Camp Opens; Difficult Schedule Looms

Scout.com provides a synopsis of what faces the Cleveland Browns in 2008, and what they'll learn in camp.

The Browns play the seventh most difficult schedule in 2008. Opponents' final 2007 records are used for the calculation. The 2008 opponents of the Browns and Bengals finished 140-116 in 2007.

Fortunately for both teams, the Steelers have the toughest 2008 schedule. Their opponents were 153-103 in 2007. The Ravens have the third most difficult schedule. Opponents of the Ravens, Vikings and Titans finished 141-115 last season.

The strength of schedule does not factor in the variable of the Browns playing five games in prime time and four others at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. And since they do not play a game west of Nashville, those 4 p.m. starts are designed to feature the Browns in late afternoon games, allowing the team to be seen by more viewers.

The Browns are attractive to the networks because they won 10 games last year, have a high-powered offense and have stars such as Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, Joe Thomas, Joshua Cribbs and Derek Anderson.

"The season was tough last year when you looked at the schedule," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "So what we're going to do is embrace the fact they want us on national television five times and try to live up to those expectations."

Last year the Browns played 12 games that started at 1 p.m. Eastern and of their four 4 p.m. games, one was in Arizona and one was in Oakland, so they didn't have to kill a lot of time in their hotel rooms waiting to head to the stadium for those games.

This year the Browns host the Steelers at 8:15 p.m. Sept. 14, a Sunday, host the Giants in a Monday night game Oct. 13 and host the Broncos at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 6, a Thursday. Their last two primetime games are in Buffalo Nov. 17 and Philadelphia Dec. 15.

"It's something new to this team, but it's deserving," said linebacker Willie McGinest, now in his third season with the Browns after 12 with the Patriots. "Monday night is totally different. You lay around all day. It's a totally different preparation, but we have a good staff here and they'll have us ready.

"We have enough leaders on this team to rally around them. It's going to be a long week. Before some of those games it's going to be a long day. You can't get too excited too early. When the lights go on you have to be ready to play. After a Monday night game it's a short week."

Joe Jurevicius played in his share of Monday and Sunday night games over eight years with the Giants, Buccaneers and Seahawks. He said the extra attention is great for Cleveland.

"I've been on teams when we played three Monday night games," he said before a knee operation July 1 sidelined him for at least the start of training camp. "As players, it's something we'll have to deal with. It gives you an extra day to prepare but it also takes away the normalcy of the work week.

"We have our work cut out for us. I do believe if we take it for what it is and not over-hype it, it can be managed. But it's definitely difficult. Enjoy the Monday night lights, but realize it's just a football game a day later than normal."

The Browns have not played on Monday since 2003.


CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp opens at the Browns' in-season training complex in Berea, Ohio, with an afternoon practice July 23. Training camp ends on Aug. 16 with a morning and evening practice. The Browns do not scrimmage other teams. The only break in the routine is an evening practice in Cleveland Browns Stadium on Aug. 1.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius is expected to miss at least the first six week of the season, as GM Phil Savage told a Cleveland WTAM-AM that the receiver is likely to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Jurevicius has had four procedures on his knee this offseason, the latest coming in early July when he experienced some swelling.

--Kicker Phil Dawson, the last of the original Browns, is about to begin his 10th training camp in Cleveland. Next in line for longevity is tight end Steve Heiden, now in his eighth season with the Browns. Butch Davis acquired Heiden from San Diego for a seventh-round draft choice in 2001.

--Seven players from the Butch Davis era remain on the roster, including Dawson, who was signed in the Dwight Clark-Chris Palmer era. The others are Heiden plus linebacker Andra Davis (2002), tackle Ryan Tucker (2002), long snapper Ryan Pontbriand (2003), tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (2004) and safety Sean Jones (2004). Excluding specialists Dawson and Pontbriand, the rest are starters.

--RB Jamal Lewis is looking for his third straight season of 1,000 rushing yards or more. Lewis missed all of 2001 with a knee injury. Discounting that season, the only time in his eight-year career he failed to reach 1,000 yards was 2005 in Baltimore when he rushed for 906 yards.

--Normally when a team wins 10 games it controls the clock well because it is grinding out time on the ground in the fourth quarter. But the Browns were the exception last season, and they would like to change that. They finished 10-6, outscored their opponents -- albeit by a slim margin, 402-382 -- but lost the possession battle, 30:50 to 29:10 a game. The Browns figure if they can win the battle, say 32 minutes to 28 minutes a game, the defense will be fresher in the fourth quarter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "A guy like him brings a lot to the table. Get the ball in his hands, let him run with it, and make plays. We're going to try to mix him in when we can. He has been progressing as a wide receiver." -- Quarterback Derek Anderson on Joshua Cribbs.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Derek Anderson. Backups -- Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey.

The quarterback situation is much different than a year ago when the Browns did not know who their starter would be until after the third preseason game. Anderson threw 29 touchdown passes last season and was rewarded with a three-year contract. Aside from fans pining for Quinn, there is no debating he is the starter heading into training camp. Barring injury or a total collapse, he will keep the job. But the pressure is on him to prove he isn't a one-year wonder. Quinn is ready and eager if Anderson falters.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Jamal Lewis, FB Lawrence Vickers. Backups -- Jason Wright, Jerome Harrison, FB Charles Ali.

More than any other position, running back is the one area the Browns cannot afford an injury to their starter. Lewis does not have to duplicate his 1,304-yard, 11-touchdown 2007 season to be a success, but the offense will suffer a major setback if he does not stay healthy. Wright and Harrison are capable change-of-pace backs, but neither is built to touch the ball 20 times a game as Lewis did last year. Lewis was at his best in the second half of 2007. He was in superb condition in minicamp.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kellen Winslow Jr. Backups -- Steve Heiden, Darnell Dinkins, Martin Rucker.

Another offseason knee surgery has left Winslow feeling better than he has since his rookie year in 2004. The question remains, however, how long can his knee hold up? He has had four surgeries on it already. Winslow is lethal when healthy. He caught 89 passes in 2006 and 82 last season. He wants a new contract. He might catch 90 passes this season. Heiden has a knack for getting open and making the tough catch, but in this offense he is primarily a blocker. The Browns want to work Rucker into the offense. Dinkins will have to make the roster on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth. Backups -- Joe Jurevicius, Travis Wilson, Joshua Cribbs, Paul Hubbard.

The Browns scored 402 points last season. They could increase that total if Stallworth stretches the field as the Browns expect. Jurevicius continues having setbacks from knee surgery and might not be ready for the opener. That leaves the Browns thin behind Stallworth and Edwards, who caught 16 touchdown passes last season. Wilson, in his third season, hasn't proven he belongs in the NFL. Cribbs wants to be more involved in the offense, but the coaches want him fresh for kick and punt returns. Hubbard is likely headed to the inactive list every week. The Browns are on prime time in five games in 2008. Edwards, Winslow and Stallworth are ready to perform.

OFFENSIVE LINE - Starters -- LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach, RG Rex Hadnot, RT Kevin Shaffer, C Hank Fraley. Backups -- C/G Lennie Friedman, G Seth McKinney, OT Isaac Sowells, G Ryan Tucker.

Even coming off a torn patellar tendon that sidelined him two seasons, LeCharles Bentley might have more physical talent than Fraley, even Fraley admits. But team chemistry supersedes talent in some cases, so when he was informed he would not be handed his starting job Bentley asked for and was given his release. The offensive line, with hard-working Fraley in the middle of it, was the most improved segment of the team last season. It returns intact, with the exception of right guard Tucker, who is rehabbing from a fractured hip and might not be ready until late in the preseason. Hadnot, a starter with the Dolphins, won't give the job back to Tucker without a fight. The left side of the line with Thomas and Steinbach is the best in the AFC North, and Shaffer is much better as a right tackle than a left tackle. Friedman and McKinney provide depth inside. Finding a backup tackle is a mission in training camp.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Corey Williams, RE Robaire Smith, NT Shaun Rogers. Backups -- E/T Shaun Smith, E Chase Pittman, E Melila Purcell, T Louis Leonard, T Ahtyba Rubin.

The Browns have a lot of bodies behind their starters, but with the exception of Shaun Smith, who started 11 games last year, it is an inexperienced bunch. The plan is to use a four-man rotation with Williams, Rogers and the two Smiths. Nationally, the Browns drew criticism for trading a third-round pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden to the Lions for Rogers. Rogers' detractors expect him to be a malcontent, lazy or both. The Browns are counting on a change of scenery and the chance to play for a winner bringing out the best in him. The Browns are hopeful Rogers and Williams will collapse the pocket and increase sack production by the linebackers.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Kamerion Wimbley, MLB Andra Davis, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, SLB Willie McGinest. Backups -- SLB Antwan Peek, ILB Beau Bell, MLB Leon Williams, OLB Shantee Orr, OLB Alex Hall, ILB Kris Griffin.

The Browns ranked 30th in the league vs. the run in 2007, and all they did to upgrade at linebacker was draft Bell in the fourth round and sign Orr in free agency. Neither was a blockbuster move. If Rogers and Williams improve the line as much as expected, the linebackers will be the beneficiaries. Jackson has good instincts, when he isn't easily weeding out blockers to get to the ball. Davis hasn't had a dependable tackle in front of him since the Browns traded Gerard Warren in 2005. Wimbley's sack total fell from 11 in 2006 to five last year. Peek missed only two games, but nagging injuries slowed him. He made only 24 tackles to go with four sacks. If he stays healthy he and Wimbley could combine for 20 sacks. Williams will press Davis for playing time.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Eric Wright, RCB Brandon McDonald, FS Brodney Pool, SS Sean Jones. Backups -- CB Terry Cousin, CB A.J. Davis, S Mike Adams, S Nick Sorensen, S Gary Baxter.

First the Browns traded Bodden and then they lost cornerback Daven Holly to a season-ending knee injury in OTAs. Cousin was signed to play the nickel back, but that still leaves the defense thin behind starting cornerbacks McDonald and Wright. Both are entering their second season. The next cornerback will likely be a player currently on another roster, but rather than make a trade out of desperation, the Browns will wait for roster cuts to find depth. Pool and Jones struggled as a tandem early in 2007, but they improved game-by-game in the second half of the season. They will be the strength of the defense this season. Adams can back up either safety. This could be Baxter's last chance to return from tearing both patellar tendons.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Phil Dawson, P Dave Zastudil, LS Ryan Pontbriand, KR/PR Joshua Cribbs.

Cribbs set a franchise record for kick-return yardage in 2005, '06 and '07. His 1,809 total in 2007 was second-best in NFL history (2,186 yards by MarTay Jenkins of Arizona in 2000). His streak should end if the defense improves, resulting in fewer opportunities, but Cribbs remains the most dangerous weapon the Browns have. A lack of team success has resulted in Dawson not getting the league-wide recognition he deserves. He has made 82.7 percent (182-220) of his field-goal attempts and in 2007 was 8 of 10 from 40 yards and beyond. Pontbriand has turned out to be a bargain as a fifth-round pick in 2003. Zastudil is over an oblique injury that hampered his punting last season.

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