5 Players Who Must Exceed Expectations for Cleveland Browns in 2012
To justify certain draft picks and roster spots, a handful of Cleveland Browns must exceed expectations and prove their worth in 2012.
Starters on offense and defense must earn the right to keep the role they’ve been assigned or else they may lose not only their job but also the support of we, the fans.
The players listed are young and still cutting their teeth. They must all do more than is expected of them this season to help Cleveland turn around the franchise.
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If Brandon Weeden expects to have early success with Cleveland, he must learn to hand the ball off to fellow first-round pick Trent Richardson on a regular basis.
As pointed out by B/R featured columnist James Dudko, the key to the Browns’ offense is Richardson—not Weeden.
Still, though, there is a certain degree of expectation that comes with being a first-round quarterback. For Weeden, he must prove he was worth the No. 22 pick.
Many felt he could have fallen to the top of the second round, where Cleveland would have likely had the opportunity to take him. Though he has all but been named the Week 1 starter, Weeden won’t yet acknowledge the competition is over.
“Not yet, just because nothing is formal,” Weeden said. “We’re still two months out until we play our first preseason game. I’m still working my tail off just to get better and keep learning. I’m getting more comfortable with what we are doing, but I still have a long ways to go.”
When he is officially named the starter, the 28-year-old rookie won’t have an over-abundance of talent at receiver, so he will need to make every throw count.
That puts even more pressure on Weeden to deliver a perfect pass every time he drops back.
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Hagg begins his second year in the league as the Browns’ starting free safety.
It is up to him whether he keeps that role. But as an astute student of the game, he has a good chance.
He intercepted two passes during the recently completed OTAs, and though that reflects well on him, Hagg knows that’s not the only thing that will help him earn the starting spot.
“Making plays builds your confidence, but so does just knowing what you are doing,” Hagg said.
He has the talent to be a playmaker in the defensive backfield. But with his work ethic and student-like mentality, it comes down to execution on the field.
Bo Pelini, Hagg’s coach at Nebraska, said the safety needs to realize how special a player he is.
He didn’t have a great workout at the combine, and it didn’t surprise me. I don’t think Eric truly understands how gifted he is and how important he was to us. That’s one thing about his growth and maturity in the NFL—he needs to come to grips with how talented he really is.
The Browns need Hagg to play to his full potential. Just being a starter will not be good enough. He can be—and needs to be—great.
Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland’s second-round pick this past April, has the chance to start from the get-go.
Schwartz figures to replace Tony Pashos, who in 2011 started 12 games with a ruptured ankle tendon that required offseason surgery.
The surgery comes with up to nine months of rehabilitation and could mean the elimination of the 2012 season for Pashos, so Cleveland cut him to save the time and money.
Expectations are high for Schwartz. All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas told ClevelandBrowns.com he sees a lot of himself in the rookie.
I think the studying, the way he is a smart player, those are all very important things and I think those were the things that were important to me. I think those are the things that are important to Mitchell.
He’s a guy that takes it very seriously. It’s important to him. He’s a guy who’s a technician, very smart and I think he’s got everything you need in a right tackle.
If Thomas is right about Schwartz, the Browns will have themselves quite the pair of tackles for a long time. But there is no time for growing pains. Schwartz needs to be good now.
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Cleveland’s pass defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year. The run defense, however, was abysmal, ranking No. 30.
Sheard led the team with 8.5 sacks as a rookie and finished third in the league with five forced fumbles. He did all that without the benefit of an offseason.
In this, his first offseason, Sheard told ClevelandBrowns.com he is just learning where on the field he needs to be at any given time.
I’m getting to know the plays more. Last year, at this time, I had no idea, no plays. I wasn’t in a mini-camp. I went into camp and I had no idea what I was doing, so I got a grasp for it. I know more where I’m supposed to fit in this defense and am just learning.
With the loss of defensive tackle Phil Taylor due to injury, Sheard will have to step up and lead the defensive line by example. Judging by how he performed as a rookie with no formal offseason, that should not be an issue.
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No one knew what to expect of Greg Little last season.
After all, he was suspended for his final season at North Carolina, so no one knew how NFL-ready he was.
He caught 61 passes for 709 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. So the potential is there for Little to be a playmaker, but he has to become a better all-around receiver.
We talked about the drop rate—14 dropped passes is far too many.
For Cleveland’s offense to be successful, there needs to be more than just a rushing attack. While Trent Richardson is expected to carry the load, he will need help moving the chains.
Little needs to step up and be the guy on whom head coach Pat Shurmur can count when he needs a big catch. The second-year receiver is working hard this offseason to get himself in shape, and Shurmur has taken notice.
I’ve seen him look a lot quicker, a lot more sudden. To this point, he’s caught the ball at a much more consistent rate and he just looks like a different guy to me, a guy that’s been through it once. To his credit, he’s done a really nice job of getting his body in the right kind of shape he needs to be in to be a receiver in this league.
Little has dropped 11 pounds since his rookie season and feels “just as strong, even faster” than he did last year. Perhaps dropping pounds will lead to catching more footballs.