The Weekly Ten is a new piece at the OBR and Scout.com. Each Wednesday – or close to it, I'll take a look at the top Cleveland Browns stories of the past week.
1. The Browns Are Super Bowl Bound.
It's not every day the Browns and Super Bowl are linked together in such a manner. While Sapp's rationale is a bit flimsy – something about the potential of Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and hot dogs at the old Cleveland Stadium – the sentiment is still welcome. Despite the frustration vented at a mostly unwatchable 2011 product, Browns' GM Tom Heckert is slowly building a quality young roster. As Sapp sort of suggests, the 2012 rookies could have the solidifying effect found on most top teams.
As for the list of non-Super Bowl winning teams that Sapp is picking from, there are no sure bets.
Minnesota Vikings (0-4) 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977
Buffalo Bills (0-4) 1991-1994
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) 1982, 1989
Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) 1981, 2005
San Diego Chargers (0-1) 1995
Atlanta Falcons (0-1) 1999
Tennessee Titans (0-1) 2000
Carolina Panthers (0-1) 2004
Seattle Seahawks (0-1) 2006
Arizona Cardinals (0-1) 2009
Realistically, none of these ten are instant legitimate contenders in 2012. Although some teams are consistently stable and should make the playoffs (San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Tennessee) and others are capable of hot streaks (Cincinnati, Carolina and Arizona), none are wholly dynamic Super Bowl contenders.
As for the four remaining Super Bowl holdouts, the Browns, Lions, Texans and Jaguars, both Houston and Detroit are built for a championship win. The Texans have the league's best rushing game and a defense capable of domination. The Lions are quietly following the Giants' model of success by featuring several offensive weapons, downfield passing and stellar defensive line play.
Holding the Browns to a similar model, there are hints of potential – at least if Jabaal Sheard can replicate his rookie success, Richardson proves to be as much of a brute force in the NFL as he was at Alabama and Weeden's big arm can transform Shurmur's conservative offense.
As for Sapp, the former Tampa star either really believes in the Browns' youth or just won a few bucks on a dare.
Speaking of which, maybe Sapp just really needs money.
2. What Do We Know About Pat Shurmur?
This seems like an odd question after watching a season's worth of Shurmur, but still – it's worth asking just what kind of coach Shurmur is.
Ideally, the combination of having a relatively full offseason preparation program and the services of offensive coordinator Brad Childress should spark an otherwise dormant offense. The additions of running back Trent Richardson and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden initially appear to be upgrades over brittle space cadet Peyton Hillis and a timid Colt McCoy.
If anything, Shurmur's offense should rival the peak of 2011 production – when the Browns' rushing game produced above average numbers. As a team, the Browns rushed for more than 100 yards seven times, producing three wins over Indianapolis, Seattle and Jacksonville. Of the other four games (losses to St. Louis, at Cincinnati, Arizona and at Baltimore), the Browns lost by margins of 1,3, 3 and 6.
These losses compare to some of the Browns' worst games of the season (Oakland, San Francisco, Houston and vs. Baltimore) in which the rushing game amassed no more than 70 yards. It's a simplistic argument that a decent rushing game equates to modest success – or at least the prospect of it – but otherwise the Browns' offense becomes a painful series of four-yard check downs and quarterback injuries.
Or a zany adventure of gadget plays – each more juvenile than the last – like the kind Shurmur drew up against his former Rams' team last season. Of course, everyone remembers only the end result of a painful field goal fest.
3. The All-22 Will Reveal All.
To continue the question of Pat Shurmur's legitimacy, perhaps the consumer release of the NFL's Game Rewind package, which now features an "All-22" camera angle will shed some light on just what the Browns' offense is really doing on game day. For the uninitiated, "All-22" is a top of the stadium, wide angle camera view that captures every player on the field. In theory, this angle should replicate the press box view and explain what viewers can't see from a standard television broadcast.
Of course, once the initial excitement wore off, reality set in.
The drawbacks to the availability of "All-22" are simple. First, anyone and everyone with an online voice will now call themselves both a scout and analyst – further watering down authentic football writing. Regardless of the inconvenient facts that "All-22" can never reveal the origins of a play call or the "why" of a formation, scheme or route. It's still difficult to even determine a quarterback's read progression – let alone figure out why the wide open receiver didn't get the ball.
Finally, unless tracking ants is now a vital bit of analysis, the from the moon camera angles that the "All-22" will likely feature will make following play extraordinarily difficult.
4. Now You See Me.
Speaking of things "visible", here's the latest from Browns' suddenly high-profile Team President….who is doing whatever it is a Team President working for continentally aloof owner Randy Lerner does. One evident task is to assume the role of cheerleader for Browns' injury-plagued wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
Where have we heard this before?
5. What Do We Know About Mohamed Massaquoi?
After parts of three seasons and 101 catches, the answer is: not much.
Massaquoi is a smooth route runner and has some decent downfield speed. Like the rest of the Browns' wideouts, he has been victimized by dropped passes. However, Massaquoi has provided some glimpses of genuine talent – including two outstanding 2009 performances against the Bengals and Lions. Massaquoi's 2011 season got off to a modest start, but included a spectacular game-winning catch against the Dolphins.
However, injuries have always spoiled the 2009 second-rounder's NFL career. Most troubling is the fourth-year receiver's history of concussions, which despite Massaquoi's protest, have affected his play. Without having blazing speed or impressive upper body strength, Massaquoi's route to production in Shurmur's offense lies across the middle of the field – where dangerous hits occur.
6. What We Do Know About the Browns' 2009 Draft.
In looking at the recent mini-camp starting lineups, it's either incredibly refreshing or depressingly pessimistic that up to 6 2011 draft picks (Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Jason Pinkston and Eric Hagg) could be 2012 Browns' starters. Add in another 3-4 from the 2012 draft (Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz and maybe James-Michael Johnson and or Billy Wynn) and 3 from 2010 (Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Shawn Lauvao) and it's clear that the current Tom Heckert-led rebuilding project is gathering momentum.
However, outside of center Alex Mack and possibly linebacker Kaluka Maiava, the Browns' 2009 draft is a bit dismal. Yet cast in the light of the Browns' 2011 special teams' failures and general lack of basic discipline, some fans are looking at Eric Mangini with a more nostalgic tint. Throw in Brad Seely's amazing San Francisco success and still-fresh memories of that amazing giant-killing stretch of 2010 seem even more remarkable.
Yet, one thing about Mangini cannot – and should not – become romanticized. The 2009 draft was a giant botch. Naturally, credit goes to Lerner's allowance of a dysfunctional front office – one that featured a petrified George Kokinis and little else. Obviously, someone had to run the franchise and Mangini became the sole proprietor of a team soaked in the carnage of Phil Savage's tenure.
Anyway, the point is that successful NFL teams are the ones that boast core talent who have played together anywhere from 2-5 years in the league. Typically, rebuilding teams hit their stride in the third and fourth years of programs – at least assuming that they know how to draft. What this means for the Browns is that 2009 – and several years before – have become albatrosses in this process.
7. Kaluka Maiava Can Still Salvage the 2009 Draft.
Along with Massaquoi and Mack – who again is one of the league's top centers – Maiava remains from the 2009 draft. However, like Massaquoi, Maiava has struggled with injuries during his short NFL career. Now a fully year recovered from ligament surgery, there is a chance that Maiava could land a starting outside spot among the Browns' suddenly youthful linebackers.
Maiava ended up starting 6 games in 2011 after Scott Fujita was put on injured reserve. While not a dominating talent, Maiava has decent quickness and has bulked up to a respectable outside linebacker weight. Maiava should benefit from Fujita's early season suspension – similar to 2012 rookies John Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho.
8. When I Think of Scott Fujita, I Think of This.
One more note on linebackers. I realize that Fujita has had an impressive NFL career and is currently trying to salvage his reputation in light of the Saints' bounty scandal. However in pure football terms, there is a huge reason why Heckert picked two linebackers in April.
And here it is. Just watch Fujita.
9. Jake Ballard is the New Don Carey.
But at least the Browns' 2009 draft serves as a fun historical footnote. At least.
"It's rare that somebody takes a guy under these conditions off the waiver wire, but it happened and we wish Jake all the best.''
Astute Browns' fans – and 2009 draft historians – will remember that Mangini tried to do the same thing with cornerback/safety Don Carey. The Browns attempted to sneak Carey through waivers, but he was claimed by Jacksonville. However, the loss ultimately proved inconsequential. Carey started 10 games in 2010 for Jacksonville before becoming a part-timer in Detroit last season.
10. Colt McCoy's Family is Not Helping.
Finally, if you were Colt McCoy – wouldn't you tell your family to just back off?
Anyway – what hope is there for Case? Not only will he play in Colt's titan-esque shadow at Texas, he has the same father as his older brother.
And for a cheap closing, whatever happened to "everything in Texas is bigger?" Case is barely 6'2 and can't even stand by his own tweets.