Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Browns: Just When You Thought It Was Safe

I cannot remember a longer off-season than this. For over a decade I have watched the Cleveland Browns and throughout that entire time I have expected the same dismal results. 4-12, 6-10, 2-14, ect. It just doesn't get old. Yes, there were certain fluke situations like in 2001 and 2007 when we had winning records. When the Browns went to the playoffs in 2001, playing the long-time rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card game, we thought "this is our year."  We were wrong and the Browns, in their usual fashion, blew a double digit lead going into the 3rd quarter.

But something has been tremendously different this year. For the first time since... well... 1994 and the two year "regime" of Bill Belichick we have actually had a legitimate team all around, ranging from the front office to the very core of our personnel. Randy Lerner is a good owner, despite fans' complaints in the recent past. Yes, maybe he cares way too much about his European Triumph, the British Premier League stars Aston Villa. However, that has recently been outshined by the hiring of Superbowl winning coach, now president, Mike Holmgren.
There is so much that this man brings to the table, not only his skills as a coach and his resume of being consistently successful, but his mutual staff that he brings with him. I don't think many fans have yet to realize what an asset Gil Haskell serves as our Senior Adviser to the President. Can anyone say "Hall of Fame?"

So what does Holmgren do in his first act as President? He goes and hires a GM. Not just any old GM, but one coming from another dominant team of the past decade, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns have never tread in these foreign waters before. Tom Heckert has a track record of drafting some of today's and tomorrow's Pro Bowlers, including greats like Brian Westbook, Sheldon Brown, and Brent Celek.

With all of this in place, Browns fans still were skeptical. We have, after all, seen this before with Carmen Policy and Butch Davis, which didn't turn out so well. But, once again, the Holmgren administration makes all of the right moves. First, we cured the cancer of last season by getting rid of the two worst quarterbacks in the NFL, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Then, we bring in one of Sports Illustrated's Top 5 NFL Backups in Seneca Wallace, but Holmgren doesn't stop there. The signing of former Pro Bowler and quarterback of Super Bowl XXXVIII Jake Delhomme was arguably the best acquisition of the off-season. Other great signings were those such as OLB Scott Fujita and TE Ben Watson. Then, our GM made his best move by trading mediocre prospect LB Alex Hall and our 4th and 5th round picks to the Eagles for Pro Bowl DB Sheldon Brown and a solid MLB in Chris Gocong. Suddenly, our defense is starting to look legitimate.

Then, drafting Joe Haden and TJ Ward provided some extra depth with young players sure to break the mold. But it wasn't all about defense in Cleveland as the Browns traded up in the second round to grab Montario Hardesty, who some scouts called "the next Adrian Peterson." We also drafted a hard-nosed offensive linemen, Shawn Lavao, and one of the most successful college Quarterbacks in history, Colt McCoy. Everything seemed to be in place and the chemistry was nothing short of perfect, as shown in spring OTAs, minicamps, and finally training camp. Even with criticisms about our lack of a true #1 wide receiver and a weak defensive line, we were still stunning everyone who came through Berea, even the national media.

Everything looked perfect... until today. Reported in the late morning after the first daily practice, top CB Eric Wright injured his hamstring and was in a leg brace for the rest of practice. To make matters worse, Tony Pashos did not practice today either. He is going to be heavily relied on as a solid force on the right side of the O-Line. Marcus Bernard, who was a sack machine last year, was carted off the field with an as-of-yet undisclosed injury. Finally, Brian Schafering exited the building with a knee injury. I know I am probably overreacting, especially since all other 32 NFL teams are having the same issues right now. But because of such high expectations around Brown's Town, every little play, every injury, every mishap, is being closely watched. Guys, please get healthy and remain that way.

The Browns will be 8-8 in 2010. Write that down.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cavs: LeBron's Return

We now have the dates for LeBron's return to our beloved city of Cleveland, LeBastards!
LeBron James at his Miami welcoming party.

The Plain Dealer is reporting that the HEAT will make their first trip to Cleveland on December 2nd in a game that will be nationally televised on TNT.  Team John Dillinger's second appearance in the Q will come on March 29th, a game that will not be nationally televised.  The Cavaliers will also make two trips to Miami, December 15th and January 31st.  It's interesting to note that last year the HEAT only made one trip to Cleveland.  The NBA will officially announce a few select games tonight in an hour-long special on NBA TV.  The full schedule is expected to be officially released sometime next week.

The Plain Dealer is also reporting that the Cavaliers will open their 2010-2011 season on October 27th in a home game against defending Eastern Conference champions the Boston Celtics.

Obviously December 2nd and, to a slightly lesser extent, March 29th will be exciting games to watch and attend.  What do you think the Cavaliers organization/fan base should plan for LeBron James' return and Zydrunas Ilgauskas' homecoming?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Browns: 2010 Outlook

For all the hoopla the past seven years about the Cavaliers, this has always been Browns Town, right LeBastards?

With training camp and the Mike Holmgren era officially underway let's break down the roster of the current Browns and discuss their ability to be successful this season.

New starting Quarterback Jake Delhomme.

Oh man. . .  where to start on this one?  Quarterback has historically been a complete train wreck for the Browns annually since their return to the NFL in 1999.  Last year saw head coach Eric Mangini mishandle the development of youngster Brady Quinn by starting him, then benching him when he faltered a little bit, and then started him again when former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson also preformed below expectations, only to get hurt and miss the final two games of the 2009 season.  When Mike Holmgren took the reins of the franchise this summer he decided he didn't like what he saw in either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, trading both away and bringing in veteran Jake Delhomme and backup Seneca Wallace.  Delhomme made the Pro Bowl in 2005, but had a notably bad season last year for the Carolina Panthers with just 8 touchdowns compared to 18 interceptions.  The Browns brought in Delhomme because he's a high-character guy and a locker room leader.  Holmgren is hoping Delhomme can return to his level of play from a few years ago, but if he cannot Holmgren and Mangini are prepared to replace him with Wallace.  The Browns also drafted Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, but Holmgren has insisted that, unless absolutely necessary, McCoy will not take the field in 2010.  Rather, the Browns will let McCoy learn for a few years behind veterans Delhomme and Wallace in hopes of becoming the franchise's future star.
Overall Grade: C

Offensive Line
Joe Thomas, one of if not the best Left Tackles in the game.

The left side of the Browns' offensive line is probably the strongest part of their entire roster.  Left Tackle Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the best blind side tackles in the league.  Left Guard Eric Steinbach, while never a Pro Bowler in his seven year career, has consistently put together solid season after solid season.  Center Alex Mack, last year's first round pick, will continue to start at Center after an impressive rookie campaign.  However, the right side of the line, well not miserable, leaves a lot to be desired.    "Pork Chop" Womack will start the season at Right Guard, but in all honesty he would be much more effective in a role playing off the bench.  Right Guard looks to be signee Tony Pashos, who was once viewed as a high-potential player in his early playing days.  However, Pashos has, to this point, failed to live up to the hype while still being an above-average pass blocker.  Also on the roster is John St. Claire, who started 14 games at RT last season for the Browns.  Look for Ben Watson, brought in from the Patriots this off season, to start at Tight End this year and receive the credit he hasn't, having played in a system where he was rarely used.
Overall Grade: B-

Running Backs
Browns record holder Jerome Harrison.

With Jamal Lewis officially suffering a career-ending injury late last season, backup Jerome Harrison was given the opportunity to prove himself, which he did in spades with over 500 yards in the last 3 games of the season, including a 286-yard explosion against Kansas City, breaking Jim Brown's franchise rushing record in a single contest.  Despite his jaw-dropping performance late last season Harrison has a history of injuries which has plagued his career.  This threat of possible injury led the Browns to draft Montario Hardesty in the second round.  Although he is currently out for a few weeks, effectively handing Harrison the starting job to start the season, expect Hardesty to have a solid rookie year not only individually, but also by pushing Harrison to give it his all on every down.  Lawrence Vickers will continue his solid performance at fullback for the Browns this year.
Overall Grade: B+


This is definitely the weakest spot on the Browns' roster, which makes Delhomme's job exponentially harder. Mohamed Massaquoi looks to be the featured receiver this year.  Although he has high potential and has had a very solid off season to this point, Massaquoi still does not have the natural speed to separate from his defender(s).  Here's to hoping he's developed his rout running this off season!  Our second receiver looks to be Brian Robiskie, former Ohio State receiver that the Browns took in the second round of last year' draft and then never heard from again.  Our starting slot receiver should be Chansi Stucky, who possesses the agility, speed and quickness to play this position very effectively.  Holmgren and Mangini have also stated that they want to establish Special Teams connoisseur Josh Cribbs as a receiving threat, so as to open up his options in the wildcat formation.
Overall Grade: D

Defensive Line
Pro Bowler and defensive anchor Shaun Rogers.

Starting at Left End is Kenyon Coleman, who is a solid performer, if not the same player he was with the Cowboys and Jets.  The Browns' starting Nose Tackle will be Ahtyba Rubin, who is a solid prospect that showed vast improvements over the course of last season.  Pro Bowler Shaun Rogers will probably move to Right End and, considering that he has seemingly avoided a suspension form the NFL for his off-field legal woes, continue to dominate all season long.  Off the bench is Robaire Smith, an 11 year veteran who, while losing a step or two, can still anchor a defense.  
Overall Grade: C+

Left Outside Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.

Despite positioning for a trade, it appears that Matt Roth will start the season at LOLB.  He's a younger guy with decent upside.  We'll see if his trade request is honored or not, but for now he is probably our starting LOLB.  Starting ROLB will be Scott Fujita, a veteran leader brought in by Holmgren after winning a Superbowl last season with the Saints.  The inside linebackers, to start the season, look to be D'Qwell Jackson, an excellent tackler who still has the potential to be a star in this league, and David Bowens.  In Bowens case, Holmgren and Mangini are hoping that Eric Barton can return from his neck injury or that one of the young linebackers can step up and step into this role.
Overall Grade: C+

Defensive Backs
First round draft pick Joe Haden.

Last year, this was undoubtedly the worst area of the Browns roster, even given the quagmire that the quarterback situation was.  However, things look much more optimistic for the Browns secondary going into the 2010 season.  Cornerback is a position that will be battled out in training camp, with the contenders being holdover starter Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown (who was brought in as a free agent this off season after a career year in Philadelphia) and first round pick Joe Haden.  Look to see Haden and Brown as the starters, with Wright coming in for help in nickel packages.  Second round draft pick T.J. Ward will probably come in and start at Strong Safety.  Although being on the smallish-side, Ward has excellent instincts and closing speed.  Starting Free Safety will most likely be Abram Elham, who was less than impressive last season with the Browns.
Overall Grade: B

Special Teams
King Cribbs.

Phil Dawson, while holding out for a better contract, will more than likely return as a kicker for the Browns this year.  He's not an elite kicker, but he is certainly still above-average at this point in his career.  Dave Zastudil will return as Punter and continue to be one of the best punters in the entire league.  And last, but certainly not least, Josh Cribbs will once again be returning as kick and punt returner extraordinare and jack-off all trades.
 Overall Grade: A

As far as this team as one unit, I see them winning anywhere from 7-9 games this season, although if we only won the two Steelers games I'd still be just as happy!
Overall Team Grade: C+

Well, that was one incredibly long post!  If you managed to get though it all, let me know what you think!  How do you think this season will pan out for the Browns, LeBastards?  Let me know comments below (hey, that rhymed!).