Sunday, August 12, 2012

A decent start
Observations while watching the Browns get off to a good start (at least on the scoreboard) in exhibition season . . .

First of all, notice I call these practice games exhibitions, not preseason games even though they are games played before the regular season, which technically makes them preseason.

For some reason, the haughty National Football League does not like to use the term “exhibition” when labeling these meaningless games. And yet, that’s exactly what they are: exhibitions.

Maybe the league feels guilty for charging regular-season ticket prices for these outings and by calling them preseason games, it takes the sting out of charging so flagrantly.

Now then, the 19-17 exhibition victory Friday night in Detroit.
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Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress did not see enough of Brandon Weeden and the first-string offense to come away with a definitive judgment. That unit should have played more than the first three series. Much more.

Granted it was just the first exhibition of the season, but there are only four of these games and the final one, for some stupid reason, has become a platform to configure the bottom part of the roster. In that final game, most coaches rest the regulars for fear of exposing them to injuries.

That, of course, is nonsensical since football is a collision sport rife with injuries. And for that reason, that game becomes a momentum killer for the starters, especially for young teams like the Browns.

It’s not like these Browns are seasoned veterans and don’t need much work to get ready. This is a virtually remade offense that needs all the work it can get to be sure the timing is ready in time for the season opener.

Weeden, his receivers and his offensive line need to get in more than three series (14 snaps) if they want to be ready to roll when the games begin to take on meaning. And playing just a relative handful of plays is not going to accomplish that goal.

With a young offense, the more plays you can run, the better chance that offense has of cutting down on mistakes. It’s not like Weeden needs just a couple of series to get used to the banging again.

The mistake most coaches make with rookies, especially those ticketed to start right away, is not giving them enough reps to hone their craft. Let them make their mistakes and then learn from them. The more reps, the more mistakes and more chances to correct those mistakes.

Look for that group to play most of the first half of Thursday’s exhibition in Green Bay and then play into the third quarter of the exhibition against Philadelphia on Aug. 24 in Cleveland, the so-called dress rehearsal for the regular season. And that poses another dilemma.

The Browns open the season at home Sept. 9 against the Eagles, roughly two weeks after the exhibition against them on the same field. How buttoned down will the Cleveland offense be in that exhibition as a result? How can Weeden & Co. make any progress that way in that dress rehearsal?

Weeden and his men must get as many reps as possible before the season opener. They need to be sharp. They won’t be if they watch a majority of the exhibition season from the bench.

Unless Shurmur and Childress wise up and force-feed this offense in the next three exhibitions, the Eagles will find their season opener much easier than anticipated.
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Unless the Browns increase their team speed on both sides of the ball, this is going to be another long season. With the exception of rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin, there is no appreciable speed on offense.

And the defense seemed a step slow against Detroit. The Lions’ running game piled up nearly 200 yards against the young Cleveland front seven. Sure veterans Ahtyba Rubin and D’Qwell Jackson didn’t play, but it was alarming to watch the Lions open up significant holes.

OK, it was just the first exhibitions and the players were getting their game legs. So were the Lions, though, and they didn’t seem to have much trouble with the Cleveland defense.

Weeden, on the other hand, had what can charitably be called an uneven game. He showed surprising dexterity running the offense from under center, something he has done little of in his football career. He’s an athlete and it showed.

His three- and five-step drops were flawless and he made quick decisions, a few of which were incorrect. For someone who played in the spread his entire college career, he also showed dexterity in the play-action fake while operating under center.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Childress incorporates seven-step drops into Weeden’s repertoire. When Trent Richardson returns and the running game takes shape, the rookie quarterback’s play-faking ability should come in handy and be effective.

Weeden seems smart enough where he can correct his errors before others surface. That’s how you learn to play quarterback in the NFL.
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Other observations: As long as the coaches keep Benjamin away from the middle of the field, he should be all right. The slight wideout also showed nice hands on his two receptions. . . . Weeden, at times, made the rookie mistake of locking onto his primary target. It resulted in his interception. He has to look off his primary. He would have had two picks had Dwight Bentley not dropped an earlier one. . . . Before he left with a back injury, second-year tight end Jordan Cameron impressed with two nice catches. . . . Rookie offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz will not forget his opening series as a pro. He was flagged for a false start on a third and 10 at the Detroit 23, then gave up a strip sack to Detroit defensive end Willie Young that resulted in a turnover. . . . Mo Massaquoi should retire before he is seriously injured. The veteran wideout, who has had two concussions the last two seasons, caught the first pass of Weeden’s pro career on the Browns’ first offensive play of the evening, then left the game with another concussion. . . . Good sign: Safety T.J. Ward is back healthy and starting to hit people. . . . Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade replaced the injured Dimitri Patterson and did not play like a rookie, showing the willingness to stick his head in there on run support and making nice plays in the passing game. . . . Punter Reggie Hodges, back after missing the 2011 season, appeared in mid-season form, dropping a couple of punts inside the 10-yard line. . . . Nice pick by veteran corner Sheldon Brown in the first quarter off Matthew Stafford. . . . And a great pick by David Sims in the final seconds to seal the victory. 

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