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Scouting the Schedule: Browns

Posted by Albert Breer  July 20, 2010 01:15 PM

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Defensively, the pass-rush should be a strength in 2010. Last season, the Browns recorded 17 sacks over their final five games to equal their season total from 2008. They finished with 40 overall, most since 2001. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan promises to keep the heat on.

Does quarterback Jake Delhomme have anything left? He's coming off the worst season of his career, one in which he went 4-7 with 18 interceptions and onlyl 8 TDs. The Browns seem confident that 2009 was an aberration and that he'll return to Pro Bowl and Super Bowl form, but no one knows for sure. Minicamp ended with Mangini curiously declining to name him the starter heading into camp. The Browns have also been talking up Seneca Wallace, who was coached by new team president Mike Holmgren in Seattle. Wallace can run the Wildcat as well as the regular offense and promises to see playing time. Rookie Colt McCoy is a distant third heading into camp.

Do they have a No. 1 receiver? Can second-year pro Mohammed Massaquoi be that guy? The 2009 second-round pick out of Georgia claims he can, but he'll have to prove it early and often for this offense to be more successful.  Massaquoi tied for the team lead with only 34 receptions  for a team-best 624 yards and three TDs. Fellow 2009 second-round pick Brian Robiskie of Ohio State started only one game, catching seven passes for 106 yards. The Browns praised Robiskie all offseason and are convinced he's due for a breakout year. They'll also need more out of Chansi Stuckey, who came from the Jets in the Braylon Edwards trade. They recently signed 14-year vet Bobby Engram to lend some veteran leadership.

Are the rookie DBs ready for the big-time?
The Browns drafted Florida cornerback Joe Haden with the No. 7 overall pick, but it remains to be seen if he'll beat out ninth-year pro Sheldon Brown, acquired in a trade with Philly, for a starting job. They came with hard-hitting Oregon safety T.J. Ward in the second round, but he'll have to stay healthy and beat out veteran Mike Adams or Abe Elam for a top spot. Fifth-rounder Larry Asante, another box safety, also showed some promise in camp and could be in for some playing time.
WHAT THEY NEED TO WIN BIG: The Browns need Jake Delhomme to be the quarterback that he was during the regular season in 2008 and not the one who's been on a downward spiral ever since. After going 12-4 in 2008, Delhomme melted down against the Cardinals in the divisional round that year, throwing five picks and losing a fumble in the loss. Next game out, in the 2009 opener, he threw four picks and lost another fumble. Delhomme never fully regained his confidence and ultimately spent the five games on IR with a broken finger. Matt Moore went 4-1 in his absence. The Browns are convinced they can get him back on track, and if they do, it could be the key to the season.

The Browns showed a lot of heart and talent in winning their final four games of 2009, but that won't necessarily carry over into this year. They still have uncertainty at quarterback, growing pains in the secondary and at receiver, and an unorthodox marriage of Mangini and Holmgren. If the Browns don't win early on, it will be tough to keep Holmgren on the sidelines. But if some of the younger players step up and Cribbs and Wallace can spark the offense, it's a team that can surprise folks in 2010. But it's still a tough division and the Browns will have to contend with the likes of Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger -- after he returns from his six-game suspension. The Browns finally beat Roethlisberger last season, and his suspension will definitely help the Browns. Still, much of 2010 will come down to Delhomme and what he has left. Pre-camp prediction: 8-8 and another year with no playoffs.

Wednesday: Bengals
Thursday: Jets
Friday: Bills
Saturday: Ravens
Sunday: Chargers

Yesterday: Vikings
Today: Browns
Tomorrow: Steelers
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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