Jeff Risdon. 25th August, 2006 - 2:57 pm
Last season: 6-10
Coming: WR Joe Jurevicius, LB Willie McGinest, T Kevin Shaffer, DT Ted Washington, C Ross Tucker, C LeCharles Bentley (now injured)
Going: C Jeff Faine, WR Antonio Bryant, QB Trent Dilfer, LB Kenard Lang, T LJ Shelton, LB Ben Taylor
Rookies of note: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Jerome Harrison, WR Travis Wilson
What I like: A very active offseason greatly improved both quality and depth across the board for a team badly in need of both. Even without stud C LeCharles Bentley, this OL is improved, particularly at run blocking. The LBs are fast, versatile, and quite deep. QB Charlie Frye takes over, and he has the talent and leadership to be a franchise QB; I (among others) had him rated the highest QB in the 2005 draft, and he?s shown extended flashes of being above-average a la Jake Delhomme. RB Reuben Droughns is coming off a 1200 yard season, a rarity in Cleveland, and with an improved OL he could threaten 1500 yards. New veterans McGinest, Washington, and Jurevicius bring winning attitude, leadership, and all can still play, particularly Jurevicius, who will be the sure-handed wideout the Browns have lacked for years. The secondary excels in coverage and looks both physical and deep. TE Kellen Winslow returns from injury and has looked dominant at times during the preseason. The punt and kick return games are major strengths.
What I dislike: No proven playmakers on offense. Droughns isn?t a real breakaway threat, and Winslow and WR Braylon Edwards are both coming off severe injuries. Frye has started just 5 games and there is absolutely nothing behind him, a bad sign since he was sacked often last year. The OL has had a Spinal Tap-esque run of injuries to the C position, ruining a potential strength and limiting what could have been an outstanding OL. While the secondary is deep and solid, it lacks both a true #1 corner and an intimidating hitter at S. The DL in their 3-4 is not strong against the run and new NT Ted Washington is 38 with bad knees. The Browns were 31st in 2005 at stopping 3rd down and 3 or less, and it was almost always a run up the middle that slayed them. While there is talent all over the defense, much of it is real young and unproven. The Browns have drafted 16 players in the last two drafts and 14 of those draftees should see significant playing time. That will be a positive in 2007 and beyond but right now it?s a sign of a team still sorting out pieces and learning to play in the NFL. They play in a very tough division and also must play another very tough division, the AFC West.
Best case: All the young talent develops quickly, Edwards and Winslow return from injury and become the impact weapons the offense needs, the OL injury bug dies, the run defense improves. The new veterans instill confidence and a winning attitude, and the family atmosphere that coach Romeo Crennel is building takes hold quickly. They get the easier part of their schedule early, so a fast start can build momentum that they can carry to a .500 record with an eye on the playoffs in 2007.
Worst case: Frye isn?t ready, the weapons on offense don?t materialize, the OL continues to struggle at pass protection. The special teams regress, and the injury bug keeps biting hard. All the youth shows too often, and McGinest, Washington, and OL Joe Andruzzi and Ryan Tucker show their advancing age. The weight of a tough schedule and inexperience build up and the team struggles to match the 6-10 of 2005.
Prediction: In a division where the three other teams all have somewhat legit Super Bowl aspirations, it?s a tough time to be an up and comer. These Browns should be among the most improved teams in the league, particularly on offense. But it might not translate into the wins the rabid fan base craves. The Browns are still a year away from hunting for big game, but if the prey is sleeping, this team can inflict some wounds. This team would finish second in the NFC North or West, and in 2007 they will be ready to do that in the AFC North. I see another 6-10, but two wins either way is easy to envision, depending on how quickly the team comes together.