Training camp is all about getting players into shape and ready for the
battle on the field. In the case of the Browns, you can add to that the task of
installing a new offensive scheme.
As training camp progresses, there are always a handful of players who
continue to display promise only to fade into the sunset during the dog-days of
this training period. We’ll attempt to look past the pretenders and find the
shining stars of training camp, which we call the “Magnificent Seven”.
Call it what you want. Tight end Kellen Winslow is a
better tight end at 90% than almost anyone else in the entire league,
regardless of whether they're healthy and haven't the issues he has faced.
Winslow looks better than most would have expected coming off micro-fracture
surgery during the off-season, and he hsa participated in far more training
camp practice sessions than anticipated. Although he may have lost a half
step since the knee injuries, Winslow looks like he'll be a significant
threat in the Browns’ more-upscale offensive scheme.
There may be no better player on the defensive side of the ball than
linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. As a rookie, Wimbley amassed
11 sacks and numerous pressures, while gaining a starting role by Week Two.
Wimbley has been working diligently on his technique and strength over the
off-season and has been a dynamic presence rushing the passer in training
camp. In addition, he has greatly improved his understanding of the
defensive scheme and his recognition. This has helped him tremendously in
run support and pass coverage responsibilities. The biggest benefit Wimbley
may see heading into the 2007 season is the pass-rushing presence of Antwan Peek on the opposite side. Don't underestimate the value of Wimbley’s
continued lockups with rookie left tackle Joe Thomas in camp.
Sean Jones is a beast in the middle of the Browns’
defensive backfield and could become one of the best in the game this
season. Jones has the physical ability and makeup to display aggression when
needed, and has the speed and quickness to recognize and recover in pass
coverage. Throughout training camp, Jones and Brodney Pool
have teamed to be as close to dominant as I recall a Browns safety tandem
being in camp for a long period of time. Looking beyond pass coverage, what
makes Jones so important to this team is his ability and willingness to
stick his nose in run support. That is a critical part of a safety's job in
the AFC North.
Speaking of Pool, the second-year safety has been steady throughout
training camp. Called on to replace veteran Brian Russell, Pool continues to
display strong coverage skills, the quickness to cover ground while the ball
is in air, and the ability to get into position to make plays. After giving
up a couple completions on slant routes early in camp, Pool has been a
force. Pool has been earning kudos from defensive backs coach Mel Tucker
during practice sessions against the offense.
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards continues to hold true to
his word and let his play speak for him. Throughout his young career, I have
never seen Edwards as focused and determined to make plays. The coaching of
Wes Chandler has certainly helped improve the technical aspects of Edwards’
game, while his standing with the players and coaches has never been at a
higher level. There have been receivers close to Edwards' level in training
camp. It is still early and anything can transpire. If he continues to keep
it all together, Edwards could have a very strong season.
Leon Williams is going to be a starting linebacker in
the NFL. Williams’ stands out because of the physical aspect he brings to
the position. Attacking and quick afoot, Williams steps into the hole to
make plays at or near the line of scrimmage. The element of quickness he
provides changes the complexion of the interior of the Browns linebacker
corps. Veteran starter Andra Davis has performed well for the Browns, but
Williams could help stabilize the Browns’ defense against the run. While
Davis is on the sideline with a bum ankle, Williams has stepped into his
role and has displayed an explosion missing from the front seven of the
defense, outside of Kamerion Wimbley and Antwan Peek.
During the early sessions of training camp, LT Joe Thomas
would struggle a bit and then improve as the session went on. Thomas has
been much more solid and consistent of late. Practicing against the likes of
Kamerion Wimbley and Robaire Smith has helped tremendously. The explosive
practice battles between Wimbley and the rookie have been a highlight of an
otherwise very workmanlike training camp. Thomas’ quickness and agility is
coming to the fore as he gains experience against professional linemen and
pass rushing linebackers. Very few linemen move as well as Thomas does. What
makes him more impressive is he is displaying more of a physical presence at
the left tackle position than many expected at this point in his career.