Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Browns Open Training Camp, Questions Abound

Yes, it’s finally here. The Cleveland Browns open their 2008 Training Camp in Berea, Ohio on Wednesday, July 23. This is arguably the most anticipated season since 1994 or even 1990 as the Browns look to follow up on an unexpected 10-6 record in 2007. While anticipation and expectations are high, the Browns face just as many questions as any other franchise at the outset of 2008.

Can they avoid the injury bug?
Offensive tackle Ryan Tucker has already been out for most of the summer following hip surgery. Cornerback Daven Holly was lost for the year following knee surgery. Receiver Joe Jurevicius will miss the start of the regular season after battling a staph infection. That’s already three key injuries before camp opens. It will be crucial to avoid any more.

Will lack of depth at these positions hurt them?
The offensive line is stout but the same can not be said of cornerback and receiver. Can two second year players, Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald, handle a slew of elite NFL receivers or will Easy-E and B-Mac be in over their heads? Can Travis Wilson step up? Will the Browns use more two tight end sets? Throw in the lack of depth at running back behind Jamal Lewis and these are three positions that the Browns can ill afford any losses.

How will the new defensive line sort itself out?
Shaun Rogers, Corey Williams, Robaire Smith and “The Hamburglar” Shaun Smith will all rotate in the 3-4 but who will play where and when? Who else will step up and join the rotation? Phil Savage made some bold, out-of-the-box moves to try and fix one of the Browns’ biggest problem areas. How it plays out is anybody’s guess.

Do the Browns have any real linebackers?
Kamerion Wimbley had a down sophomore year where he faced a lot of double teams and attention. The revamped defensive line should help him but he needs to develop a larger pass-rushing repertoire. Andra Davis has a great mind but has been a step slow. He claims he is healthy and he needs to be to lead this unit. Is D’Qwell Jackson the real deal or is he just a little too small for an ILB? How much Willie McGinest can contribute, Antwaan Peek’s ability to stay healthy and how to effectively utilize Leon Williams will all be things to watch in pre-season.

How will new Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker run things?
The abrasive, and sometimes psychotic, Todd Grantham is out and former defensive backs coach Mel Tucker is in. What kind of scheme will he run out of the 3-4? How will he offset the lack of experience in the secondary? Tucker has done wonders with the Browns young defensive backs over the years now all he has to do is turn around one of the most putrid defenses in the NFL.

How will Josh Cribbs be utilized on offense?
It won’t be a full fledged assignment with all of his special teams duties but the weekly “Josh Cribbs Wrinkle” to Rob Chudzinski’s game plan is always highly anticipated. Whether out of the backfield, as a decoy or under center it is always must see TV to see what Chud has in store.

Will the offense be able to duplicate 2007’s success?
The NFL is a league of adjustments and the rest of the teams now have a full year’s worth of tape on the Browns. How will the counter-punch opposing defenses in 2008? Can they put up points at an amazing rate for the second consecutive year? With a tough schedule it will be interesting to see how they stack up against the crème de la crème.

Speaking of that schedule…
Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Eli Manning to start. Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Palmer and Roethlisberger to finish. The middle of the schedule is no cakewalk either. Yes, it’s tough but bring it on. Let’s see if the Cleveland Browns are on the rise or still have strides to make. We should want this as Browns fans.

…It only comes down to one thing… Beat Pittsburgh.
The Browns haven’t been able to do it in five years. They’ve come close but faltered at the end time and time again. To climb the mountain you have to knock whoever is standing there off. Until the Browns can defeat the hated Pittsburgh Steelers they will be reserved to second class status in the AFC North. Beat the Appalachian Inbred and they just may have a shot at this thing. They get their first shot in Week 2 at home on Sunday Night Football. Their only home loss last year was the opening week debacle to the Steelers. This year it is their chance to set the tone for 2008 in front of the nation.

So let’s start on the pads, grab the face paint and buy up the Milkbones at the local supermarket, Browns fans. It’s Cleveland Browns training camp 2008. Before you know it, it will be time to dress up in orange, hit the Muni Lot and bark your ass off. There’s only one thing left to say…

Go Browns. Believeland. Believe in Now.