It's Good To Be A Browns Fan. For Now
The start of the regular season is still three weeks away. So a lot can – and no doubt -- will change, and maybe it already has when it comes to health (more on that in a moment).
But through two preseason games, there is very little to complain about regarding the Cleveland Browns, who are 2-0 following a 24-6 victory over the Detroit Lions last Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Here are some hopeful signs:
*QB Brandon Weeden is taking to the new offense that fits his skill set of being able to throw the ball down the field. He had his second big effort by completing 8-of-12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, against the Lions. It gave him a 137.7 quarterback rating, which was even better than the 127.7 mark he had a week earlier in a 27-19 home triumph over the St. Louis Rams. He looks confident and poised. Yes, he still needs to develop a better touch on his short passes and he must refrain from locking onto his receivers, but he has shown pinpoint accuracy on his long throws.
*TE Jordan Cameron, who had just one touchdown among his 20 receptions last year, caught two scoring passes against Detroit. The Browns think he is good enough – and athletic enough – for coordinator Norv Turner’s offense, which relies heavy on the tight end. And maybe – just maybe -- he is.
*RB Trent Richardson, in the first preseason game of his two-year career, ran over over Lions and past them en route to gaining 33 yards in six carries. Slated to be a big part of this offense – if he can stay healthy -- he looks ready to go. With that in mind, then, the best part of his performance was that he came out of the game with no injuries.
*Picking up where he left off last season as a rookie, WR Josh Gordon had three receptions for 72 yards. Big, strong and fast, he is the prime target in the passing game. He and Weeden seem to be more and more in concert with one another with each day. What a blow it will be for Cleveland when Gordon sits the first two regular-season games as part of a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
*Coordinator Ray Horton’s attacking, aggressive defense looks the part. Whether it be on pass receptioons or runs, defenders are swarming to the ball.
*CB Joe Haden is especially sharp. He appears ready to seriously challenge for a Pro Bowl spot.
*The overall coaching on both sides of the ball is making a big difference. No longer will this team be outcoached every Sunday.
Now for the negative: The Browns are getting all beaten up physically, especially at running back and right guard.
At running back, Montario Hardesty has a thumb injury and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, and as such may have played the last game of his short but injury-plagued career in Cleveland. Dion Lewis, who has looked so good in training camp and the preseason (he rushed for 33 yards in five attempts against the Lions), has a broken leg.
At guard, Shawn Lauvao, who was slated to be the starter, has a high ankle sprain, and Jason Pinkston, who missed the final 10 games of last season with a blood clot, also has an ankle injury.
The Browns will likely have to sign both a guard and running back. In the meantime, Brandon Jackson, who was the forgotten man during former head coach Pat Shurmur’s tenure, will get a lot more work at running back, and Garrett Gilkey, a talented but raw rookie, will be the starter at right guard.
And did we mention that OLB Barkevious Mingo, the team’s top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has a bruised lung? Or that backup TE Gary Barnidge has a shoulder injury? Or that Brandon Bogotay, who might be the man the coaches favor as the replacement for iconic K Phil Dawson, has a groin problem?
The Browns will have to work through this horde of injuries, which will be made easier by head coach Rob Chudzinski’s decision to have an attitude of next-man-up instead of woe-is-me. Plus we’ll get to see for the first time how the club handles a road game when it faces the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the all-important dress rehearsal for the regular season.
But things have been good to this point, which is particularly encouraging for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007 and hasn’t made the AFC playoffs in 11 years.