Brandon Weeden at Browns rookie camp
So, what did we learn under the May sunshine that shone on the Cleveland Browns rookies who got together for some workouts in Berea, Ohio?
We learned that quarterback Brandon Weeden wants to start at the position on opening day. We also saw the No. 22 overall pick in last month's NFL draft fumble a few times during drills. Those fumbles did not go unnoticed by local scribes, who noted them in their stories and tweets.
Most disturbing, the fumbles came during exchanges with de facto franchise running back Trent Richardson. Richardson blamed a slippery jersey and the double numbers on that jersey in part for the sloppy ball handling, according to Ohio.com.
"...you just have to get used to the double numbers and your jersey is kind of slippery. I didn't have double numbers or a slick jersey (at Alabama) and since it's new you have to get used to it. When I finally got used to the hand offs with Brandon and the other quarterback (Darron Thomas), it kind of went with the flow. I knew it was going to be a rough start but as it went on everything smoothed out,"Richardson said.
The Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff tweeted:
Not going to deny: Weeds has put the ball on the ground a couple of times on snaps from under center. But the throws continue to be stellar
The Browns are looking for ways to improve on their four-win campaign of 2011, in which their offense was especially bad. That unit, under quarterback Colt McCoy, averaged less than two touchdowns a game and failed to ever develop any rhythm.
The wide receiving corps was particularly bad, leading the league in drops. The running game never got going because the No. 1 back for most of the year, Peyton Hillis (gone to Kansas City as a free agent), suffered through injuries. The offensive line was also not very good.
How man games will the Browns win?
The defense was decent, but it was 30th overall against the run. So the high ranking in overall defense may be just a little bit of fool's gold. That defense just got weaker with the potential season-ending pectoral injury to defensive tackle Phil Taylor.
The Browns spent a high draft pick in John Hughes, a defensive lineman from Cincinnati, who many thought should not have even been drafted. So he'll get a chance right off the bat. Defensive lineman Frostee Rucker was added via free agency, so the loss of Taylor will be felt, but the Browns should be able to compensate.
The offense should improve dramatically with the acquisition of Richardson out of Alabama with the No. 3 pick in the draft. Would a 1,000-yard rushing season and 450-yard receiving season be too much to ask for from this guy?
Weeden is going to start at quarterback over McCoy. He's bigger and has a better arm. According to observers, there was a night-and-day difference when Weeden led the offense during the minicamp compared to how the team looked when McCoy was playing quarterback.
Cleveland has a brutal schedule. What is a reasonable win total to expect this season? Seven, eight, nine? That has to be in the ballpark of the goal, right?
There are reasons for optimism. The Baltimore Ravens suffered a huge blow when they lost linebacker Terrell Suggs potentially for the entire season. The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting older and, with no Hines Ward or Rashard Mendenhall, maybe they struggle. And Cincinnati is still Cincinnati.
So maybe Cleveland wins a a few games in the division where they went 0-6 last year. That could possibly give them six wins right there.
So here are five reasons Cleveland can win eight games in 2012.
1. Brandon Weeden
Weeden is going to really make a positive impact on the offense. He's taller (6'4" to McCoy's 6'1") and can see over linemen and has a stronger arm. That said, he has the physical skills to make plays McCoy can't. He'll also make Browns receivers like Greg Little and Evan Moore better.
2. Trent Richardson
The Browns have a clear-cut go-to runner. He should be a 1,000-yard rusher his rookie year. His hard running style will allow Cleveland to move the chains and also grind out clock and keep the ball in the fourth quarter of games when they have the lead. That should be worth a couple of wins right there.
Head coach Pat Shurmur and his staff will have a full offseason to work on the West Coast offense and work on building a positive culture. In 2011, everything seemed rushed when the team came back from the lockout and the offense seemed to scramble to catch up all season.
The defense loses tackle Phil Taylor, but gets back safety T.J. Ward. Ward is a hard-hitting, third-year player who will light up opposing receivers.
Don't forget that cornerback Joe Haden played like an All-Pro at times during 2011 and should get better and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was outstanding.
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson should get early playing time. His development could help overcome the loss of Scott Fujita, who will miss three games early as a result of a suspension stemming from Bountygate.
5. Mike Holmgren
Look at the Big Show's coaching record in his career. He went 9-7 in his third seasons in Green Bay and in Seattle. Holmgren's two-year win total of nine in Cleveland is short of his two-year win totals in Green Bay (19) and Seattle (15).