The Cleveland Browns continue their preseason journey and not much has been learned about their identity and direction. But it’s still early, and they have shown some signs of what type of team they might be in 2016 if you look at a couple of key areas.
I’m not and haven’t been very optimistic for 2016, so measuring success this season will be much different for the Browns than other franchises. Winning more than three games is (sadly) a good barometer for the direction of the team.
That’s something every team should aspire to. Yep, we have reached the full acceptance stage of grief. For much of 2016 we’re probably going to be seeing glimpses of the competitive team we’ll see in 2017—at least we hope, because another two failed seasons by another regime will be two more lost seasons for a storied franchise that has completely lost its way.
But that isn’t going to happen. These Browns are an enigma, so come along with me in trying to make sense of what we’re seeing on the field.
Things I think
- Nothing Has Changed
Nothing I saw against Green Bay changed my mind on anything one way or the other. I wanted to see some big performances, or some disappointing ones, to make me have any kind of feeling, but everything was very bland in game one.
Jamie Meder made another big play in a preseason game, and most of the team’s starting secondary was watching from the sidelines or not on the field. Déjà vu from a previous failed organization isn’t the best way for Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson to start anew.
- One surprise
While everything else resembled a status quo Browns performance, running back Raheem Mostert, the only player who really “WOWed” me, looked juiced on offense after fumbling a free kick following Meder’s safety stuff and dropped a pass in the flat. Getting the ball into his hands and having it stay there looks like an important challenge holding him back from being a potential contributor.
Robert Griffin III looked pretty crisp on the team’s first drive, but an interception on a slightly overthrown post to Gary Barnidge at the goal line and some hesitancy in the pocket were some of his significant negative marks. He did stick in the pocket, and Jackson didn’t get him on the move intentionally. But that’s to be expected, this was the first preseason game and there’s little chance we’ll see much intricacy in the next few weeks.
Griffin’s road to redemption isn’t going to be easy in Cleveland. For the first four weeks he’ll be missing Josh Gordon, but he does have the arm and skills to be a respectable quarterback. Do I expect him to lead a surprise playoff surge? Not even close.
But with expectations at an all-time low, there’s a high probability the former Rookie of the Year outperforms his very low expectations. Griffin will be better than people are predicting. Jackson will have him prepared enough to at least be serviceable while the organization contemplates its future.
If RG3 has a resurgence as I’m expecting under Jackson, the Browns’ quarterback problem fixes itself. And if he doesn’t, they’re no farther away from being a contender than they were when they signed him to that heavily incentive-laden contract last spring.
- Cam Erving is still Cam Erving
Only now he’s in the middle of the Browns offensive line. Erving allowed two hurries/hits on Griffin, one he looked befuddled on as he chipped then released inside linebacker Blake Martinez—presumably because he thought running back Isaiah Crowell would pick him up—who ended up hurrying a throwaway from Griffin.
More on Erving to follow.
Things I Know
- Speed Kills
I know Duke Johnson and Terrelle Pryor are going to allow the Browns’ offense to compete, or at least provide some entertainment in between opposing touchdown drives. Coach Jackson knows how to space the field to give these guys opportunities to make plays with the ball in and out of their hands.
We saw it with Pryor already on the team’s first play from scrimmage. He called a pretty simple concept and asked his big and fast receiver to make a play. Defenses having to respect that will help the Browns in so many ways.
Johnson’s lone rush, an outside sweep, stiff-arm and scamper for 11 yards was an encouraging sign. The blocking wasn’t all there, but it won’t be often for him, so it’s a good sign seeing him make those type of plays.
Jim O’Neil’s undisciplined defense from 2015 showed up early on in Green Bay, slipping off Eddie Lacy and allowing the Packers to extend drives on the ground with Joe Callahan at quarterback.
People might suggest coaching here, but Hue Jackson has been running physical practices, so let’s not pretend they aren’t trying to emphasize tackling. We’ll see how they progress during the next couple weeks to see how worried we need to be.
I’ll do this after every game, and by this I mean name one or two players I think are on the chopping block as cuts come at us quick over the next few weeks.
This week my guys are Barkevious Mingo and Cam Erving.
Mingo is on the last year of his rookie contract, and is relatively inexpensive, but he’s not in the team’s long-term plans and contributes very little for the money he is earning. The Browns have been drafting edge players to improve that spot and have been toying with the idea of trying him at inside linebacker. Weird. Very disappointing player who although he has the speed to rush the passer, he has failed to get bigger and stronger.
What is there to say about Erving at this point? Will he actually get cut from the roster? Probably not, but it wouldn’t faze me if it happened. He’s not the smartest player and his technique lapses are still hurting him.