BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns entered the 2016 season making few promises and having few expectations.
With a clear understanding of where the team was and the youth movement in full effect, not even Jackson could picture the first 5 weeks going worse than they actually have.
That isn’t a dig at the Browns or Jackson, that’s just reality.
“I know these things do happen,” Jackson said about the rash of injuries that have hit the team. “I know that this is our time right now, I mean, we’re going through it. Hopefully we’ll get through all of these issues and our future will be bright because maybe the injury gods will look down on us as we move forward and say, ‘OK, you guys have had your fair share – for years to come.’ Hopefully that’ll be the case.”
Left guard Joe Bitonio became the 12th player to land in injured reserve Friday and as many as 9 starters could be out for Sunday’s game at Tennessee. If cornerback Joe Haden, who sustained his second groin injury of the season during Thursday’s practice, is unable to play against the Titans, a total of 15 key contributors will have missed multiple games to date.
Throw in a loss to the Ravens that saw the Browns blow a 20-point lead, a missed field goal as time expired to cost them a W at Miami and 3 straight turnovers against Washington sealed another L, it’s been a difficult debut for Jackson. Last week against New England, they just got beat and beat bad. It was an eye-opening barometer for where they are and what it will take to get to the level Jackson hopes to take them.
Despite the mounting adversity, Jackson refuses to scream ‘Uncle!’ no matter how tempting it might be.
“You guys want me to say I give, I quit or what? That is not going to happen,” Jackson said. “I think you guys know me. I’m built for this. I’m just telling you, I’m built for this and I think our team is.”
The Browns are off to the third-worst start in franchise history, tying the 2012 team at 0-5. Cleveland’s return to the NFL in 1999 was greeted with an 0-7 start and in 1975 the franchise began that season with 9 straight defeats. Considering the state of the roster, both marks are well within reach, but the usual doom and gloom attitude that typically sets in within the locker room – and the building for that matter – as a result of losses piling up, hasn’t.
And Jackson deserves credit for that.
“I know it does not look like it when you are 0-5, but I know we are moving in the right direction and I want to be a part of that,” Bitonio said Friday. “I want to really help this organization and get some wins for these guys.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas has endured blocking for 21 different quarterbacks – 18 different starters – as well as played for 6 head coaches while watching the team flounder year after year after year. The Browns have won just 47 games and lost 102 since drafting Thomas third overall in 2007. He hasn’t missed a snap and you could say he’s seen it all.
But what he hasn’t seen is the type of environment Jackson has created in such a short amount of time while leading the Browns.
“I think Hue does an amazing job of setting the energy and the mood for the day in the morning and he’s a very positive, high-energy, emotional coach and I think that really plays well to being in the situation that we’re in right now,” Thomas, who will play his 150th game Sunday, said. “We’re 0-5 but he comes in on Wednesday, he gives us exactly what he expects from us in a positive, exciting, upbeat manner and I think it sets the energy for the whole day and for the whole week.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton left the Titans to return to Cleveland, where he worked under Rob Chudzinski as defensive coordinator in 2013, because of his respect for Jackson. Despite a young defense that also has been hit with injuries, he’s not regretted the decision for one second – because of Jackson.
“I don’t sleep well,” Horton said of the Browns’ 0-5 start. “The thing that I am encouraged about is that every day that I come in – not every day – most days that I come in, my drive in I think that we are one day closer to the playoffs. That is what absolutely fuels me here is that we are one day closer to the playoffs.
“Hue has been an unbelievable head coach as far as structure, excitement, energy and passion. It trickles down, and it is going to be an unbelievable event when we do.”
Realistically, there’s only so much a team can take and the season started taking on water before training camp even began when starting defensive end Desmond Bryant tore a pectoral muscle while working out on July 15.
Since then Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown broke bones in their left shoulders in Week 1 and Week 2 respectively, kicker Patrick Murray injured his knee during a Friday walk-through of all things, an ankle injury ended linebacker Nate Orchard’s season and now Bitonio is lost for the year.
Throw in a broken hand for first-round pick Corey Coleman, a multitude of other injuries that have led to 13 players appearing on the weekly injury report, it’s already been a miserable season and we’re not even halfway through it.
“I know it is frustrating for the fans. It is frustrating for us,” receiver Terrelle Pryor said. “I am frustrated, everybody is frustrated, but this is the time that we have to stick together and keep fighting because if we don’t quit, good things are going to come out.”
Not even Jackson can believe everything that’s transpired but he refuses to flinch let alone quit. And he won’t let his team either.
“It is not easy. I’ll be the first to tell you that,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to sit up here and tell you, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great!’ No, it is not, but at the same time, what do you guys want me to do? We are going to keep working. We are going to keep coaching and keep getting these guys better. We are not going to make excuses.
“We have had a ton of injuries, It has been unfortunate…I’m not going to put my head down and nobody is. That is just the way it goes. We are going to get this thing right and get it better, and that is what I’m here to do.”