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.