Over the course of the last week, I have had the pleasure of engaging in a Browns preseason Q&A with Barry McBride of the Orange & Brown Report. You can stay current with Barry’s latest updates on the OBR blog. As I listen to the third preseason game (Titans up 7-0 right now, Brady Quinn started) I will post the answers below for your viewing pleasure.
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Okay, I’ve shilled enough (but I do mean it, these guys are great). Onto the Q&A:
Q: I heard Gil Brandt on Sirius say that the reason the Browns have notÂ announced their QB yet is because they are trying to trade Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson and do not want to hurt the trade value for either. Is there any truth to this, based on what you know? And how do you see the QB situation shaking out?
Barry McBride: Gil Brandt is obviously a great football mind and still well-connected in NFL circles. This isn’t a new thought, however. It’s something we’ve discussed on the OBR ever since Eric Mangini announced that there would be a quarterback competition back in March during the scouting combines.
At the time, there was a lot of speculation that the Browns would deal either Quinn or Anderson for draft picks, and it made no sense to reduce the trade value of either by declaring one of them to be the team’s backup. It’s certainly possible that one or the other will still be dealt, and that this is why Mangini is waiting, although there isn’t anything visibly percolating at the moment.
Another way to look at it is that neither quarterback has stepped up and grabbed the job by the throat. The Browns hoped that either Quinn or DA would make it a non-issue by their performance this Summer, but both quarterbacks continue to demonstrate their respective strengths and weaknesses as expected. Neither has really stepped their game up to the point where the job was clearly won, although Quinn still seems to have the edge.
One other thing to keep in mind is that Eric Mangini’s penchant for secrecy dates back to his time as a defensive coordinator working for Bill Belichick. He has said that one of the toughest things for him to overcome as a defensive coordinator is not knowing which quarterback he will be facing in the coming weeks. He may simply be holding off declaring a winner to make it harder for the Vikings to plan for the season opener.
Q: One of my thoughts regarding DA and Brady is that while Brady should, theoretically, be less prone to the boneheaded mistakes weâ€™ve become accustomed to with Derek, having Derek as the starter would be better for Braylon. And with the Browns devoid of proven playmakers on offense, putting Braylon in the best position to succeed may be the best move for us offensively. Do you agree?
Barry McBride:Â I like how you’re thinking, but I’m not sure I’m fully on board.
The first thought that springs to mind is that the biggest challenge to Braylon Edwards’ success since 2007 has typically been Braylon himself. While undeniably talented, Edwards seems to suffer from lapses in focus that aren’t dependent on who is quarterbacking. He has memorable dropped touchdown passes that have been delivered to him from both Quinn and Anderson in the past, as recently as the first preseason game against the Packers when Quinn hit him in the back of the end zone.
If anything, Quinn’s softer touch with the football might help Edwards hold onto the ball somewhat, although Anderson’s ability to stretch the field obviously makes Edwards a threat on every play, as does Anderson’s sometimes stubborn desire to focus on getting the ball to him even when dealing with double or triple-coverage.
One other factor that suggests that Quinn might ultimately help Edwards is that it’s critical for the Browns to have credible #2 and #3 receiving threats, and a credible threat of runners catching passes out of the backfield as well. Anderson has a tendency to continually attempt to feed the ball to Edwards (and Winslow in past years), and Quinn’s tendency to go through his progressions quickly might force opponents to take the Browns’ other receivers far more seriously and help reduce the amount of attention that Edwards gets from opponents.
I suspect that we’ll ultimately really only know how Edwards would fare under a full season with Quinn at QB is to give that option a chance, and see how he does.
(As I am posting this, Phil Dawson just kicked a field goal. Browns close the gap to 7-3.)
Q: As a fan who is 1,000 miles away from the action, I can only look at stats and quotes in the paper to make a judgment. With QBs though, leadership, intangibles, huddle command, etc., are so important. Between Derek and Brady, who seems to have more respect from their teammates? Who â€œcommandsâ€ the team better? Or have they not separated themselves in this regard either?
Barry McBride:Â I would give the edge here to Quinn as well, based on what I’ve heard through OBR reporters like Lane Adkins and Fred Greetham.
With some strong personalities on the Browns (as with every team), it’s critical that there not be a question about who is in charge in the huddle. As we’ve been told by players themselves, there’s no question when Quinn is on the field that he’s running the show. Although it’s never been said outright by his teammates, by extension, one can infer that Anderson may be somewhat less of a take-charge guy. I have to add, however, that Lane Adkins has relayed this year that Anderson’s approach in that department has taken a step up. He has a little more of a swagger about him than in past years.
Full disclosure: Someone reading the last two answers may conclude that I’ve got my mind made up about who I think would serve the Browns better in the long run. To that, I have to say, “guilty as charged”.
I was an advocate of drafting Quinn, have advocated giving him opportunities faster, and have been skeptical about Anderson ever since we got our first prolonged exposure to him during 2007 training camp. He’s clearly got tremendous athletic ability and potential that makes offensive coordinators salivate, but I admit that I still see the same quarterback from Oregon State highlight films: rocket arm, sprays the ball all over the field, and has a very high dependence on getting good protection and having receivers who will out-muscle defenders for the ball. That all came together to support him in 2007, and he was a Pro Bowler. It didn’t happen in 2008, and I don’t see it happening in 2009, either. On a team that has those attributes around him, Anderson could be very successful, but the Browns just aren’t there.
Q: Okay, well that about wraps things up. Wait…oh…there are 21 other starting positions on the Browns this year? Who knew?
What is the status of the contract talks with Josh Cribbs? When I watched the Detroit preseason game, it reminded me that we do, in fact, have a gamebreaker other than Dropsie Edwards. To me, especially with his improvement as a WR, Cribbs’ contract demands are not in any way outlandish. Are Mangini and Kokinis just playing a cat-and-mouse game with Cribbs and planning to sign him, or do you think they just are not convinced yet that he is worth more than he is making?
Barry McBride:Â Cribbs has agreed to come in, practice, and play despite lack of visible progress being made on his contract. Obviously, he’s a key component of the Browns special teams, but the team itself claims to be mystified as to how to price a return man (and obviously is not wanting to give Cribbs the same money that the Bears laid out for Devin Hester). The Browns are also, like most NFL teams, reluctant to tear up a contract with two years left. Although it should be noted that this reluctance rarely is in evidence when players are under-performing rather than out-performing their deals.
As luck would have it, the preseason has given Cribbs a chance to make a serious push for the #2 WR role which, if he wins it, bails both him and the team out by providing some more guidance about where Cribbs’ price should be, as well as a stronger rationalization for doing so. The Cribbs saga has yet to play out, but has already been marked by some of the worst mainstream media reporting I’ve ever seen, as both local and national media elements carve headlines out of virtually nothing more than having their previous assumptions about Cribbs’ intentions proven wrong.
Q: There have been rumblings recently that James Davis could start sneaking his way into more first team action. How patient will Mangini be with Jamal Lewis if Jamal continues to be slow to the hole and sports a 3.5-3.8 yard per carry average? And how does Jerome Harrison fit into this equation? Mangini seemed committed to getting Harrison the ball based on comments from early training camp, but Davis appears to have passed him over the last week. When will Jerome get back on the field and how do you see the attempts being split up between he and the rook?
Barry McBride:Â I don’t see Davis and Harrison as being much in conflict since they’re different types of backs. Harrison, although he gets more yards after contact than I would have expected, still primarily fits the mold of an NFL third-down back, whereas Davis is more of a between-the-tackles runner, like Jamal Lewis. I see Davis as spelling Lewis, with Harrison appearing more in third down situations. What Davis’ emergence means to Harrison is that he’s less likely to get opportunities to serve as an every down back, although I considered that to be somewhat questionable in any event.
If the interior of the Browns offensive line can’t hold holes open for longer than they have in the preseason, Lewis’ opportunities will go down, since Davis is quicker to the hole. This won’t make Lewis happy, as he still seems to firmly believe he’s most effective with 20-25 carries per game. While statistics bear that out for his career as a whole, it’s a dubious notion at this point.
Q: Real quick before we move to defense, what can Browns fans expect from the offensive line this year? Obviously Joe Thomas is an anchor on the left side, but will this year’s line be closer in performance to the 2007 unit or last year’s sieve?
Barry McBride:Â I wouldn’t expect 2007-level performance, simply because I don’t believe that Pork Chop Womack can perform at the same level that Ryan Tucker did during that year. We found out in 2008 how critical Tucker was to that unit and to helping out the undersized Hank Fraley and new right tackle Kevin Shaffer. It’s no coincidence, in my view, that the team’s best performance last year came in the one game where Tucker appeared. He has been on and off the practice field all preseason, and I don’t anticipate that he’ll be able to help take the right side of the Browns line up to the next level. Womack and John St. Clair have been steady and professional, although St. Clair has shown in the preseason a tendency towards ill-timed penalties.
Alex Mack has a very good shot of displacing Hank Fraley at center, but we’ve already seen him dealing with the rough NFL learning curve. In the AFC North, he’ll have to contend with some of the best nose tackles in the league. Expect mistakes to be made as Mack adjusts to the NFL.
Q: Braylon Edwards is the only “sure thing” in the receiving corps (except when wide open passes come his way, of course). How have the rookies looked? And is Mike Furrey (only a few years removed from a really good season in Detroit) an under-the-radar acquisition to could have 50-, 60-catch impact and play a QB-friendly role like what Joe Jurevicius was in ’07?
Barry McBride:Â Furrey looks like a very good third receiver so far, which the team has missed ever since Dennis Northcutt went on his way. It’s doubtful that he could equate to what Jurevicius did (since Furrey will be out of the slot, and JJ was a #2 WR, in any event). It looks like he might be a smart fantasy football pickup late in the draft based on his performance so far in the preseason. He will probably get 30-40 catches from what I’ve seen so far.
Brian Robiskie has been a little bit disappointing since being hyped as a pro-ready NFL receiver, but such hype rarely proves true. Both he and Massaqoui are dealing with the usual struggles you see receivers suffer in their rookie season. At this point, Massaquoi may be higher on the depth chart based on his performance to date. He has looked very solid both in practice and games and should be in line for some playing time as the season begins.
Q: We know that everything defensively revolves around Shaun Rogers, with D’Qwell Jackson providing steady performance at LB, but it seems to me that for the Browns to to improve defensively, two things need to happen: Kamerion Wimbley needs to get to 11-12 sacks and fulfill the potential he showed as a rookie, and the Eric Wright-Brandon McDonald combo needs to become more consistent. Do you agree? And is there anything inherent in the new system/coaching staff that should help these players improve this seson?
Barry McBride:Â The Browns really needed to improve their game up the middle, and adding Eric Barton alongside D’Qwell Jackson seems to be a terrific move so far. Rod Hood has given Brandon McDonald a little push, but the team’s early scouting of corners for next year’s college draft convinces me that neither may be seen as the long-term answer there. A bigger question at this point is at safety, where the team has little depth behind starter Brodney Pool, whose ability to play is in question following last week’s game. Pool has a concussion history and the team has not revealed why he appeared to woozily walk off the field. If Pool is not available, the Browns defense will suffer.
Wimbley has a chance to perform better this year for a couple of reasons. The first is that the team has improved their consistency and depth in the defensive line, with C.J. Mosely providing a solid addition, and Wimbley needs that in order to have a lane to the quarterback. Secondly, the coaching staff has shown much more enthusiasm for moving Wimbley around from right to left, which is something Romeo Crennel rarely did. By making Wimbley’s position on the field less predictable, he has the possibility for greater success. It will ultimately be up to him to take advantage of his role in this defense.
Q: The NFL is notorious for having teams go from worst-to-first. In the AFC North, Pittsburgh is the defending Super Bowl champ, Cincinnati is starting to become a popular darkhorse candidate for improvement with Carson Palmer back, and though they seem to be terrible every other season and lost Rex Ryan, Baltimore is still Baltimore. Put on your optimists hat (if you can): why is not an outlandish idea for Browns fans to dream of an AFC North title? (Or is there simply no reason to do so?)
Barry McBride:Â It’s always possible, as long as meteors and comets are around that could possibly smash into Pittsburgh or Baltimore while their respective teams are practicing. Or, better yet, when the two face off in the same stadium.
Outside of that, it’s going to be a rough road for a Browns team that still needs to show that it can get consistent performance on offense and stop the run effectively on defense. Three possibly optimistic signs: (1) This team did go 10-6 just a couple of years ago, so there’s more talent than is obvious from last year’s 4-12 record; (2) Barring the loss of Pool. they could always get lucky with injuries, which is always the great unknown going into every season; and, (3) Mangini did manage to turn the Jets around during his first year as head coach.
An 8-8 season is not totally unreasonable, but I still believe that the team has a significant uphill battle ahead of them. They face six tough games within the division, and will have to have a large number of things go right for them in order to make noise in the AFC North.
Thanks for the great questions!!
[Editor’s Note: And we thank Barry McBride for taking the time to answer our questions. Â Now that you’ve enjoyed the Q&A, hop on over to the OBR and sign up!]
* – Brady Quinn / Derek Anderson photo credit: Getty via FanNation