Rookie Report: Cleveland Browns
With plenty of cap space and a roster full of unproven young’uns, the Browns were expected to be very active in free agency. But instead of making it rain, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert limited themselves to a few low-dollar moves.
Because of the front office’s conservative approach, the team will be heavily reliant on their rookies to contribute this fall. At least three rooks will start, and others could earn significant roles. Fortunately, it looks like a few already are prepared to log significant snaps, and the other drafted rookies have shown a good deal of promise.
First round pick Phil Taylor appears poised to make a big impact this fall. The mammoth defensive tackle already has made his presence felt, most notably in last night’s game against the Lions. Taylor clogged the middle, allowing his teammates to make plays. When he shut down an inside run play, Jabaal Sheard was able to move in and strip the ball from the back.
Though Taylor didn’t make a significant impact as a pass rusher, he possesses the physical tools to be a dominant on every down. Taylor isn’t just a powerful big man; he possesses impressive lateral agility and quickness for a man his size. On one play, he showed very good quicks running a stunt, kept his pads low and pushed the pocket. If he pairs that ability with improved hand play, he’ll help ensure that the team can get pressure without dispatching any blitzers.
Also, second rounder Jabaal Sheard has shown that he can bring the heat from his right defensive end spot. In addition to his forced fumble, Sheard had multiple pressures, beating former Browns OTs Corey Hilliard and Kirk Chambers with inside moves.
Hopefully, Sheard will build upon his solid night with an even more impressive performance in the dress rehearsal against the Eagles. The Pitt product still needs to prove that he can be disruptive against true starting-caliber offensive tackles. In addition, he needs to display the ability to beat them around the edge. Thus far, he’s done his damage beating tackles to their inside shoulder, not using his above average (but not excellent) first step to turn the corner.
The Browns believe they got a first round talent in wideout Greg Little. Though he hasn’t been exceptionally productive in the first two games, he’s shown flashes of that top-shelf ability.
Little’s also shown some rough edges: at times, his release off the line has been quite slow, and his route-running isn’t particularly crisp. However, he appears to be over the drops that plagued him for much of camp, instead going up to make an acrobatic catch. Both of catches in the second preseason game, including a TD grab, came on corner routes from the right-slot spot. It’s a particularly good place to be in the Browns’ offense. As Bryan Fontaine has noted, the rookie version of Colt McCoy favored throwing to the center and right side of the field. Little, while not yet a starter, could become a favorite target of Colt’s by making plays out of the right slot.
Basketball player turned tight end Jordan Cameron was a standout during the first week of training camp, but an injured hamstring has hampered his progress. It looks like the hammy’s still affecting him, as Cameron exhibited only average explosiveness in the second preseason game. He didn’t get up the seam all that quickly and wasn’t able to turn an underneath grab up the field. With Ben Watson and Evan Moore ahead of him, Cameron isn’t ticketed for an early season role, which may be for the best. He could use some more time to heal up and prepare to make an impact in 2012.
On the other hand, with the departure of Lawrence Vickers, Owen Marecic will be pressed into starting duty. And from the looks of it, there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to the NFL game. The Browns drafted Marecic to be a pass-catching WCO fullback, but he’s dropped passes in each of the first two games. More than a few times, the rookie has blocked the wrong defender or met the linebacker in the hole without delivering much pop.
However, Marecic’s determination to succeed should help him overcome those issues. After he got overpowered on one play, Marecic stood out on the next one, hauling in a pass, breaking a low tackle, then dropping his bucket and crunching the guy who managed to bring him down. Apparently, bad plays will push him to make many more good ones.
5th round speedster Buster Skrine also went through some growing pains in Friday night’s game. In the preseason opener, the rookie corner appeared to be in on every special teams tackle, but his specials play was more up & down in the second game. While he nearly broke a kickoff for a big gain, he also committed two false starts on punt coverage.
In addition, he had some mental lapses on defenses. On one play, he momentarily forgot he was in the NFL, failing to quickly tap a receiver who’d gone to the ground with the ball. The small corner showed he isn’t afraid to mix it up by delivering a couple hard hits, but he too often went with the shoulder check instead of wrapping up. Like UDFA defensive back James Dockery, he had an uneven game, but he may have already secured a roster spot. Indeed, both rookies could make the 53 man roster.
The Browns traded up for Jason Pinkston, giving up a pair of sixth round picks to nab the Pitt offensive lineman. The coaching staff’s moved the college left tackle inside, and he logged significant snaps against the Lions at left guard.
Pinkston came in on the team’s third series and mostly did a good job. At 6’3″ and close to 320 lbs., he possesses the ideal build for the position. He’s strong enough to anchor in pass pro and move people in the run game. However, he needs to clean up his technique before he’ll be ready to start. Pinkston’s footwork is a work in progress. He lets his feet get too wide, on one play getting beat for a pressure because of it. And on more than a few occasions, Pinkston got caught playing too tall, thereby negating his effectiveness in the run game. Perhaps it was due to him logging so many snaps: he also committed a sloppy holding penalty.
But one also could see Pinkston’s starting potential. He had a nice block on a long touchdown run; on another play, he pancaked d-tackle Quinn Pitcock. Because he’s battling in close quarters at guard, any tiny mistake can get him beat. But if he’s able to harness his potential, Pinkston could be a nasty cog in the Browns’ already very good offensive line.
With the team’s “build through the draft” philosophy, the Browns are putting a lot of faith in Tom Heckert’s scouting ability. Based on their 2010 draft haul, there’s good reason to believe he deserves that trust. Hopefully, his two draft classes will help the team be competitive week to week. And in time, the Browns could work their way out of the bottom half of the AFC North.