Examining Cleveland Browns' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles

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Examining Cleveland Browns' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles
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Another offseason, another organizational overhaul for the Cleveland Browns.

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan since the Browns returned to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999, but there’s certainly reason to be hopeful. After all, as any good Cleveland fan will tell you, there’s always next season.

Next season is almost here, though. Following a terrific offseason of excellent coaching changes and strong free-agent signings, that cautious optimism may soon transform into a lot more. The Browns are truly a team on the rise.

After a 5-11 campaign in 2012, new owner Jimmy Haslam had seen enough of head coach Pat Shurmur, firing the 48-year-old following an unsuccessful two-year stint at the helm of the team. While Shurmur wasn’t exactly faced with an easy situation in Cleveland, he also failed to produce much progress for a young team looking to make strides toward contention in the near future.

Speculation involving Shurmur’s future continued until his eventual dismissal, but the same can’t be said for team president Mike Holmgren, who seemed to have one foot out the door from the day he arrived in Cleveland. Holmgren was a terrific NFL head coach but he wasn’t yet prepared for the role.

Holmgren and Shurmur perpetuated a cautious, conservative approach to building a winning franchise. Browns fans have had enough of rebuilding—Haslam understands that.

Joe Banner remains the team’s CEO with a hand in nearly every personnel decision made this offseason, but Haslam went a step further in hiring former Browns personnel man (and recent NFL Network analyst) Mike Lombardi to fill the role of general manager.

Out with the old, in with the old.

The decision to bring back Lombardi after his tumultuous stint with the team in the 1990s wasn’t well received by the fan base, and while those fans will need to see positive results to welcome Lombardi back, he’ll need a little time to prove he’s a changed man. This season could go a long way toward doing so.

Cleveland has some terrific young pieces in place, and the Lombardi-Banner duo did well to add more this offseason in former Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Paul Kruger, former Oakland Raiders defensive end Desmond Bryant and former Philadelphia Eagles running back Dion Lewis, acquired in a trade in exchange for linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

We’ll take a closer look at free-agent moves in the following slideshow, but none of those moves will have as big an impact on the Browns success this season as the changes they made to their coaching staff.

By now, Cleveland fans have had their fill of “West Coast Offense” and “it’s a process” talk. With Shurmer out the door, Browns fans can look forward to a much more exciting offensive product, due in part to the development of a young offense and in part to Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner.

Chudzinski, who spent time as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, was brought back this offseason as Shurmur’s replacement, effectively eliminating the dink-and-dunk offense that finished 25th in the league last season. Chudzinski has always favored a vertical passing attack that is perfectly suited to Brandon Weeden’s big arm, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the signal-caller make huge strides this season as a result.

Following his dismissal from the San Diego Chargers, Turner assumed the offensive coordinator role in Cleveland—a perfect match for an offensive-minded coach who loves to stretch the field and open up the offense with the vertical passing game.

The Browns’ offensive success this season will be predicated on Weeden’s progress and the health of budding star running back Trent Richardson, but coaching will play its part. The same holds true on the defensive side of the ball.

After switching to a 4-3 under Dick Jauron—who also saw his way out of town this offseason—the Browns opted to switch back to a 3-4 following the hiring of former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. We’ll discuss the implications of that change in later slides, but this can already be said for the decision to hire Horton: Cleveland’s defense is in good hands.

Horton was extremely successful in Arizona, and he understands what it takes to both build and maintain a tough, physical defense. In the AFC North, that comes with the territory.

With a bevy of personnel changes and a few key signings, the Browns enter the 2013 season with plenty of question marks. They also look forward to this season knowing things are going to be a lot different.

We’ll take a closer look at many of the Browns’ offseason dealings, including free-agent acquisitions and departures, the 2013 NFL draft and several positions to watch as the season approaches. Read on.

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