Lockout limbo: Browns report

Posted May 16, 2011 @ 9:50 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Browns.

Top three story lines

1. Will the offense be more explosive? New head coach Pat Shurmur will install the West Coast offense, team president Mike Holmgren's preferred scheme. Expect the outside receivers to be more involved in the offense, which makes this a key year for third-year wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, especially after the Browns drafted Greg Little in Round Two. It's also a big season for QB Colt McCoy, who enters his first full season as the starter in a scheme that should suit his talent well.

2. Can the Browns' defense successfully transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3? The Browns' first two draft picks - DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard - could start immediately on a revamped defensive line. However, more help could be needed inside and outside. At linebacker, the Browns appear to have their three starters in Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong and D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson, who has missed most of the past two seasons with pectoral injuries, told PFW recently that he will be tried at middle linebacker.

3. What will RB Peyton Hillis do for an encore? Hillis began last season as a backup and ended it as the Browns' leading rusher. He enters 2011 as the cover model for "Madden NFL 12" and encounters much higher expectations than a season ago. Hillis is likely to again get the majority of the carries for Cleveland, but second-year RB Montario Hardesty is likely to have a key role in the offense, too. Hillis wore down at the end of last season because of injuries and a heavy workload.


2011 free agency - whenever that happens

Unsigned players: DT Titus Adams (1), RB Mike Bell (5), OLB Marcus Benard (2), ILB Titus Brown (1), LB Blake Costanzo (3), PK Phil Dawson (12, franchised), S Abram Elam (5), TE Greg Estandia (4), DE Jayme Mitchell (5), WR Evan Moore (3), S Sabby Piscitelli (4), DE Derreck Robinson (4), OLB Matt Roth (6), DT Brian Schaefering (1), TE Alex Smith (6), DE Robaire Smith (11), S Nick Sorensen (10), WR Chansi Stuckey (4), ILB Jason Trusnik (4), FB Lawrence Vickers (5), OL Floyd Womack (10), CB Eric Wright (4), OL Billy Yates (7).

[Editor's note: The number after a player's name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]

Analysis: Wright struggled in 2010, losing his starting job to Joe Haden. Talent is not the issue with Wright; his focus can wander at times. If he's back with the Browns, he could be a very good No. 3 cornerback if he plays to his potential. Roth, a rugged outside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme, would play end in the 4-3 should he re-sign, but whether he's still in Cleveland's plans remains to be seen. Vickers seems unlikely to be back after the Browns drafted FB Owen Marecic in Round Four. Should Womack re-sign, he'll compete to start at right guard. Elam was better in his second season in Cleveland, but it's unclear whether he'll be back after coaching and defensive scheme changes. The Browns would like to re-sign Mitchell, who has 22 tackles and five sacks in five pro seasons. On a team that needs DE help, Mitchell could have a chance to contribute. Stuckey was not tendered and is unlikely to be back. Trusnik, who can play multiple LB spots, also was not tendered. Dawson, the last of the original "new" Browns, has connected on 83.2 percent of his field-goal attempts in a fine career in Cleveland.


2011 rookie class

First-round DT Phil Taylor (No. 21 overall) - Taylor is an intriguing prospect, possessing uncommon size and movement skills. With diligence, he could be a standout. He will have a chance to play immediately if he is up to the task.

Second-round DE Jabaal Sheard (No. 37 overall) - Athletic and tough, Sheard could start from Day One. Adding strength and improving his flexibility will be key.

Second-round WR Greg Little (No. 59 overall) - Little is a confident, physical playmaker who has go-to receiver traits and appears to be a strong fit in a West Coast scheme. With a new offense and coaching staff in place and no clear-cut top target on the roster, Little has a chance to earn a key role early.

Fourth-round TE Jordan Cameron (No. 102 overall) - Cameron's potential got him drafted early on Day Three. The former collegiate basketball player has outstanding measurables. Though he could take some time to develop, such an investment could play off for Cleveland.

Fourth-round FB Owen Marecic (No. 124 overall) - Marecic is expected to replace Lawrence Vickers as Cleveland's blocking back. A two-way player at Stanford, Marecic's rugged style won't be out of place in a Browns backfield not lacking in tough guys.

Fifth-round CB Buster Skrine (No. 137 overall) - Skrine could contribute in "sub" packages as a rookie. He is fast and strong but small.

Fifth-round OL Jason Pinkston (No. 150 overall) - Pinkston will compete for a reserve role at guard. He has good size for the position but could take some time to develop.

Seventh-round S Eric Hagg (No. 248 overall) - Hagg is a size-speed prospect who needs to improve his instincts. Special teams could be his ticket early.

Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Browns be by the work stoppage?

On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted) the Browns are a seven. The lockout particularly hinders Cleveland, which is changing offensive and defensive schemes and has a new head coach and young starting quarterback. Also, the Browns need to supplement their roster through free agency.