The Cleveland Browns stand to be much improved in 2014, though they will suffer an unfortunate loss when Josh Gordon is officially suspended. Despite being without their best player, the Browns have made some offseason moves that may put some ice on that burn.
I'm not saying Miles Austin is the team's savior or anything, but he's better than much of what they had. They'll also get a boost from their newly acquired running back Ben Tate. He's a very talented player who hasn't gotten his chance to shine yet, though he's looking like he's about ready to pop.
Tate's set up for a very strong season behind the best offensive line he's had, and should be the centerpiece of their offense. He can be a three-down back for Cleveland while also contributing as a receiver out of the backfield, but—most importantly—he will be the glue that holds the offense together.
Center the show around Ben Tate
Cleveland helped themselves a whole lot when they brought in Ben Tate in free agency, and now have a tremendous base to build their offense off of. It was set to be a pretty efficient and balanced offense before Josh Gordon’s fiascoes, but now it should be centered fully on the former Houston Texan.
Tate has a great combination of size and speed, showing flashes of being the next great NFL running back while with the Texans. His career yards per carry average is 4.7 and he's scored 10 rushing touchdowns during his three years in the league.
He also proved to be a threat out of the backfield last season with the Texans, reeling in 34 catches for 140 yards. Surely those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but he’ll benefit from having a better quarterback and offensive line with the Browns.
He's the bell cow running back that they severely lacked last season, and might be the best running back they’ve had since Jamal Lewis. Trent Richardson certainly had a nice rookie season, but we’re bound to see more longevity with Tate and the Browns than Richardson.
Tate has breakaway speed and can make guys miss in the open field, as we've seen a good amount of times before.
He’s everything that a team could need in a running back and is sure to excel in a full-time role for the first time in his career.
Make use of the available pieces
Cleveland’s receiving corps is pretty barren past Gordon, but the addition of Miles Austin and Earl Bennett will help soften the blow. Granted, they aren’t anywhere near Gordon in terms of talent, but they will make for an alright bandage in the meantime.
I’d keep an eye on Anthony Armstrong too—he’s an unproven, 30-something receiver but does have good ability. He’s a dependable possession receiver at the very least, and could help provide a boost to Cleveland’s weakened passing game.
They’ll have a reliable running game to lean on, so that may also open things up some for their aerial attack.
Who will be Cleveland's best receiver in 2014?
While it’d be nice for one of their wideouts to step up, the Browns should shift the majority of their attention to their stud tight end Jordan Cameron. He’s an athletic, pass-catching tight end who can also contribute as a blocker.
Cameron will be a nice guy to have when pounding the rock with Tate, but will be especially valuable as the main target for whoever is throwing the ball for Cleveland. He caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns last season, which were pretty impressive given the unspectacular quarterback play he was receiving.
Utilizing their running back and tight end will be important, but the efficiency of their offense as a whole is contingent upon the quarterback.
It’s an open competition between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, though my money is on the former Heisman winner to win the starting job, which leads to my next point of emphasis for their offense.
Trust Johnny Manziel, adopt Washington’s old strategy (to an extent)
Cleveland should take a page out of the Washington Redskins’ book and build its offense around an athletic quarterback and talented running back. Manziel has clear similarities to Robert Griffin III (though RG3 is obviously more polished) and Tate could pass for a poor-man’s Alfred Morris.
When Griffin III and Morris were rookies, Washington centered its offense around them and had a lot of success. They used the running game to open up the passing game and vice versa; Cleveland will also be able to given Manziel’s athleticism.
He’s a wily gunslinger who can definitely move out the pocket competently, and the Browns would be wise to make the most of that ability. Play-action passes and fake handoffs should be used heavily, as well as some triple-option or designed quarterback runs.
One could argue that luck is running out with the triple-option, but I believe Cleveland could work something out. Manziel’s style meshes much better with Tate than Hoyer’s does, and it could open up many doors for this team offensively.
Manziel will struggle from not having the type of receiving corps he had with Mike Evans at Texas A&M, but he’ll obviously be much better off when Gordon returns. Regardless, Cleveland has the pieces needed to string together some wins, although it’s unclear exactly how well they’ll be able to do.