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NFL Sneak Peek - Cleveland Browns


Things started bad for the Cleveland Browns last season and finished even worse. The team lost its first three games, recovered briefly to win three of four, but lost its last six in a very embarrassing fashion. The Browns' receivers dropped far too many passes, and the top two quarterbacks were eventually lost to injury, leaving Ken Dorsey to mop up. In the last six games of the year, Cleveland scored 31 points. When the dust cleared, gone was coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage. Replacing them are Eric Mangini, who had been fired after the collapse of his New York Jets, and George Kokonis. Does this make any difference for the Browns?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

To Win AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers -225

Baltimore Ravens +320

Cincinnati Bengals +800

Cleveland Browns +900

It's going to be a quarterback battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. What Anderson did to deserve to be in this race is throw 29 touchdown passes and get selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007. Quinn's credentials consist of being taken in the first round of the draft two years ago. Quinn took over the job when Anderson was hurt last year and went 14-for-36 and 8-for-18 in two of his three starts. Despite the fact that they have a lot of holes to fill, the Browns chose not to make a deal involving one of those two quarterbacks, indicating that they don't have all the faith in the world in either one.

Jamal Lewis could wind up being a shell of his former self. Sure, he topped a thousand yards, just barely, but it was for less than four yards per carry. Cleveland's backup plan there involves the likes of fourth-year man Jerome Harrison and sixth-round draft choice James Davis. Braylon Edwards dropped almost as many passes as he caught, yet there was still interest in him from a number of teams in the NFL betting, yet the Browns did not make a deal for him. Kellen Winslow, who also made the Pro Bowl two years ago, was traded to Tampa Bay for second and fifth-round draft picks. With the second-round pick they took Mohamed Massaquoi, a wide receiver out of Georgia. They had previously taken Brian Robiskie from Oho State and also put Mike Furrey onto the roster, so they are at least trying to address the problem of depth at wide receiver. If they wish, they can also continue with Donte Stallworth, who pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter a couple of weeks ago and got the outrageously lenient sentence of 30 days in jail and house arrest.

There will be two new members of the starting offensive line this season - Floyd Womack and John St. Clair will make up the right side of the line, and Joe Thomas, who will be there for years to come, anchors the pass protection from his left tackle position. Alex Mack, a first-round draft pick out of Cal, will challenge Hank Fraley for the starting center spot.

Mangini brought in some new blood, or old blood, depending on how you look at it, in an attempt to upgrade the defense. He turned to his former Jets roster to acquire defensive end Kenyon Coleman, linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens and safety Abram Elam. All of them will have a chance to start. The big addition to last year's defense was tackle Shaun Rogers, who apparently wasn't needed by the Lions, who went on to an 0-16 record, but reached Pro Bowl status again with the Browns.

Rob Ryan is the new defensive coordinator, and he will keep the 3-4 alignment. Ryan's biggest task will be to improve the way this team defends the run, because too many teams steamrolled over Cleveland last season, despite Rogers' efforts and those of inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who should have gotten more attention. Only two teams were held below 112 yards, and the Browns gave up an average of 152 yards a game. With just 17 sacks out of the defensive line, there is certainly a lot of work to be done. David Veikune, a second-round pick out of Hawaii, was a pass rush specialist and is expected to go right to work.

There's an old saying - when you have two quarterbacks you have NO quarterbacks. That could be the case with the Browns this season, and it may be even a worse scenario if they decide to hand the job to Quinn simply as a way of justifying their selection of him two seasons back. Lots of holes, and not enough time to fill them, not this year anyway. The Bengals could actually leapfrog them in the AFC North this year.

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