The Cleveland Browns took their latest step is attempting to reverse the fortunes of a franchise that's made the playoffs only once since returning to the National Football League in 1999, hiring Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as the team's new head coach.
The hiring of Chudzinski continues a trend that has seen offensively minded head coaches get the first three jobs this offseason, and fans of the Browns are no doubt wondering what Chudzinski's hiring means for a Cleveland offense that ranked 25th in the National Football League in 2012.
A great deal of that may depend both on who Chudzinski hires as offensive coordinator and how much of the play-calling responsibilities Chudzinski assigns to that person. According to Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chudzinski wasn't specific about whether he would be calling the plays, stating that it would depend on who was brought on board.
There has been quite a bit of speculation that that man would be former San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner, and while Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam didn't mention Turner by name, he did say that Chudzinski's ability to "attract people" was one of the things that appealed to him.
Hiring Turner would be a huge coup for the Browns. Say what you will about Turner as a head coach, but he remains one of the most highly regarded offensive minds in the NFL, with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and CBS broadcaster Troy Aikman going so far as to recently tell John Moffei of The San Diego Union-Tribune that Turner was "the best play-caller in the game."
Whether it's Turner or another coordinator, fans of the Browns can expect Chudzinski's vertically oriented passing attack to become a fixture by the shores of Lake Erie. Chudzinski's offenses ranked 16th and 13th in passing the past two seasons in Carolina, and although those numbers aren't eye-popping, the Panthers also weren't exactly loaded with talent at wide receiver.
It's there where Chudzinski will likely face his biggest challenge early on in Cleveland. Granted, rookie Josh Gordon was a pleasant surprise for the Browns in 2012 and Travis Benjamin has shown some promise, but the Browns lack a true "go-to" wideout, and their lack of firepower at the position may hamstring the offense somewhat early on.
It will also be very interesting to see how Chudzinski interacts with quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 29-year-old that the old regime saw fit to spend a first-round pick on in last year's draft.
Weeden had an uneven first NFL season, but there's room for some optimism here. Chudzinski had success with helping Cam Newton transition to the NFL, with ex-NFL player Ross Tucker telling ESPN that "I think [Chudzinski] did a fantastic job with Cam Newton last year, and even helping him recover this year" and calling Chudzinski a "great teacher."
It's important not to get too carried away with the optimism here, but all in all, it's hard not to view the hiring of Chudzinski and potential hiring of Turner as massive improvements for a Cleveland offense that lurched its' way around the NFL the past two seasons under Pat Shurmur.
For Chudzinski's part, according to Cabot, he just wants to change the culture of a locker room that has seen an awful lot of losing over the past decade.
"I have a plan in place. The people here, we're going to get a great staff. The players that are here, it's a young group. This is going to be about the process. Whereas a lot of times everyone is focused on the end result, the process is the important thing and I view the people around here, Joe and Jimmy, that process is going to be the right process to get us where we want to be."
That's going to be no small feat, but Chudzinki's already worked magic in Cleveland.
In 2007, as the Browns' offensive coordinator, he made Derek Anderson a Pro Bowl quarterback.
If he can do that, then he can do anything.
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