Four weeks and counting until training camp 2007 begins for the Cleveland Browns.
These weeks are the last significant time for rest and relaxation for the players until the end of the 2007 season. Despite the opportunity to take time away from the game, a significant number of players have been in and out of the Browns' practice facility, working on mental preparations for a new offensive scheme, and other aspects of the 2007 season.
A cloud hovers over the entire organization due to their lack of success. Many players with a focus on the offensive side of the ball are putting in extra time to learn the new offensive scheme, while hoping to gain an advantage before hitting the field in late July.
Taking over the reigns of one of the most inconsistent, underperforming offensive units in the league, Rob Chudzinski is making an immediate impact. The Browns' offense, while not yet looking like a finely tuned machine, did show progress between the initial off-season training session to the conclusion of mini-camp. While it's easy to cynically note we have seen all this before, Chudzinski and his offensive staff are active, demand excellence, and - to these eyes - have a confident demeanor of leadership about them.
Chudzinski's early handling of the quarterback situation has earned him respect and praise within the locker room, as well as with the coaches and front office personnel. Undoubtedly, this team is presently in the middle of a full-blown competition at the quarterback spot, and many consider this the most important position battle this Summer.
Each of the four quarterbacks (Anderson, Frye, Quinn, and Dorsey) on the roster heading into camp have expressed their excitement about what Chudzinski's offense will bring to the team. While the learning period has proven to be difficult, especially for the veterans, indications are that confidence is growing within the ranks.
"The more we worked together, the smoother everything went and it will get better as we get the system down, right now we are learning new things," wide receiver Braylon Edwards tells the Orange and Brown Report. "The new offense is going to be exciting and provide us the opportunity to make plays. As a receiver you can't ask for more than that."
Five not-so-offensive quick hitters..........
1. Following free agency and the draft, the Browns' ability to acquire guard Eric Steinbach in free agency has been viewed as the most important move made by the team. While the addition of Steinbach and Joe Thomas certainly provides athleticism and talent to this once deficient aspect of the team, something tells me running back Jamal Lewis is going to be an outstanding acquisition and provide the boost long-needed in the backfield. If the off-season work put in by Jerome Harrison proves to be effective, he could see enough playing time to display his excellent quickness and vision. The difference between the 2006 and 2007 version of Harrison is about 15 pounds of weight and muscle and a year of experience and confidence.
2. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards has been displaying early signs of maturity in camp and has been nothing but a positive influence. Edwards has been quick to put in extra time with the quarterbacks and talk with his position coach. Coming off a 2006 season which was marred with controversy and locker room dissent, Edwards is heeding the advice of many within the organization and league. Edwards has been told to become a leader and give maximum effort - not only on the field, but also in the locker room, where success and respect begins.
3. While Chudzinski is pushing the right buttons thus far with the mental aspect of the offensive unit, we would be amiss for not noting the contributions of receivers coach Wes Chandler. The Browns' receivers were a group of undisciplined players (Joe Jurevicius was an exception) that deviated from the plan (or perhaps lack of one) frequently last season. Discipline and effort has been Chandler's theme throughout practice sessions which should lead to improved chemistry between the receivers and quarterbacks. Early indications are Edwards and second-year receiver Travis Wilson have benefited the most with the addition of Chudzinski and Chandler, as both players were not in the best graces of the former position coach Terry Robiskie and head coach Romeo Crennel.
4. During the off-season, the Browns signed a little known tight end Ryan Krause, a former San Diego Charger to fill a role at the position, as Kellen Winslow recuperates from off-season knee surgery. Coming to Cleveland with knowledge of the new offense, Krause has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic. As Winslow will practice on a limited basis, Krause will gain additional time on the field, especially early in camp. He could be a valuable acquisition as the learning process of the offense forges ahead. During the off-season training activities and mini-camp, Krause was a standout participant during team drills.
5. With the selection of left tackle Joe Thomas in the draft, the Browns potentially could have quality and depth along the offensive line - a luxury for this organization. Kevin Shaffer, the starter at left tackle last season could be moved to the right tackle spot, paving the way for Thomas. Such a move should make the competition at right guard interesting to say the least, as Ryan Tucker, the starter at right tackle prior to his issue is back and healthy after battling through a medical condition last season will see practice time at right guard. Along with Tucker, off-season acquisition Seth McKinney and Isaac Sowells will compete for the starting right guard spot. Surprised? Most will be, but Sowells is a player that the coaching staff and Phil Savage increasingly believe is going to be a solid fit on the line. If Shaffer is traded (which remains a legitimate possibility), Sowells could see practice time between guard and tackle. Depth is a beautiful thing.
Only from what we've been told……….
• Rookie quarterback Brady Quinn has taken some hits from media due to his less-than-impressive performance during the off-season activities and mini-camp. An associate of the Notre Dame Football program informed the Orange and Brown Report that the quarterback is the type of individual that will digest everything and suddenly break onto the scene. While at Notre Dame, Quinn struggled in early practices as a freshman player, and the story was the same when Charlie Weis took over the program and installed a new offense. From what we've been told, the theme here is Quinn may not be the best practice player, but he beginning to display his ability to understand the offensive scheme, and once comfortable he should begin to establish himself.
• Quietly, wide receiver Tim Carter has garnered the attention of the coaching staff due to his speed, quickness, and dependable receiving skills in the new offensive scheme. Before anointing Carter as anything but a depth receiver on the roster, let us see what he does when the pressure is on. One major knock on Carter is that he has struggled when put in the position of expected production. The note on Carter is as follows from what we've been told: Carter is a good practice player that fell out of favor in New York due to inconsistency and a less than desirable relationship with the head coach (Tom Coughlin), but possesses the skills to be a good receiver at the professional level, if he can retain his confidence.
• Offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley, the local product who only tantalized Browns fans briefly before a serious knee injury could be on the mend. From what we've been told recently, Bentley may not need another procedure on his knee at this time. There have been no setbacks in his rehabilitation and his strength above and below the patella is growing following numerous procedures. While the odds are against Bentley playing in the 2007 season, he hasn't given up the dream of playing for the hometown Browns. While the Browns discussed this about three weeks ago, when Bentley informed the team he was canceling a scheduled surgery, the Orange and Brown Report has received this latest update within the past 72-hours.
• From what we've been told, head coach Romeo Crennel has been informed that the 2007 Browns team is expected to be competitive week-in and week-out. While stopping short of issuing a number of victories required, anything less than an 8-8 season is being construed a failure according to those close to the front office. Making matters worse for Crennel, an avid veteran players coach may not neccessarily be the right fit given the need for development of the youth on the roster. The front office fully expects the opportunity to make a run at the playoffs in 2008 as realistic. Furthermore, the recent contract extension of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may only lend further credence to the precarious position the veteran head coach is faces. Grantham is a favorite of many within the organization, and Savage just happened to mention Grantham as being a potential head coach candidate at the professional level.
And a few odds and ends worth mentioning about former Browns……….
• The Browns have not talked with Bill Cowher, nor has the organization sent out the proverbial feeler in his direction.
• Marty Schottenheimer would like to coach again and he would be interested if the Browns head coach position would become available.
• Wide receiver Dennis Northcutt is making quite an impression at receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Northcutt must have overcome the dropsies or the Jaguars are deficient at the position. The latter sounds about right, as Northcutt could not have reinvented himself overnight.
• Quarterback Kelly Holcomb, late of Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, and currently a member of the Philadelphia Eagles has openly postured for a trade to Minnesota, where he could mentor second-year quarterback Travaris Jackson. I can almost see another quarterback controversy in the making, like those Holcomb was involved in while a member of the Browns and Bills.
• Training camp is coming, which means we should see plenty of Bernie Kosar and Brian Brennan in the television booth again in 2007 during pre-season telecasts.