Call me a pack-rat, at least for this stuff. Sunday night after the post-game I went through notes from Sunday’s last year. The callers and what they wanted to say, along with any stats I keep packed away in the totes for a future day.
Of all the stuff I read, there was one theme I noticed that was different this year: Regardless of the record, with the players, we’re way more positive.
Everyday we toss out terms like “skill-set” and “moxie” as well as “The Eye Test.” One thing that is certain in an off-season of uncertainty is that we are far more encouraged with the talent on the field than we have been in the past.
It’s not just us that we see it, it’s the rest of the NFL and it’s also whoever the next head coach and general manager is can too. We can’t change much, only they can. With the talent that we’ve seen, it’ll put the weight of Cleveland on the new power’s shoulders.
Looking past some of the box scores (where in some spots The Eye Test goes blind) the Browns have made improvements to Wide Receiver, both Offensive and Defensive Lines, and Running Back.
At Wide Receiver, Josh Gordon is in the Top 3 of rookies in yards (3rd, 805), TD’s (t-2nd, 5), and Receptions +20 Yards (2nd, 12) and has looked like a legitimate number one WR. Since the pose-down in Cincinnati, Greg Little has progressively gotten better, catching at least three passes in each of the last five games. If healthy, Travis Benjamin has shown he can be a burner from the slot or far outside, and at 23-years old, should be the Browns kick and punt returner in 2013. Benjamin has also impressed non-Browns scouts in that if asked to run a seven yard out, he’ll actually run seven whole yards. If that weren’t such a problem in recent years, it wouldn’t be worth writing down, but it definitely has been.
On the Offensive Line, Mitchell Schwartz has become a solid Right Tackle. John Greco has been excellent subbing for Jason Pinkston, and forces a difficult decision on what to do with Pinkston/Lauvao/and Greco when Pinkston returns from illness next year. On a unit where you couldn’t find enough players to field a line without a gaping hole in 2011, the Browns are now +1 with one of the three being a capable backup, and possibly Ryan Miller.
The Defensive line in the second half of the season looked much better than at the beginning. With Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin returning, they were finally able to make the four man rotation Tom Heckert was set on putting together three years ago. John Hughes had a solid year after a dubious beginning on draft night (I was wrong on him) and Billy Winn’s athleticism paid dividends in wins and even close losses this season.
With the Running backs, Montario Hardesty stopped the spins and began to high step. Trent Richardson admitted Monday he played with BROKEN not bruised or banged up ribs and was still 3rd among rookies in yards and 2nd in TD’s. Ribs is pretty important to a running back aren’t they?
At 5-11 the Browns still need work. Without Joe Haden the secondary was lost. Linebacker play (other than D’Qwell Jackson) had it’s ups and downs.
And of course, there is the issue of the Quarterback…
Which brings me back to why there is so much pressure.
Most of the players mentioned previously are in their first or second year. While 5-11, the Browns are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and had the lowest deficit in losses than any team with a 5-11 or 6-10 record. Of those teams, Arizona (-165), Tennessee (-240), NY Jets (-165), and Buffalo (-162) are all older than the Browns (-109).
The numbers go both ways too, Minnesota is playoff bound and is younger, and of the five teams mentioned previously, all of them are either holding their breath at Quarterback, or looking for a new one, but the Browns do have positives heading into 2013. They played tough in a tough division. You saw that, which will put an immense amount of pressure on the next coach.
No matter the NFL team there is pressure. With a new owner, young team, and unsteady quarterback position there is more of that pressure. There is no tear down this time. No re-tooling. There will be some personnel change but the foundation is built, and being so young, every year there is no push towards the playoffs can feel like a legitimate wasted year.
Whoever the new head coach is may see some things differently than most of us, but a lot of it will be the same. They’ll see the same playmakers we saw, it’ll be up to whoever that coach is to turn that into wins.