This is part of a series in which we will look at every facet of the team and provide position previews for the Browns, leading up to the start of the regular season.
Just the thought of the Browns’ receiving corps last season was enough to make me cringe, and rightfully so (we ranked dead last in passing in 2009). Well, it’s a new year and not a whole lot has changed, but I think we can all honestly admit that the passing game should be improved from last year’s, and for a number of reasons. The first being the addition of QB’s Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, as both bring a number of attributes that former QBs lacked. For instance the two are both veteran guys who know how to win, and have had success at this level. Delhomme knows what it takes to be “the guy” and this should hopefully set the tone for the rest of the offense. And though coach Eric Mangini has not named a starter just yet, all reasonable indications are that it will be Delhomme’s job to lose this training camp, which is a welcomed relief from year’s past.
All of these factors will play a role in the receiving game, mark my words. For the first time since, oh I don’t know, the Kosar era maybe, we will have a starter in place this training camp and no QB battle going on in camp. This means the WR’s and TE’s will be more familiar with who is throwing them passes, and that can only lead to good things.
Also, the Browns running game came on strong late last season and by all measures has improved this off season. Hopefully this means that teams will be more likely to key in on the run and thus open up the passing game. It truly is amazing what a balanced attack can to for your offense.
Enough with all the outside factors, let’s take a look see at this seasons WR’s and TE’s, shall we? To be 110% honest not a whole heck of a lot has changed, but I like that. The team needed to improve a lot of different positions and one offseason was not going to fix them all. But the Browns did manage to, at least on paper, improve the receiving group by adding rookie WR Carlton Mitchell from South Florida in the 5th round, as well as WR Bobby Engram in free agency and TE Ben Watson, also via free agency.
Mitchell is a bigger and potential playmaker by all accounts; It is very possible he could end up being one of the best “steals” of the 2010 draft. Some experts had him going as high as the 2nd or 3rd round if not for a change in QB’s from his junior to senior seasons at South Florida.
Engram, who may or may not be on the team come September, will at the very least provide some much needed veteran leadership for the young group of WR’s. Having played 14 years, there are a few things that Engram can teach the younger players. Though he may not be able to produce as he once did, his value to the team will not be measured in YPC or TD’s but instead in how well the youngsters progress.
Watson, one of the other free agents brought in this season, will provide veteran leadership and a winning mentality, having previously played for the Patriots. There is no question that Watson is the best pass-catching TE the Browns have had since Kellen Winslow Jr., though Evan Moore did have some great catches and games late last season, but more on him later. Watson will definitely add a new wrinkle to the Browns passing game, and give the Browns a legitimate weapon in the red zone and short yardage passing situations. At the very least, Browns fans should be overwhelmed with joy that they won’t have to see Robert Royal in on passing downs this season.
The Browns are also returning a number of WR’s and TE’s from last season’s roster. The most notable of this bunch are second year WR’s Mohamed Massaquoi, who led the team with 624 yards, Brian Robiskie, who was in Mangini’s dog house most of the season and only had seven receptions for 106 yards, and TE Evan Moore, who proved to be a nice find towards season’s end, finishing with 158 yards in just five games. Also in the mix, and no I did not forget him, is WR/RB/KR/PR/Wildcat QB Josh Cribbs, who in my opinion does not have one position and is best utilized in a variety of different and unconventional roles.
The team also has a number of others who are fighting for a spot on the roster or the practice squad. At WR it looks like it will come down to Engram or Chansi Stuckey for the final WR roster spot (though both could also very easily make the team too), while at TE it appears that Robert Royal and free agent accusation Alex Smith will battle it out in training camp for the third TE job.
Others to keep an eye out for are rookie WR Johnathan Haggerty who impressed the coaches in OTA’s (he is surely a candidate to make the practice squad), and second-year WR Jake Allen, who played in a few games late last season. The Browns have also brought in TE Joel Gamble and WR Syndric Steptoe, but I find it hard to believe that either one will make the team in any capacity, barring injury of course.
So what can we expect from this bunch? In all honesty this group still needs time to develop, before anything else. If Massaquoi and Moore can pick up and improve on their performances from last season and if Robiskie can actually see some playing time and become the reliable target he was in college, it will be a great start. All Watson needs to do is do what he has done his entire career: 30-35 receptions and provide a nice target inside the red zone. Heck, if Josh Cribbs continues to improve his receiving skill set I’ll love his game even more. With Mitchell, the most important thing he can/should provide is a legitimate second or third option after Massaquoi and maybe Robiskie at the WR spot.
The Browns will need some production out of all of their WR’s, something most teams can often overlook, but with a young group of receivers every bit counts. That reason alone is why I would not mind seeing the Browns go with possibly six WR’s, meaning that both Engram and Stuckey make the club out of camp. Engram, like I have mentioned before, will be a valuable tool to have around to be an on-the-field teacher to the young guys. While Stuckey has proven himself to be a personal favorite of Mangini, he has also been able to produce effectively and shown some nice flashes at times. With Royal, who appears to be the favorite to round out the TE’s, moving him to the third TE spot is a welcomed relief after his play last season. Royal at the very least is an excellent run blocker, a trait that cannot, but often does, get overlooked.
All in all, the 2010 Browns receiving corps will be a work in progress, and one would definitely hope that strides will be made this season and in the years to come. This group of youngsters seems to be heading in the right direction and could form a very talented unit for the Browns for the next decade or so.