Early thoughts from the desert as the Browns prepare for the 2011 season . . .
Do not diminish the importance of losing punter Reggie Hodges for the season. One of the most important elements of football is field position. And to win that battle, a head coach must have a good punter.
Ask any coach what battles he wants to win during a game and most of them will point first to two: Field position and time of possession. Teams that win those elements invariably wind up winning more games than they lose. And losing a good punter like Hodges, who is essential to field position, will hurt the Browns.
Even though it will be improved on defense this season with the switch to the 4-3, the Browns’ defense will be challenged much more often than last season as less-than-average punting will give them shorter fields with which to work.
Unless the Browns get lucky and uncover a gem, get used to watching opposing drives start a lot closer to the Cleveland goal line than last season. . . .
It appears as though coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. are more than satisfied with their corps of receivers. Despite the fact none of the incumbents’ career numbers come close to “wow” status, Shurmur and Heckert’s sanguine approach is somewhat puzzling.
Perhaps they see something most of us don’t see. Maybe their talents are much better suited for the west coast scheme Shurmur has brought from St. Louis. It’s possible the receiving talents of Mo Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Joshua Cribbs have been misused the last two seasons.
Then again, when you stop and consider Shurmur had mediocre receiving talent with which to work when he schemed the Rams’ offense last season, it makes sense that he sees similarities in Cleveland and draws those conclusions.
And now with rookie Greg Little added to the mix, the new coach sees the receiving glass as half full and then some. What he will soon discover is that Cribbs is not a good receiver – he’s a much better runner – and Robiskie has trouble getting open.
And no one knows yet what Little will contribute. He didn’t play at all last season and there’s no telling how long it will take for him to (a) shake off the rust; (b) learn the nuances of the wide receiver position in the National Football League; and (c) learn to read defenses. . . .
If first impressions mean anything, the Browns shouldn’t have any problem stopping the run this season.
With top draft choice Phil Taylor now under contract and on the field, he and fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin take up a massive amount of space in the middle. Early indications are they will be difficult to move.
But since this is training camp and Taylor and Rubin are facing teammates, skeptics such as I prefer to wait and see what unfolds when players across from them are not teammates. Litmus tests such as those are much better gauges to judge the talents of players. . . .
It appears as though Shurmur is going to give second-year man Shaun Lauvao every opportunity to win the job as the starting right guard. If successful, that’ll give Heckert four starters from the 2010 draft class.
And should Montario Hardesty stun just about everyone and stay healthy long enough to become a significant complement to Peyton Hillis at running back, make that five starters. . . .
Usama Young has been plugged in as Abram Elam’s successor at free safety. As the exhibition season unfolds, however, expect a battle between Young and Mike Adams to see who opens up the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11.
Adams is the more versatile of the two since he can play all four secondary positions. He’s also more experienced and seems to have the knack of making big plays. It’s time he’s given the opportunity to become a full-time player. . . .
Haven’t heard much about the linebacker situation, but that’s somewhat understandable since it very well could be the strongest position on the defensive side of the ball.
Chris Gocong, Scott Fujita and D’Qwell Jackson figure to see their tackle totals rise with the new scheme. Especially Jackson’s if he can stay healthy. Right now, though, that’s a big if considering his injury history. When healthy, he’s a tackling machine. He racked up 154 tackles in 2008 before torn pectoral muscles caused him to miss most of the last two seasons.