The 2010 NFL season is upon us and Cleveland Browns fans are brimming with optimism about the potential of the team.
I am also very excited as I always am at the beginning of every season.
But the recent past of this team have turned me into a realist. That is why the theme for the 2010 Cleveland Browns should be "Cautious Optimism."
I am not attempting to put down the team, but rather keep things in perspective.
Let us start with new team president Mike Holmgren. I, like most fans, was almost insanely excited about this addition. All the moves he has made thus far look great including keeping head coach Eric Mangini (we will get to him later) and hiring general manager Tom Heckert. Do not forget this is Holmgren's first time in this position and he was underwhelming in his time as GM in Seattle. We all expect Holmgren to be the savior of this team, but we do not want to get too carried away too soon.
New GM Heckert looks like an excellent hire. He has previous experience in that post when he was in Philadelphia and was very successful. Heckert looks like an excellent hire and his first draft has tons of promise.
Now we need to talk about Mangini. For the first 12 games of last season everyone pretty much hated him. He was getting knocked for rough practices and players getting hurt. He was criticized for fining exorbitant amounts for little infractions. Then they won the final four games of the season and all of a sudden he was the "Manginious" again. Things for Mangini seemed to turned around and now that he does not have final say on personnel he can focus on coaching, which he does very well.
The quarterback position going into 2010 looks worlds better than it did at the end of 2009. New additions Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace look like competent signal callers and legitimate passers (Colt McCoy should not see the field for two years at the least so I am not even going to include him in this discussion).
Delhomme looked great in preseason and many are already etching his name into the "Comeback Player of the Year" trophy. Do not forget, it was preseason, and he was awful last year. Things certainly could have turned around for the veteran QB but do not allow play in the preseason to bloat expectations.
The loss of second round pick Montario Hardesty hurt the running game without a doubt. There is cause for optimism due to the depth at the position. Starter Jerome Harrison excelled at the end of 2009, Peyton Hillis looks like a beast, and James Davis had another solid preseason. The running game looks like it could carry the load and help ease the pressure on Delhomme.
However, Harrison has only had four good games (albeit one amazing game) in his four year career. Hillis has looked like a stud so far and a guy who carry the load in the cold and windy days late in the season. But he is a back-up running back. That is what he has always been and always will be. And I am not going to go crazy over Davis. He has yet to do anything in a regular season game since he missed all of last year. Do not expect too much out of the sixth round draft pick.
The receivers last year really sucked, plain and simple. But in the preseason they look drastically improved. Mohamed Massaquoi is picking up right where he left off after a solid rookie season. Brian Robiskie has solidified the number two wide receiver spot and finally does not look like a bust.
Josh Cribbs actually looks like, well, a receiver. Evan Moore still has great hands. Ben Watson could be one of the top off season pick-ups in the NFL. Things look so much better for the receiving core than last year. This could be simply that our QB's really sucked last year too and now they're decent. Remember, this unit is built on three second-year players, a converted QB, and one veteran.
The offensive line looks really good. New additions Shaun Luavao and Tony Pashos will both likely start. The left side of the line anchored by Joe Thomas is one of the best in NFL. The only possible red flag may be the depth of the line. But we should feel very confident and optimistic about the offensive line.
Production from the linebackers in a 3-4 defense is crucial to success. The fact that Browns are keeping 11 LB's on the roster (now that bust David Veikune has been cut) should be a major red flag that this unit is not very strong. There seem to be some very nice players such as Scott Fujita, Marcus Bernard, and Matt Roth, but there are no real playmakers.
D'Qwell Jackson has been one of the most solid tacklers in the league for the past few seasons. He is NOT a playmaker, however. His lack of sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions (three, one, and four respectively) beg that point. Where will the big plays come from? Who is going to provide the heavily needed pass rush? Who will step up and become the leader of this defense? I for one am very worried about he linebackers. I hope I am wrong, but we will see.
Two rookies will get serious time in the defensive secondary: First round pick Joe Haden and second round pick T.J. Ward. Both have looked solid in the preseason. Ward raised tons of eyebrows with his nine tackle game against Green Bay. Both guys look like the play-makers we need and have been lacking in the secondary.
Just remember that they are rookies. They have will some bright spots, but also some low points. Do not crucify them if they blow a coverage assignment a couple times this year. They are still growing. We should be very excited about the future with these two guys.
Finally we need to look at the schedule. Generally I am not a proponent of looking at the schedule, but the 2010 season for the Browns is going to be tough. I would love to see us win at least two games in our division (probably home against both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh). The Browns should start the season 2-0 with games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
Do not forget that they are thinking the same thing when they look at the prospect of playing Cleveland. Weeks 3 through 10 could be murderer's row the Browns. There are a ton of tough games and not a lot of wins to be had. It will be a very tough stretch for this young team.
My prediction is that we will go 6-10 but I am hoping for 8-8.