Little Starting To Catch On As Browns WR
By Steven King
Considering they finished 5-11, there isn’t an overabundance of reasons from the Cleveland Browns’ 2012 season to feel hopeful about this year.
But after some digging, there was reason for optimism after all:
A Little more comfortable – WR Greg Little had an inordinate number of drops as a rookie in 2011. An unofficial statistic had him at the top of the NFL in that category. Maybe that was to be expected, because he did not play much wide receiver at North Carolina. For the most part, the drops stopped happening as much in 2012, meaning Little could be poised to emerge as a pretty good young receiver in 2013.
Experience matters – QB Brandon Weeden played 15 games and took a lot of snaps in 2012, so he has fairly good idea what to expect as he heads into this season. He faced a variety of different situations and did some good things, which will give him a broader base from which to absorb all the coaching he’ll get from new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. It gives him a much better chance to play well in 2013 and possibly become the club’s long-term answer at quarterback.
Right man at right tackle – The Browns had had plenty of issues at right tackle since Ryan Tucker retired, but they appear to have solved them when they took Mitchell Schwartz in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He had a very good rookie year and goes into this season as a solid piece on what is a very solid offensive line.
Back from back in the day – Cleveland has a long history of great running backs. In fact, four of them – Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell – are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But that was with the original franchise. These expansion-era Browns have struggled to find good players at a variety of positions, especially running back. But 2012 top draft pick Trent Richardson proved that – when healthy – he’s special. He’s a game-changer, the likes of which the team has not had since the days of Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner in the latter half of the 1980s. But Richardson has to stay healthy, which has been much more of a problem for him than opposing defenses. The Browns are keeping their fingers crossed.
D’Qwell is well again – After missing most of 2009 and all of 2010 with torn pectoral injuries, LB D’Qwell Jackson came back in 2011 and played an entire season. He went into 2012 determined to prove that he could last a second straight year and he did. Now he goes into 2013 with all those injury concerns completely behind him. As such, he can concentrate fully on the team’s switch from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4, where he will be counted on to man one of the two inside linebacker spots. He’s a leader on the club and a very good player as well. The Browns are much better when he’s in uniform and not in street clothes.
Taylor-made comeback – As was the case with Jackson, DL Phil Taylor – Cleveland’s top draft pick in 2011 – suffered a pectoral injury that caused him to miss the first eight games of 2012. All along, the Browns expected him to recover fully. But until a player actually does so, the natural tendency is remain skeptical. Everyone in Cleveland was able to finally exhale and breathe easy after Taylor eventually began looking like his old self last year – which is pretty good. So he heads into 2013 ready to make up for lost time.
Getting their guard(s) up – Since Eric Steinbach left, the Browns have been looking for guards. That search intensified when Todd Pinkston missed the final 10 games of last season with a blood clot. Cleveland came up with a nice surprise when it found John Greco, a product of Boardman High School in suburban Youngstown and the University of Toledo. He had 10 starts at left guard and performed well. Even if he doesn’t start much this season, his presence gives Cleveland some much-needed depth at the position.