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Cleveland Browns: A Case for Hope on the Shores of Lake Erie

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Cleveland Browns: A Case for Hope on the Shores of Lake Erie
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The last time I wrote I made a case that the then-current Cleveland Browns regime should still have the support of the fans.

Alas, the Mike Holmgren Machine came crumbling apart after the Browns built up expectations winning three games in a row, and let them fall again losing their last three on the way to a 5-11 season.

With that, the long-ago admired Cleveland Browns organization reached a new nadir of failure with its deepest season-by-season record slump in franchise history. For the first time ever, the Browns lost 11 or more games five years in a row.

But still something felt different.

It was plain for every Browns fan to see that this extremely young squad has talent and potential. And so the idea became popular that perhaps this organization didn't need to do another massive blow-up.

Perhaps, new owner Jimmy Haslam the Thrice and CEO Joe Banner could reboot the organization á la carte, as it were. More than a few wanted defensive coordinator Dick Jauron kept around. Many called Tom Heckert the best talent evaluator the team had seen in many years.

But this was not to be. Haslam and Banner executed a hard reset upon the Browns' front office and coaching staff. On Dec. 31, Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert were out.

And a week and a half later Rob Chudzinski was in as the Browns' 17th head coach, and seventh leader since returning to the NFL in 1999. Chudzinski promises an "attacking style" offense and a vertical threat. He promises to use whatever the talent does best.

Meanwhile, Haslam renamed Cleveland Browns Stadium, FirstEnergy Stadium Home of the Cleveland Browns, and Joe Banner got his lawyer and money-man in place. (ClevelandBrowns.com)

C.H.U.D. went out and nabbed Norv Turner after he was relieved of his duties in San Diego and a dash of optimism came for Browns fans.

OK, we have a guy with a big arm, we have some young targets with some speed. He's done a good job with good young backs. We can see it.

But then—hold onto your butts—here comes the boom: The rumors have been true all along.

Just like they were with the initial report on new ownership (CBS), and Haslam bringing in Joe Banner (PFT), and now—the rumors had it right again. Yes, even Michael Lombardi has returned to the charming and scenically grey skyline of Ohio's northern shore.

After that one... well, it's taking Browns fans a minute to recover off of their fainting couches.

The new front office knew this would be unpopular. It had been unpopular since the rumors began many months ago (ESPN Cleveland). Banner acknowledged putting himself out "on a limb" (CBS).

But the Browns' crack PR staff had a tactic devised. They quickly announced—on the same day as the Lombardi introduction—that Ray Horton had agreed to become the Browns' next defensive coordinator.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Between that announcement and today, Tuesday Jan. 29, C.H.U.D. has continued to fill out his coaching staff, retaining special teams coach Chris Tabor and offensive line coach George Warhop.

And between the news of Horton's hiring and today, Browns fans have been all aflutter about what this means for our young defensive personnel.

And they've been having howling fantods about how adroit Lombardi will be, or not be, at handling talent evaluation and acquisition.

Acquisition will be a four-person collaboration between Haslam, Banner, The Chud and Lombardi.

So today, Horton was introduced and spoke in Berea.

And today, I saw another glimmer on the horizon for this franchise. A faint glow out in the depths of the cold dark lake—a gleam, even.

Horton said today, early and often, that all he needs are "big guys who can run and little guys who can hit," and he said that we have these guys now.

He said he'll use three-man fronts. He said he'll use four-man fronts. He said he'll use five-man fronts. He said that what he does will depend upon what he has to do to take away whatever the opposing offense does best.

What he does will depend on what they're trying to do, he said.

Horton said he doesn't care what a defense "is," as in what it's generally referred to as, but "how it looks," as in, that it's a disruptive, aggressive, unpredictable attack machine.

A big, well-founded fear for Browns fans has been overhauling the defensive personnel in yet another scheme change.

But what's become clear about this coaching staff—in C.H.U.D.'s comments, in Norv's comments, in Horton's comments—is that they will work with the talent that they have to exploit their strengths.

This is a relief. This is not a coaching staff that's given any indication they will be forcing a scheme onto the talent, rather they'll be using their ingenuity to give the talent opportunities to shine.

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It sounds like a platitude, but there is an important distinction—these are things these coaches have done other places.

These philosophies have been stressed, again, early and often, and do not ring as hollow rhetoric, especially coming from Horton.

I believe them when they say that we won't see a massive overhaul on defense. I believe them when they say that they see a lot of talent that they think they can coach up to do great things.

I also believe them when they say they have some serious evaluation to do.

But I do have hope. Because I do believe in a lot of the current talent, and I'm glad to hear that it won't be totally overhauled, especially on the defense that has been the area of such heavy investment in recent years.

I think these coaches have the right attitude and the right credentials.

Now, with regard to talent evaluation, with Captain Lombardi at the helm on the good ship Redemption, we have a lot yet to see.

And while I believe in a lot of the current talent, future talent remains a decidedly large question mark.

But talent evaluation is in-season. Are you ready for your close-up, Mr. Lombardi?

Let the good times roll.

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