Browns report: Strategy and personnel

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Strategy and personnel · Inside slant · Notes, quotes
 

The Browns continued to whittle away their long list of draft picks by signing fifth-round cornerback DeMario Minter and sixth-round nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo to four-year contracts.

Neither player is expected to play much from scrimmage in 2006, although Minter should help on special teams. He is trying to beat out Pete Hunter and Antonio Perkins as the fourth cornerback.

Oshinowo is playing behind 38-year-old Ted Washington and will compete with J'Vonne Parker to be Washington's backup.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK
Starter -- Charlie Frye. Backups -- Ken Dorsey, Derek Anderson.

The Browns' quarterbacks have won a total of five games in the NFL -- no wonder General Manager Phil Savage says he is building the team around the Frye rather than through him. Anyone who has been around Frye for any length of time is convinced he has leadership skills. Frye worked in the offseason to improve his arm strength. Dorsey has to prove himself in preseason. If he does not, the Browns will be ready to offer Vinny Testaverde a job.

RUNNING BACKS
Starter -- Reuben Droughns. Backups -- Lee Suggs, Jerome Harrison, William Green.

Droughns is still facing domestic violence charges in Colorado. He has a pretrial conference scheduled for August 21. He has apologized for the incident and is eager for training camp. He is not elusive, but he is a punishing downhill runner. Harrison, a fifth-round pick from Washington State, is intriguing. He is quick, but at 5-foot-9 he could be gobbled up by linebackers. The Browns are not ready to give up on Suggs, even though he has missed 23 games in three seasons with various injuries. Green is in an uphill battle to keep a job. The Browns are deep at fullback with Terrelle Smith and rookie Lawrence Vickers.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter -- Kellen Winslow Jr. Backups -- Steve Heiden, Darnell Dinkins.

Coaches and fans have been waiting a long time to see if Winslow could be the dominant player he was in college. He is still fast and sculpted, but coaches are wondering whether he lost any quickness while missing 30 straight games with injuries. Heiden, with 43 catches last season, is more than adequate as a backup. Early in the season while Braylon Edwards recovers from knee surgery the Browns could go with two tight ends, using Winslow as a wide receiver. Dinkins is a blocker and a solid special teams player.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Joe Jurevicius, Dennis Northcutt. Backups -- Frisman Jackson, Joshua Cribbs, Travis Wilson, Braylon Edwards.

Edwards is listed as a backup because he is rehabbing from Jan. 3 knee surgery. He might start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, in which case he would not be eligible to play until Oct. 22 when the Browns host the Broncos. Jurevicius is smooth, sure-handed and at 6-5 a big target. Northcutt gets banged around and after that the receivers are inconsistent. Coach Romeo Crennel is slow to play rookies, so 2006 could be a learning experience for Wilson.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Starters -- LT Kevin Shaffer; LG Joe Andruzzi, C LeCharles Bentley; RG Cosey Coleman; RT Ryan Tucker. Backups -- G/C Bob Hallen, G Isaac Sowells; T Nat Dorsey, T Kirk Chambers, T Jonathan Dunn.

No segment of the offense has been overhauled over two offseasons as much as the line has. Adding Pro Bowl center Bentley should make the Browns much better in short yardage and make them effective near the goal line. Last year they scored only four rushing touchdowns. Andruzzi and Coleman missed games with injuries last year. Hallen was not lauded as much as some of the other additions in free agency, but he is valuable because he can play all three interior positions. Tucker has Pro Bowl abilities, but he goes unnoticed on a team that has difficulty winning. Shaffer got a seven-year, $36 million contract to sign in free agency. The Browns are counting on him to protect Frye's blind side.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Starters -- LDE Orpheus Roye, RDE Alvin McKinley, NT Ted Washington. Backups -- NT Babatunde Oshinowo, NT J'Vonne Parker, DE Nick Eason, DE Nathan Kelly, DE Simon Fraser.

Washington is the most important addition to a team determined to be better against the run and better on third down. Roye is the most reliable defensive linemen the Browns have and McKinley is steady if not spectacular. Only six defensive linemen were on the active roster for the final game last season. Kelly is versatile and can play end or the nose. Oshinowo is a rookie with potential to start in 2007.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- WLB Kamerion Wimbley, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, ILB Andra Davis, SLB Willie McGinest. Backups -- OLB Matt Stewart, ILB Chaun Thompson, ILB Leon Williams, OLB David McMillan, OLB Nick Speegle.

The plan is for McGinest and Wimbley to put some teeth into a pass rush that produced a league-low 23 sacks last season. Normally Crennel would not start two rookies, but Jackson will have little competition, and if Wimbley proves he can handle pass coverage he will start ahead of Matt Stewart. Jackson is undersized at 228 pounds, but he has a reputation as a sure tackler. Thompson and McMillan should provide pass rush in sub packages. Williams will play mostly on special teams as a rookie.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB Gary Baxter, RCB Leigh Bodden, FS Brian Russell, SS Brodney Pool. Backups -- CB Daylon McCutcheon, CB Pete Hunter, CB DeMario Minter, CB Antonio Perkins, S Sean Jones, DB Shawn Mayer, CB Chris Thompson, DB Daven Holly

Baxter, Bodden and McCutcheon make the Browns formidable in the nickel defense. Safety is another matter. Russell plays deep and is not a good run defender. Pool is inexperienced. Crennel is looking for a fourth corner to emerge from a group that includes Hunter, Perkins and Minter. Mayer showed awareness in minicamp and could land a spot if he shows early he can play well on special teams. Jones is worth watching. General Manager Phil Savage showed enough confidence in him to trade starter Chris Crocker for a fourth-round pick, even though Jones played poorly last season. Jones missed all of 2004 recovering from knee surgery and was rusty last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K Phil Dawson, P Dave Zastudil, LS Ryan Pontbriand, KR Cribbs, PR Northcutt

Dawson has made 51 of his last 58 field goal attempts. His kickoffs are not deep in Cleveland in December, but that's because the ball is like a rock. The Browns are counting on Zastudil for stability. He might not be the reincarnation of Ray Guy, but the Browns lost games last year because Kyle Richardson shanked punts off the right side of his foot. Pontbriand is automatic on his snaps. Cribbs, shifty and fearless, set a team record with 1,094 yards in kick returns last season. Northcutt is better as a punt returner than a receiver.

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