Welcome to “Keepin’ It Real (and sometimes funny),” our new weekly column highlighting relevant events in Cleveland sports, and how we might feel about them; the brainchild of the man behind Twitter’s @NotSCCleveland. We will take a dive in to the good, the bad and the downright head-scratching moments that have been the last week in Cleveland sports. Do enjoy, and please do not hesitate to provide feedback.
With the preseason now in the rear view, and the Miami Dolphins in our sight, we will jump right in and give some grades to the 53 men who we (for now, anyway) call our beloved Cleveland Browns.
GRADING THE BROWNS BY POSITION……………..
Quarterbacks: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer
The Browns worked hard in the offseason to create depth at the QB position. Mission accomplished. Jason Campbell is a solid backup, and Brian Hoyer might be the best third-string QB in the league.
The question remains: can the starter be a viable quarterback in the NFL? This season will most likely be his only opportunity to prove it. Brandon Weeden has an experienced coaching staff and a friendly system to work with. We’ll see if that will translate to results on the field.
Halfbacks: Trent Richardson, Bobby Rainey, Dennis Johnson, Chris Ogbonnaya
After Trent Richardson, it’s scary. Ogbonnaya is the team’s fullback, but is versatile enough to backup at RB if need be. But then what happens at fullback? Bobby Rainey is a nice name (for an undrafted free agent), but he’s still unproven, as is Dennis Johnson. Let’s just hope Trent can survive a large workload this season.
Wide Receivers: Josh Gordon (suspended first two games), Greg Little, Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper
With Gordon suspended for the first two weeks, keeping just four receivers is a concern of mine, especially with how much the Browns plan to be in the shotgun in Norv Turner’s offense. Jordan Cameron has the versatility to line up at wideout if needed, but depth will still be an issue through the first part of the season.
Tight Ends: Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, MarQueis Gray, Keavon Milton
This is a make-or-break season for Jordan Cameron, and conventional wisdom says if he can’t make it in a Norv Turner/Rob Chudzinski offense, he can’t make it period. I don’t mind Barnidge as a No. 2 TE. The other UDFA’s? Who knows?
Offensive Line: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, O’Neil Cousins, Mitchell Schwartz, Shawn Lauvao (injured), Jason Pinkston (injured), Garrett Gilkey, Rashad Butler, Patrick Lewis, Martin Wallace
Solid starting group, even with the slight hole at right guard. Depth will improve with the return of Lauvao and Pinkston, but even so, this is the most talented position group offensively.
Defensive Line: Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Athabya Rubin, Billy Winn, Armonty Bryant, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, John Hughes.
Easily the best position group on either side of the ball. Great depth and a ton of versatility.
Linebackers: Paul Kruger, D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves, Tank Carder, Brandon Magee, Paul Hazel
Love the OLB’s. Shaky on the ILB’s, other than D’Qwell. Rushing the passer should be a strength of this unit, but stopping the run (which is the main responsibility of ILB’s) could be an issue.
Cornerbacks: Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Leon McFadden
An All-Pro leads the group, and then the talent drop-off is staggering. Is Buster Skrine really a starting cornerback in the NFL? Can Chris Owens stay healthy? Will Leon McFadden please look 1,000,000 times better than he did in the preseason? We’ll find out this Sunday at 1 p.m.!
Safeties: T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi, Josh Aubrey
I’ll make this short: I like the strong safeties and I’m not sold on the free safeties.
Kicker: Billy Cundiff
Phil Dawson for Billy Cundiff. Enough said.
Punter: Spencer Lanning
Lanning has the leg to kick it long, and is also a decent positional punter. Did I mention he kicks long field goals in emergency situations? I’m a fan.
And now, your…
Browns Quote of the Week: “I think what Phil (Dawson) did for the organization for years justifies the affection that people have.” – Browns CEO Joe Banner on former kicker Phil Dawson.
If anything, it certainly magnifies each and every one of Billy Cundiff’s kicks this season.
Browns Tweet of the Week:
Gotta give props to @scheiner_alec, @KevinGriffin425 and @BrentStehlik – fan engagement has improved 1,000,000 percent since their arrival.
— NOTSCCleveland (@NOTSCCleveland) September 4, 2013
Have to steal one of my own here. These three individuals, along with their respective staff members, have done a tremendous job reaching out to fans, and bridging the wide gap between fans and the organization that was left over from the Mike Holmgren administration.
TACKLING THE TRIBE’S ATTENDANCE PROBLEM…………
Consider the following fact: The Columbus Clippers, the Indians AAA affiliate, averaged 9,212 fans per home game this season.
On Tuesday night, in the middle of a playoff race, facing a team also involved in the same race, the Cleveland Indians played in front of 9,962 fans at Progressive Field.
There are certainly many theories on why the Indians can’t draw a respectable crowd. Some say that Cleveland is simply not a baseball town. I’ll agree with that. If you had to rank the three professional sports, I’d say baseball would probably be the least favorite for most fans. Part of that is a Cleveland problem, part of that is an MLB problem.
Still, this is the same franchise that sold out 455 games in a row. I don’t care if the Browns weren’t in town for the majority of those games … 455 games in a row at 43,000 fans per game is impressive. That’s not a stat for a “non-baseball town.”
To me, there’s a very clear disconnect between the Indians and their fans. It’s a disconnect that begins and ends with ownership. Since arriving in Cleveland, the Dolan family, right or wrong, has the reputation of being in this thing to make money first. If the team wins, well, that’s a bonus. But it’s mainly about generating profit on a yearly basis. For a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, that just simply doesn’t fly with its fans.
To be sure, the Dolans enhanced their financial allotment to Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona in the offseason. Still, after selling family-owned television network Sportstime Ohio to Fox Sports for $230 million, the end result was a $10 million bump in payroll. The real challenge, as I’ve stated before, will be to see if the financial commitment extends to future years, or if this was a one-time deal. Clearly, the fans are apprehensive, at best.
Indians Quote of the Week: “Every four or five years, if we can have a shot at the World Series like we did in ’07 and compete for the playoffs like we did in ’05, that’s as good as it gets.” – Indians Owner Larry Dolan on August 6, 2009.
And we all wonder why there’s an attendance problem at Progressive Field. To make it simple, Larry, can the fans simply show up “every four or five years” you expect to contend?
Indians Tweet of the Week:
Catch the Tribe vs. the O's in a key Wild Card matchup at 7:05PM on @SportsTimeOhio, @WTAM1100, @WMMS, or @MLBTV! pic.twitter.com/XYebm1FdWF
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) September 4, 2013
Two guys and a whole bunch of seats … they believe!
2013 BROWNS PREDICTION…………..
If you follow on twitter, you may have noticed that I’m asked this question at least five times a day: “What do you think the Browns record will be this year?”
I actually think it’s a small accomplishment that my answer has remained the same from the end of the draft, through rookie mini-camp, OTAs, and training camp. I guess that means there haven’t been any huge, depth shattering injuries to this point (knock on wood … knock on wood).
In short, I believe the Browns are going 7-9. Why 7-9? Well, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is another very young team with a brand new coaching staff. Those kinds of teams typically don’t march to the Super Bowl in their first season.
The Browns will be improved at almost every starting position. Most starters remain from last year, but this is another year into their development, and they’re finally in aggressive systems that should take advantage of their various strengths. The issue will be depth, especially at RB and in the secondary. Those are major issues, and the drop off is significant between starters and bench players.
I’m honestly taking the Joe Banner approach this season. I want the Browns to win every game, but I’ll settle for watching an aggressive, physical team on the rise. That will get me through this year. With plenty of cap room (that they’ll have to spend per the CBA) and a number of draft picks, next offseason should be the starting point of when we can expect this team to contend.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK:
Talk about learning how to look off receivers! That’s what I’m talkin’ about, Brandon!
Are taking a week off, and will return following the season opener. Let’s hope we’re all in a good mood by then.
Until next week…
Adam is a lifelong Cleveland sports fan who has witnessed his share of heartbreak along with the rest of Northeastern Ohio. A Browns season ticket holder who also attends several Indians and Cavs games each year, Adam has developed a mentality that it’s better to laugh about it than cry. It’s in that spirit, and through his love and devotion to Cleveland, that he’s developed a comedic outlook toward our sports teams. Adam is a journalism/mass communications graduate of St. Bonaventure University. You can follow him on Twtter at @NotSCCleveland.