Cleveland Browns Season Preview: Top Things To Watch in Believeland in 2010
There is no other fan base in the NFL that is more optimistic than Cleveland Browns fans.
Year in and year out, Browns Backers are ready for their team to take that next step to becoming a contender.
Having a taste of that only twice since 1999 (the Browns made the playoffs in 2002 and went 10-6 in 2007), Browns fans have seen and heard it all.
Now with a new team president and general manager that seem to be stable going into the future, the Browns are set to start their 2010 regular season schedule against the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday, Sept. 11.
The city of Cleveland is barely keeping its head above water after losing an icon over the summer and looks to the Browns and Josh Cribbs to pick the city back up by winning a few games.
There are a few things that Browns fans should watch for in this new season, and they are as follows.
Shaun Rogers Rushing Opposing Quarterbacks
After missing all of training camp and preseason while on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Rogers was activated on the day of the Browns' final cuts.
After Rogers went down with a season-ending foot injury in 2009, backup nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin took over and dramatically improved the middle of the defense by taking on two offensive lineman, freeing other defenders to make plays.
That is how a true nose tackle on a 3-4 defense is supposed to do his job.
Rogers vented his frustration with being a nose tackle to the Browns' coaches, saying he would rather use his speed and quickness to rush the passer instead.
Looks like Rogers will get his wish, but he will still play at the nose at times to give Rubin some rest during games.
Rogers has only 6.5 sacks in two years with the Browns, but look for that number to go up in 2010.
The Cyclone Formation
The highly publicized Cyclone Formation, which consists of both Seneca Wallace and Josh Cribbs in the same backfield, will finally be unveiled.
Who will get the ball?
Who will throw it?
Who will run with it?
What's going on with all the offensive shifting?
These are only a few of the many questions opposing defenses will have going through their mind when the Cyclone is on the field.
Let's just hope it works out to the Browns' advantage. If the Browns' invention does work, then look for more teams to field two Wildcat quarterbacks at the same time.
Jake Delhomme for NFL Comeback Player of the Year
Naming Delhomme NFL Comeback Player of the Year is a bit premature, but if he continues to play as he did in the preseason, then he will be a front-runner for the yearly award.
Delhomme went through the preseason with a quarterback rating of 110 and did not throw any interceptions.
And that was against first team defenses.
Very promising, but Browns fans need to wait to see how Delhomme reacts after throwing his first interception before declaring him as our savior.
Peyton Hillis Wearing Out Defenses in Every Game
With rookie running back Montario Hardesty out for the year, that moves Hillis up on the depth chart.
Even though Jerome Harrison is the starter, there is a reason that Hillis was acquired in the Brady Quinn trade; that reason is Hillis' versatility.
He can run, catch, and block with the best of them and will get a ton of carries, too.
If the Browns run the ball often in 2010, then you can bet Hillis will get the ball a lot in the first quarter to wear down defenses right off of the bat. Then the Browns will bring in both Harrison and James Davis to run laps around the tired and beaten defense later in the game.
Smash-mouth football in Cleveland...you gotta love it!
Who Will Stand Out As the Team's Top Receiver?
Mohamed Massaquoi had a solid rookie season despite the quarterback issues that plagued the team in 2009.
Now in Year Two, with a veteran quarterback who throws a very catchable ball, Massaquoi and the other receivers will look to step up their game.
It honestly doesn't matter who actually steps up, just as long as all the receivers make progress in their development on the football field.
Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Josh Cribbs, Chansi Stuckey, and rookie Carlton Mitchell are all on the roster, and this group should be ready to surprise many defenses across the NFL this season.
T.J. Ward and Joe Haden
Who doesn't like rookies?
Browns fans certainly will love their two rookies in the defensive backfield.
Both Ward and Haden will see a ton of playing time this year, and even though Haden will be the third cornerback on the depth chart, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes to use three corner formations in half of the plays he calls.
Ward started off the preseason with a bang against the Green Bay Packers and looks to be a great pick, as long as he can be disruptive and cause turnovers while flying around the field.
Both should be really fun to watch because they are very tough and physical players, something that Browns fans have not seen much in the secondary in recent years.
Linebacker Marcus Benard
Whenever Benard has been in the defense, he has always seemed to make plays.
Ever since his breakout game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in November 2009, when he sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice, Benard has been making the most of his opportunities.
Pushing for a starting pass-rusher spot, Benard will see plenty of playing time; he is versatile and can rush the passer, fall back in pass coverage, and stop the run.
Benard is the future for the Browns and he will be a starter in the very near future, too.
Josh Cribbs Returning Kicks and Punts
The two-time Pro Bowl kick returner and NFL record holder for most kickoff return touchdowns in a career is the Browns' highlight reel.
Every time Cribbs gets the ball on a kick, you can literally hear all Browns fans across the Earth holding their breath at the same time.
Cribbs is expected to score in the return game and he will continue to score in 2010.
"Why do you even kick to the guy?" said a game announcer whose name is unknown.
Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was a first-year playcaller in 2009 and he took many shots from the media and fans.
Just part of the growing pains of being a coach in Cleveland.
Now that Holmgren has brought on his former offensive coordinator Gil Haskell as an advisor to assist Daboll, you can really see the difference in the offense through four preseason games.
This could also be the result of having a veteran quarterback who knows how to read defenses.
The plays should be diverse in 2010, but still look for many short passes, quick slants, and screens to the running backs, since that is the style of offense the Browns and Mangini want to run while running it down defenses' throats.
Browns fans, chime in with any other things to watch for this upcoming season in the comments below.
Perhaps second-year running back James Davis will break out this season since he is both a very physical runner with speed and slashing ability when the ball is in his hands.
(Also posted on Dawg Scooper: THE Cleveland Browns Blog)