The 2009/10 season ended brilliantly for the Cleveland Browns.
Running off four consecutive wins, and eliminating a team from playoff contention in the Jacksonville Jaguars left a sweet taste in the mouths of Browns fans that have been thirsty for a winner for a long, long time.
During that win streak, Cleveland fans saw the emergence of a young, talented RB in Jerome Harrison who literally carried his team, and other young contributors like Matt Roth, Kaluka Miava, and Ahtyba Rubin stepped into the spotlight.
Browns fans saw their Head Coach somehow salvage what looked to be the most dismal and disheartening season in recent memory, and a Defensive Coordinator work wonders with a cast of unknowns that many scoffed at when looking at the game day starters.
Yes, the end of the 2009/10 season was special. It gave Cleveland fans hope, it gave US something to look forward to. I say “us”, because after all, I too am a Cleveland Browns fan, and a die hard one at that!
That said, I am a realist as well. And, part of being a realist is taking things for what they are, and the reality is this:
The Cleveland Browns of 2010/11 are only marginally (if any) better, than the team the NFL and it’s fans saw last season.
Now, I understand that building a team doesn’t happen over night, but, there are three very serious issues, in my opinion, that are seemingly being glossed over by many in favor of overly optimistic talk, projections and banter.
When, in reality, that’s only ignoring the issues that are at the forefront right now. Addressing and seeing those issues for what they are is what needs to be done, so, let’s get to it.
This has been a HUGE point of concern for many, and now that we’re past the Draft and basically done with Free Agency, we can really look objectively at what Cleveland did to address the obviously weak receiving corps.
In the draft, as we all know, the selection at No. 177 Overall was WR Carlton Mitchell from the University of South Florida.
I love the pick, for a lot of reasons.
The kid has size on his side, standing at 6’3”, weighing 218 lbs and having NBA player arms, measuring 33-3/4” long and 10-7/8” hands. Good numbers for a WR. Just for means of comparison, T.O. is 34-3/8” arms and 10-7/16” hands.
The kid has elite level speed, clocking times of 4.49 at the Combine and 4.43 at the USF Pro Day. Elite speed, to the point that I’m almost salivating thinking of him running the nine route, getting deep.
With all that said however, Carlton Mitchell is a rookie. He’s a young guy that reminds a lot of people of Marques Colston, thus the comparison of Colston’s rookie season to Mitchell performing the same way in his, have been drawn.
That, in and of itself, is incredibly unrealistic and somewhat irresponsible by those who have reported it. There’s no reason for anyone, at this point, to believe that Carlton Mitchell will have a Colston-esque rookie campaign.
In his rookie season, Colston had stellar numbers, starting 12 games, catching 70 balls for 1038 yards and eight TD’s. HUGE for a rookie, and considered great for most veteran WR’s.
The thing that people don’t acknowledge though, is that Colston was mentored by a legitimate veteran WR in Joe Horn who had been to four Pro Bowls. Add to that the fact that Drew Brees was the guy throwing him the ball and you can see why he did as well as he did.
The bottom line is that Cleveland does NOT have that veteran presence at the WR spot they need to help groom the younger guys that are there, nor do they have a QB capable of carrying a team the way Drew Brees has shown he can.
History can teach you lessons if you’re willing to learn, and when you look back to young WR’s that have come in to the NFL that have had mentors, you see success, and the results can’t be denied.
Jerry Rice mentored Terrell Owens.
Donald Driver mentored Greg Jennings.
Marvin Harrison mentored Reggie Wayne.
Rod Smith mentored Brandon Marshall.
Joe Horn mentored Marques Colston AND Roddy White.
Hines Ward mentored Santonio Holmes.
Cris Carter mentored Randy Moss.
The list goes on.
The proof of the value of a true veteran WR to mentor the young WR’s is blatantly obvious, and Cleveland doesn’t have that. Which is obvious in the fact that their best pass catching threat is from TE Ben Watson.
Is not having a veteran going to somehow doom Cleveland to being among the worst in the league at that position? No, not at all.
But, NOT having a veteran WR is something that could be an issue for Cleveland in this upcoming season. Especially considering that the QB spot, at this point, is still as unstable as it’s ever been and while I’d like to say that I’m happy about Delhomme, I can’t.
Which leads me to...
I know what you’re saying. Jake Delhomme is a Pro Bowl QB, he’s been to a Super Bowl, he’s a good QB.
The reality is, he WAS a good QB and now, he’s approaching 36 years old, his arm strength is deteriorating and he’s decision making has been, well...lackluster for several seasons.
Hence the reason that John Fox opted to go with Matt Moore in favor of Delhomme, and quite frankly, Carolina was a better team with Moore.
Jake has been a decent starter previously, but, in the last two seasons, Delhomme has thrown more INT’s (30) than TD’s (23). And, that’s a HUGE point of concern.
Jake Delhomme has played the majority of his career in the NFC South, which until recently has been an inferior conference, and now, he’s playing in the “Black and Blue” division, where the talent level and defensive play, I believe is better than the NFC South.
Not to mention, he’s now on a team where the talent level around him has dropped. I’m sorry, but the reality is, Cleveland does not have the running game that the Panthers have, nor does Cleveland have the WR in Steve Smith, that Jake once had in Carolina.
Those circumstances should be sounding alarms inside your heads.
Now, I can admit that when I think of Jake Delhomme, I think of a hard working, hard nosed guy that’s going to give you everything he’s got. And, I like that about him.
However, at this point in his career, he can work as hard as he wants, and I don’t think that it’s going to matter a whole lot because he’s on a team that doesn’t have all the tools needed for him to be successful and his talent level isn’t what it was.
In addition to all of that, you have to look at what Cleveland did to address the situation at the QB spot.
They rushed into the signing of Delhomme, who really, was only being courted as a backup by New Orleans, and missed their opportunity at a couple of really good QB’s who could have made a big difference in Cleveland.
My question with the Delhomme signing is this; Which NFL team was offering Delhomme $6.8mm or even $6.5mm? Which team? NONE. So, why did Cleveland sign him for $7mm?
That question is likely to never be answered.
I believe though, that Cleveland was worried about losing someone that they perceived as a starting caliber QB.
When in reality, had they just been patient and allowed everything to play out, they would have had a look at McNabb for less than what Philly was demanding.
And, even if they had missed McNabb, they then could have had a look at Jason Campbell, who at this point, I would much prefer over Jake Delhomme.
Some are saying that Delhomme has the potential to throw 25-30 TD’s in Cleveland this season, and honestly, that seems highly unlikely as Delhomme has thrown for over 25 TD’s only once, and that was in 2004, when he threw 29.
In his career Delhomme has averaged a mere 13.6 TD’s per season, and in seven of his nine seasons, has had less than 20, and four season with less than 10.
I’m sorry to sound pessimistic, but, that scares me and makes me as uncomfortable as I’ve ever been regarding the QB position in Cleveland.
Jake Delhomme is going to be learning a completely new system this season, and that too could have an effect on his performance, and I don’t think that stops there.
This leads me to issue No. 3.
Cleveland has been almost as bad as Washington in recent years, having three new offensive systems in as many seasons.
This year, they’re implementing the WCO, which I think could be good. However, I find my self wondering about how this is going to work with Eric Mangini, who comes from a different coaching tree than Holmgren.
Holmgren comes from the Bill Walsh, WCO system, that focuses on the short passing game and being efficient doing it.
Mangini, obviously from a different school of thought, I think prefers to run the ball and only pass when absolutely necessary.
That logic, creates a conflict. I’m not saying that it won’t work, I’m just interested to see how Mangini adapts to the new scheme.
Not to be forgotten in this whole thing is the offense itself. There are potentially 11 players that need to learn and understand the new system before they can be expected to excel in it.
The blocking schemes change, the passing schemes change, the reads change, the hot routes change, the audibles change, the playcalling itself changes and the actual terminology of the play changes.
These are not changes to be taken lightly.
An NFL offense is as complex as it gets. The multiple layers of tasks involved in one play are almost mind blowing and to perfect those, they need time, and a lot of it.
Cleveland cannot afford to haphazardly throw this offense together and expect it to work, because honestly, if they were to do that, they would be absolutely blown out of most games.
With that change also comes figuring out which players can and cannot understand and adapt to the new system.
There’s no way to know if Jerome Harrison, Mohammed Massaquoi, Joe Thomas, Alem Max, or any other player is going to understand this effectively.
This could be and likely will be something that takes not only hours upon hours of practice and film room time, but, it could take practical implementation before it’s fully understood.
Meaning, that Cleveland may have to go into the season without a full grasp and be expected to “learn on the job”, and that goes for the coaches too.
Brian Daboll, who I’m shocked even has a job, is learning this system as many of the players are, and if he doesn’t get it completely, this could be a MAJOR issue.
Truthfully though, I feel that if Daboll is struggling to implement and run the offense effectively, Holmgren will relieve him of his duties and put Haskell in charge of running the O, until Holmgren finds someone else he’s comfortable with.
The bottom line here is that a new offense is never easy to adapt to, nor is it easy to implement effectively and this could also lead to some growing pains and lackluster play early on.
In the end, I think this season is going to be another season that Browns fans have become so accustomed to, and I think the chances of them winning more than 6-7 games, is a stretch.
There are just too many lingering issues on the board that have the potential to become areas of weakness, and those issues could be what makes this season a long one yet again.
I really believe in the Management of the Cleveland Browns organization, however, like other regimes, some of the decisions have been questionable and have the right to and should be scrutinized.
Not looking at Boldin, Holmes, or Marshall seems like a major miss, as all of them would have been pivotal to Cleveland success at the WR spot, while giving Delhomme a legit target.
Rushing into the signing of Jake Delhomme seems like a bit of a concern as well. The guy is clearly on the downside of his career, and is likely going to have a performance similar to the one we all saw last season in Carolina.
Leaving too much talent on the board in the draft is an issues as well.
There is a reason that Pittsburgh and Baltimore are continually better than Cleveland in the draft, and that reason is simply because they let the draft come to them and don’t force anything.
This could be a season that shows some growth, but, this could be a season that leaves a lot to be desired. As I think about this, I believe that most people are as much in limbo about what this team will be as I am.
Last season, we knew what we were getting going into the season, this season we really don’t. It remains to be seen what’s going to happen, but, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t concerned.
All that said, I have been wrong many times before, and I will admit that I really HOPE Cleveland wins somewhere around 8-9 games, because I simply cannot take too many more losing seasons.
Go Cleveland, Go Browns!