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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Camp Confidential: Cleveland Browns

By James Walker

ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 28

BEREA, Ohio -- With three teams in the division coming off winning seasons, the Cleveland Browns have a long way to go to climb out of the AFC North basement

That’s why Cleveland's ownership put together the high-profile pairing of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. The new front office has reshaped the roster through the draft and free agency in hopes of starting to close the gap with its rivals and improving on last year's 5-11 record.

With so many new faces, Cleveland remains a team in transition. The Browns must come together quickly in training camp to be competitive in 2010.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Eric Mangini
The heat is on Eric Mangini heading into his second season in Cleveland.
1. Will Eric Mangini win in Year 2? This is a critical year for Mangini, who begins the season on the hot seat. Holmgren, a longtime head coach, knows that it takes more than one season to implement a program and was fair in giving Mangini a second year. A four-game winning streak to end last season also helped.

But Mangini must keep that momentum going in what should be a very competitive year in the AFC North. He doesn't have the same level of talent to work with as other coaches in the division. But Mangini is optimistic about 2010.

"I feel really good about the progress we've made, the strides we've made," Mangini said. "The second year is different. Guys understand expectations. There are so many things that you don't have to cover because they get it and they become teachers to people who are new, and that helps a lot."

2. Is quarterback Jake Delhomme the answer? Despite his pedigree, the Delhomme signing has not instilled much confidence with Browns fans.

Delhomme is coming off the worst year of his career (eight TD passes, 18 interceptions) and was benched and eventually released by the Carolina Panthers.

But if Delhomme isn't the answer, the team will turn to backup Seneca Wallace, who is a longtime Holmgren protégé. Rookie third-round draft pick Colt McCoy is regarded as the quarterback of the future but isn't expected to start this season.

Brian Robiskie
The Browns are counting on players like Brian Robiskie to step up and contribute.
3. Will young players step up? When you have a rebuilding team, young players must step forward. Cleveland has a lot of first- and second-year players who are unproven but expected to be major contributors.

Players such as second-year receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi and rookies Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, a free safety, and Montario Hardesty, a running back, are expected to fill major roles. These players will learn on the job as Cleveland's coaching staff tries to minimize their mistakes.

Haden, a cornerback, will have the biggest spotlight because he was taken No. 7 overall this year and is the first draft pick of the Holmgren and Heckert era. Haden struggled some in minicamp but is starting to look more comfortable. He still must get to the point where he's thinking less and relying more on his football instincts. So far, Haden has been a step late on too many plays.

"It's getting better and better every day," Haden said. "[Tuesday's] practice was better than [Monday's] practice. … now I feel like I'm about at 90 percent of knowing of exactly what's going on, so when I get that next 10, it's going to be full go."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

With so much attention put on Delhomme this season, I thought the best quarterback in camp this week was Wallace. He made some very nice throws, particularly on the run, while leading the second-team offense.

But unless Wallace lights it up in the preseason, do not expect another quarterback controversy in Cleveland. The Browns are paying Delhomme $7 million this season to be the starter.

Despite being a backup, Wallace will play in another capacity as the team's Wildcat quarterback, which we will get to later.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

This was supposed to be a breakthrough camp for Hardesty. Instead, his first training camp never got off the ground because of a knee injury.

Hardesty was competing with incumbent Jerome Harrison for the starting tailback job, and after a solid spring, many considered him the early favorite. But the second-round pick has missed every full-squad practice of training camp thus far and has fallen behind.

According to Mangini, Hardesty may not return until sometime next week at the earliest.

OBSERVATION DECK
Josh Cribbs
Josh Cribbs should be more involved in the offense as a part of Cleveland's Wildcat package.