August 30, 2014

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Browns analysis: Still more questions than answers

BEREA — Two preseason games remain before the regular season begins Sept. 9, but training camp officially ended Thursday after 28 days and 27 practices.
It seems like a good time to take a look back at the most pressing issues facing the Browns as they began camp July 27 — and see if those issues are any closer to being resolved.
QB derby
The biggest issue of camp remains unsettled. Some would argue it gets cloudier by the day.
Charlie Frye will get his second preseason start Saturday in Denver, so it looks like he’s the choice for the opener vs. Pittsburgh. But coach Romeo Crennel won’t commit, and Derek Anderson and rookie Brady Quinn talk as if they’re still in the running.
The Browns needed Frye or Anderson to emerge as the clear-cut starter to settle the team and allow Quinn to be brought along slowly. That didn’t happen — both were average at best — so the Browns will enter the season with a quarterback controversy waiting to happen.
Health report
The Browns entered camp with four pivotal players on the mend from surgeries. They are 2-for-4 in their recoveries.
Tight end Kellen Winslow has looked great following microfracture knee surgery. The team managed his practice schedule, giving him the occasional day off, and Winslow remains the best player on offense.
Cornerback Leigh Bodden is bothered by his ankle on occasion, but he hasn’t missed much time and had a good practice Wednesday. He appears good to go for the season.
Cornerback Gary Baxter and center LeCharles Bentley haven’t been as fortunate. Then again, their injuries were much more serious.
Baxter beat the odds when he was cleared to practice following surgery to repair two torn patellar tendons. But after sailing through two weeks of individual drills, he suffered a setback after two days of working with the scout team. He’s been out of practice for more than a week, and his status for the season is in doubt.
Bentley, who had four surgeries to repair a torn patellar tendon and deal with a staph infection that set in, has continued to rehab and attend meetings but he’s yet to practice. The Browns will re-evaluate the knee in the next few days. Bentley, who described the knee as 70 percent Aug. 5, will likely begin the year on the physically unable to perform list.
Line item
The much-improved offensive line didn’t make it through camp without its own set of problems.
Right tackle Ryan Tucker was suspended for the first four games for failing a steroids test. That allowed the Browns to move Kevin Shaffer to the right side, opening the door for top pick Joe Thomas at left tackle. But the $92 million Thomas-Eric Steinbach combination on the left side hasn’t been on display.
Steinbach sprained a knee ligament during practice and will likely miss the entire preseason. The Browns are hopeful he can return for the opener.
Once Steinbach gets back, the line appears to be solid. It would only benefit from the return of Tucker, and possibly Bentley.
Rac of lame
Questions about Crennel’s job security aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. If the Browns aren’t at least 3-3 entering the bye week, fans will be calling for a change — and they might get their wish.
Crennel didn’t win over his critics with the handling of the quarterback competition. The Game 1 coin flip was widely ridiculed, and his refusal to name an opening-day starter and move Quinn into the No. 2 role is hard to fathom.
But you must say this about Crennel: No amount of criticism or speculation changes him. He’s the same upbeat guy as when he took the job three years ago.
O, to be young
New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski had a rough night Saturday vs. the Lions. The offense struggled to get plays off on time, was late with substitutions and self-destructed in the red zone. It looked a lot like game days under former coordinator Maurice Carthon.
Chudzinski is a bright guy and will likely fix the problems. But the first-team offense has failed to score a touchdown in two games, and has been at its worst in the red zone. It may be time for Chudzinski to scale back on his complex playbook.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.