OTA Notes: Hoping for a Breakthrough

Mohamed Massaquoi

The Browns brain trust knows it can't fix all the team's challenges in one off-season. So, for 2010, Cleveland is hoping that their young receivers can take a step up. That, and more, from yesterday's OTA sessions...

BEREA – Brian Robiskie this, and Brian Robiskie that.

From the moment he was taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, a lot of attention has been focused on him. That attention increased when he struggled last year and everybody started to track his every move.

That's what happens when you're a local product (Chagrin Falls High School), played at Ohio State and are the son of a former Browns assistant coach, Terry Robiskie. You're always under the microscope.

But if you talk about Robiskie, you've also got to talk about Mohamed Massaquoi. Taken 14 spots later in the second round, at No. 50 overall, Massaquoi and Robiskie will be looked upon as a matched set for the forseeable future. The progress of one will be measured against that of the other.

In that respect, then, while it was a season to forget for Robiskie in 2009, it was a bittersweet year for Massaquoi. On the positive side, he tied for the team lead in receptions. That's a pretty impressive feat, since only three times previously in Browns history had a rookie been the top pass-catcher – Paul Warfield (1964), Derrick Alexander (1994) and Kevin Johnson (1999).

In addition, his team-best 624 receiving yards are more than 400 yards ahead of the runnerup, running back Jerome Harrison (220).

But the problem is that Massaquoi and running back Harrison had just 34 receptions each.  That's the lowest total by a Browns leader since running back Hugh McKinnis had 32 in 1974 – but that was in a 14-game season, two less than are played now, since last year's totals pale even more. In fact, even in the strike-shortened 1982 season, consisting of but 9 games, Ozzie Newsome, who was tops on the club, had many more grabs with 49.

So while Massaquoi was tied for No. 1 in 2009, he's also dead-last among the team leaders from 1975 to 2009. Thus, he, like Robiskie, has a long way to go, and Massaquoi said as much following Thursday's OTA practice in sweltering mid-80s heat.

"I want to be more of a pro, to be more serious about things," he said.

"But I am much further along now than he was at this stage last year. I was a rookie. I was trying to learn everything. Now when I make a mistake, I know why I made it."

In fairness to Massaquoi, Robiskie and all the receivers last season, though, they were hurt greatly by the fact the Browns had such inconsistent play at quarterback from Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Those two combined to complete only 49.4 percent of their passes with 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

With the liberalized passing rules that exist today, those types of low numbers are almost unheard of. So you have to give Massaquoi and Robiskie a – well, somewhat of a pass, pardon the pun – because of the lack of help they got from their quarterbacks.

With the lack of experienced wideouts around them, Massaquoi – and Robiskie – will be counted on again this season. And with the fact he is so much further along than Robiskie in terms of development, Massaquoi will be counted on more.

He's optimistic he can do it. Unlike last season, when the Browns spent months conducting a quarterback derby to determine their starter, Jake Delhomme, a newcomer to the Browns but a seasoned veteran, is now firmly entrenched at No. 1. That has to help everyone in the passing game.

Possibly Massaquoi more than others.

A reporter mentioned to Massaquoi that in the fantasy section of the NFL season preview issue of one of the major national magazines, he is listed as one of the breakthrough players for 2010. He just smiled.

"I hope I can live up to that," he said.

The Browns are hoping, too, that both Massaquoi and Robiskie, who are indelibly linked, come into their own sooner rather than later. It would benefit everyone involved.

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Some players look great at this type of year.

"They're All-Berea," former Browns head coach Butch Davis used to crack about guys who excelled in shorts with no pads on, but couldn't cut it once training camp began.

Running back Monterrio Hardesty has indeed wowed everyone thus far in the OTAs. He has looked worthy – and then some -- of being drafted in the second-round, at No. 59 overall.

But the 6-foot, 225-pounder from Tennessee may look even better – possibly much better – when the pads go on, for he is a physical player who doesn't mind absorbing blows, and loves delivering them.

"Football is played with pads," Hardesty said. "I'm already excited for the first time I'll be able to put them on.

"But no matter what the situation, I just feel comfortable on a football field."

And he looks it. Last season, when he finally had the opportunity to play a lot, he rushed for 1,345 yards, the fourth-best total in Volunteers history.

"I was hurt as a freshman, then the next two years, I was part of a rotation," he explained. "Last year, I was the guy. Those first three seasons didn't bother me. I knew that if I just pushed through it, that it would eventually come."

And he's pushing through it again, trying to get to the start of camp, when he's certain he'll be able to show his true worth.

*

These are exceptionally good days for Joshua Cribbs. Already entrenched as a true star in the NFL, especially as a returner, he now will apparently get an even bigger role in the offense.

"I can't call myself a true wide receiver because it looks like I'll be doing so much else," he said.

Some of that will come when he's paired with newcomer Seneca Wallace, a backup quarterback who, like Cribbs, can run or throw effectively, and maybe even catch passes.

One of the packages involving Wallace is called Cyclone, since he is a former Iowa State Cyclone.

"Seneca is a great addition to our team," Cribbs said. "When we're on the field together, we'll be able to give defenses a lot of trouble."

But what about the returning? Can Cribbs still squeeze some of that in, too?

"Certainly," Cribbs smiled. "There's always time for that."

There will have to be. The Browns need him to make plays on kickoffs and punts. Even with Wallace on the club, they still do not appear to have the ability to score enough points offensively to stay competitive.

That means Cribbs will have a full plate for every game, which is just the way he likes it – and also why these are such good times for him right now.

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