL drafted in April show promise, 2011 will likely be deemed a success.

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