Position thoughts: Wide receiver/tight end

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 7, 2012 – 10:09 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

This is the third in a series of position-by-position thoughts on the Browns after nine games. In this installment, we take a look at wide receiver and tight end:

>>Before the season, wide receiver was easily the most maligned position on the team. Throughout the offseason, fans and media constantly called for the Browns to be aggressive in trying to acquire a game-breaking receiver via free agency or trade. The Browns chose to address the position through the regular draft (with Travis Benjamin in the fourth round) and the supplemental draft (with Josh Gordon in the second round, exercising that choice in 2013). In both cases, there was skepticism that the Browns didn’t do enough to upgrade the position. But it is fair to say that many of those opinions have changed through the first half of the season, and that the Browns have the best group of receivers they’ve had in years.

>>Gordon has taken relatively little time to establish himself as a difference-making force, taking bigger strides than almost any other player on the team in the past four weeks. And that’s saying plenty considering that he hadn’t played football in more than a year when the Browns acquired him in last summer’s supplemental draft and that, because of his late arrival, he had no chance to work with the team during the offseason. Considering where Gordon started when training camp began, his emergence is somewhat surprising. His lack of understanding of the Browns’ offense, his responsibilities, and what to expect from NFL defenses caused him to make all sorts of mistakes, especially with regard to running routes. But eventually his mind began catching up with his immense athleticism. He has the size and speed to consistently shake free on deep routes, and is a constant threat to score from anywhere on the field.

>>It has been a little bit of a challenge to get a good handle on the overall picture at receiver because, thanks largely to injuries, the Browns haven’t been able to field the same receiving corps two weeks in a row. Mohamed Massaquoi and rookie Travis Benjamin have been in and out of the lineup with sore hamstrings. Rookie Josh Cooper was promoted from the practice squad, promptly established himself as a go-to target when he was active for a few games, but then was inactive for last Sunday’s game against Baltimore with a thigh injury.

>>Greg Little seems to have settled down a bit after drawing some unfavorable attention to himself early in the season with dropped passes (something that tarnished his rookie year) and ill-timed celebrations. He has been more solid with his play and, although he hasn’t had Gordon’s dynamic impact for catching passes (beyond an incredible touchdown reception while falling backwards out of the back of the end zone against Indianapolis), he has contributed heavily as a blocker.

>>Early on, Massaquoi looked like the most effective of the Browns’ receivers. But he has struggled to stay healthy.

>>The Browns are still figuring out how to maximize Benjamin’s incredible speed. They’re trying to get him to be a consistent deep target to take advantage of Brandon Weeden’s big arm, but that remains a work in progress. They’ve also used him somewhat effectively on end-around plays.

>>Cooper seems to be shaping up as a reliable receiver working primarily from the slot. He is particularly effective at getting open underneath, catching the ball in tight spaces, and moving the chains. His chemistry with Weeden, his former Oklahoma State teammate, has predictably been instant.

>>The Browns have more questions at tight end than they do at receiver. Their most promising player at the position, Jordan Cameron, showed signs before the season that he was ready to have a breakout year. He has shown flashes so far, but hasn’t been able to make a consistent impact. His worst moment came when his failure to turn around for the ball led to a Weeden interception against Baltimore.

>>Benjamin Watson remains a viable force at tight end. He catches the ball well, he’s a decent blocker, and can run well after the catch.

>>Alex Smith hasn’t been able to make much of a mark at tight end, but his strong blocking has allowed him to contribute as a fullback.

>>Carucci’s Corner is presented by Panera Bread.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.

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