The modern incarnation of the Cleveland Browns are one of the most unfortunate franchises in the history of American professional sports. They have only one playoff appearance since Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore and renamed them the Ravens. On that fateful day in 1996, it seemed as though Art had bubble-wrapped the winning spirit of the franchise and shipped it away as well. The Browns were reborn in 1999 but that spirit remained in Baltimore. The fans still cheered and supported the franchise despite their losing ways. Why? Because there was always next season to look forward to. Well, next season is upon us once again and the Browns are preparing themselves for battle in the AFC North after a year in which they finished at the bottom of their division once again.
Things can only get better, right? The only good thing that could possibly come from having a combined 9-22 record over the past two seasons is the high draft picks that come along with prolonged mediocrity. This offseason, the Browns spent most of their picks trying to sure up the team defense which ranked 19th in points allowed last season.
As is often the case with teams looking to rebuild, the Browns have several interesting story lines for fans to look forward to. They have a new head coach (Rod Chudzinski), a new offensive coordinator (Norv Turner), a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton) and a new general manager in Michael Lombardi. Though it is rare for a new front office and coaching staff to win in their first season together, Browns’ fans are certainly hoping for more than the 5-11 finish they suffered through last season.
However, there are plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball for that to happen. The offensive improvements, should they occur, will undoubtedly revolve around quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson — both of whom performed below average last season. Weeden threw 14 TDs and 17 interceptions in 15 starts last year while Trent Richardson ran for 950 yards and 11 TDs, which isn’t horrible. But NFL teams would like to get more than 63 yards per game from their stud running back. There are already concerns circulating in the blogosphere regarding the workload Richardson will likely see in a Norv Turner designed offense. You’re going to have to wait and see what that will look like. Richardson sat out of the Browns’ preseason game versus the St. Louis Rams to rest his sore right shin,
A big time receiver is another luxury that has not been afforded to the Browns in years. However, the acquisition of wide receiver Davonne Bess is a step in the right direction. Though offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been relieved of his head coaching duties in several of his NFL stops, he has a reputation as something of a whisperer for quarterbacks. He is great a coaching them up and Weeden can only benefit from his tutelage.
While nothing is for certain, one thing is for sure; Richardson will be asked to catch the ball out of the backfield more than he did last year. Norv Turner is in Cleveland for one reason and that is to sure up the Browns’ scoring offense, which was ranked 24th in the league last season. Again, things can only get better, right?
Do you do you recall the aforementioned 19th rank team defense? So does GM Michael Lombardi. A glance at Cleveland’s draft picks tells the tale. All but OT Garrett Gilkey are on the defensive side of the ball. Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden, and safety Jamoris Slaughter may not get much playing time early on, but pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo out of LSU will be thrown into the mix from day one. He will be called upon to get to the quarterback and bring him to the turf with regularity, something the Browns’ accomplished on a rather irregular basis.
On paper, the Browns are a team to keep an eye on this season. Understandably, the term “on paper” has to be one of the most frowned upon terms in team sports, but the Cleveland Browns look like they have the makings of a 9-7 team, on paper.