The Browns, looking for ways to pump some blood into their anemic offense, might turn to rookie second-round draft pick Mohamed Massaquoi when they take on the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore.
Last week in Denver, No. 2 receiver Josh Cribbs had his troubles. He dropped one pass when he was hit hard by Broncos safety Brian Dawkins and he fumbled after catching another pass early in the third quarter. Cribbs is tied for the team lead with seven catches, but the Browns' offense cannot afford missed opportunities.
Receiver is one of the most difficult positions for a rookie to play and make an impact. Of the 304 wide receivers drafted from 2000-2008, only three of them -- Anquan Boldin of the Cardinals in 2003, Michael Clayton of the Buccaneers in 2004 and Marques Colston of New Orleans in 2006 -- cracked 1,000 yards as rookies.
By contrast, 209 running backs were drafted in the same nine-year span. Fifteen rushed for 1,000 yards or more as rookies, and one of them was undrafted Dominic Rhodes in 2001 with the Colts.
"I think the biggest thing is reading the coverages and being on the same page with the guys," quarterback Derek Anderson said. "In college you don't really have to read a lot of different things.
"I think it's an easier thought process for a running back. A guy can come in as a first-down back and not have to see the coverages and rotations on third down. If they get in a good system, the line is going to get them 600 yards. They have to pound their way for the rest of it."
Massaquoi caught one pass for 18 yards in the season opener and did not catch a pass against the Broncos last week. When the ball was thrown to him in preseason he was reliable. He could see increased playing time against the Ravens as the Browns look for ways to divert attention from Braylon Edwards.
Massaquoi has worked hard in practice and has made steady if not spectacular progress since the start of training camp. He is ahead of Brian Robiskie, the wide receiver from Ohio State taken 36th overall. Massaquoi was drafted 50th. Robiskie did not catch a pass in the Vikings game and he was on the inactive list against the Broncos.
"The thing that's been helpful for us is we get to see real pros do it," Massaquoi said. "We have great leadership. Watching them how they move and approach things teaches you how to be a pro.
"A lot of times it isn't physical. It's more mental. That's what the older guys bring to the table. Each day you try to get a little smarter. You're never going to have a perfect practice. There's always something to improve on. That's what we focus on every day."
Massaquoi said he's ready if offensive coordinator Brian Daboll calls on him Sunday.
SERIES HISTORY: 21st regular-season meeting. Ravens lead the series 13-7. The Ravens swept the Browns last season, but the year before the Browns swept the series en route to a 10-6 finish. Home or away doesn't make much difference for the Browns: They are 3-7 in Baltimore and 4-6 at home.
--The game against the Ravens in Cleveland last year was a defining moment in the season and possibly a defining moment in Browns history.
The Browns gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter and lost 37-27. Before the Ravens made their run the Browns had a chance to put the game away. Derek Anderson threw a deep pass that dropped right through Braylon Edwards' hands. Anderson was 17 of 33 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Terrell Suggs returned the interception 42 yards for a touchdown.
Anderson was benched the following week, replaced by Brady Quinn. Anderson made one more start for the Browns, against the Colts because Quinn was hurt. It might take another injury for Anderson to get another chance.
--This will be the fifth game Browns running back Jamal Lewis has played against his former team. In two games against the Ravens last year he rushed for 56 and 49 yards. He rushed for 64 and 92 yards against Baltimore in 2007.
Lewis did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, but it is unlikely he will miss a chance to play against his former team.
--The Browns are trying to rebuild with one of the older teams in the league. They have 16 players 30 or older on their roster. The Patriots and Broncos also have 16. The Redskins have 17 players 30 or older, the most in the NFL.
--The Ravens were the Cleveland Browns until Art Modell moved his franchise to Baltimore in 1996. Some of the bitterness fans felt after the move has dissipated because Modell no longer owns the team.
Other ties from the Ravens/Browns still exist. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was a Browns tight end from 1978-90. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Phil Savage, the Browns GM from 2005-2008, worked for the Ravens before the Browns. Current Browns GM George Kokinis also worked for the Ravens before he was hired by the Browns.
BY THE NUMBERS: 41-7 -- Scoring differential between opponents and the Browns in the second half this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Across the board, we have to do a better job. I have to play better to give us a chance to win. I put the onus fully on myself for not putting us in better position." -- Quarterback Brady Quinn on the Browns' offensive struggles.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns could be dangerously thin on the offensive line if an ankle injury sustained in Denver keeps starting right guard Floyd Womack out an extended period. Rex Hadnot, who began training camp contending as a starter for either guard spot, has been out since early August with a knee injury. Neither practiced Wednesday.
Hank Fraley subbed for Womack in Denver. He could start against the Ravens, but he could also get competition from Billy Yates, whom the Browns signed last week. Fraley was with the first team in practice Wednesday.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--The Browns on Tuesday cut tight end Martin Rucker, a fourth-round draft choice from Missouri. Former GM Phil Savage traded a 2009 third-round draft pick to the Cowboys to select him. Rucker caught two passes as a rookie. He was inactive for the first two games this season.
The Browns also cut defensive back Marquis Floyd.
--The Browns were awarded tight end Greg Estandia off waivers from Jacksonville. In two seasons with the Jaguars, Estandia appeared in 26 games with two starts. He caught 19 passes for 249 yards.
--Since taking Josh Cribbs off coverage teams for more offensive series, the Browns keep trying to improve special teams. They signed free-agent defensive back Anthony Madison to fill Floyd's vacated roster spot. Madison started his career with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in 2006 and recorded 46 tackles on special teams in 38 games over three seasons with the Steelers.
--RB Jamal Lewis did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury.
--LB David Bowens was limited with a knee injury Wednesday, just as he was the previous two Wednesday practices prior to the first two games.
--NT Shaun Rogers was limited with a foot injury.
GAME PLAN: The Browns worked hard in preseason to develop a screen pass but for some reason did not use one in either of the first two preseason games. Given the problems the Browns had in pass protection the first two games -- Brady Quinn has been sacked nine times -- this might be the time to use a screen and slow the Ravens' pass rush.
Likewise, the Browns can expect the Ravens to run the ball down their throats as the Vikings and Broncos both did. The Browns might try putting strong safety Abe Elam in the box more, but that would leave Brodney Pool in single safety and that could leave the Browns vulnerable.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LB Kamerion Wimbley vs. Ravens TE Todd Heap. The Browns always seem to have trouble covering the tight end, and Heap, when healthy, always plays well against the Browns. He caught 10 passes in two games against them in 2006 and four in one game in 2007. He was not as successful last year, catching only two passes.
Browns C Alex Mack vs. Ravens NT Kelly Gregg. It has been a tough rookie season so far for first-round draft pick Alex Mack. An errant shotgun snap in Denver resulted in a turnover. Both the Vikings and Broncos applied pressure on Quinn up the middle. Mack can expect the same harassment from Gregg and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
INJURY UPDATE: RB Jamal Lewis did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, but it will only be a problem if he cannot play; he has had Wednesdays off before. The more serious concerns are on the offensive line. Guard Rex Hadnot (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Last Wednesday he was already listed as "out," so not practicing is an improvement. Guard Floyd Womack's ankle injury kept him sidelined.