By all accounts, last year’s Cleveland Browns were a mess.
The team was sold pretty much right as training camp opened, which probably made the front office and coaching staff feel like lame ducks, which it turned out was entirely correct.
While GM Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur continued to work hard at their jobs, in the back of their minds, they surely felt they would be looking for work after the season.
This year, new owner Jimmy Haslam and team president Joe Banner have their own people in place, making for more stability and confidence for both the personnel people and the coaching staff.
Since professional football is probably the sport where coaching makes the most difference, the new experienced coordinators will make first time head coach Rob Chudzinski seem more experienced. That will be critical this season.
Chudzinski and his staff have inherited a lot of talented, young players which should also make the growing pains less severe. In fact, we see a lot of improvement for the Browns both in terms of the players and the team’s record.
There is no reason we can see that this football can’t finish around the .500 mark, going anywhere from 7-9 to 9-7.
Why won’t this team lose 10 games for the sixth consecutive year?
Because the new offensive staff will put the players in position where they will succeed instead of making them adapt to a system to which they were ill-suited.
That is to say, Norv Turner will let Brandon Weeden throw the ball downfield and run more plays out of the shotgun formation, two of the things that made him a first round pick out of Oklahoma State.
He will stop running Trent Richardson between the tackles exclusively. Richardson ran an off tackle play against the Lions in the second preseason game and we almost fell out of a chair. Let linebackers and defensive backs try to bring down the former Alabama runner.
Chudzinski and Turner will also reap the benefit of several young players coming into their own as NFL players. WR Greg Little, TE Jordan Cameron, T Mitchell Schwartz should all be nearing the peak of their abilities.
Defensively, Banner and GM Mike Lombardi made getting after the opposing quarterback a priority, and defensive coordinator Ray Horton is just the man to implement the plan.
The Browns have quality and quantity on the defensive line, and mostly with young players too. Players like former first round pick Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes and outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo have the ability to make the other team’s passers very uncomfortable.
Gone are the days of the bend, but don’t break schemes the Browns have used for most of the past fifty seasons. Horton’s group may give up some big plays, but they will make more than they allow.
Some of the improvement will come from the coaching staff, but much more will come from just having the talented players drafted in the last few years come into their own. Of course, the coaches will take advantage of this.
You hate to make a judgment like this, but by the end of the year, we may be talking about how Shurmur may have been one of the worst head coaches in the NFL in recent years.
This year’s team should play an exciting brand of football, and one that will pay off in a few more victories too.
The first step to a playoff spot comes this season.