BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – A new year brings a clean slate, and after the worst season in franchise history in 2016, there’s no team that needs that more than the Cleveland Browns.
A long road awaits them as they try to return to relevancy and respectability with the team entering year 2 of their plan to rebuild the roster.
Cleveland boasts the youngest team in the league with an average age of 25, which means there will be growing pains.
Here are 3 reasons to be optimistic and 3 more to be pessimistic about the 2017 season.
The Glass Is Half Full:
– Young prospects. DeShone Kizer has the physical tools – size, arm strength, mobility – to be successful in the NFL. Maybe, just maybe, after 26 quarterbacks, No. 27 can finally be the guy the Browns can depend on week in and week out. Jabrill Peppers, picked 25th overall in April, is a physical jack of all trades defensively and a dynamic returner with explosive potential when the ball is in his hands. Receiver Corey Coleman is healthy and projected to break out in year 2 as the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart. Second year defenders Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Joe Schobert are all expected to play significant roles this year as the Browns boast 18 draft picks from the last 2 years on the active 53-man roster. They’re young, hungry and have a lot of potential.
– Gregg Williams’ defense. Come get some. Williams has brought a tough, relentless attitude to the Browns defense that hasn’t been seen here in years. During the 4-0 preseason, Williams’ D didn’t give up a single touchdown in the final 3 games. They collected a total of 16 sacks in the preseason, forced 4 fumbles, recovered 5 fumbles and allowed opponents to convert just 24 percent on third down. Sure preseason numbers mean as much as the record, but if there’s ever a reason to be the least bit optimistic that the Browns have any chance this year, it’s because of the defense.
– The schedule. With their opponents totaling a .469 winning percentage in 2016, which ranks tied for the 21st most difficult schedule in the league, there are winnable games – even early in the season. It seems like Baltimore has lost half their team to injured reserve and quarterback Joe Flacco is hardly at 100 percent, the Indianapolis Colts have almost as many questions as the Browns and if Andrew Luck isn’t on the field they are definitely beatable, the Bengals aren’t exactly the class of the division anymore and the Jets are in a nosedive headed for the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Minnesota, Jacksonville and Chicago are hardly invincible. The worst is behind the Browns. While last year’s 1-15 season was beyond dreadful, it has zero bearing on 2017.
The Glass Is Half Empty:
– No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett couldn’t even get to week 1 healthy. What else is new? The curse of Art Modell strikes again. It’s the second straight year that the team’s top pick suffered an injury during a Wednesday practice before a game that’ll force him to miss significant time. Although Garrett returned from a left high ankle sprain a year ago at Texas A&M after 2 weeks, the Browns would be wise not to rush him back too soon. Garrett missed the end of OTAs and minicamp in June due to a left lateral foot sprain. Jackson says he’s not worried about a pattern of injuries developing here with Garrett because a teammate fell into him. The Browns somehow got through training camp without losing an impact starter to injury but bad luck always has its way of finding this team no matter how good things are going – see Garrett’s injury as exhibit A. Things go so bad for the Browns that even their office pet dog, a chocolate Labrador mix named Moose, needed ACL surgery recently. Seriously.
– Who are the playmakers? The NFL is an offensive game and the rule book reflects it but who will make plays and score points for the Browns is a big question. Receiver Corey Coleman, who enters his second season after a disappointing rookie campaign that saw him miss 6 games with a broken hand, is really the only player that showed a spark consistently in the preseason. It’s never a good sign when you have to rebuild half your receiving corps during cut down weekend. The Browns picked up a pair of cast offs – Sammie Coates from the Steelers via trade and Kasen Williams from Seattle via waivers last weekend. Head coach Hue Jackson promises to commit to the run in 2017 with back Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The receiving corps is so thin that Johnson will be used in the slot, likely as the No. 3 option behind Coleman and free agent pickup and $32 million man Kenny Britt, who showed nothing during the preseason.
– The history. 88-200 since 1999 doesn’t do how awful it has been since the team came back enough justice. The Browns have finished dead last in the AFC North 12 of the 15 seasons since the division was formed in 2002. Kizer is the 27th different starting quarterback for the team since returning. They have needed at least 3 starting quarterbacks to get through the 16-game schedule 9 times, including each of the last 4 seasons and 6 of the last 9. Unfortunately the 2017 season starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won 31 of the 37 meetings since 1999 between the 2 teams. Ben Roethlisberger is 20-2 as a starter against the the Browns since they elected to pass on him in the 2004 NFL Draft. That’s not a rivalry, that’s a bye week, which is pretty much how the rest of the NFL views the Browns.