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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “Brian Robiskie”

Browns continue to prune dead wood

The Cleveland Browns continued the process of pruning away the dead wood left behind by former coach Eric Mangini, releasing Brian “Blutarsky” Robiskie on Wednesday.

A second round pick in 2009 – the 36th player selected – Robiskie finishes his Browns career with 39 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns in 32 games.

And he probably had the most Blutarsky lines – 0 catches, 0 yards – of any active wide receiver in the history of the NFL.

The Browns made the move after signing running back Thomas Clayton.

Mangini’s one and only draft where he was in charge has had a lasting impact on the Browns – and not in a good way. In addition to Robiskie, Mangini wasted a second-round pick on linebacker David Veikune and under-performing wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

And to think the Browns could have selected LeSean McCoy and Mike Wallace with those second-round picks.

There’s little doubt that draft set the team back, leaving current general manager Tom Heckert with even more holes to fill.

Hopefully this serves as a lesson to those Browns fans who think the team should draft players simply because they played at Ohio State. The Browns need football players – regardless of where they went to school.

Oh well, maybe Robiskie can team up with former Ohio State quarterback and NFL washout Troy Smith in the UFL.

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We’ve heard this one before

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Brian Robiskie is ready to take on a bigger role in the West Coast offense and is finally going to produce like an NFL wide receiver.

“It’s completely different than (the offense) we had last year,” Robiskie said in published reports about the offense under first-year coach Pat Shurmur. “The receivers are a lot more involved. For me, it’s been a matter of learning it and making sure I’m exact in what I’m doing.”

“I would say Robiskie has been very steady,” Shurmur said. “You can say that a lot about what he is. He’s just a steady guy in terms of his personality, his performance, being on time and doing the right thing. He’s had a steady camp, and I think that speaks well to him.”

Yeah, but …

We get that Robiskie is a good kid who doesn’t cause trouble in the locker room or off the field. And that’s always a good thing, especially as we’ve had our share of hoople heads in recent seasons.

But eventually the team needs to see some production on the field – 36 total catches in two seasons just isn’t going to cut it.

The switch to the West Coast offense should help. The offense wants wide receivers who can run precise, sharp routes, which should play to one of Robiskie’s strengths.

Of course, it also wants receivers who can gain separation from defenders and Robiskie just doesn’t have NFL-caliber speed.

Quarterback Colt McCoy is going to spread the ball around a lot, so while it would be nice to have a stud wide receiver, the Browns may not need that to be successful on offense. With Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi (if he ever gets healthy), Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jackson, the Browns don’t need Robiskie to put up huge numbers.

Maybe this is the year that Robiskie pulls it together. It could turn out that the West Coast offense and Robiskie being in his third year – which is when receivers generally make a jump in production – will be the right combination.

***

The news that Browns guard Eric Steinbach may not play Friday night against Detroit because of back problems has us more than a little bit worried.

While its nice that rookie guard Jason Pinkston could gain some experience with the first-team offense if Steinbach can’t go, having that come against Detroit may not be the best thing for Colt McCoy’s continued good health.

Luckily for the Browns, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the Lions’ top draft pick this year, is out with an ankle sprain, which means that old friend Corey Williams will line up opposite Pinkston. The Browns also have to worry about defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

At the very least, Pinkston should be able to take up some space, as he is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds.

“He’s working through training camp,” Shurmur said of the team’s fifth-round draft pick. “He’s done some things that you need to see in an offensive lineman as far as coming off the ball (and) finishing blocks. He’s a real heavy-body, lower-body guy. He’s got an anchor. He knows how to play the game. We’re pleased with his progress. We’d like to see it keep going.”

So at least he has that going for him, which is nice.

Grading the Browns Receivers

Coming into the 2010 season, we knew the Browns were not exactly deep at the wide receiver position, but we thought the receivers might make enough progress to actually help the Browns out.

Well, that clearly didn’t happen. When your tight end leads the team in receptions – and your running back is second – you know you are not getting production out of the wide receivers.

Now, there is a growing movement that says it takes until their third year for wide receivers to really learn the game and consistently succeed on the field. Trying to compare starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie – both second-year players – to the league as a whole probably is a bit unfair. Yes, they are starters who were drafted in the second round, but they are only second-year players.

So we compared them to their peer group – the other 30 second-year receivers who accumulated stats this year – and the numbers still are not pretty.

MoMass was 14th in receptions and yards; Robiskie was 16th in receptions and 18th in yards. Massaquoi was 11th in average yards per catch while Robiskie was 26th – too many of those 5-yard receptions on third-and-six.

Finally, Massaquoi was 14th in touchdown receptions; Robiskie was 11th.

In other words, these guys really weren’t very good and it is hard to see either of them making a big enough leap next year to make the Browns better.

When you look at the numbers from the second-year receivers, it’s easy to see how players such as Hakeem Nicks (Giants), Percy Harvin (Vikings), Jeremy Maclin (Eagles), Austin Collie (Colts), Brandon Tate (Patriots) and Mike Wallace (Steelers) put up solid numbers. It’s not realistic to expect Massaquoi and Robiskie to match anyone from this group.

But what about Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola from the St. Louis Rams?

Amendola had 85 receptions – tops among second-year players and eighth overall – while Gibson pulled in 53 passes. All while playing with a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford.

Oh, by the way, Gibson was a sixth-round draft pick while Amendola was an undrafted free agent.

So the excuses are pretty thin when it comes to trying to explain away the lack of production from the Browns starters. Massaquoi and Robiskie both try hard and their blocking skills add value to the running game, but it’s becoming more and more obvious they are not NFL-caliber receivers.

We will give both of them a D on the season.

As for the other receivers, Chansi Stuckey grew on us this year. He’s a decent third-down slot receiver who was second among Browns receivers this year with 40 catches. Josh Cribbs – who really should be a running back not a wide receiver – never got anything going this year, finishing with 23 receptions, only 3 more than last year, but did almost double his receiving yards.

A C for Stuckey and a D for Cribbs feels right.

At tight end, Ben Watson was a great pick-up, leading the team with 68 receptions and 763 yards. Those totals made him the fifth-best tight end in the league in receptions and yards. He was a reliable target for the trio of quarterbacks the Browns used this year.

Robert Royal has hands of stone and Evan Moore can’t stay healthy, so while Watson is a solid starter, at age 30 the Browns need to make sure they have a healthy, viable back-up behind him.

Let’s give Watson an A, Royal an F and Moore an incomplete.

When you look at the entire picture it’s clear the Browns need to upgrade the receiving position next year if they hope to take some of the pressure off the running game and give Colt McCoy someone to work with other than Watson and Peyton Hillis.

Did someone say AJ Green?

Still Struggling for Reception

By establishing Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as the starting receivers, the Browns are relying on two second-year wide receivers.

The problem with that is there is growing evidence that a majority of wide receivers don’t adjust to the speed of the game and fully understand how to read defenses and run routes until their third season.

In his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, Pat Kirwan, a senior analyst on NFL.com and former coach and front office member, highlights what a receiver must do during a play:

“It’s on the post-snap read that a receiver gets the true indicator of what the defensive back is going to do. If the cornerback lines up 7 or 8 yards off the line of scrimmage and is aligned with the receiver’s outside shoulder, it might look like off and soft to the receiver. But the receiver can’t be sure until after the snap, when he’ll see the cornerback backpedal and reveal his deep coverage principles. The receiver then immediately must decide whether he’s going to run a post, a deep curl or something in front of the deep coverage. That decision will also depend on another factor – the drop his quarterback will be taking, something the receiver must always be aware of.”

Another area young receivers struggle with is getting release off the line of scrimmage. Kirwan explains:

“Some great college receivers can’t even get off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. They never faced big, strong cornerbacks, guys who are 6’0″, 200 pounds and can bench 400 pounds. Some great college receivers never even have a chance to think about reading coverages because they’re too busy trying to get out of their stance.”

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar gave still another example of the learning curve required of NFL wide receivers in an article in The Plain Dealer:

“Those passes down the sidelines that guys can’t catch and stay in bounds,” said Kosar. “If you watch them, you see that the receivers are 1-2 yards away from the sidelines as they run down field. That’s too close. They should be 5-6 yards. You want to give the quarterback about 15 feet to throw the ball between the receiver and the sidelines.”

On their training camp tour for Sirius NFL Radio, Kirwan and his on-air partner Tim Ryan talked about how the Browns receivers did not have the extra gear needed to get separation on a defensive back and give the quarterback an opportunity to drop the ball in. Without that speed, Massaquoi and Robiskie have to find other ways to get open, and that will only come with time.

The more you read about what it takes to be a successful NFL wide receiver, the more you realize what a big project this is for the team. And these examples are just the start; it’s not even taking into account how responsibilities change if you are the X, Y or Z receiver on a given play.

Of course, the Browns find themselves in this conundrum of their own doing. Because they did not have the proper people in place for the 2009 NFL Draft, they drafted two wide receivers in the same year, hoping they would be able to contribute sooner rather than later. By throwing in with Massaquoi and Robiskie, for better or worse the team has to live with the mistakes, limitations and growing pains.

There were calls during the preseason for the Browns to get a veteran player to be the No. 1 receiver. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, there are really only a handful of true No. 1 receivers in the league: Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s pretty much it; everyone else is a notch (or further) behind that group.

So that leaves the team looking at two options, neither of which is very appealing:

  • Sign an older receiver on the downward part of his career – T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Terrell Owens for example. But having someone like that who is not a long-term solution would just slow the development of the young receivers even more.
  • Sign a problem player like Vincent Jackson. But if the Browns didn’t want to deal with Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow, why would they want to take a chance on someone who is only one more incident away from a year-long suspension?

Like most things, all this takes time and patience. The first Browns fans have; the second is continually being tested, but we haven’t hit the bottom of the well just yet.

These guys might finally be catching on

A few months ago, some were calling the Browns receivers the worst in the league. Athlon Sports gave the group a grade of D, NFL.com ranks leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi as the 58th best receiver in the league, and even the Madden football game gives them poor marks.

Now, as the team prepares for its second preseason game on Saturday against St. Louis, the perception is starting to slowly turn in the Browns’ favor.

Earlier this week, an article in Bleacher Report highlighted the progress shown by Brian Robiskie in the preseason opener against Green Bay:

“Robiskie … showed tremendous progression in year two and looked night and day better than last season,” Daniel Wolf wrote. “He showed crisp route running and was able to break free of coverage to find open spots on the field.

“Great hands allowed Robiskie to nearly get half of his total receptions (seven) in 2009 in this one preseason game with three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.

“The touchdown was the icing on the cake and really showed that Robiskie understands what he needs to do on the field after running his route and when a play breaks down.”

Bleacher Report followed that up by saying the receivers are beginning to prove the doubters wrong during the Green Bay game:

“Perhaps it was just a figment of preseason smoke and mirrors, but the Browns receivers sure looked better than a collective destined to relive the shop of horrors that was our passing attack last season,” J Gatskie wrote. “Whether it was second year receiver Brian Robiskie running the precise routes he was touted for at Ohio State and hauling in three passes—including a touchdown on a laser from new quarterback Seneca Wallace—or tight end Evan Moore picking up where he left off in 2009 with three catches and forcing his way on the field despite the free agent signings of two formidable tight ends, the receivers for the most part looked very good against Green Bay.

“Twelve separate Browns caught passes against the Packers. The Browns had multiple games where the team didn’t total even 12 completions last year.”

Sure it was only one game, and a preseason one at that, but contrast that game with the horror show of last season and things are slowly starting to look up in Brownstown.

If the Browns can just get a competent level of production out of their receiving group this season – we’re not talking Air Coryell, just consistency – think what that will do for their rushing game. They finished 8th in the league last year in rushing while featuring an historically pathetic passing attack.

With an improved passing game, mixed with an already quality running game, the team just might have a passing chance this year.

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