Saturday, August 30, 2014

Nothing final here

Take a quick look at the Browns’ final 53-man roster because it won’t be final for long.

As with most National Football League teams, rosters are fluid shortly after the final cutdown, especially at the back end. They are malleable until the day of the season opener.

Trades, waiver pickups and other similar deals will be made in the next week in an effort to reshape what we’re seeing now and strengthen the back end of the roster.

Right now, that roster is overloaded in the secondary with 12 names. A week from Sunday in Pittsburgh, a dozen defensive backs will not be dressing. Most teams like to dress no more than 10 defensive backs.

Several surprising names appeared on the Browns’ cut list Saturday. Like wide receivers Nate Burleson and Willie Snead, guard Garrett Gilkey, H-Back MarQueis Gray, linebacker Jamaal Westerman, running back Dion Lewis and linebacker Zac Diles.

With the exception of Burleson, whose injured status prevented him from playing the first three exhibitions and sparingly at that, the others made positive contributions.

Other cuts were not so surprising. Like Leon McFadden, who had a miserable exhibition season. And Chris Ogbonnaya and Gray, whose fates were sealed when rookie free agent fullback Ray Agnew did not look like a rookie free agent.

A few more surprises appeared on the list of those who did not receive a call from The Turk. Like safety Robert Nelson, cornerback K’Waun Williams, offensive lineman Karim Barton and wide receiver Charles Johnson. How much longer they stick, however, remains to be seen.

Jettisoning Lewis was not a surprise given the performance of Isaiah Crowell in the final exhibition against Chicago. The coaching staff could have kept four running backs, but chose instead to fortify the defense. The club is clearly stronger at the position with Ben Tate, Terrance West and Crowell.

Burleson’s release was the biggest surprise since the Browns are bereft of quality wide receivers. If nothing else, his vast experience in the NFL would have been beneficial to a receiving corps that could be the worst in the league. The five they have right now do not scare anybody.

Opening the season with Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins and Johnson won’t do much to boost the confidence level of quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

There is no question General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine are banging the waiver wire in an effort to buttress the position. Somewhere on that vast list of free agents and/or waived players are a couple of receivers who can help Hoyer and Manziel.

One of those could be rangy Stephen Hill, cut by the New York Jets, and old friend Greg Little, picked up by Oakland after the Browns cut him in the spring, but who was trimmed by the Raiders Saturday.

Yes, Little was inconsistent in his three seasons with the Browns, but he did make some sensational plays when he was able to hold on to the football. If the Browns have any regrets cutting him, he’s out there for them now. How much worse can he be than what they have now? He averaged 52 catches a season with Cleveland.

Another area that arguably needs to be addressed is the right side of the offensive line. Guard John Greco and tackle Mitchell Schwartz are clearly the weak links up front.

If the Browns make the same determination, they might want to take a look at offensive tackle Eric Winston, released Saturday by Seattle. Picking up the veteran and plugging him in at right tackle and moving Schwartz inside, where he is more effective, might not be a bad move.

The current breakdown of the roster includes 12 rookies, including all six of the last draft class; seven players in their second season; nine in their third; and six in their fourth. That’s 34 of the 53, or 64% of the roster. Add four more in their fifth season and the percentage jumps to 71.7.

The defense boasts 27 members (12 backs, seven linemen and eight linebackers); the offense is comprised of 23 players (three quarterbacks, a fullback, three running backs, five wide receivers, three tight ends and eight linemen).

The three specialists (punter Spencer Lanning, kicker Billy Cundiff and long snapper Christian Yount) return from last season.

But don’t buy your game program just yet. More than a few of the above will not wear the Seal Brown and Orange this season. The changes could come as early as Sunday.

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