Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tempered Thoughts on the New Browns

Now that the sheen has somewhat worn off and we've had some time to reflect, the Browns certainly made some ballsy moves that may, or may not, pay off. I'm going to word-sex the new dudes up, because I have a few concerns and a few happies to get off my hairy, MANLY chest...

Shaun Rogers: He's the key offseason acquisition, there's no doubt about that. When you run a 3-4, sans good NT, your defense most likely sucks man ass, which ours most certainly did last year. But Rogers is a big man with a big ol' bag hanging over his belt, which is either a good thing or bad depending on your perspective. I was all a-twitter when I first heard the news because, like his effort or not, when he feels like it, he is one of the most disruptive interior forces in the league, and that could be an understatement. I'm sure you've all seen the INT return from last year against the Broncos, a man that size should not be able to run like that, it's just not human.

But he DOES take plays off and his conditioning is definitely an issue that will be a situation to monitor throughout the season. But, unlike Florio at PFT and MDS at various outlets, I LOVE this signing. Rod Marinelli's hybrid Cover 2 was not a good fit for a guy like Rogers because he had Rogers playing the Warren Sapp role which only a few guys that size can execute. There's a reason quick defensive tackles with a ridiculous motor are among the most prized players in the league, and let's face it, if you're carrying 325 lbs+, it's hard to be in tip-top shape WHILE maintaining that kind of mass. Being an NT is just as demanding, but you don't have to move all the time like Marinelli wanted.

I think Romeo is a great guy for Rogers to learn under because he's versatile and talented and can be moved all around the line with similar results. Romeo is a player's coach and will do everything in his power to keep Rogers motivated and productive for at least this coming season. The money is an issue, Rogers better stay hungry and effective, otherwise his contract is going to weigh almost as much as he does.

Grade: A. A guy like Rogers is simply too valuable to discount without some play under his belt.

Corey Williams:
Another great signing. He's an active DT that should seemlessly slide into a 3-4 DE role without many headaches, and motivation is not a factor with this guy. He's played hungry from the day he stepped onto an NFL field, and has been disruptive and a pain for offensive blockers for as long as he's been playing.

While he will be playing a new position, it's not that much different in terms of responsibility from what he did in Green Bay. He'll most likely be playing strong-side DE, which means he'll be lining up either in the guard-tackle gap or the head up on the right tackle, a much easier guy to get around or through than a left tackle usually is. When the Browns go to a 4 man front in nickel or dime situations, the interior pair of Rogers and Williams will be a massive pain for teams who don't have the beef in the middle (like the Steelers) or Williams can stay on the strong-side end and Shaun Smith can slide into the middle creating havoc for teams that rely on quicker linemen (like the Broncos and Texans).

Williams' versatility is key here. It's going to be hard for teams to get an effective push on the projected 4 man front, even with only 2 LB's in there. But what's even better, the versatility can allow the Browns to easily employ hybrid fronts using Rogers and Williams as the two down linemen, because they'll create chaos wherever they line up, allowing our LB's to come from different angles, making it hard for opposing O-lines to adjust and pick up the free man.

Grade: A+. Williams is the kind of guy who you NEED to effectively run a 3 or 4 man front.

Donte Stallworth:
I've been a huge fan of Stallworth since he's been in the league. His biggest knock was staying healthy, which was hard when he was being keyed on because he was the only legit threat in New Orleans and Philly. But when he was able to get one-on-one coverage against a less-talented CB, he shined, like he did against the Cowboys and Giants last year for the Patriots.

He's joining a similar offense, in terms of talent, as he shined in during his stay in Boston. You just can't, as a defense, put more than one guy on Stallworth with guys like Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards and JJ in there. It's just not a smart idea. So I fully expect Stallworth to get open looks down the field or in the slot, and giving a guy with Stallworth's speed open field to work with is a great option to have. A 4 WR set with Lt. Winslow, Braylon, JJ and Stallworth is almost unstoppable, and think of the open lanes Jamal will have to run when you trot out a spread like that...hell yes.

The one negative? The contract. $10 million guaranteed is a lot to pay for a guy who does have injury issues and most likely won't be your first option. But having WR depth is not a bad thing to have, and considering the awesome state our cap situation is in, we can afford to take on a few big contracts without too many issues.

Grade: B. He's a great 3rd (or 4th depending on how you view the Souljah) option in the passing game who will stretch the field and create matchup problems wherever he lines up, whomever is defending him. Depth is a great thing to have.

Now the Browns seem to have some good players in key positions, there are still a few holes. I'm not a big fan of CB's especially when the new line guys should be able to pull a 180 on our dismal pass rush. When Kamerion Wimbley has the benefit of not having to go one-on-one against LT's who outweigh him by 80 lbs, his speed will be deadly coming off the edge. So while we're depending on younger CB's, E-Wright and B-Mac should be able to do their thing while not having to cover WR's for 30 seconds because of our anemic pass rush.

That said, another CB wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if that CB is a savvy veteran who knows what they're doing and how to play passing lanes.

Rumors have been swirling about Al Wilson potentially joining the Browns as another LB. Despite his scary injury issues, I've always been a huge Al Wilson fan, there aren't many smarter LB's in the league. Plus, he would provide versatility and experience, and he'd be instrumental in lining up our guys to make sure they're in the best position, something Willie McGinnest couldn't do because he never really had that responsibility. Plus, Al Wilson would fit in great at either MLB or strong-side LB opposite Wimbley, from that position, he'd face fewer blockers and be able to get to ball-carriers and rush the passer with much greater ease, something he excelled at in Denver. He never got a lot of sacks, but MLB's rarely do. But from a SAM LB spot in a 3-4, he's versatile enough to slide into the MLP position and allow D'Qwell or Leon Williams to rome and make tackles away from the middle of the field. If they sign him, they could even move Leon or D'Qwell seemlessley to the SAM position, something I feel either would man with great success.

I wouldn't mind another RB, but those guys are so interchangeable, that we could find one in the 4th round. Our O-line has a ridiculous amount of depth, with the recent addition of Rex Hadnot from Miami and the resigning of Lennie Friedman. Now we have O-linemen who are versatile and talented. Joe Thomas won't leave the LT position for at least a decade and Steinbach is firmly entrenched at LG. But Fraley, Ryan Tucker and Kevin Schaffer are now backed up by LeCharles Bentley (assuming he's healthy), Rex Hadnot (who has 30 starts at both guard and center in the last 2 seasons and is a starter on at least 20 NFL teams, AND who the Steelers were hot after to START), and Lennie Friedman (another G/C backup with a lot of experience).

Our O-line is easily one of the strongest and deepest in the NFL. We can spell Fraley with LeCharles or Hadnot, spell Tucker with the same crew, or slide Tucker over to his natural RT position and give Schaffer a blow while one of those guys takes over RG. God-forbid one of them gets seriously hurt, the O-line in general will be fine. It's this luxury that allows us to back off getting a top-flight RB because holes will be there and if we can get 4 yards, which almost any NFL RB can do with a great line, we'll be fine and teams won't be able to sit back on the pass.

I would still like to see another CB get signed and definitely Al Wilson, but aside from that, at the risk of sounding over-the-top, I feel the Browns are clearly the class of the AFC North, and that the Steelers are going to be shitting themselves when they have to face Shaun Rogers, Shaun Smith, Corey Williams and Robaire Smith because their O-line is just atrocious. Even the best O-lines will have tons of trouble dealing with our bulk up front, and it'll be shocking how effective our defense is when opposing O-lines don't get free shots at our LB's and allow their QB's much more time than they deserve to throw the ball.

Great offseason, and I can't wait until September. Even after a few days, the shine is and I expect big things from this team. Are they ready to take on the Pats, Colts and Chargers? That remains to be seen, but are they ready to take on the Steelers, Jags, and the other 2nd tier AFC teams? Most definitely.

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