The Browns are entering their eighteenth year back in Cleveland (for another roller coaster ride of a season), and the excitement from players, coaches, and the fans still remains positive. Some things never change but in all fairness, changing them is not the easiest thing to do, especially with the pressure created by the fans and the media to succeed and succeed fast. Finding success from your football team in an expedited manner has not worked for eighteen years, so why would it work now?
It is a process. Last season the Cleveland Browns endured their worst season since the return, displaying an underwhelming 1-15 record. If it was not for a Christmas miracle from Cleveland native Jamie Meder, in the home season finale at FirstEnergy Stadium against the now Los Angeles Chargers, the Cleveland Browns would have been the second team in NFL History to earn an 0-16 record. The jokes write themselves, and they did. Every snap felt like a decade, every series felt like a century, and every game felt like a lifetime during last season. With the idea looming in the back of everyone’s mind of adding the best player in college football to your team, the offseason could not come fast enough. The amount of pressure on the Browns organization this off-season was astronomical.
Like most Cleveland Browns off-seasons, this one was quite the ride. From Garoppolo to Cleveland, to an NBA trade in likeness to acquire a draft pick (and a once coveted free agent quarterback coming off an absolutely terrible season), to the thought of the hometown kid Mitch Trubisky becoming the savior of his favorite team, and to finally adding the guy everyone wanted: Myles Garrett. It is finally time for what everyone has been waiting for, football time.
A sense of optimism is not something the fans or the media can take pride of, in regards to their football team; but if there was ever a time for it, the time would be now. The team has nothing to lose (not yet at least) as they prepare for hopefully the season that finally turns everything around. It has not been easy (especially for Head Coach Hue Jackson) after a complete roster destruction two off-seasons ago; but the Browns have quite the foundation of young college stars, that hopefully will find NFL success with the Cleveland Browns.
Continuity (much like optimism) is not really something the Browns can hang their hats on either. Along with the young foundation of players, this Browns regime is entering their second season and they are already in win now mode. Win now mode is obviously the gear they have to present themselves in, especially with an owner (Jimmy Haslam) that likes to change things up in a heartbeat. Even though this Browns regime is in their second season, they are much more prepared for this year, than last (Sashi Brown, Hue Jackson, Andrew Berry, or any other coach in the NFL entering “year two” can tell you that.) After the year one “tank”, it does not matter how well of a job they have done in the off-season, they are ALL on the hot seat.
Waiting has gotten old, REAL old. Waiting around for a playoff berth, a winning season, or even a successful quarterback for that matter is just old. One can only hope that the wait will end soon. This Cleveland Browns team has drawn two comparisons: Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys (whom the Browns are said to have used the same groundwork as Johnson’s Cowboys for their specific rebuild) and most recently, the Oakland Raiders. I would say those two comparisons are indeed something to hang your hat on. I would also say those comparisons are not too far-fetched either.
The only GLARING difference in the 90’s Cowboys and current Raiders comparison, is the Browns do not have their Troy Aikman or their Derek Carr… not yet at least. They do have DeShone Kizer (who grew up 120 miles west of Cleveland in Toledo, Ohio). Too say Kizer could be the Browns Troy Aikman or the Browns Derek Carr is craziness because he has not even threw for the team in shoulder pads yet; but they have something in the young quarterback, who looks to be the most all around talented quarterback Cleveland has drafted since the early 90’s (positional previews will be posted in accordance to this overall preview.)
The most underrated move that the Browns made this offseason that I think will pay big dividends this year: The addition of defensive coordinator of Gregg Williams. The second go around with Ray Horton last year was a disaster, and that’s putting a positive spin on it. The Browns were 31st in total defense, 21st in pass defense, and 31st in run defense — that is ATROCIOUS (stats via NFL.com.)
First off, the most important factor in regards to the addition of Gregg Williams, simply put: He is a bad a** and takes NO crap. One thing that I think the Browns have lacked since the return is a true “beat the hell out of you” for 60 minutes straight, AFC North defense. I think Gregg Williams brings that to the table (if anything), and most importantly the switch to a base 4-3 defense (which should help, especially in the division.) Lastly, what I love about Gregg Williams’ defense is he always has a NASTY front seven, with play-makers in the secondary. He has a pretty good start with the front seven aspect here in Cleveland with a projected starting 7 of: Myles Garrett- Desmond Bryant-Danny Shelton-Emmanuel Ogbah-Jamie Collins-Christian Kirksey-Dominique Alexander/Jabrill Peppers (depending on the scheme). With the play-makers part in the secondary… that is a work-in-progress, to say the least. Joe Haden has had some really bad years on the back end of his career (especially because of injuries) but still has a few pro bowls under his belt (including amazingly a pro bowl last year but we all know how that goes). 2nd year player Briean Boddy-Calhoun (rookie last year) finished in a three way tie for rookie interception leader with (3).
The most overlooked move of the off-season was Hue Jackson’s decision not to hire an offensive coordinator. I said as early as training camp last year that Coach Jackson made a major mistake by not hiring a true offensive coordinator and it cost them big time countless times last year. In addition, Hue Jackson lost his associate head coach and offensive specialist this off-season, Pep Hamilton to Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan. Coach Jackson never made a counter-move after losing Hamilton and I continue to swear by it in saying: that it will hurt him once again this season.
While on the topic of offense, the Browns enter yet ANOTHER training camp with a quarterback competition. Cody Kessler is expected to be the Week 1 starter but DeShone Kizer is “closing the gap” via Cleveland.com. Not only has Kizer impressed with his tools and his arm, expect him to start earlier than extpected; I look to weeks four or five as his possible regular season debut in a Browns uniform.
This year is indeed the year of competition as the majority of the Browns 90-man roster they take in to training camp is 1-2 year players. Quarterback, Defensive Line, and Safety all headline the most competitive positons with starting spots up for grabs in training camp. Right tackle, wide receiver pos. 2, OLB pos. 2, and CB pos. 2 are also among positon battles to keep an eye on in camp this year (all of these training camp battles will be highlighted in greater detail in my positional previews).
One position that will not have hardly any position battles at all (other than Right Tackle) and is a strong suit of this football team is: offensive line. The Browns had one of the worst offensive lines in football last year but the offensive line has the potential to be one of the best in football this year. Sashi Brown spent big time money on the group this off-season after extending Left Guard Joel Bitonio (6 years, $51.1M) and signing Right Guard Kevin Zeitler (5 years, $60M) and Center J.C. Tretter (3 years, 16.75M) – (Salaries via SportsTrac). They also of course have Hall of Fame Left Tackle Joe Thomas and 2nd year tackle Shon Coleman, who impressed in the season finale last year against Pittsburgh and is expected to win the starting right tackle spot this year in camp. Backups John Greco (who was very good at the right guard position the past few seasons), and rookie tackle Roderick Johnson from Florida State (who was the best rated tackle coming out in college football before last year), both add depth to the already talented offensive line.
Left Tackle Joe Thomas vs. DE Myles Garrett will be the best training camp battle to watch through the 15 practices (of course that is barring how many veteran days Joe Thomas has off and how many practices Garrett misses with a foot injury). The consensus first overall pick battling against a hall of fame left tackle day in and day out, certainly is a good place to start in regards to rookie development and improvement. It paid dividends for rookie pass rusher Emmaunel Ogbah last season.
Slowly but surely, this young Browns football team will start to turn the ship around for the Cleveland Browns organization. The sense of optimism from veteran players and head coach Hue Jackson has been incredible, according to a few people I have spoken with that work inside the organization. Transitioning that optimism from a month long vacation into training camp should not be a problem at all, especially with Hue Jackson being the captain of this ship. The Browns kick off training camp on Thursday July 27th in Berea, Ohio at 3pm ET.
The Cleveland Browns Training Camp Practice Schedule, as well as the times and tickets for each session can be found at clevelandbrowns.com
Kyle Kelly, Browns Chalk Talk and The Sports Daily
(@KyleKellyBrowns) on Twitter