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Team Preview Part 2

September 10, 2009

If you read Part 1 yesterday where I covered the offense, welcome back! If you didn't read Part 1, please check it out below. Today I am going to give you my thoughts on the Browns defense and (briefly) on the specialists. So here we go...

Defensive Line: Kenyon Coleman, C.J. Mosley, Shaun Rogers, Ahtyba Rubin, Robaire Smith, Corey Williams- This unit probably ends up being the strength of the defense, and it is a solid group. Shaun Rogers is a legitimate Pro Bowler Game Changing Dominator. He is a beast, and I love that Mangini kept him out in the preseason. Why put the extra miles on those knees? The guy is lugging around 360+ pounds when he walks around naked. They wear a lot of equipment out there. It's not like Rogers desperately needs the practice. The dude was born to play nose tackle. Remember all that talk about Rogers taking plays, games, even half seasons off in Detroit? Didn't see any of that last year. Even though the team sucked, Rogers went hard. He stands next to Joe Thomas as the best players on the Browns. Remember when Butch Davis inexplicably passed on LaDanian Tomlinson to take Gerard Warren? Shaun Rogers is what Gerard Warren was supposed to be.
Kenyon Coleman and Robaire Smith are going to get the bulk of the snaps at the defensive end positions. Smith is coming off of a major injury, but is by all accounts fully recovered. When healthy Smith is a capable veteran with a big body who should be more than solid. Coleman isn't a star, but he knows Mangini's system and is also a big body who will eat space. Eating space, and tying up blockers, is key to the pass rush in the 3-4. Coleman will help. He is a good player.
I hope Corey Williams earns a lot of reps, because I think he is the second most talented player on the D-Line. However, he hasn't acclimated himself to the 3-4 as well as was hoped when the previous regime acquired Williams from Green Bay and signed him long term. He may need to adjust the mental part of his game a bit more to be an effective 3-4 end, but physically he is gifted. I hope he earns more time on the field, because that means he is adjusting to the 3-4 role.
Rubin is a big body backup nose tackle. He seems to have some upside and to be stout against the run. He played with the first team through a lot of camp and all of the preseason while Mangini allowed Rogers to rest. Rubin used that time to show he is legit. I don't know if he is good enough to be a starting nose in a 3-4, but he seems to be a very good backup, used to spell Rogers and continue to eat space. Remember, if Rubin is taking snaps to spell Rogers, he will most likely be facing an interior line that has been dealing with the BeastMan 92 and will likely be fatigued. Rubin could make some plays this year and allow Rogers to be more effective overall.
C.J. Mosley will be the 6th man on the line, and he is a solid last guy. He knows Mangini's system and must be smart because Mangini brought him in. Barring injury he shouldn't make a huge impact, but if called upon he should perform admirably.

Linebackers: Eric Barton, David Bowens, Blake Costanzo, Alex Hall, D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava, David Veikune, Leon Williams, Kamerion Wimbley- Remember the pass rush I mentioned above? It has to come from this group in the 3-4. Shaun Rogers can only do so much. The D-Line needs to occupy the blockers, the linebackers must get to the quarterback. That's where (we hope) Wimbley comes in. His special rookie year, followed by pedestrian production in his second and third seasons, are all well documented. The challenge for Mangini and Rob Ryan is to get Wimbley back to his rookie year production levels. If Wimbley is a 12-14 sack guy, this is a different defense. Suddenly there is something beyond Shaun Rogers to worry about. Wimbley being a 12-14 sack guy is a huge "if." If you told me Wimbley could have a guaranteed total of 7 sacks this year or I could see what happens, I'd take the 7 sacks. That still isn't enough.
On the other side of Wimbley, Bowens is the starter but you will see a lot of Alex Hall and probably David Veikune as well. Bowens is another Mangini transplant and has good size and experience, but he really shouldn't be starting. If David Bowens is your 3rd OLB, you're in good shape. If he's starting you have a little problem. Alex Hall needs to make a jump in his second season. He had his moments in the preseason. He should be used to the NFL after making the leap from Division II football last year. Mangini needs to find a way to use Hall where he can both be productive and continue to grow as a player. 5 or 6 sacks as a situational pass rusher is not out of the question for Hall.
Veikune will probably see time at multiple linebacker spots, but I think his long term future is on the outside. Other than his hair, I didn't notice him in the preseason. I didn't notice him making plays, but I also didn't notice him making mistakes or missing tackles. His reputation coming out of Hawai'i is that of a high motor pass rusher. He is sporting Troy Polamalu's hair cut and wearing Clay Matthews's number. You look at him and think he should make plays. Hopefully Mangini will find a way to get Veikune to make an impact on the field this season.
Barton and Jackson will be the starting inside backers. Jackson (who is referred to as "D'Well" Jackson in Madden '10 by the play-by-play voice) is a good and productive run stuffer. He can man the middle for another five years here, if not more. He isn't going to bring a lot in the pass rush, but he is solid in zone coverage and open field tackling. He's a keeper. Barton, on the other hand, is a stop gap. He is a capable player. He is a legitimate starter in the league still, although he is a low tier starter now. He is a heady player who Mangini likes and will not make mental mistakes and will play good, fundamental football. There's nothing wrong with starting Barton this year, although in a perfect world you would want an upgrade.
Leon Williams seems to have regressed some over the last season or two. He won't make the impact you would hope for and will make too many tackles 4 or 5 yards beyond where you'd like. I don't know what it is, because he seems too young to have his physical skills diminishing. Perhaps he plays a lot better this year than he did in the preseason because he needs to play better.
Maiava will have limited opportunities to make an impact on defense, and you will see him mostly on special teams. He should make an impact there. He is undersized a little bit, but he should develop into a solid situational player with his motor and athleticism.
Blake Costanzo is strictly a special teamer.

Defensive Backs: Mike Adams, Abram Elam, Marquis Floyd, Coye Francis, Gerard Lawson, Brandon McDonald, Brodney Pool, Hank Poteat, DeAngleo Smith, Nick Sorenson, Eric Wright- Wright, McDonald, and Pool are back as starters this year. They are joined by Elam, brought over in the trade that turned into Mark Sanchez. (I really liked Sanchez coming out of USC. I still do. I'm glad games begin this weekend, because Sanchez was in real danger of becoming massively overrated before ever playing a regular season down in the NFL.) McDonald and Wright are both good players, but I worry they are playing a little over their head. Wright would be ideal as a number 2 corner, but he is being asked to be the number 1 corner on this team. McDonald looks like the NFL's best nickelback recast as a starting corner. I really like them both. They both make plays. However, they both lack elite size and speed. Size is a particular concern with McDonald. Because they are playing, as I termed it, above their heads they are going to get beat from time to time. Both are very competitive and have a great mental makeup for the cornerback position, so both will also make plays. Both are young and I like them both long term.
Pool and Elam will be the primary safeties. Pool has great physical abilities, but has never quite put it all together. He is solid, but you just feel like he should be better. It just seems like he doesn't make enough plays. It's not for lack of effort, nor does he make a ton of mistakes or blow a lot of assignments. He just doesn't make the impact he should. Maybe this is the year he puts it together. He may never be better than the player he is now. Concussions are a worry for Brodney. Elam was brought over by Mangini after Mangini brought him along in New York. He seems ready to be a starter. He won't be a superstar, but he could be a solid player. He has good physical skills and seems to have a little playmaker in him, but he gets beat from time to time. Elam appears to be a solid player who will occasionally dazzle and occasionally frustrate.
Poteat beat out Corey Ivy and Rod Hood to be the veteran who will most likely play in the nickel. Poteat is older and has always had speed and quickness limitations, but he is also a crafty veteran. At the very least, he is an upgrade from the Wendy's Value Menu options that played the nickel last season.
Coye Francis excites me. He has good size and speed. I went to one day of training camp this year and watched the DBs in drills, Francis appeared to be the fastest player out of his breaks, by far. It wasn't because the other guys weren't quick. Francis was just really fluid out of his breaks. Quick and smooth. I liked what I had heard about Coye before I saw him up close. I really liked him after I watched him for a day. For what it's worth, he's progressed to an 84 overall in his fourth season in my Madden '10 dynasty. (In case you're curious, the information in that last sentence is like my brother. It's totally worthless.)
Mike Adams is the third safety and a good special teamer to boot. He can fill in as a nickel in a pinch as well. Mike gives great effort and maximizes his physical skills. Mike Adams is a good player to have on your team and I'm very happy with him as our third safety.
Nick Sorenson will play mostly on special teams. If called upon, he has good size and is a heady player, so he can be an adequate short term fill in at safety. Effort is never a question with Sorenson, but he is buried on the depth chart.
Lawson made the team probably mostly because he has return ability. He is something of a project on defense. He may play some corner in sub packages. He has good straight line speed, but is not quick out of his breaks and is vulnerable in man coverage. If he sees a lot of time on defense, either he has made massive improvements or the Browns are in trouble.
I can't tell you anything about Smith or Floyd beyond height, weight, and other basic factual information. See Part 1 of my preview on Phil Trautwein.

Overall- If things go well (Wimbley gets double digit sacks; Hall and Veikune are productive; Elam and Pool play well; Wright and McDonald make more plays than they give up; Rogers and Jackson stay healthy and continue to produce at 2008 levels or better) this defense could get near 12th, 11th, or 10th overall. Seems high to you? Take a look at the number of "ifs" above. If things break bad for the Browns, this unit will rank near the bottom of the league and this season will get very long very fast. My guess, some things go right, some don't. I know, I'm going out on a limb. I'm predicting something will go right for the Browns.
The defense is respectable, but not in the top half of the league. Ranking somewhere in the 18th-22nd range. This unit is probably at least two more big time Rogers level playmakers away from being elite.

Quickly, The Specialists: Phil Dawson, Ryan Pontbriand, Dave Zastudil- Pontbriand made the Pro Bowl. He was actually drafted just to long snap, in the 5th round. He's probably pretty good at it. No complaints here.
West Side Suburban native Zastudil can hang it up there and boot it far. Pretty much all you need from your punter. I've never heard Dawson complain about his holding on field goals or extra points. Color me satisfied.
Phil Dawson has been with the team since 1999. He's really, really accurate. He can boot a ball. He has hit a number of big field goals over the last 10 years in pressure situations. Just pay him so he can kick here for another 10 years. He should make a Pro Bowl at some point in his career, even if it is just as a lifetime achievement award.
As far as the return game goes, Josh Cribbs handles that. If he's in uniform, all the worries about the Browns return game belong to the opposition. Cribbs scares the hell out of opposing coaches on every non-field goal/extra point special teams play of the game. Yes, he is scary as a gunner. I think that covers the return game.

Check back before the Vikings game for my final predictions on the Browns 2009 season, you know, if you want to.

Jack Bacevice

2 comments:

  1. At least we got rid of that bum Smith who now is suspended with the Lions for violating the NFL's substance policy.

    I'm not that concerned with our trench play or our linebackers - both will be improved this season (although I am still hesitant about our pass rush ability). Our weakest link on defence is in the secondary. The coverage in the pre-season was too loose. If Brodney stays healthy, that will get better.

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  2. wow, these reviews are some of the best I've seen on the '10 Browns - hope you keep writing for Brownsmix!

    Will you be posting in-game updates??

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