by Nick Wilson
Listen to The Nick Wilson Experiment, weeknights from 7 pm-12 am on 92.3 The Fan
“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”
It’s doubtful that comedic legend George Carlin was in any way referring to Browns fans when he uttered this line, but after countless false starts in Berea, it is certainly applicable.
On the surface, the start to Hue Jackson’s tenure in Cleveland would appear no different. Injuries have hurt the team with a special level of decimation being rained down on the starting quarterback position. Jackson is now facing the prospect of starting 3 different quarterbacks in his first 3 regular season games as head coach in Cleveland.
It doesn’t stop there – as Cleveland has managed to lose the first two games of the season in uniquely embarrassing ways.
Game one in Philadelphia saw the team beaten by the draft pick they traded out of, used on a position (Quarterback, Carson Wentz) they’ve needed since the days of Bernie Kosar. While Wentz shined in his debut, RG3 did not in his debut as Browns quarterback.
This is Griffin getting hurt on a seemingly innocuous play.
Not to be outdone, they hosted Baltimore for game two, which included hopping out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, before allowing 25 unanswered points, while seeing injuries atop the depth chart at quarterback, center, and defensive line. The once and future Browns starting quarterback Josh McCown was also savagely beaten up by the Baltimore defense.
Here is video evidence of said ass-kicking.
Nope, we’re not done yet.
Here is receiver Terrelle Pryor being flagged for taunting on a seemingly innocent post-play ball flip.
The resulting penalty canceled out a pass from Josh McCown to Pryor that got the Browns into the red zone with under 2 minutes left in the game. A score would’ve put them ahead and given Baltimore little time for a rebuttal. The very next play was a game ending interception from McCown.
Have you converted to cynicism or disappointed idealist yet?
While none of those moments have been very enjoyable, there are tangible positives if you look past the obvious negatives.
Dare I say … “the process” doesn’t look completely hopeless yet.
One obvious bright spot in 2016 is rookie playing time. One of the greatest indictments of the two previous regimes was there inability to draft players whose talented demanded immediate playing time. Every draft pick seemed to be on his “own developmental timeline,” though few produced in the long run.
|Max Offensive Snaps||8.40%||38.20%||50.70%|
|Max Defensive Snaps||57.80%||58.80%||48.30%|
The highest percentage of snaps played by a Browns rookie from 2013-15 was 58.80 averaged in the entire 2014 season. Most years the Browns only had one player in the 50% range, which is the equivalent of a rotational player. While teams with depth don’t always play draft picks due to urgency to win, the Browns sported 6-10, 7-19 & 3-13 records in those 3 seasons when they didn’t play rookies often.
3 rookies surpassed those averages in game one alone as Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Corey Coleman all played 70% of snaps or greater against Philadelphia. Another 2016 draft pick, safety Derrick Kindred, played over 80% of the snaps in week two.
If drafted players are going to form the core of this team in the future, they will need to see plenty of in-game action. Thus far, Hue Jackson is making tough but necessary decisions to play rookies as much as possible.
Playing time alone isn’t enough to celebrate as the NFL is a results oriented business. Browns rookies are doing fine in that department too.
Receiver Corey Coleman has 173 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, although drops have been an issue. Defensive lineman Carl Nassib has already earned his first sack and showcases an impressive motor on every play, while Kindred has been credited with 2 pass deflections and 11 tackles.
A final positive can’t be found in the stat column – resilience. The Browns lost their starting quarterback after week one and played their best game the very next week.
If this sounds like a silver lining, it’s not.
Guys aren’t just spewing team marketing campaigns like, “Play Like A Brown!” Instead they continue to hemorrhage positives about Jackson and have yet to lose sight. There are still 15 weeks to go, but the Browns have faced incredible adversity and haven’t buckled yet.
A harsh reality (and perhaps cliché at this point) remains that we won’t know for a considerable time whether the early positives are a real sign of actual turnaround in Berea. If the end of futility is near, more signs will emerge in the coming weeks and years that this team is on the right track, more than just rookies getting playing time and solid production.
If the end of futility is not near however, another Carlin-ism might be the only choice left for the Browns; “If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.”