Monday, August 31, 2015

More meanderings

If the Browns even consider signing Ray Rice and/or trading for Robert Griffin III, they should have their heads examined.

Not that they have a team considered a serious threat for the postseason right now, but adding those two to the roster will in no way strengthen it. If anything, it would do more harm than good. This team does not need headaches like those two.

First of all, Rice was well on the downside of his career when he made the mistake of slugging his then-fiancée in an elevator last year. And The Third peaked as a National Football League quarterback as a rookie.

The Browns have enough trouble in their attempt to become competitive to the point where they can honestly picture the playoffs in their future. Adding a fading running back and bust quarterback does not help.

Slapping their names on a roster does not enhance it. Rice was already beginning to regress in Baltimore and The Third has become known as one of the most injury-prone quarterbacks in the NFL. He is an injury waiting to happen.

The Redskins wanted badly for him to regain the magic that made him one of the most exciting rookies a few years ago. They gave him every chance. But a variety of injuries, which might or might not have contributed to some bad outings, kept getting in the way.

It just wasn’t working and the club finally gave up on him Sunday, naming Kirk Cousins as the starter. Rumors immediately spread that the Redskins were shopping his services to teams with quarterback needs.

The Browns certainly fall into that category with a 36-year-old starter and a mercurial backup with a sore elbow. They would be wise, however, to take a pass on The Third. Some team will find out his best days are well behind him. Hopefully, that team does not reside on the shores of Lake Erie.

As for Rice, the Browns don’t need him. I’d much rather see veteran free agents Pierre Thomas or Ahmad Bradshaw in Cleveland than Rice. Right now, Duke Johnson Jr. can’t stay healthy, but there is nothing wrong with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West that an effective offensive line can’t resolve.

That line, thought to be one of the best in the league, has not played well in the exhibition season. Once a more sophisticated offense – instead of the vanilla offense used in the exhibitions – is installed for the regular season, that could change.

Remember last season when the Browns had one of the best run offenses in the NFL before Alex Mack went down with a broken leg in game five? The same five men up front are back. Let’s see what new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has in mind for them.

There is no question the ground game will be heavily emphasized this season to take pressure off Josh McCown. Crowell, West and, when he heals, Johnson will get more than their share of carries. It’s up to the guys on the line to provide the holes. They did last season. No reason to believe they can’t this season.
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There is also no question we are seeing a brand new Travis Benjamin this season. He looks like an entirely different player. He’s bold, unafraid and playing with reckless abandon in what seems to be his way of saying last season was a fluke.

A more tentative Benjamin was a big disappointment last season, playing as though he was fearful of reinjuring a surgically repaired knee. He fair-caught way too many punts and was not the breakaway threat he was before going down early in the 2013 season.

That fear is gone as a return man – his 53-yard return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay is ample proof – and wide receiver. No longer is he afraid when his pass route takes him across the middle. Benjamin has made a couple of receptions in that area already during the exhibition season.

He also has made some terrific grabs of passes that have arrived behind him. Sooner or later, McCown will time up his throws better as he adjusts to Benjamin’s speed. He is capable of being so much more than a possession receiver. He has the speed to go deep.
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The Cleveland running game, as previously mentioned, has been somewhat subpar thus far. But a 17-yard run by West in the third quarter on a scoring drive against the Buccaneers could serve as a portent of things to come.

It was a perfectly executed trap play that sprung West loose for the club’s largest gain on the ground with right guard John Greco pulling left and picking off a defender closing in on West at the point of attack.

With such blocking sophistication, there is no reason to think the Cleveland run game will be successful again. This line is so versatile, there is no reason to believe it cannot successfully run the counter trey, especially against reactive defenses.
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With the release of little Shane Wynn Monday, it’s almost a foregone conclusion the Browns will hold on to Terrelle Pryor in some way even though he hasn’t played as down yet.

The Browns are fortified with smallish receivers and return men, so setting the 5-6 Wynn free won’t hurt. Fans wonder why the former Glenville High School standout was trimmed instead of Vince Mayle.

Two reasons: Mayle is as fourth-round draft choice; Wynn was an undrafted free agent. And Mayle is 6-2, 225 pounds and worth keeping around in hopes he will stop dropping passes a la Greg Little. It will take more than three exhibition games.
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Players on defense flying under the radar: Defensive tackle Jamie Meder and safeties Landon Feichter and Ibraheim Campbell.  Meder, a first-year man from Ashland, is extremely active in the run game – he led the team in tackles against the Bucs – and the two safeties have an aggressive bent that gets your attention. Meder, Campbell and Feichter had sacks against Tampa Bay. The safeties are tied for the team lead in tackles with 13. Feichter has 11 solos.

Players on offense flying under the radar: Tight end E. J. Bibbs (a rookie) and wide receiver Josh Lenz, a first-year man.  Bibbs is tied for second on the team with six receptions, while Lenz, an early favorite target in training camp, has three catches for 59 yards, 48 of which was against Tampa Bay. Both are from Iowa State.
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As it stands, Bibbs’ strong performance could mean the Browns will go with four tight ends this season. The two-tight-end look works well in the running game. Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge are known more for their blocking. If the coaching staff decides to go with just three, Rob Housler, who has not looked good thus far, could be the victim.
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Notebook: Was it me (or is it I?) or were the orange numerals with white piping on the Browns’ brown jerseys difficult to read from a distance? Shouldn’t it be white numerals with orange piping? . . . The Cleveland ground game has averaged just 84 yards a game, but the defense has permitted only 102 a game. . . . The pass rush has generated 11 sacks, six against the Bucs, while the offensive line has surrendered 10. . . . It was refreshing to see four passes targeted for running backs against the Bucs, an obvious effort to improve that aspect of the offense. . . . In addition to the six sacks, the Browns registered eight tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits.

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