Every new offseason brings optimism to the hearts and minds of the Cleveland Browns’ loyal fanbase.
That’s especially true given the long-suffering group’s inability to give up on their beloved Browns. Changing head coaches every couple of seasons doesn’t hurt either.
With constant change there are always new feelings and fresh optimism.
“This time they got it right,” you might think to yourself as training camp approaches and the Browns prepare for yet another coaching and scheme change in 2013.
In order to have gotten it right, several key players are going to need to have huge seasons for the team this year.
There’s always next year for the Browns but these individuals are going to standout now and make us all believe that our time is finally coming.
The Cleveland Browns’ past regime took a chance by spending a second-round pick on former Baylor University wide receiver Josh Gordon.
As a rookie, the imposing 6’3”, 225-pound pass-catcher rewarded the team by snagging 50 passes for 805 yards with five touchdowns.
Gordon utilizes his size, speed and route-running ability to stretch the field. Brandon Weeden’s big arm found him time and time again downfield en route to a 16.1 yard-per-catch average for the rookie receiver.
His numbers as a rookie were produced within Pat Shurmur’s dink-and-dunk West Coast offense. Sure, Shurmur took some shots downfield, but the success of his offense was predicated on receivers picking up yards after the catch and short but efficient passing attempts.
It’s hard to imagine a player with Gordon’s potential not only flourishing, but dominating, within a more pass-friendly offense engineered by Norv Turner.
New Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski knows the importance of having a playmaking tight end catching passes in his offense.
The former college tight end got his start in the NFL as a tight ends coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2004. He isn’t alone in his appreciation for the position either.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner masterfully employed athletic tight end Antonio Gates as a primary component of the San Diego Chargers offense. Oh yeah, Chudzinski was with Turner in San Diego and worked hand in hand with Gates during the 2005-06 and 2009-10 seasons.
That’s where Jordan Cameron comes into play. Like Gates, Cameron is a converted basketball player with refined athletic ability. He’s especially quick and physically gifted for a man of his size (6’5”, 245 lbs).
If utilized properly he will create matchup nightmares when covered by linebackers, safeties and smaller nickelbacks.
Pass-catchers aren’t the only players who will benefit from a scheme change in Cleveland.
Norv Turner has fielded the NFL’s leading rusher on five separate occasions (three different backs) during his coaching career—Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and LaDanian Tomlinson.
Second-year running back Trent Richardson will also be a big benefactor of and catalyst for a potentially explosive offensive performance by the team in 2013.
As a rookie, Richardson totaled 950 yards on the ground and crossed the goal line 11 times. While that was a solid performance, more is expected of the former No. 3-overall pick.
Richardson will also presumably be healthy to begin the season. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last August which slowed down his development in the Browns’ offense from the get-go. Then, he broke two ribs in Week 6 and that injury lingered throughout the rest of the campaign.
If healthy, there’s no reason to think Richardson will be anything less than brilliant this season.
Ray Horton brings a very solid resume to the table as he assumes the defensive coordinator duties for the Cleveland Browns.
His front seven is widely regarded as a dominant bunch who relentlessly rushes the passer to create opportunities for his secondary. But those secondary players have their fun too.
Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes were utilized in blitzes and often played up in the box, with the other safety playing Cover 1.
Allowing Browns’ safety T.J. Ward to roam and blitz while playing closer to the line of scrimmage will maximize his talents. He hasn’t had a bad career until this point, but he will likely shine in his new role in Horton’s defensive scheme.
Since draft day, a lot of attention has shifted from Jabaal Sheard to Cleveland Browns rookie pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo.
Sheard, a 4-3 defensive end in Cleveland’s defense during the past two seasons, was scouted and talked about as a potential great fit as a rush-linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
The third-year pass-rusher will finally be making that conversion. We’ll get front-row seats to see just why he was so highly touted coming out of college.
In two seasons with the Browns, Sheard complied 15.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and eight pass deflections while coming off of the edge of their 4-3 front.
He has already proven to be a reliable presence for the Browns in opposing teams’ backfields. But he could be ready to explode this season.
Ray Horton likes to move around his players to find potential mismatches. Sheard’s versatility, ability to beat offensive linemen and athleticism will allow Horton to put him in position to exploit those favorable matchups.