What Can We Expect from the Cleveland Browns in '09?
With the NFL Draft officially behind us, its finally time for the new Browns regime to try and make themselves a competitive team.
However, with the moves Eric Mangini and George Kokinis have made this offseason, is being competitive a legitimate hope, or just a shallow pipe dream?
Let's start with the obvious: The mood at the Browns training camp is in no way the same as it was coming into the 2008 season.
Last year, after surprising the world with a 10-6 season in '07, the Browns were expecting to be just as good, if not better. With five nationally televised games, Cleveland fully expected to shock the league again, clinching the playoff berth which eluded them a year before.
Instead, a season of hope turned into a disaster so heinous that watching it could've been considered torture.
So, it will hardly be considered an understatement when saying that no one is actually thinking playoffs right now for the Cleveland Browns, including coach Mangini.
That being said, what can Browns fans expect from their team this season?
To be honest, it may not be too far fetched to think the Browns could turn a couple heads this year.
Just to clear things up, I'm not saying the Browns could be playing in January. Heck, I'm not even saying they'll be above .500. What I'm saying is that, if all goes accordingly, Cleveland could make some solid improvements from the 2008 season.
An important thing to note is that, in order for the Browns to be a competitive team in 2009, there are more than a few people who need to step up, including the recent draft day additions.
Its safe to say that a majority of the Browns draft picks will see immediate action this year. While coaching the Jets, Eric Mangini was known for giving his rookies a legitimate amount of playing time, and this trend will undoubtedly continue in Cleveland.
Lineman Alex Mack will either take over for current center Hank Fraley or move to right guard, depending on how well he performs in training camp. Mangini has a penchant for bringing rookie linemen in early, as he did in New York with Nick Mangold and DeBrickshaw Ferguson, and Mack will no doubt be another example of this.
With the receiving core going through drastic downgrades before the draft, it won't be shocking if rookie wideouts Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi find themselves on the field more often than not. Robiskie may very well start across the field from Braylon Edwards as the team's second receiver.
Along with these rookies, linebackers David Veikune and Kaluka Maiava will most likely rotate on and off the field along with Cleveland's veteran front seven, while running back James Davis will share some carries with Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison.
With so many untested players on the field, it will be of the utmost importance that they shake off any rookie jitters as quickly as possible, as their contributions will have a notable effect on how the Browns perform as a whole.
Another important piece of the puzzle is having the Browns veteran players elevate their game.
If Braylon Edwards is still on the roster come September (trade rumors continue to swirl around "B-Easy"), he must overcome the rough season he endured in 2008.
While he's always had issues with dropped balls, I struggle to believe the Pro Bowl numbers Braylon Edwards put up in 2007 were merely a flash in the pan. Eric Mangini will no doubt try to get Edwards in the right state of mind, as he certainly makes a difference in what kind of team Cleveland brings to the field on Sundays.
The Browns must also get consistent play from the quarterback, whomever that may be.
While the starter is still unnamed, I have a gut feeling Brady Quinn will be leading the Browns this season. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is known for running more of a short yardage, dip-and-dunk style offense, which is the exact same way Quinn manages the game.
Quinn and Daboll have been working on the new schemes every day for the past few months now, while also building a solid rapport that will most likely contribute to who is finally chosen to lead the team.
If Quinn is named the starter, he must avoid the inconsistant play that plagued quarterback Derek Anderson throughout 2008.
It should be noted that, while the Browns could very well be competitive this year, there are more than a couple obstacles in their way.
One of these obstacles is the upcoming schedule. While it may not be as intimidating as the gauntlet that was 2008, it isn't exactly a cake walk either.
For instance, the AFC North is slowly becoming one of the strongest divisions in the NFL. Its no secret the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be a tough draw for years to come, while the Baltimore Ravens, who seem to finally be set at quarterback, will be a daunting task as well.
And don't look now, but with the addition of safety Roy Williams, the Cincinnati Bengals are quietly having a solid offseason and could also be on the upswing.
Along with playing each of the above-mentioned teams twice, the Browns also face a talented Minnesota team, the always threatening San Diego Chargers, and a Chicago Bears squad which finally has a talented quarterback.
Another obstacle for Cleveland will be staying healthy.
In 2007, the Browns remarkably avoided any critical injuries, and this in turn had a hand in how successful the season went. However, 2008 was littered with health issues at nearly every position, which lead to four different starting quarterbacks and an overall depletion at the receiving corps.
If the Browns can stay relatively injury-free in 2009, it will certainly have an effect on how well the team can play week-to-week.
In the end, the Browns may very well improve under new coach Eric Mangini. However, it will take a lot of effort from more than a few players, from rookies to aged vets.
Do I honestly believe the Browns could pull off another surprise season, a la 2007? Not really, but I also don't believe the new regime has this on their list of goals for the upcoming year.
Mangini seems to be more focused on building a foundation for a team that hasn't seen one in the past ten years, which, unfortunately, won't produce immediately. However, it wouldn't surprise me if the Browns could consistently put forth a solid effort en route to a respectable record, perhaps in the 7-9 or 8-8 range.
Bottom line, the 2009 Cleveland Browns may not be as entertaining as the Cavaliers, but they also shouldn't be as inept and unwatchable as the Indians.
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