Finally, football. Real football. Albeit Preseason Football, but still – it’s football. No more lockout. The “free agent” frenzy has officially come and gone (much to the demise of Browns fans). Finally, first year head coach Pat Shurmur, has set his initial depth chart. That can only mean one thing: it’s almost game time. (Initial depth chart can be found here.)
Sure the depth chart is going to change, quite a bit probably, before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Nonetheless, looking at the initial depth chart gives us a few things to watch during these boring preseason games.
– For starters, the most encouraging part of this depth chart (in my opinion of course) is the quarterback position. I understand, there’s no surprise that Colt McCoy is listed at number one ahead of Seneca Wallace, but that’s kind of the point. For the first time in a very long time, there isn’t a quarterback controversy here in Cleveland. I think that’s critical to the team’s success this year. Holmgren and Shurmur have given the reigns to Colt McCoy, whether he can hold onto them or not is up to him.
– The Browns have three rookies listed at #1 on the depth chart: Owen Marecic at FB, Phil Taylor at DT and JaBaal Sheard at DE. This can mean one of two things in my opinion: either it’s a sign of desperation on the front offices’ part, or it means that these guys are good enough to be starters in the NFL. Not a whole lot has been said about Marecic up to this point. What has been said, though, has been great. Phil Taylor got to work late (contract dispute) but has been impressive since first practice. The surprising starter of the three is JaBaal Sheard. Understandably, the Browns are very thin at DE. So maybe it’s not so much as a surprise, as it is a concern. Reports have been that Sheard’s play is inconsistent at best, and even worse against Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas.
– Speaking of Thomas, rumors surrounding camp have the offensive line being the strong point of the offense. Thomas and Mack were guaranteed starters. Steinbach was likely a starter, but injuries seem to be nagging lately. Same thing with Pashos. The fact that Steinbach and Pashos appear to be healthy is encouraging, but I think even more encouraging is the fact that they have Luavao penciled in as a starter. The 2nd year pro out of Arizona State saw minimal playing time in his rookie season, but the upside has certainly been there. If Luavao is the player he’s capable of being, he’ll be a very solid starter in the NFL.
Look for Greco, Braxton and Yates to see time along the line as well. Greco was traded for and Yates was brought back via free agency. Braxton is a young guy, but having an excellent camp.
– Also generating a lot of buzz in Berea are the tightends, specifically Evan Moore. Read any article about Browns camp and it’s sure to mention Moore on the receiving end of a McCoy TD pass. Moore could be critical to the team’s success on offense this upcoming season. The Browns also return the team’s leading receiver from last season in Ben Watson. Having Watson and Moore on the field at the same time should generate huge headaches for opposing defenses.
– The starters listed at WR has to be alarming to Browns fans. McCoy, Shurmur and Holmgren can talk about all the potential the team has at the position, but no one wins Super Bowls on potential. When Robiskie and Cribbs are listed as your starters, there tends to be concern about the possibility of even the potential part. And believe me, Mohammed Massaquoi doesn’t bring much relief. Still, the talent is certainly there. Robiskie is said to be having a good but quiet camp. Cribbs should be finally catching on to the position, and Massaquoi does provide some talent. It’s encouraging, as well, that rookie Greg Little is been seen on the end of numerous McCoy passes, and Carlton Mitchell, Jordon Norwood and Demetrius Williams have all showed promise during camp.
– And finally, the linebacking core is overwhelmingly concerning. If – and this is a huge if – D’Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita, and Chris Gocong can manage to stay healthy all year the Browns will be okay. However, Gocong is on the sidelines already, and D’Qwell has missed the last two years with injury. Jackson is said to be primed to flourish in the 4-3 and Fujita’s leadership has been encouraging as well. If these three miss any significant time, we’re looking at Kaluka Maiava, Titus Brown, and Brian Smith (raise your hand if you said “Who?”) as potential starters.
Rookies Look Strong…
Clearly the Cleveland front office has taken the “build through the draft” approach. It may be concerning to the fans that wanted the team to blow their $30 MIL on free agents, but it may be working.
Last season we watched T.J. Ward and Joe Haden flourish as they were pressed into their starting roles. Not to say that there weren’t rookie moments, but the risk seemed to pay off. The benefit from all that experience should appear before our eyes this season. This team is seemingly filled with “Haden and Ward” talent. Phil Taylor, JaBaal Sheard and Owen Marecic are anointed starters heading into the Browns first preseason game against Green Bay. Greg Little, Jordan Cameron, Buster Skrine and James Dockery are all said to be having solid camps.
(On Branndon Braxton running with the first team during two-minute period) – “He’s done a good job. He was a developmental-type player a year ago. He’s done some good things here in this camp. For linemen it’s very important to go through it day after day after day. He’s kind of swinging and giving guys some needed rest on both sides. He’s done a nice job.”
(On Owen Marecic) – “He has done a very good job. It’s hard to find him making a mental mistake. He did a great job running the ball off the goal line. He has caught the ball well. When you watch the special teams drills, he does exactly what he is supposed to do. He is kind of one of those steady guys. I think that is an important attribute for a guy that’s a fullback.”
(On Marecic filling the shoes of Lawrence Vickers) -“We have Owen and Lawrence is in Houston. That’s the story really. We are glad Owen is here and we wish Lawrence lots of luck.”
(On if Buster Skrine is catching his eye) -“He is. He’s done a nice job as far as challenging. When he’s in a position, he’s challenging to make a play and that’s what I think you want from a corner. As a young player or if he’s playing against a guy that’s play against him. That’s what you see in camp. You like to see guys that are in the mix and then you like to see them make their share.”
(On James Dockery’s impact lately) – “He made a nice play at the end there. He’s showed up and made some plays. Especially in those two-minute drills. Let’s hope that continues. Maybe we’ll see it Saturday night.”
(On Greg Little thus far) – “He’s done well. He’s a bigger body guy. Low body fat percentage, big, thick guy. He finds a way to make a play. He’s taken to this pretty well and he’s made steady improvements through the practices.”
(On Jordan Cameron’s potential) – “I thought he’s competed well. It appears he’s in pretty good shape. He caught a couple balls today in the team period. He’s a guy who has natural ability as a receiver. He’s big, he’s lean and he’s very athletic. Training camp is a way to develop the other skills that are necessary to be a tight end. We’re trying to develop him as a three down player. Until he gets to that point, we’ll see how much he can handle.”
(On problems Phil Taylor presents to opposing offensive linemen) -“He’s a giant, just standing behind it today, by structure we tried to run it right a little bit just to see. He held up in there pretty good. When you have a big force in the middle that makes it difficult to run between the tackles then that makes in tough on the offense. You start eliminating options. Hopefully he can provide that for us along with (Ahtyba) Rubin.”
(On how Jabaal Sheard is coming along since the start of camp) – “He’s been very steady. Steadier than you might expect from a rookie, in terms of just generally playing well. That’s good. He’s like anybody right now. He’s tired and sore. We like to think when he gets his legs freshened for a game situation, he’ll be more explosive. He’s doing well.”
Player to Watch: Jarrett Brown, QB
He’s 3rd on the depth chart, but the kid is turning heads. It’s widely known around the league that Holmgren loves to develop young quarterbacks. When the Browns didn’t draft a QB in this year’s draft, many thought this notion had finally been dismissed by Holmgren. Not so. The reason the Browns didn’t draft a QB? Jarrett Brown. Brown has a rocket for an arm and has developed a bit of poise in the pocket while in camp. Head coach Pat Shurmur has certainly been impressed..
(On Jarrett Brown’s poise in the pocket) – “That’s an important piece. When you watch a quarterback, first and foremost, they have to be able to throw the ball. He’s got a big arm and he’s tall and can see. He’s got athletic ability. It’ll be on display at some point here in the preseason. It’s hard to evaluate. You want to hold total judgment on all of this until you see him play in games. Practice settings, we try the very best we can to put him in situations as game-like as possible. But, there’s nothing like the real thing. That’s why we try to hold judgment on evaluating guys until we see them out there performing against another team.”
(On Jarrett Brown’s big arm) -“Pleasant surprise from that standpoint. He’s got a big arm. He’s a big, solid, sturdy guy. Good athlete. He’s shown up well. He’s had limited reps, but he’s shown up pretty well so far in these three days. He’s a guy that’s intriguing.”
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