NFL Nation: Mohamed Massaquoi

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Through the late years of Jack Del Rio’s nine-season tenure and Mike Mularkey’s one awful year, plenty of Jacksonville Jaguars lacked faith in the coaches above them.

New coach Gus Bradley believes trust is as important as any ingredient in his team, and in the early stages of a big rebuild he has earned a great degree of it from his players.

“It’s been really refreshing, his whole approach from day one,” said Jason Babin, the team’s most proven pass-rusher. “The way he’s laid out how we’re going to do things, the way we’ll go about our business, the way things are going to be here is genuine. As you know coaches often say one thing, and it’s not always entirely true.”

“To have a coach like that with the genuine sincerity is special. You believe him when he talks to you, and he’s done a great job developing relationships.”

Belief is big for a team that is coming off a disastrous 2-14 season, lacks a proven quarterback and has some areas of questionable talent. Bradley has preached a simple, core theme from the very start. He’s not talking playoffs, he’s not talking wins, he’s not talking success. He’s constantly talking improvement.

Bradley is high energy, and while he’s not trying to stamp his personality on his players, the enthusiasm can’t help but be contagious.

“He’s like a breath of fresh air, it’s like night and day,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “I’ve always said you can have good coaches but bad people. He’s actually a great coach and a good person who actually cares about you. You can tell when you come into work. It’s just a better working environment.

"When he first came in and we met him, I thought his enthusiasm was fake. Like it wouldn’t last. But that’s who he is, every single day. You can’t do anything but appreciate it.”

While Bradley would like his team to start fast, his bigger emphasis is on finishing strong. For a team that might not have a lot of success in the standings, it seems a smart approach. Because if you talk all about starting fast and you don’t, then what?

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
AP Photo/John RaouxThis season could be Blaine Gabbert's last chance to assert himself as Jacksonville's QB.
1. The quarterback. The Jaguars steered clear of a quarterback in the draft, as they didn’t see an answer to their issues and had plenty of other areas to address. So they move forward with Blaine Gabbert’s big, and final, chance. The new offense is tailored to help Gabbert be better -- he will roll out and go on the move more. His weapons are better and more reliable, with the emerging Cecil Shorts paired with Justin Blackmon (once he’s healthy and after a four-game suspension to start the season) along with Ace Sanders and Mike Brown, who has been quite good in camp. The protection is far better with No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel at right tackle. The initial depth chart has Gabbert as co-No. 1 with Chad Henne, and the team will pump up the competition for as long as it can. But those boosting Henne and suggesting he’ll win the job haven’t seen practices where Henne rarely seizes real command and is regularly worse than Gabbert.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew’s foot. He looked good during my visit, very much the same guy we’ve become accustomed to. He could easily be the centerpiece of the offense just as he was before he suffered a serious Lisfranc foot injury in the team’s sixth game last season. We need to see him in games, over time show that the foot isn’t an issue. We need to see how effective the rest of the team can be so that it’s not overreliant on him. And we need to see how he takes on the final year of his contract when he desires a big new deal, but exists in a league where even effective running backs are devalued as they approach 30. While the team will run more zone plays, MJD said the rush offense won’t look that different from what we saw in the last few years of Del Rio’s regime.

3. The shape of a new scheme: Bradley ran Seattle’s defense under Pete Carroll, and the scheme put a heavy emphasis on big physical cornerbacks and pass-rushing Leos. Do the Jaguars have the guys to fit those roles? Third-round pick Dwayne Gratz looks like a good get. But Babin is the team’s best rusher, and he was let go by the Eagles during the season last year, not a great sign. The second option at Leo, 2012 second-rounder Andre Branch, remains mostly invisible. Jacksonville had 20 sacks last season. The end pool hasn’t really changed, though Tyson Alualu has shifted outside. The new interior guys -- Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick -- will solidify the run defense. But will they penetrate and get quarterbacks to move off their spot?

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley and Dave Caldwell
Phil Sears/USA TODAY Sports Coach Gus Bradley, left, and GM Dave Caldwell have made a positive impression as they rebuild the Jags.
David Caldwell and Bradley. The new GM and coach are both in their jobs for the first time. They are enthusiastic partners in building this team, not afraid to say there are things they don’t know yet, as opposed to storming in and claiming they have all the answers. We won’t be able to judge them for a few years as they need to assemble and deploy talent. And we don’t know too much about Bradley’s staff. But people who have worked with Caldwell and Bradley in the past, and people who are working with them now, have great reviews. I’m impressed with both, and they are the best thing the team has going for it right now.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The talent gap. How many Jaguars would start for the two-time defending AFC South champion Houston? Joeckel would be the right tackle. Paul Posluszny, if he fit into a 3-4, could be a two-down inside guy next to Brian Cushing. Shorts would be a top-three receiver. That’s probably it. The Jaguars might be moving in a good direction, but the distance between their talent and the talent at the top of the division, conference and league is substantial. The more talented teams don’t always win, but you’d rather not be the team that has to remind itself that all the time.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Denard Robinson is listed as a running back, a quarterback, a receiver and a kick returner on the team’s initial depth chart. The team already has tried to trim his workload -- he’s not involved as a punt returner for now -- to help him get good at a smaller role, and so he can really concentrate on ball security. They will definitely use him in the Wildcat. But Caldwell said he’s not really expecting anything from Robinson early on.
  • All the receivers are learning all the spots. So while Sanders and Brown both look the part of slot guys, don’t pigeonhole either as strictly inside guys. And while Shorts and Blackmon look the part of outside guys, they could well get opportunities lining up inside, too. Mohamed Massaquoi and, to a larger degree, Jordan Shipley don’t seem to be very big factors right now.
  • Alualu looked good as an end when I focused on him. Hopefully his knee is sound and he will be able to put things together in his fourth year. Meanwhile, Jeremy Mincey is going the other direction. He has added about 15 pounds and his primary role is likely to be as a nickel tackle.
  • After what he did, and failed to do, in his chances in Houston last season, cornerback Alan Ball seemed like an uninspired signing to me. But he has been better through camp so far than I would have expected.
  • Undrafted rookie linebacker LaRoy Reynolds is flashing regularly at practice. At this point, I expect he’s on the team and given a chance to be a special-teams ace. Maybe he even pushes starter Russell Allen. Look for six to eight undrafted guys to make the initial 53-man roster.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- I got to the Jacksonville Jaguars practice fields this morning just three plays into full-team work.

Some quick thoughts on what I saw and heard:

Blaine Gabbert: The quarterback had his right ankle heavily wrapped and didn’t participate in team work. But he said after practice that barring something crazy he’d be back to a full workload tomorrow. Mike Kafka worked as the No. 2 behind Chad Henne, with Matt Scott last.

Wildcatting: Denard Robinson ran several Wildcat plays, but didn’t throw on any of them, handing off or running.

I am generally anti-Wildcat, but the Jaguars are the right team to be playing with it -- a team without a high-quality quarterback.

Receiver Mike Brown did throw a pass on a trick play, after taking a lateral screen pass from Kafka to the left side. Brown threw to the right side of the end zone from about 40 yards out. Running back Jordan Todman had linebacker Julian Stanford beat, but couldn’t corral it. (See this play and some pictures from today on my Instagram account: pkuharsky)

I watched one-on-one pass rush (which was sometimes two-on-two), Andre Branch tried to bull rush Luke Joeckel and while he gained some ground, Joeckel had control. Will Rackley rode D’Anthony Smith wide on one snap. And Jason Babin slipped under Eugene Monroe’s left shoulder but then got pinned there and went to the ground. Tyson Alualu did some nice work against Mike Brewster working on an inside rush. That’s a matchup he should win. I’ll write more about Alualu and his move to end soon.

Good throw: One of Henne’s best throws was to Marcedes Lewis in the middle of the field for a mid-range gain. What made it especially good was that Henne initially looked and pumped left, then came back to find Lewis.

Fumble: Cecil Shorts and Henne shared responsibility on an end-around handoff being fumbled.

Well defended: Undrafted rookie cornerback Marcus Burley hasn’t been heard from much in camp so far, I am told. But he made a very good play in the end zone. From the 10-yard line, Henne threw a nice pass to Mohamed Massaquoi into the right side of the end zone. Burley realized he wasn’t going to be able to make a play on the ball, but that he could still prevent the catch and he broke it up even though he wasn’t on top of the receiver.

Option: Henne ran an option play to the left side, pitching to Maurice Jones-Drew on a well-executed snap.

Not long later, Henne easily hit Shorts under the goalpost for a red zone TD.

Detente? I was with some other reporters near the end of the open locker room and we had a fun, spirited chat with Jones-Drew, who was hanging out at a new, still net-less ping-pong table in the middle of the locker room. (Not so spirited that young receiver Tobias Palmer needed to check if MJD wanted his assistance to break free of it. But I found it to be charming naiveté.) MJD and I have some history, about which I try to be up front. We seemed to have benefited from a cooling off period. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to visit with a tape recorder running on Thursday.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Offseasons and minicamps are loaded with stories of second chances.

One good one in the AFC South belongs to Mohamed Massaquoi, the former Cleveland Browns receiver who looked to add depth for the team behind Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.

Now with Blackmon slated to miss the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Massaquoi looks to be an opening day starter opposite Shorts in a two-receiver base offense.

[+] EnlargeMohamed Massaquoi
AP Photo/Stephen MortonThe Jaguars will rely on Mohamed Massaquoi to start while Justin Blackmon serves his four-game suspension.
“We’re careful of saying, ‘Now we need more from him,’” coach Gus Bradley said. “We always want more. Regardless of Blackmon’s situation, we’re challenging him. We think that he’s got a high level, a high standard, and we’re pushing him to max out.”

Chosen in the second round, 50th overall, in 2008 out of Georgia, Massaquoi hardly lit it up for the Browns. In four years, he pulled in 118 catches for 1,745 yards, a 14.8-yard average and seven touchdowns.

The new Jaguars regime still saw upside in a 6-foot-2, 207-pound receiver.

Bradley said he thought Massaquoi was a little bit shocked by the Jaguars' early tempo in organized training activities (OTAs).

“There was a little bit of surviving going on,” Bradley said. “I think he has stepped it up now.

Massaquoi is settled in and more comfortable. Regular observers say he’s not stood out in Jacksonville’s spring work in a negative or positive way.

I liked the addition and expect him to be a contributor, as I think Jerry Sullivan is an excellent receivers coach who can find a way to get the most out of guys.

“I absolutely love Gus, love Coach Sullivan, love their approach to it, love learning from them,” Massaquoi said. “I’m working hard relearning things …

"Missing Justin is definitely a huge thing, he’s definitely a talented guy. For me coming in, even before the situation, I wanted to come in and learn as much as I could from Sullivan and refine my game as much as possible, put the best product on the field that I can.”

For a fifth year and a second act, he wants to do more and seems confident that he will. Blackmon is getting plenty of work now. At some point in training camp the Jaguars will have to taper that to ensure they are ready to play four games without him.

In the first quarter of the season, Massaquoi should find a big chance to produce.

“Cleveland didn’t go exactly the way that I envisioned it,” he said. “So whenever you do get a second chance at anything, a new opportunity, you embrace it and you attack it wholeheartedly and you go out there to do the best you can learning from the mistakes of the past.”

Adam Schefter just tweeted that Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon is being suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season.

He violated the league's substance abuse policy.

The Jaguars are not particularly deep anywhere. Blackmon and Cecil Shorts are the two starting receivers. Mohamed Massaquoi would be next in line outside.

The best guy after that is likely to be fourth-round draft pick Ace Sanders from South Carolina, a small slot guy at 5-foot-7 and 173-pounds.

Jacksonville's first five games are against Kansas City, at Oakland, at Seattle and against Indianapolis.

The Jaguars are planning on staying out West between the games against the Raiders and Seahwaks. So beyond missing four games, Blackmon will miss a big bonding week on the road.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars select a receiver in the NFL draft, he’s going to be a guy they see as a super value.

Massaquoi
With the news that they have agreed to terms with free agent Mohamed Massaquoi, I think they are in pretty good shape at the position. And given how thin they are at other spots, I’d expect their draft focus will be elsewhere.

Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts will be the presumed starters. Jordan Shipley will get a lot of opportunity in the slot. And now Massaquoi adds another physical presence.

Scouts Inc. scores Massaquoi a five out of five in route running and traffic presence, four out of five in hands, yards after catch and durability and a three out of five in speed.

Here’s their scouting report:
Massaquoi is a big, physical receiver and an excellent route runner. He has very good hands and shows courage and concentration in traffic. He is a solid perimeter blocker, giving great effort staying connected to defenders. Massaquoi is one of the more consistent offensive players for the Browns and could flourish in a more stable environment.

Jacksonville doesn’t qualify as a more stable environment, yet. But it could be in a year after general manager David Caldwell has more time to reshape the roster and Gus Bradley and his staff have had a year to coach guys up.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 23, Browns 16

September, 27, 2012
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BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday:

What it means: The Ravens (3-1) took a half-game lead in the AFC North over the Bengals (2-1) by winning their franchise-record 13th straight game at home, which is also the longest current streak in the NFL. Just like the controversial Monday night game, it came down to a shot to the end zone. But the regular officials didn't have to make a tough call like their replacement counterparts. Brandon Weeden's first pass to the end zone was knocked down and his second one sailed to the back of the end zone. It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens were playing their fourth game in 17 days and were taking on a division opponent in a steady downpour. One of two winless teams in the NFL, the Browns dropped to 0-4 for the fourth time in their history (1975, 1999 and 2009 were the other times). Cleveland has lost 10 in a row, their longest losing streak since losing 10 straight from 2008 to '09.

Celebrating in style: Ravens cornerback Cary Williams intercepted the first pass of his career and he made it memorable. He jumped a Weeden pass on the sideline and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, which put the Ravens ahead, 23-10, late in the third quarter. Williams has been frequently picked on by quarterbacks this season.

Flacco on the move: Joe Flacco threw for 356 yards, but he also impacted the game with his legs. On third-and-goal in the third quarter, Flacco ran to the outside, where he put a move on Browns linebacker Scott Fujita before scoring on a 1-yard run. Flacco's fifth rushing touchdown of his career put the Ravens ahead, 16-7. Flacco's streak of 125 passes in the red zone without an interception ended earlier in the game.

Ravens' receivers stepping up: The Ravens wide receivers took advantage of the Browns not having their top cornerback Joe Haden, who sat out the third game of a four-game suspension. Anquan Boldin caught nine passes for 131 yards, and Torrey Smith had 97 yards receiving, including his third touchdown in five days.

Another critical drop by Little: It looked like wide receiver Greg Little was getting out of Pat Shurmur's doghouse until he dropped a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Instead of getting the Browns to within 23-20, they had to settle for another long field goal. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin had a pass bounce off his chest while in the end zone in the final minute with the Browns down 23-16.

Richardson keeps up his streak: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson didn't fare well against the Ravens' run defense, which didn't give him any holes. He finished with 47 yards rushing on 14 carries. Richardson, though, did score a touchdown in his third straight game. He beat Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain to the end zone after taking a pitch from Weeden.

Dawson from long distance: It seemed like last season with the Browns' Phil Dawson hitting long field goals. He converted from 51, 50 and 52 yards. This was his fourth from 50 or longer this year and his 11th since the start of the 2011 season.

Scary moment: Already playing without leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), the Browns lost another receiver when Josh Cribbs was knocked out of the game with a head injury. Cribbs' helmet was dislodged on a punt return when linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hit his head with his right shoulder, which also forced a fumble. Cribbs got up on his own power and walked off the field before going to the locker room.

What's next: The Ravens travel for just the second time this season, playing at Kansas City. The Browns are at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

AFC North injury report

September, 26, 2012
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Here's the final injury report for Browns-Ravens and the first one of the week for Bengals-Jaguars:

BROWNS AT RAVENS

BROWNS: Out: WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), TE Alex Smith (head) and LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs-oblique). Questionable: DB Ray Ventrone (hand). Probable: CB Sheldon Brown (chest), WR Josh Cribbs (knee), G Jason Pinkston (ankle), DE Frostee Rucker (wrist), RB Trent Richardson (knee) and LS Christian Yount (shoulder).

RAVENS: Questionable: OT Jah Reid (calf). Probable: LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (knee).

BENGALS AT JAGUARS

BENGALS: Did not practice: CB Leon Hall (hamstring), CB Nate Clements (calf), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), TE Donald Lee (quad), RB Bernard Scott (ankle), OT Andrew Whitworth (knee). Limited: CB Jason Allen (thigh), DE Carlos Dunlap (knee), C Jeff Faine (hamstring) and FS Reggie Nelson (shoulder).

Observation deck: Browns-Lions

August, 10, 2012
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Brandon Weeden headlined a sloppy performance by the Browns in a 19-17 preseason win at Detroit. In one quarter of work, the rookie quarterback had three completions and two turnovers.

While it wasn't surprising to see Weeden struggle in his first NFL action, it was a little unexpected to hear coach Pat Shurmur compliment him for such an uneven performance.

“I thought Brandon did a good job," Shurmur said at halftime. "It looked like the game was slow for him. He was out there and he executed pretty well. I think he would want that one back on the interception. It was in tight coverage. The ball was a pretty good ball and we’ve got to make that play. I think for the most part, he executed in a way that I thought he would."

As I blogged about earlier tonight, Weeden started off strong before making a series of mistakes. In three series, he fumbled, threw an interception and should have been picked off another time. He left after three forgettable drives, completing 3 of 9 passes for 62 yards.

Here are my thoughts and observations from the game:
  • The Browns' injuries continue to pile up. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi sustained a concussion after making a catch on the Browns' first offensive snap. It's his third head injury in three seasons. The other injuries were: cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), defensive tackle Scott Paxson (knee) and tight end Jordan Cameron (back).
  • Cleveland's run defense was awful, and that doesn't come as a surprise. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, defensive end Frostee Rucker and defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin (pelvis) and Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle) all didn't play, which left the Browns short-handed up front. Cleveland gave up 115 yards rushing in the first half. The Browns showed no containment on outside runs and got gashed on runs up the middle.
  • The Browns won't win many games this season if they beat themselves. That's exactly what happened in the preseason opener, committing eight penalties for 55 yards in the first half. This lack of discipline is a bad reflection on the coaching staff.
  • Backup quarterback Colt McCoy (6-of-8 for 88 yards) was one of the few bright spots. He took three shots downfield, hitting Cameron for a 42-yard pass down the seam. McCoy wasn't this aggressive as the starter last season. He also gained 20 yards on one run.
  • Sheldon Brown tightened his grip on the starting cornerback job with an interception over the middle of the field. His good play looked more impressive by the disappointing performances of Patterson and Buster Skrine.
  • The Browns have to figure out a way to take use Travis Benjamin's speed. He had two catches for 46 yards and can be a playmaker for an offense that lacked a spark last season.
  • In his first game back since missing last year with an Achilles injury, Reggie Hodges had a 52-yard punt and placed two kicks inside the 20-yard line. Not to be outdone, kicker Phil Dawson connected on a 37-yard field goal and had two touchbacks in the first half.
  • Weeden wasn't the only rookie who stumbled Friday night. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was called for a false start on third-and-10 and then allowed the sack that led to Weeden's fumble on the next play. He's definitely a work in progress.
The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have already watched a combined four starters go down with injuries in the first quarter of their preseason openers.

The Bengals will be without three starters for the rest of the game against the Jets. Left guard Travelle Wharton, a free-agent pickup from Carolina, was carted off the field and has been replaced by Otis Hudson. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga both have right knee injuries and are doubtful to return.

The Browns watched wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi leave the game after his first catch, which came on the first play at Detroit. Massaquoi, who thought he had moved past his concussion issues, has another head injury.
I went to the Cleveland Browns' minicamp this week with an open mind about their wide receivers. I left shaking my head.

By my count, there were six dropped passes in a 90-minute practice Wednesday. If this carries into the season, the passing attack will struggle again and it wouldn't matter whether the quarterback is Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy or Aaron Rodgers.

You could chalk it up to a bad practice for a lot of teams, but the Browns were tied atop the NFL in dropped passes last season. There were legitimate excuses for 2011. Greg Little hadn't played a full season since 2009. Mohamed Massaquoi dealt with a foot injury in training camp and another concussion during the season.

There are really no excuses this year, especially with Weeden putting the ball on the spot for the most part. If you're looking for insight, the problem for the Browns' receivers is either a lack of concentration or a lack of talent. During my two days at minicamp, the receivers were dropping passes during individual drills when there wasn't even a defender trying to break up the pass.

In Wednesday's practice, the receivers who dropped passes were Massaquoi (two), Little, Travis Benjamin, Jordan Norwood and Owen Spencer. When the Browns line up their "hands team" to field an onside kick, I'm not sure any of their wide receivers would be in that group.

The biggest disappointment was Massaquoi, who has been getting pumped up in the press by team president Mike Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur. On Tuesday, Massaquoi gave up on a deep pass to the end zone after getting bumped by a defender. Instead, he went to his hip and acted like an official pulling out a flag. On Wednesday, another deep pass went to Massaquoi, who watched it into his hands before dropping it. "Come on, We’ve gotta catch that one, Mo.” senior offensive assistant Nolan Cromwell yelled after that drop. I'm not sure Massaquoi is past the vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from James Harrison five games into the 2010 season.

This problem at wide receiver is the result when a team doesn't want to overspend for one in free agency and failed to get Baylor's Kendall Wright in the draft (the Titans selected him two spots before the Browns in the first round). And, before you ask, I don't see the Browns signing a free agent like Braylon Edwards or Plaxico Burress because they want to build with young players.

Asked why he is so optimistic about his wide receivers, Shurmur said this week, "I think we got some guys that, No. 1, are some good players. I think they have all had a chance now to play a year in the system and then have an offseason to improve their game. Then, we have added some young players who I think are going to develop into good players. For all of those reasons I think they will be better and productive. Then I think as you get more efficient quarterback play."

The Browns have ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL in passing for the past four seasons. Weeden gives them a chance to be better. He just can't do it alone.
Brandon WeedenJason Miller/Getty ImagesThe Browns made 28-year-old Brandon Weeden the oldest first-round draft selection in NFL history.


BEREA, Ohio -- No one can say whether Brandon Weeden is going to lead the Cleveland Browns from the ranks of the worst teams in the NFL. No one, and this includes Mike Holmgren as well as Pat Shurmur, can declare that Weeden is going to stop the Browns' quarterback carousel that has spanned 16 starters since the city's return to the NFL in 1999.

But, after 40 days and 10 practices with the Browns, there is one assessment of Weeden that everyone can agree upon: The rookie first-round pick has the look of being a franchise quarterback.

It only takes one practice to see how Weeden has the size and the arm to live up to that billing. The building excitement with Weeden comes from the fact that his potential extends beyond physical gifts.

He has the comfort level to tell quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple about a couple of red-zone plays he "wasn't a big fan of." He has the courage to throw a deep touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin after nearly getting picked off. He has the confidence to tell reporters about his goal of winning a Super Bowl even before taking a snap in a regular-season game.

While it's way too early to predict Weeden winning championships, he has brought hope to a franchise that has recorded 10 double-digit loss seasons and no playoff victories over the past 13 years. Everyone else in the AFC North went to the postseason last season, and everyone in the division has a franchise quarterback. The only way the Browns can get out of last place is to find one of their own. That's why Weeden is the crucial piece of the Holmgren era in Cleveland.

Browns officials haven't named Weeden the starter because they want him to earn the job. Technically, he's battling Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Unofficially, the Browns' mandatory minicamp this week has served more as a coronation than a competition.

Weeden took the first snaps with the starting offense throughout Tuesday's practice. He was the quarterback standing at the podium addressing reporters after the workout. He looks like "the guy" in Cleveland, even though Weeden himself refuses to acknowledge it.

"Not yet, just because nothing is formal," Weeden said. "We're still two months out until we play our first preseason game. I'm still working my tail off just to get better and keep learning. I'm getting more comfortable with what we are doing, but I still have a long ways to go."

The most overused term with Weeden is that he's mature. This has become a polite way to say Weeden is old. He'll turn 29 during season, which makes him the Betty White of rookie quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
David Richard/US PresswireFrom his big arm to his confidence, Brandon Weeden is the picture of the franchise QB the Browns are aching for.
The better description for Weeden is he's grounded. He hasn't been coddled like many first-round quarterbacks. He has tasted failure as a minor-league pitcher (he went 19-26 after being drafted in the same round as Joey Votto) and only became a winning quarterback at Oklahoma State after making the climb from a third-stringer.

Weeden understands what it takes to rebound from struggles, which will serve him well this year. All rookie quarterbacks make mistakes. The successful ones don't crumble from them.

Weeden's resiliency came through Tuesday when a miscommunication with Josh Cribbs led to an interception. He came right back with a deep cross to Mohamed Massaquoi.

"I won't make that same mistake again and if I do, shame on me," he said "I think you guys will find I'm pretty even-keeled, but I think my track record shows -- I put that one behind me. They always say, 'Wash your hands and move on.' That's kind of the approach I take, and that comes from baseball. I gave up a lot of home runs in baseball and they're very similar. So you've just got to toe the rubber, you've got take snaps and move on and make the next play."

Shurmur was reluctant to give any glowing remarks about Weeden on Tuesday. It was kind of a game to watch him turn questions specifically about Weeden into answers that addressed the entire quarterback group.

He was even hesitant to put a timetable on naming the starting quarterback. "I think it's important to do it as quickly as possible," Shurmur said. "But yet, it needs to happen at a pace where the guys here have a chance to compete."

If Weeden's progression since his first practice on May 11 is any indication, he'll be ready to start against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 9.

"I'm leap years farther along right now than I was obviously Day 1, Day 2," Weeden said. "I think even from rookie minicamp, where I'm at right now is that I look like two totally different quarterbacks -- in my footwork, and you can tell I'm processing stuff a little bit faster and I'm not thinking quite as much."

Weeden added, "When you stop thinking so much and you just react and go through your reads one, two, three to your back, that's when you start moving the ball down the field and start getting completions and first downs."

Moving the ball down the field in short chunks isn't Weeden's forte. What stood out about him in Tuesday's practice was the amount of deep shots he took.

"Sometimes in this West Coast offense it can get labeled as an underneath route, catch-and-run route [scheme]," Weeden said, "but any time you can really step into one and let it rip, that's fun."

Weeden is entering the NFL at a time when expectations for rookie quarterbacks are at an all-time high.

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons in 2008. Mark Sanchez helped the Jets to the AFC championship as a rookie in 2009. And Cam Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and Andy Dalton went to the Pro Bowl last year.

This doesn't faze a quarterback like Weeden, who has already said he wants to win a Super Bowl before he's done playing.

"We put the pressure on ourselves to win games," Weeden said. "We want to get to the playoffs. We want to take our team as far as we can. That's the way good quarterbacks should think."

That's exactly the way franchise quarterbacks should talk.
The Browns weren't able to draft an impact wide receiver in the first three rounds, but team president Mike Holmgren hasn't ruled out signing one over the next couple of months.

"There’s a chance between now and the time ... we tee up that there will be an addition to the wide receiver group," Holmgren told a Cleveland radio station, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "But if there isn’t, then honestly I feel pretty good about our guys."

Holmgren continues to express faith in Greg Little, the team's second-round pick from a year ago who led the team in receptions -- but also averaged one drop for every five passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I said this last year and I will say it again, I think Little proved he can play in the league," Holmgren said, "and he’s going to get nothing but better after his first year."

Holmgren called Mohamed Massaquoi "the wild card" of the wide receiver group. He set career lows last season in catches (31), receiving yards (384) and yards per catch (12.4).

"I believe in that young man, I really do," Holmgren said. "I think he’s finally gotten over that concussion thing he’s had, and it kind of changed his game just a little a bit in my opinion. But he is a talented guy and I’ve had great talks with him and I think he can be a really, really fine player. So we will see."

Holmgren added, "If that happens and with the addition of [fourth-round draft pick Travis] Benjamin who is fast on fast, I mean he can really run, I think we’re going to be OK there. Did we go into the draft thinking we could pick up another one? Yes we did but it didn’t happen.”
We should schedule a Michael Crabtree discussion periodically just to get the blood pumping.

Linking to Matt Maiocco's piece from our latest "Around the NFC West" post got us talking Thursday morning.

"While fans expect 1,000-yard seasons from a player chosen with the No. 10 overall draft pick," Maiocco wrote, "the 49ers' offense is not one that features the outside receivers.

"Some view Crabtree as a bust. I am certainly not in that camp."

Indeed, there are mitigating factors to explain why Crabtree's production has lagged compared to other highly drafted receivers from the 2009 NFL class. A rookie contract dispute, injuries, the 2011 lockout, coaching turnover, a run-oriented scheme and spotty quarterback play come to mind. Of course, every team has its issues. The 49ers weren't the only ones.

"I agree with Maiocco," red n g0ld wrote. "Pretty hard to judge 'Crabs' when you consider our run-heavy scheme and that Alex Smith prefers the short passing game and tight ends."

"Yep, we're not built to have any flashy numbers out of our WRs," randdles added, "which is why I think that Randy Moss isn't gonna be particularly happy, especially with the other WRs we brought in. He might not even have one catch per game."

"It hurts me to say it," 4tni9er wrote, "but I think Crabtree would have prospered more with an offense that has more emphasis on the passing game (with another QB). There is a resistance from his side to Alex Smith, but it's getting better."

"Of all the 10 people who drafted ahead of Crabtree (Aaron Curry included), only Matthew Stafford, B.J. Raji and possibly Mark Sanchez are better value," 4949centennial wrote.

"I guess one could say it isn't primarily Crabtree's fault for the type of offense they have been running," Prominent_49ers wrote. "You would think he would produce just a bit more than what he has done so far for the team."

"I think the definition of 'bust' needs to be flushed out while trying to view Crabtree," joe_cool585 wrote. "While Maiocco may not view him as a bust, Crabtree sure as heck hasn't lived up to the reasonable expectations of a top 10 draft choice."

The first chart shows where Crabtree ranks among the eight receivers chosen in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft. The chart below shows stats for all eight of those players.

Poll: Browns' biggest draft need

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
10:00
AM ET
There's no debate that the Cleveland Browns need to upgrade significantly on offense in this draft.

The Browns ranked 29th in total yards (288.8 per game) and 30th in points (13.6). The St. Louis Rams were the only other team to rank in the bottom four in the NFL in both those categories.

SportsNation

What is the biggest draft need for the Cleveland Browns?

  •  
    14%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    35%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,364)

But what is the Browns' biggest need heading into this year's draft? Here are the top choices:

Quarterback: The Browns failed in their attempt to trade up in the draft to get Robert Griffin III. Now, they are left with Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. In his first full season as a starter, McCoy ranked 26th in completion percentage (57.2), 25th in passing yards per game (210.2), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.9), 25th in passer rating (74.6) and 25th in QBR (39.8).

Running back: Cleveland didn't re-sign Peyton Hillis, their starting running back for the past two seasons who went to Kansas City. The Browns' remaining backs -- Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya -- totaled 600 rushing yards and one touchdown last season. Hardesty and Jackson missed a combined 22 games last season because of injuries.

Wide receiver: This group produced a lot of drops and few big plays. Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi combined for 20 catches over 20 yards, averaged 12.1 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns.

Offensive tackle: The Browns cut starting right tackle Tony Pashos and didn't re-sign backup Artis Hicks. If the season started today, Cleveland would go with Oniel Cousins, a Ravens castoff who has started five games in four seasons.

Go ahead and register your vote, or let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'll follow up by Monday.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. broke down the top six needs remaining Insider for each of the AFC North teams. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire post, but here's a glimpse of the top three needs:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Horton's top three needs: Cornerback, guard and safety.

Horton on cornerback: The starters in 2011 were Leon Hall, who will be coming off an Achilles injury, and 32-year-old Nate Clements. When Hall went down, Adam Jones filled in, but none of these three make you comfortable in man coverage. Newly acquired free agent Jason Allen will help, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

Hensley's comment: I wouldn't put cornerback as the top need because the Bengals added Allen and re-signed Jones. Allen is an upgrade over Kelly Jennings. Guard is the bigger concern. If the season started today, the Bengals' starting right guard would either be Otis Hudson, Clint Boling or Anthony Collins (who would shift over from tackle).

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Horton's top three needs: Quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

Horton on quarterback: Right now, their options at QB are starter Colt McCoy and veteran backup Seneca Wallace, but nobody expects it to stay that way. With two first-round draft picks, they will almost surely pick a QB with one of them.

Hensley's comment: You could make a strong argument that quarterback, wide receiver or running back should rank as the No. 1 need. My top need for Cleveland is right tackle. The Browns can at least start McCoy, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Montario Hardesty at those other positions. Right tackle was a weak spot for the Browns last season with Tony Pashos and Artis Hicks, both of whom are now gone. The Browns' starting right tackle at this point is Oniel Cousins, a third-round bust from Baltimore.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Horton's three needs: Inside linebacker, left guard and safety.

Horton on inside linebacker: The Ray Lewis era will be ending soon, and the Ravens need to find his replacement. Jameel McClain was re-signed, and he can play inside or outside, but a three-down linebacker who can play solid pass defense is sorely needed.

Hensley's comment: Left guard is the biggest need on the team, and it's not even close. The Ravens couldn't keep Ben Grubbs and failed to sign Evan Mathis. The fallback option is Jah Reid, a backup offensive tackle last season. Going from a Pro Bowl guard (Grubbs) to a converted tackle (Reid) is a major step down.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Horton's top three needs: Offensive tackle/guard, nose tackle and running back.

Horton on offensive tackle/guard: Center Maurkice Pouncey is the only stable starter on this unit. Veteran tackle Max Starks is coming off an ACL injury and T Willie Colon can't stay healthy, though the coaches hope he can get through a full season at RT with young Marcus Gilbert moving from RT to LT. There is also a big hole at left guard. The Steelers need to get at least one, and maybe two, starters up front.

Hensley's comment: You can't really disagree with this assessment. Left guard Doug Legursky is a backup who performed admirably when Chris Kemoeatu was benched. Gilbert has a good chance of succeeding on the left side, but it's hard to depend on Colon at right tackle with his injury history. The Steelers' options are limited because there is no depth. Jonathan Scott, who has struggled mightily, is the top backup at tackle, and there's no reserves at guard with Trai Essex (free agent) and Jamon Meredith (not tendered as a restricted free agent) off on the roster.

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