Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Final grades

Below, I give final grades for the Cleveland Browns 2005 season. As you might expect, they are reflective of a 6-10 season. Right off the bat, I'll tell you nobody received an A.

QB: Charlie Frye, C and Trent Dilfer, C
Inconsistency is the buzz word here. Dilfer appeared to be an adequate presence in the huddle, and led the Browns to an impressive road win in Green Bay, before we realized just how bad the Packers were going to be this year. He also presided over embarrassing losses against Detroit and Houston. When the season became a lost cause, he was rightfully benched in favor of Frye.
Frye looked every bit like a MAC superstar making a leg-straining jump to the NFL. Against Cincinnati, he was quick and resourceful, and nearly pulled out a win. Against Pittsburgh, he was a Luke McCown redux. Having said that, he did manage to pilot a downtrodden team to two wins in their last three games.

RB: Reuben Droughns, B; Lee Suggs, C- and William Green, F
Droughns is about the only calling card I could see this offense leaving right now. He is the most punishing runner the Browns have had since Kevin Mack, and not coincidentally, the first 1,000-yard rusher since Mack and Earnest Byner. His production fell off toward the end of the year due somewhat to fatigue, but more glaringly to the presence of Frye in the pocket. It's defense 101: against a rookie QB, stack the box, stop the running game, and dare the rook to beat you.
Suggs made his annual December cameo, had some moments of production, and will probably be laid up again by August.
Green will be lopped from the roster by summer, or should be.

WR/TE: Dennis Northcutt, C; Braylon Edwards, C; Antonio Bryant, C+; Steve Heiden, B; Kellen Winslow Jr., F---
Everyone except Heiden had points docked for bouts with the dropsies. Northcutt redeemed himself a bit with a rare punt return for a touchdown against Baltimore on Sunday. Edwards could have had a higher grade, but his knee injury stuck his grade in suspended animation for the remainder of the year. Winslow gets the lowest grade in history for obvious reasons.

Offensive line: C
Again, injuries took something of a toll, as center Jeff Faine once again sustained a season-ending injury. The offensive line was the most competent since the playoff season of 2002, and the Browns appeared to have made the right call getting rid of the overinflated ego and price tag of tackle/party animal Ross Verba. L.J. Shelton stepped into Verba's left tackle slot and started 16 games with no major incident. In other words, he was decent --Verba at his best.
Right tackle Ryan Tucker is the closest thing the Browns have to a franchise lineman. Off-season acquistion Joe Andruzzi didn't have the impact he had in New England, but consider the setting. There is time still for Andruzzi and the Browns to grow together.

K: Phil Dawson, B
He missed an extra point, which eliminated any possibility of a B+. All in all, Dawson redeemed himself after a shaky finish to 2004, during which I was questioning if he was losing his touch. Dawson finished this season with a mere two field goal misses, and is the Browns' all-time leader in field goal percentage. He's a keeper.

P: Kyle Richardson, C-
Maybe we were spoiled by five seasons of Chris Gardocki. I think we were. Richardson shanks the ball way too much. It's difficult to play the field-position game when your punter is hitting ankle-shots to the 50-yard-line. He's better than Derrick Frost, but far from an elite NFL punter.

Defensive line: C+
Much of this grade is due to the play of Orpheus Roye, my uncontested defensive MVP of the team. He still managed tackles even though he was playing in a foriegn 3-4 scheme and getting double-teamed. Signing him is a top priority. What the d-line didn't do was consistently get the initial push into the offensive backfield, allowing the linebackers to penetrate for loss-tackles and sacks. Getting some more beef up front should cure some of that. Jerry Ball, where are you?

Linebackers: D
It's a tough grade because I saw them trying out there. Unfortunately, the linebacker corps is manned by Butch Davis holdovers, meaning many are too small and not strong enough to stop lumbering tight ends or running backs like Jerome Bettis. Andra Davis was the tackles leader for the team, but had only four for a loss heading into the season's final week. It might have been asking too much for Kenard Lang to drop 30 pounds and move to linebacker. He isn't mobile enough to play the position well. He needs to go somewhere where he can go back to being a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
This is where I put in my A.J. Hawk plug. Unfortunately, if the Browns stay at 14 in April's NFL draft, Hawk might be gone already.

Secondary: C-
This is also a tough grade. Injuries took their toll early on the defensive backfield. Gary Baxter was gone for the season by Week 6. Daylon McCutcheon also missed significant time recovering from some sort of vertigo. The emerrging bright spot late in the season was the play of corner Leigh Bodden, who smothered Cincinnati's Chad Johnson in early December. He did indeed cover No. 85 in 2005. Ask 85 himself.

Coordinators: Maurice Carthon, D and Todd Grantham, B+
With all the head coaching vacancies appearing in the NFL, I am becoming nervous about Grantham's longevity as Browns defensive coordinator. Grantham took what was supposed to be a team weakness and turned it into a team strength, new defensive schemes and all. His defense shut out the Dolphins, and held the high-powered Colts attack to 13 points in Week 3. He looks like a rising star in the NFL coaching ranks.
Carthon could soon be gone for different reasons. The Browns offensive coordinator looked overwhelmed at times in his first year as the sole pilot of his playbook. His play-calling was questionable to the end of the season, though some of that had to do with erring on the side of caution for the sake of Frye.

Head coach: Romeo Crennel, C+
The good: his team kept trying for 16 games, he is realistic in his analysis of his team, he doesn't jump to conclusions or let his emotions get the better of him, his players seem to respect him and want to follow him, he is a big reason why Phil Savage is still the Browns general manager.
The bad: he blatantly waffled on a first-string quarterback for several weeks, his leadership tactics appeared to lack strength at times. He oversaw an embarrassing 41-0 home loss to the Steelers, and met criticism of the game with a shrug, meaning he doesn't yet fully grasp what getting blown out by the Steelers means to Browns fans.

General manager: Phil Savage, B-
Given the choice between keeping Savage or keeping team president John Collins, any sane person should pick Savage. Stability is one of the foundation blocks to building a winner, and losing Savage would have destroyed that. Any other GM would have had a slightly (or much) different philosophy on building a team.
Savage's 2005 draft wasn't a barn-burner. Outside of Edwards and Frye, just about every other player spent the entire season flying under the radar. However, his free agent and trade class looks to be far better than anything Butch Davis ever concocted. Droughns is solid running back, Dilfer added stability to the offense at the outset, and safety Brian Russell finished the season strong with two picks against Baltimore.
A much clearer picture of Savage's work can be painted after next season, when the vast majority of the roster will be his acquisitions.

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