New Faces On And Off The Field Bringing Hope To Cleveland
By Steven King
After struggling through almost all of the expansion era, the Cleveland Browns think they may finally be on to something.
That is, they believe they’re on the right track and if they can just be patient, persistent and stay the course, they can eventually turn the corner and become a legitimate playoff contender.
Whether that really happens or not remains to be seen, but it’s easy to see why they feel this way. There are a number of positive things happening with the club.
With that having been said, then, here are five reasons why it’s a good time to be a Browns fan:
Trust the brain trust – With coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Cleveland has its best set of top-tier coaches in nearly three decades. It’s been since 1986 – when then-coach Marty Schottenheimer, offensive coordinator Lindy Infante and defensive coordinator Dave Adolph began the first of two seasons working together – that the Browns have had that kind of quality in those positions. Keep in mind that when Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Nick Saban worked together from 1991-94, there was no offensive coordinator. Belichick and the offensive coaches combined their efforts to run the offense. Thus, that era doesn’t qualify to be in this discussion. The 1986 and 1987 clubs got to the AFC Championship Game – and within inches of a Super Bowl berth. We’re not claiming this year’s team will begin the same trek, but the franchise is certainly moving in the proper direction. And, as for Chudzinski, even though he’s never been a head coach at any level, the hunch here is that he will do a good job. Schottenheimer had only one full year as a head coach under his belt heading into 1986 and that turned out pretty well. The Browns and their fans are hoping that history can repeat itself.
Home is where the heart(beat) is – Cleveland needs to do well at home. It is one of the cornerstones – the heartbeat, as it were -- of any successful franchise. The fact the Browns have been unsuccessful at home is a big reason why they’ve been unsuccessful overall in the expansion era. The schedule is set up for them to change that – and right away – since they play four of their first six in Cleveland. If the Browns are ever going to begin climbing out of this hole, then this is the year to do it.
Making sense of it all – Cleveland went into the offseason knowing it was going to need players –especially outside linebackers, as it transitioned to a 3-4 defensive scheme from a 4-3. The team also realized that it desperately needed to sign veteran wide receivers in free agency to stabilize and support its huge corps of young players at the position. The Browns didn’t try to re-invent the wheel and concentrate on other aspects of the club. Rather, they did the obvious and sensible thing in that they addressed their needs. They brought in top-rated outside linebackers in free agent Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo – their first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft – and they also signed or acquired several veteran wide receivers such as Davone Bess. If it doesn’t work out, then it won’t be because Cleveland didn’t try. Give the Browns an A for effort – and sensibility.
No time like the present – The AFC North has been a strong division since its inception in 2002, and before that when it was called the AFC Central. That was reinforced when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in February. Despite all that, though, the window of opportunity may be open for the Browns to begin catching up to the other teams in the division. The Ravens lost a lot of players in the offseason through free agency, retirements and salary-cap moves, plus there’s the fact that nobody repeats as Super Bowl champion. The Pittsburgh Steelers finished just 8-8 last year and appear to be in a state of flux. The Cincinnati Bengals have qualified for the playoffs for two straight seasons, but they keep getting knocked out in the first round. Also, Cleveland split the season series with the Bengals in 2012.
Interior not inferior – There’s an old football adage that a team is only as good as its offensive and defensive lines. In other words, controlling the line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost. These are also the stated beliefs of Browns president Joe Banner. The club already was pretty good at those two position areas. Then, in the offseason, defensive lineman Desmond Bryant was signed in free agency. There are still some holes to fill throughout the rest of the team, but at least the Browns can hold their own – and then some -- in the trenches.