PHILADELPHIA (92.3 The Fan) – As the Cleveland Browns kick off the 2016 season against the Eagles Sunday afternoon, so many questions still need to be answered.
First-year head coach Hue Jackson – the team’s eighth full-time coach since 1999 – is tasked with finding those answers as the season goes along.
The franchise, which has been one of the worst performers on the field and most turbulent off of it in all of sport, rebooted once again with another overhaul that blew through the entire building and included a gutting of the roster.
With a try to win now but look to the future mindset, the Browns will field a team with 27 new faces including 17 rookies in 2016.
Here’s a look at the many issues that face this year’s Browns team.
– Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm in 2012 when he won rookie of the year honors by throwing for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. Injuries and controversy followed in the next 3 seasons which led ultimately to his release. Jackson took a chance on Griffin and is confident that he can be the coach to get the former Heisman trophy winner’s career back on track with a franchise that has become a graveyard for NFL QBs. Griffin, labeled a malcontent in Washington, was named 1 of 5 team captains by his teammates earlier this week. The Browns are confident that they have finally found a solution at the position but Griffin must return to his rookie form and show that he can play and be productive within Jackson’s system.
– Rookie receiver Corey Coleman, the team’s first-round pick taken 15th overall, hasn’t looked the same in recent weeks as he did early in training camp. Coleman dealt with a hamstring issue and struggled during the preseason catching just 1 pass for 10 yards. The Browns are counting on Coleman to buck the trend of first-round busts for the franchise and provide Griffin with an explosive deep as well as intermediate threat.
– Terrelle Pryor has a new lease on life after completing the transition from quarterback to receiver the last 2 years. Pryor was downright sensational in the preseason as he blew by corners with ease and made several big plays on deep balls. Now the question is, can he do it when it matters most?
– Center Cameron Erving, who enters his second season, has big shoes to fill as he replaces 2-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack after Mack opted out of his contract and signed with the Atlanta Falcons as free agent. Erving bounced around as a rookie which contributed to a difficult season. He played in all 16 games in 2015 starting 2 at right guard and 2 at left guard. Erving was not sharp in the preseason as he struggled with pass protection as well as shotgun snaps. He’ll be tested right out of the gate as he along with guards John Greco and Joel Bitonio look to neutralize one of the game’s best defenders in Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
– Jackson has heaped praise upon his 2 backs – Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson – since taking the job in January. Now can they live up to his expectations? Associate head coach-offense Pep Hamilton thinks Crowell’s goal of 1,000 yards rushing is very achievable while he called Johnson “one of the best third down backs in the NFL.” Crowell led the Browns with 706 rushing yards on the ground but was inconsistent in all phases of the game last season. Johnson caught a franchise-record 61 passes as a rookie and should provide the offense with a dynamic weapon out of the backfield.
– There isn’t an area defensively where there aren’t questions. From the defensive line through the linebackers and secondary there are unknowns everywhere. Can the Browns finally stop the run? Where will the pass rush come from? Are they able to get off the field on third down? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. If the preseason was any indication, to call the defensive unit a work in progress is an understatement. Big plays and long drives were problematic while defensive coordinator Ray Horton shuffled his lineups in an effort to evaluate his unit.
– Nosetackle Danny Shelton is coming off an underwhelming rookie season. He changed his diet, workout regimen and dropped 10-15 pounds in the hopes that it will help him be more explosive off the ball in 2016.
– A trio of rookie draft picks will see significant playing time, and with it opportunity to develop. Outside linebackers Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert as well as defensive end Carl Nassib will be counted on to help stop the run and be disruptive forces in the backfield.
– The Browns added a pair of veterans this offseason to their starting ranks. Inside linebacker Demario Davis, signed as a free agent this offseason from the Jets, replaces Karlos Dansby as the team’s leader on that side of the ball. Jamar Taylor, acquired on the final day of the draft from Miami, was able to win a starting job bouncing fellow veteran Tramon Williams to nickel.
– Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden looks to bounce back from injury-riddled 2015 season that saw him sidelined due to concussions and an ankle injury. Haden aggravated the ankle injury that forced him to have surgery in March. Now healthy, back to 100 percent and a new dad, Haden looks to anchor the back end of the defense and force quarterbacks to look elsewhere to go with the football.