Saturday, September 1, 2012

The disastrous 53

Why is it so difficult to get excited about the Browns’ final 53-man roster?

For a team anxious to escape the lower depths of the National Football League, some of the decisions General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. made to prune the roster set off the meter of disbelief.

OK, so it is fluid, depending on what free agents are more attractive to the powers-that-be than the ones that made the final 53, and could change before the regular season opener Sept. 9 in Cleveland. But not in a significant way.

The release of tight end Evan Moore, for example, strengthens my belief the guys who make these command decisions have seriously misjudged how to use him effectively.

At 6-6, 250 pounds, Moore is built like a tight end if you follow the prototype. But the former Stanford wide receiver blocks like a wide receiver. Heckert and his merry men pigeonholed him as a tight end, and that was that.

One of the reasons Moore was unable to stay healthy was because he was called on to do something he does poorly . . . block, as most tight ends are required to do. Most of his injuries occurred blocking bigger players.

Ask him to run pass patterns and catch a football was an entirely different matter. He isn’t fast, but he’s not slow, either. He rarely drops a pass and has the ability to get open. Just like a wide receiver. Which is what he is. He’s not a tight end.

The Browns are aching for wide receivers who can get open and catch passes. They had one, didn’t realize it and let him go because he wasn’t what they wanted him to be.

As for the other cuts, why is it that when someone shows signs of being a playmaker, he isn’t long for the roster? Free agent safety David Sims came in and almost immediately got the coaching staff’s attention with a few interceptions.

The first one goes somewhat unnoticed, the second one gets your attention and by the time the third theft occurs, you really begin to think this kid is something special even though it’s just the exhibition season.

So when the final cuts are announced and the Browns trade Sims to Philadelphia for a future draft choice, it makes one wonder just what a player has to do to make the final roster.

Two potential playmakers gone.

Other eye openers: Why is offensive tackle Oneil Cousins still on the roster? Ditto Montario Hardesty, Owen Marecic, Mo Massaquoi and Usama Young.

Cousins, on his best day, is awful. A turnstile of an offensive tackle who is a walking, talking holding penalty. If this is the best the Browns can do at backing up regular tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, they better hope neither man gets hurt. The other backup tackle, rookie Ryan Miller, is a better guard, relatively speaking.

Guessing here that the reason the Browns won’t give up on Hardesty is because he was a Heckert pick and they gave up a lot to get him a couple of years ago. Injuries have turned him into a below-average runner who can’t be trusted to hang on to the football.

Marecic, a two-way player at Stanford, has been an abject disappointment at fullback. He contributed almost nothing last season as a rookie and there are no signs he’s going to be any different this season. Why not try him at linebacker, his college position, where he can’t be any worse?

Massaquoi is used most effectively on pass routes that take him over the middle. But that’s the land of concussions for him and his worth diminishes due to his obvious reluctance to mix it up.

Young, who missed the exhibition season, has lost his job to Eric Hagg, one of Heckert’s late-round draft picks. In his brief stint with the Browns, Sims showed more play-making ability than Young ever did.

As for the starters, the offensive line is a work in progress. Thomas had an uneven exhibition season, making mistakes he normally doesn’t make. Schwartz is big enough for the running game, but is maddeningly slow in pass protection against speed rushers.

Center Alex Mack is solid, but the guys who flank him leave a whole lot to be desired. Guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao have shown no improvement over last season. If anything, they are backsliding.

And if he’s healthy, running back Trent Richardson will be a key factor, taking some of the heat off fellow rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Figure that coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress will employ a button-down offense at first.

On the other side of the ball, don’t be surprised if opponents this season put the ball up much more often than last season. Last season, the Browns’ secondary was lucky opponents didn’t pick on it. That’s because opposing teams gouged out tons of yardage on the ground and didn’t have to throw the ball. That’ll change this season.

Factor in that the Cleveland pass rush is well below average and you have a potential disaster because the secondary isn’t that good. Unless, of course, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron suddenly changes his philosophy and turns his guys loose.

The run defense can’t get any worse than the last few years. Or can it? With Phil Taylor out for at least the first half of the season and rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes rotating in the middle, another repeat looms.

Right now, the final 53 is a mixed bag of question marks and exclamation points with many more of the former. Playing the third-toughest schedule on paper, escaping the lower depths of the NFL might have to wait at least another season for the Browns.

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