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Wizard II? Cameron Trying To End 23-Year Spell

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Although it is early, Cameron could be the playmaker at tight end the Browns have sought for over a generation. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Although it is early, Cameron could be the playmaker at tight end the Browns have sought for over a generation. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Cleveland Browns have been looking for a franchise quarterback not just since 1999 when the franchise was re-born, but since midway through 1993 when the iconic Bernie Kosar was unceremoniously cut by some third-year coach named Bill Belichick.

Who did this Belichick guy think he was, anyway?

But as bad as that is, the Browns have been looking for a big-time, long-term answer at tight end for even longer.

It’s been since Pro Football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome retired after the 1990 season that the club has been looking for his successor, without any luck.

Cleveland thought it had its man when it traded up to No. 6 overall to select Kellen Winslow, Jr. in the 2004 NFL Draft. Winslow was a slow starter, and then a shooting star.

He missed all but two games of his first two seasons due to injury.

He finally got started in 2006 and had a Newsome-like season with 89 receptions, then came back the following year with 82 catches for 1,106 yards.

Winslow’s future looked brighter than bright at that point, but it didn’t last. More injuries and a major tiff with then-GM Phil Savage cut his production in half in 2008, and he was dealt in the ensuing offseason by new coach Eric Mangini, a no-nonsense man who wanted no part of dealing with a head case.

Former New England Patriots star Benjamin Watson was signed in 2010 and promptly had a team-leading 68 receptions. But that was fool’s gold, too, because he was at the end of his career.

Heading into this season, the Browns were quietly saying that Jordan Cameron might well be their “franchise” tight end.

Huh?

In two years with the team, the 2011 fourth-round draft choice had started a combined total of exactly eight games and had 26 receptions for one touchdown. In 2012, he caught 20 passes for a score.

To be sure, he wasn’t making anyone forget Newsome – nicknamed “The Wizard of Oz.” Maybe the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Lion or even Dorothy or Toto. But not Newsome. No way.

It seemed possible that Cameron had a more promising future in basketball than football. After all, he had also played that sport in college at USC and Brigham Young. Whatever the case, it sure wasn’t happening for him in football. That he would ever develop into even a pedestrian-quality tight end seemed laughable.

But it’s the Browns who are laughing now. So far, Cameron has been off the charts.

Going into Thursday night’s nationally-televised game against the Buffalo Bills in which Cameron and the Browns will try to show the country how much they’ve progressed since last season’s 5-11 disaster, he has been far and away the star of the offense (remember, WR Josh Gordon missed the first two games).

After getting a career-high 10 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown – on a two-yarder -- in last Sunday’s 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Cameron leads the team with 30 receptions – 11 more than WR Davone Bess – for 360 yards and five touchdowns. Without him, the team’s pass offense might not be much better than what it was during the Mangini era.

Through a quarter of the season, Cameron is on pace for 120 receptions, 1,440 yards and 20 touchdowns.

As good as Cameron has been, he’s not that good. No one is, not even Newsome was. Teams will continue to do more and more to try to take him away, forcing QB Brian Hoyer to look elsewhere.

It remains to be seen what will happen. But so far, we know these things about Cameron from what he’s done this season:

1) With 30, he has the most receptions any Cleveland tight end has had through the first four games of the season. Newsome had 23 receptions in 1981 (on the way to a season total of 69) and Winslow had 22 in 2006.

2) Also through the first four games of a season, Cameron’s 360 receiving yards are the second-most by a Cleveland tight end. Winslow leads (slightly) with the 367 yards he had in 2007, while the late Milt Morin – the best Browns tight end not named Ozzie Newsome – is third with 273 in 1971.

3) With still 12 games left, Cameron is the first Browns tight end to have at least five touchdown receptions -- in a full season – since Winslow finished with five in 2007.  The only Cleveland tight end with more than five scoring catches in a year is Newsome, who did it three times (six in both 1981 and 1983; nine in 1979).

4) Cameron also joins Winslow (five times), Newsome (four times) and Watson (once) as the only Browns tight ends to have at least 10 receptions in a game. Newsome has the team record – for any position -- with 14 receptions against the New York Jets in 1984, while four other players are next with 11: WR Mac Speedie against the Chicago Cardinals in 1952; WR Webster Slaughter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1991; WR Kevin Johnson against the San Francisco 49ers in 2003 and Winslow three times (against both the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans in 2006, and the Seattle Seahawks in 2007).

Cameron’s off to a great start, but as with Winslow’s situation, he will have to do it for many more seasons before he can truly be mentioned in the same breath with a legend. Newsome did it for 13 seasons, catching at least one pass for 150 consecutive games, so Cameron has a long, long way to go.

But his progress and production bears watching going forward. It is one of the brightest, freshest stories on an offense that has been looking for playmakers since forever and has been searching for a consistently outstanding tight end since the completion of the 1990 season. For some perspective, Cameron was just a little over two years old when Newsome retired.