After going 9-23 in two seasons under Pat Shurmur, the Cleveland Browns decided to make a switch, hiring Rob Chudzinski as his successor. Chudzinski was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers but served in that same role with the Browns in 2007-08.
Chudzinski did a masterful job with the Panthers, inheriting the worst overall offense in the league and moving them all the way up to No. 7 in 2011. They were ranked No. 12 last year.
This has to be encouraging for Cleveland fans, as only seven teams were more putrid on offense in 2012 than Cleveland. But how soon can Chudzinski turn things around?
The Browns compete in the AFC North where the defending Super Bowl champions reside. The Browns have finished no better than third in the division every year since 2007. Winning games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh has proven difficult, as the Browns have a 12-45 record against them since 1999.
What identity will the team take under Chudzinski? Though he was able to get the most out of the talented Cam Newton in Carolina as a strong-armed, scrambling quarterback, much of that playbook won't be used in Cleveland.
The Browns do have weapons on offense. Brandon Weeden threw for 3,385 yards as a rookie and he will be aided by running back Trent Richardson. A player like Jordan Cameron could also benefit from Chudzinski's experience as a tight end coach.
The team may employ an offensive scheme with many four-wide receiver sets to attack the defense down the field. This could make free-agent acquisitions David Nelson and Davone Bess very key players.
Richardson will probably be leaned upon heavily, and as long as he can stay healthy, he will likely welcome the workload. Will the Browns pass to set up the run, or vice versa?
Norv Turner has been brought on as offensive coordinator and, despite his shortcomings as a head coach, he is known for his work with quarterbacks. That will be a big benefit for Weeden.
The Browns were equally ineffective defensively last season. Chudzinski will try to solve that problem with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who had the Arizona Cardinals ranked No. 12 in total defense a season ago.
The Browns have one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the NFL in Joe Haden, first-round draft choice Barkevious Mingo and free-agent signing Paul Kruger as key pieces for Horton to build around.
Horton has favored running a 3-4 defensive scheme in Pittsburgh and Arizona, so there is no reason he can't make it work in Cleveland. Players such as Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard could become Pro Bowl selections in Horton's defense.
The Browns will be tasked with finding an identity and giving fans a different look on the field than the one they have dealt with year after year. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have just two winning seasons.
Whether it be Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini or Shurmur, the Browns haven't looked much different on the field. It has been the same inept team every season.
So how many wins should fans realistically expect in 2013? Six? Seven? Maybe more? Winning games within the division will be the best place to get the Chudzinski regime on the right track.
Chudzinski seems to be an excellent choice to change things up. He can transform the team the same way he did the Panthers' offense. Of course, he'll have to figure out a way to beat the Steelers and Ravens, too.
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