By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Taking stock: Despite the constant pleas of fans, few NFL teams make a transaction of major note after the draft. There may be subtractions (release or trade), but typically additions at this point are minor.
So all the yelping for an impact wide receiver probably will be in vain. The Browns are not caving, folks, and none is falling from the sky and landing in Berea.
The failure to acquire a receiver of impact is the glaring omission of this transaction season. But it should not obscure what the Browns did accomplish in upgrading their roster.
Five areas of the team were substantially improved.
Running back: How many players do the Browns have that rank in the top two in their division? Top draft pick Trent Richardson instantly qualifies.
Granted, the running back situation in the AFC North is not a strength – and how odd is that? There is Ray Rice of Baltimore and now Richardson. Cincinnati replaced Cedric Benson with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Pittsburgh appears to be going with Isaac Redmond while Rashard Mendenhall rehabs from a knee injury.
Everyone but Jim Brown believes Richardson will be a superstar in the NFL. At the very least, he gives the Browns a security blanket at a position of constant turmoil a year ago.
Quarterback: At 6-3 ½ and 221 pounds, Brandon Weeden’s stature will be noticeable immediately. He will pass the eye test as an AFC North quarterback. His arm strength and nice release will be hard to dismiss.
The YouTube video of him smashing clay pigeons with football throws is a tip-off that Weeden likely will excel in the T-shirts-and-shorts touch football season.
How quickly Weeden can start winning won’t be known until we see him react to live pass rushes and complex NFL pass defenses. Still, he is an upgrade in the tangible aspects of the game’s most important position.
Defensive line: Any defensive system using a 4-3 alignment as its base defense needs a minimum of eight linemen to make the defense strong.
The Browns had three quality linemen last year – tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor and end Jabaal Sheard. All of their main backups were undrafted players – Scott Paxson, Brian Schaefering, Emmanuel Stephens, Auston English.
They have added four players to this area – veteran free agents Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, and draft picks John Hughes (third round) and Billy Winn (sixth round). Theoretically, these reinforcements should help the Browns in their pass rush (17th in sacks per pass play) and run defense (30th in rushing yards per game).
Offensive line: Fielding a right tackle playing on one healthy ankle last year brought down the whole offensive line. Also, there were no young legs to spring off the bench.
The Browns addressed both issues by drafting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (second round) and guard-tackle Ryan Miller (fifth).
Backup linebacker: The Browns dodged bullets last year when linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Chris Gocong were able to play all 16 games. Only when Scott Fujita missed the last five games with a broken hand was the shocking lack of depth at the position realized.
Kaluka Maiava was the only backup linebacker who was drafted. By selecting James-Michael Johnson (fourth round) and Emmanuel Acho (sixth), the Browns have added speed and versatility to the position and also improved their special teams.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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