No Rest For The Weary (Coach) When It Comes To These Players
By Steven King
Since he was not part of it, new Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski can’t worry about the 2012 season. Or can he?
Will he? Should he?
What is known is that he has inherited a team that went 5-11 in 2012. Will some of the negative things that caused that disappointing finish carry over into this year? And is the fear of that possibility making Chudzinski sweat with the start of training camp only about a month and a half away?
If so, here is a review of some troublesome players and issues from 2012 that could serve as a preview of the things to watch in 2013 for the Toledo, Ohio native:
More than a passing thought – Deep down, Chudzinski and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner believe they can transform Brandon Weeden into a good quarterback. But based on his performance as a rookie in 2012 when he threw for 14 touchdowns against 17 interceptions, there’s no way for them to know for sure if they can do it. Thus, the Browns enter 2013 with loads of unanswered questions about their status at quarterback – the most important position in team sports. That’s like trying to do carpentry work without knowing if your hammer and saw will hold up. Maybe Chudzinski should look for a four-leaf clover during this vacation time.
In sickness and in health – Another rookie from last season, RB Trent Richardson – Cleveland’s first-round pick in the NFL Draft and a tremendous contributor when he’s healthy – missed all of training camp and the preseason with a knee problem and played the last nine games of his rookie season with two cracked ribs. It hurts Chudzinski just to think about all that, and it no doubt hurt him even more last week when Richardson was shut down until possibly the first of August because of issues with the muscles near his shin.
Breathtaking news – The Browns surrendered their 2013 second-round draft pick to get WR Josh Gordon in the second round of the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft. They did so knowing full well that he had encountered some drug problems in college, but they felt comfortable that he could manage the situation with their help if he came here. It’s the kind of background that tends to make a coach hold his breath, waiting for the next shoe to drop. And when it did drop recently with the NFL suspending Gordon for the first two games in 2013 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Chudzinski’s face has to be beet-red as he holds his breath even more. After all, he knows that the next shoe to drop could dramatically affect Gordon’s long-term availability.
The (tight) end is nowhere near – Turner is installing an offense that relies heavily on passes to the tight end. The projected starter at that position is Jordan Cameron, who – as a second-year player in 2012 – finished a distant sixth on the team with just 20 receptions for one touchdown. Unless Cameron makes a dramatic improvement, Cleveland could be in real trouble with this aspect of its offense since Kellen Davis and Gary Barnidge haven’t exactly established reputations as pass-catch stalwarts in the NFL.
Scoring punchless – The Browns averaged just 18.9 points per game last season and scored 30 or more points only twice. In a league where every rule change in the last 35 years has been made to enhance scoring – transforming the NFL into a big, expensive video game in which teams march up and down the field on one another – a team has no chance to win consistently until it can gets its points average well into the 20s. Can Cleveland do it?
Scoring punchess II – Many of the points the Browns did score last year came from the venerable Phil Dawson, who had a team-leading 116 – including hitting 29-for-31 in field-goal tries. As such, he was arguably the best kicker in the NFL last season. Against the Baltimore Ravens, in fact, he scored all of his team’s points by going 5-for- 5 on field-goal attempts in a 25-15 loss. With Dawson going to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency after having played in Cleveland for 14 years, how is the team going to replace that scoring? Is Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr or Matt Stover going to come out of retirement? Or will the ghost of Lou “The Toe” Groza appear? Something dramatic has to happen…and we’re not talking about the return of Dave Jacobs or Jerry Kauric.
Losing cause – Last season marked the fifth straight time – and the 12th in 14 years overall in the expansion era – that the Browns posted a losing record. That beats everybody down, the players and the fans, putting them into a rut and causing them to develop a losing mentality. When will all this end? And does the club have the mental toughness to end it?
The line on linebackers – Cleveland was a little short on linebackers last season in a 4-3 scheme. Now the team has gone to a 3-4 alignment in which the linebackers are more important. Even with free-agent signees Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves as well as first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo, have the Browns added enough good people to solve the problem?
For openers … -- The Browns are just 1-13 in season openers in the expansion era, including 1-12 in Cleveland. They begin the year at home against the Miami Dolphins. “Groundhog Day” anyone?
Look at the quick hooks – Cleveland fired Chudzinski’s predecessor, Pat Shurmur, after just two seasons. Shurmur’s predecessor, Eric Mangini, was canned after only two seasons as well. Is Chudzinski comfortable enough in his own skin to slough it all off and say, “What, me worry?”
Owning up to it – When he was taking over as owner after the death of his father – expansion Browns founding owner Al Lerner – on Oct. 23, 2002, Randy Lerner realized he didn’t want to run the team. It just wasn’t in him. With the NFL’s help, he finally found a bailout plan by selling the club to Jimmy Haslam, who assumed ownership last Oct. 16. Haslam is the opposite of Lerner in that he desperately wanted to own the team, loves being its owner and has all kinds of plans for getting it back on track. But it’s unclear if Haslam will be able to hold onto the club over the long-term because of big troubles at his Pilot Flying J travel centers. Although the Browns won’t admit it, the situation has cast a cloud over the entire team and organization, diminishing some of the hope that Haslam’s purchase brought. It’s the 800-pound elephant in the room that everybody is trying to ignore for the time being, fearful of what news may be coming at some point.