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If anyone wants to draw up a blue print of how not to run a NFL franchise they need only look at the Cleveland Browns for the last few seasons. They are constantly changing quarterbacks, head coaches and general managers. How can anyone be expected to win with any consistency like that? The best record they have turned in, in the last five season is 5-11. All franchises that win and are contenders year in and year out have consistency at as many levels as possible, but apparently the Browns organization hasn’t figured that out. All that being said, I still don’t criticize the new owner for getting rid of Pat Shurmur, I would have done the same thing.
The offense should see a big change under new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Turner is a proven offensive genius who has a knack for developing quarterbacks. Their scheme will focus on a power running game behind a lead blocker which can set up the deep ball. It will take some time to see real results, but it will be better than what they were running.
Brandon Weeden enters the upcoming season as the starting quarterback. The Browns also signed veteran Jason Campbell as a backup option. Campbell may contend for the starting job in training camp, and the coaches will say they are going to play the best player, but they want Weeden to be the guy. He’s young, this will only be his second year, and that means they can develop him how they want. If Campbell wins, it will speak more to the low level of Weeden that anything great Campbell has done.
The running back spot is a tenuous one. Trent Richardson clearly has some talent, but he has already had two knee surgeries and broken ribs. I expect him to continue to develop and become better, which he’ll need to do if he wants to be the answer. He competes at a high level in short yardage, but lacks speed and elusiveness in the open field.
The offensive line is the strength of the Browns right now. Left tackle Joe Thomas has gone to the Pro Bowl in his first six seasons in the league. Alex Mack is one of the league’s best centers and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has also exceeded expectations. However there is always room for improvement, it’s the biggest room in the house. These starting 3 must prove they can stay on the field, together, for a whole season. Also, the play at the guard position needs some work. The team must also add some depth if they expect to maintain good play in the event of an injury.
Ray Horton is the new defensive coordinator and he brings with him a new scheme. Formerly of Arizona he runs a 3-4 that the front office has tried to accommodate by bringing in some highly paid free agents for. One of the downsides is most of the returning front seven will have to learn new roles they might now be suited for. This means the defense will likely be a work in progress over the course of the next couple of seasons.
The switch to a 3-4 will not be of particular problem for the defensive line. Ahtyba Rubin spent the last two years playing as a tackle in the 4-3, but before that he played nose tackle in the 3-4 under Rob Ryan. He performed so well at the position that he eventually took the starting job away from Shaun Rogers. Phil Taylor will also likely be dominant as an end in the new scheme.
The linebackers is the group that will carry this defense to new heights, or lead the way while it crashes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look to good for it this season. D’Qwell Jackson is the leader of the defense who shouldn’t have much problem moving to the 3-4. However he may not be quite as productive as he has trouble fighting off O-lineman who make it to the next level. Either James-Michael Johnson or Craig Robertson will have to step up and claim the other starting ILB spot. Paul Kruger was an addition brought in from Baltimore to fill one of the starting OLB spots. He was pricey, and hopefully he will prove to make these guys better. He has experience in a 3-4 having played with all-time great Ray Lewis and emerged last season as a pass rush threat.
Starting off last year at 0-5 is a horrible feeling, and make no mistake about it, not having Joe Haden for 4 of those games due to suspension played a part in it. He is extremely fluid and capable of great things, other teams will throw away from him on purpose because he’s only going to get better. Buster Skrine is one of the candidates for the other starting CB job. Busters problem is for as fast as he is, he lacks good instincts. Whoever starts there will be getting picked on and exposed as a weak part of the defense.
New owner Jimmy Haslam is hoping that by retooling almost the whole coaching staff and adding a new GM can turn around the losing ways of the organization. They have a few things to be optimistic about, including Weeden now that he will be under the guidance of Turner. And if Richardson can stay healthy he will provide consistency on the ground so the running game can excel. Things can definitely get turned around, just not all in one year. I hope the new owner has more patience than the last one.