Cleveland Browns: The Incredibly Early 2012 Season Preview
After failing to trade up for the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft in order to acquire Robert Griffin III, the Browns are once again surrounded by questions at the quarterback position. A potent offence is crucial in the AFC North, as each of the four division members ranked in the top 10 defensive teams last season.
The Browns front office elected to use their first three picks in the NFL draft on offensive players, clearly recognizing the need to upgrade the league's fourth from worst group. The Browns solidified their 28th ranked rushing game by selecting Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who has been called the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, and solidified their offensive line by selecting California Golden Bears right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in the second round.
The most surprising pick by the Browns was the selection of 28-year-old Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick. Many believed that the Browns would wait until next season to address the question mark under centre and surround incumbent quarterback Colt McCoy with offensive weapons and evaluate the situation the next summer. However, the Browns brass feel that Weeden, the only quarterback to have defeated each of the other first round quarterbacks last season, can step in and start at quarterback immediately.
The development of Weeden may be directly related to the development of sophomore wide receiver Greg Little. Little showed flashes of brilliance last season, but was inconsistent and dropped numerous easy catches. He is expected to be the team's first-string wideout, and will be expected to shoulder most of the receiving load, along with tight ends Ben Watson and Evan Moore.
Last season, the Browns' tenth ranked defence was one of the few bright points in Cleveland.
The emergence of second-year cornerback Joe Haden into the "Lockdown Joe" persona that he often tweets about, along with great play by rookie defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor and first year full-time starting safety Usama Young made the Browns a very difficult team to play against last season.
The Browns added to the defensive line by signing free agent defensive ends Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker. While neither Parker nor Rucker is a superstar, they should provide help with the pass rush, a very important part of a defence who plays against the seemingly impossible to tackle Ben Roethlisberger twice a year.
Should hard hitting safety TJ Ward remain healthy in his third season, he and Young could be one of the most feared safety tandems in the entire league.
Once again, familiar faces return to the Browns special teams.
Josh Cribbs returns as the team's kickoff and punt returner, and Phil Dawson—a lifelong Brown—is once again Cleveland's place kicker. Though Cribbs only returned one punt for a touchdown last season, he often gave the Browns excellent field position. Had Cribbs not been as good as he was, the Browns offence may have been even worse than it was last season. Expect Cribbs to have another excellent year, as his great career in Cleveland continues.
Cleveland has been cursed with the third toughest schedule for this upcoming season even though they only won four games last season. The Browns play eight of their 16 games against playoff teams, as well as games against perennial tough opponents Philadelphia, Dallas and San Diego.
Should the Browns get off to a slow start—something that can be expected from a team with a rookie quarterback, running back and sophomore wide receiver—they could be in for a long and difficult season, and be picking in the top five of the 2013 draft.
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