Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

From the editor’s notebook …

browns final rosterThe final roster cuts have been made, the practice squad players have been signed and the Cleveland Browns have begun preparations for Sunday’s season-opening game against Pittsburgh.

We’re less than a week away from Browns football, whether anyone is ready for it or not.

The only real surprise among the player cuts was MarQueis Gray, who seemed like he might be able to help the team as a fullback. But the Browns apparently decided that if they were going with a fullback on the roster, why not have Ray Agnew – someone who has actually played the position – over trying to convert a play like Gray to the spot. It’s a radical idea, we know, but it just may be crazy enough to work.

The Browns didn’t waste any time parting ways with cornerback Leon McFadden -who was selected about three rounds too early in the 2013 NFL Draft – and guard Garrett Gilkey, leaving Barkevious Mingo and Armonty Bryant as the only players remaining from the one and only draft from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi. So much for that duo’s continued claims that they set the team up for long-term success.

Quarterback Connor Shaw, who’s college coach, Steve Spurrier, ridiculously claimed could be the Browns starter is on the practice squad, so that’s nice. The Browns also added Charles Johnson – everyone’s favorite wide receiver who is on the cusp of being a Pro Bowler if only given a chance – to the practice squad after every other NFL team took a pass on him. So make of that what you will.

All kidding aside, two things stand out about the roster as it currently sits.

The first is that, man, is this team young. The Browns kept all six of their draft picks, as Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Chris Kirksey, Terrance West and Pierre Desir all made the final roster. The team also decided to hold onto six undrafted rookie free agents in K’Waun Williams, Robert Nelson, Taylor Gabriel, Isaiah Crowell, Agnew and Karim Barton.

Throw in the fact that even though they are veterans, Brian Hoyer and Ben Tate have never been full-time starters for more than a handful of games, and that the wide receiver group isn’t exactly over-flowing with veterans, and it sure seems like there are going to be some growing pains on offense this fall.

Speaking of the wide receivers, not only are they inexperienced for the most part – Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd, Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins have a combined 110 career receptions, with 86 of those coming from Hawkins – but Benjamin (5-10, 175 pounds), Gabriel (5-8, 167) and Hawkins (5-7, 180) are really small. We’re a believer in the Youngblood Philosophy of you can’t hit what you can’t catch, but it’s still going to be interesting to see how these guys hold up over the course of the season.

But that will all play out in the upcoming weeks. For now, it’s enough that the preseason has finally come to a close and that the next time we see the orange helmets (and they it better be without the brown pants) the games will be for real.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the Browns were the lead story in The New York Times NFL preview on Sunday.

Liverpool rights the ship; Balotelli looks like he’ll fit in just fine

Mario Balotelli, left, made his debut on Sunday against Tottenham and made a good impression.Can Liverpool play Tottenham Hotspur every week?

Just six days after a dispirited loss at Manchester City, Liverpool got back on track on Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur, rolling through Spurs on the way to a 3-0 victory.

Liverpool has now scored 14 consecutive goals against Spurs, having last conceded a goal during a game in March of 2013.

Manager Brendan Rodgers inserted Mario Balotelli into the starting lineup and you could see the difference. Balotelli just missed scoring on a header early on and the pressure that he, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling put on the opposing defense was impressive. (And let’s not forget that goal by Alberto Moreno.)

Just as important as the impressive display from the offense was the fact that Liverpool blanked Spurs for their first clean sheet in eight league games dating back to last season.

“I think we’re more pleased with the clean sheet than our attacking play, which was superb again,” captain Steven Gerrard said. “We know we’re a threat, we’ve got pace, we’ve got talented players. The challenge for this team is to defend better — that’s what we got criticised for last year. Clean sheets are what we want, so I’m sure the manager’s going to be buzzing about that.”

The offense has never been a question for Liverpool, so if the defense can hold up there is little doubt that the club will remain in contention for the league title again this season.

The Tribe is hanging tough

Speaking of teams that are struggling with their defense, the Indians have entered September right in the thick of another pennant race.

Today’s game notwithstanding – judging by what we saw today, the Tigers are winning the division again – the Tribe should be able to hang in there for awhile. Even with the ugly loss to Detroit, the Indians are only four games out of first place in both the AL Central and the Wild Card (pending the outcome of Kansas City’s game with Texas).

The Tribe could go a long way toward helping its cause if they could actually play defense at even a sub-average level, as their offense isn’t strong enough to overcome the kind of mistakes they made against the Tigers.

We’re not sure what they can do at this stage of the season, but manager Terry Francona needs to come up with something to get the defense pulling its weight.

If he can do that, this could be another fun September for the Tribe.

(Photos courtesy of The New York Times and Getty Images)

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