October 24, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
52°F

Browns commentary: A bit of good news

I know how bad the Browns opener was.

How poorly the right side of the offensive line played. How the receivers couldn’t get open, catch or stay on their feet. How any cornerback not named Joe Haden was an easy target whenever Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed a clutch completion.

And, yes, how quarterback Brandon Weeden threw more interceptions (3) than he led scoring drives (2) and looked too much like the unsure rookie of 2012.

But I like to look for the positives, and one game — no matter how ugly — is too early to write off a season, especially under a new coaching staff. So let me provide three reasons to retain a sense of optimism after the 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Front seven

CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi didn’t do enough in their first offseason to fix several areas of the roster. It showed Sunday.

But Banner was committed to building a stout defensive front, and the millions spent in free agency paid early dividends.

End Desmond Bryant (5 years, $34 million) had two sacks and was extremely active. He played in the base defense and the nickel package and showed no ill effects from the back spasms of the preseason.

Outside linebackers Paul Kruger (5 years, $40.5 million) and Quentin Groves (2 years, $2.28 million) each contributed a sack and harassed Tannehill.

The defensive line — Bryant, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn and John Hughes — collapsed the pocket and clogged the middle, as the Browns’ notoriously porous run defense allowed a league-low 20 yards on 23 carries.

If the front seven plays this well on a consistent basis — keep it mind it was missing starting end Ahtyba Rubin (calf) — the Browns will be in a lot of games, no matter what the offense does.

Cameron crazy

Jordan Cameron finally looked like the playmaking tight end ex-general manager Tom Heckert, new coordinator Norv Turner and fantasy owners across the country envisioned.

Cameron, the former college basketball player, was Weeden’s most reliable target with nine catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. By the second half, it was clear Weeden’s comfort level throwing to Cameron had risen while his trust in receivers Greg Little and Travis Benjamin had dropped.

Cameron is a premier athlete with good hands. He’s most dangerous on the deep crossing routes where he can run away from defenders and use his leaping ability to make difficult catches. He showed the hands and athleticism on the lone touchdown, a 7-yarder in the corner of the end zone when he had to leave his feet and land inbounds.

Defenses will now be focused on slowing Cameron, but Turner and coach Rob Chudzinski have a history of getting production from their star tight end. Cameron may be ready to fill that role and fulfill his promise.

The cavalry

OK, that’s a bit much.

But No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon will be back from suspension for Week 3, and could be joined by injured right guard Shawn Lauvao. Both were greatly missed against Miami.

Gordon is the most talented receiver on the roster and gives Weeden the tall, physical deep threat he lacked in the opener. Weeden tried to go long to Benjamin, but he’s just too small to be a consistent option.

Gordon can get deep, jump over cornerbacks and break tackles. Weeden said in the preseason he has the talent to be a top-five receiver in the league.

Of course, that’s the motivated, focused, non-suspended Gordon who hangs onto the ball. That version is never guaranteed to show up, or pass a drug test, but he’s the Browns’ best hope to energize an offense that looked inadequate and undermanned Sunday.

Right guard is the least important position on the offense, but it mattered against the Dolphins. Oniel Cousins was penalized four times and manhandled plenty of others. Lauvao, who’s recovering from arthroscopic ankle surgery, isn’t a Pro Bowler, but he’s dependable and a serious upgrade.

Notes

Little and Gordon settled traffic cases Tuesday, according to reports. Gordon paid a $296 fine and court costs. Little owes $472 in fines and court costs.

• The Browns signed receiver Arceto Clark and running back Dennis Johnson to the practice squad. Receiver Jasper Collins was released from the practice squad. Johnson was waived from the active roster Saturday, and Clark is an undrafted rookie who was in camp with Seattle.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.