Cleveland Browns: Colt McCoy and 5 Browns Ready to Take the Next Step
For the Cleveland Browns, "waiting for next year" has taken a toll on the fan base. Since 1999, the Browns have had only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance. Each year, optimism takes a backseat to hope for the future as the futility has continued.
Does this Cleveland team finally have the ability to get over past failures? That remains to be seen. The Browns are a young team with much potential, but still have to deal with the powers in the division and the conference in order to take a step forward toward relevance.
McCoy is poised to take the next step towards being the franchise's star player. The following is why McCoy and four of his teammates will breakout in 2011.
1. Colt McCoy
Since 1999, Cleveland has been looking for the first quarterback to live up to the hype since Bernie Kosar.
It isn't a bad bet to say that Colt McCoy will emerge as the leader and face of the Browns over the course of the season.
When McCoy was tossed into the starting role last season, he quickly led Cleveland to wins over New England and New Orleans. Outside of those two starts, he was not perfect, but he performed admirably and showed confidence beyond his years.
If the Browns are to find success, stability at quarterback is vital. McCoy's natural ability to lead has impressed new coach Pat Shurmur and president Mike Holmgren, especially during the lockout. The informal workouts McCoy has lead, dubbed "Camp Colt," has endeared him to teammates and fans.
In his second season, McCoy most likely will suffer at times from the almost inevitable "sophomore slump." That being said, putting him in the West Coast offense will maximize his strengths as an athlete and make him a better quarterback.
More than any other player on the roster, McCoy has the most to gain (or lose) in 2011.
2. Joe Haden
Joe Haden is not from Cleveland. One would assume he is based on his blue-collar work ethic on the field and charitable action off the gridiron.
Haden, a Maryland native, has made Cleveland his adoptive home by sponsoring youth sports and pairing with local companies in the offseason. It isn't hard to spot Haden out in public, either, as he has taken to dressing in full uniform for Cavaliers and Indians games. guest of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
Off the field, Haden has been as charismatic as humanly possible. On the field, the switch turns in his head and it's all business. Despite some early bumps in the road, Haden improved as the year went on and finished with six interceptions on the season. He was also a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Haden's best game of the season came in week 13, when he picked off Chad Henne once and helped shut down the Miami passing game in the 13-10 win. He finished fourth on the team in tackles on the year, and helped to slow down some of the better receivers he faced.
Look for Haden to follow up a solid rookie season with a strong campaign in Dick Jauron's new 4-3 defense. The addition of Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard (as well as the shuffling of existing pass rushers) to the Cleveland defense should make Haden's life easier in 2011.
3. Brian Robiskie
On the surface, Brian Robiskie looks to be a bad investment for the Cleveland Browns.
In two seasons for Cleveland, Robiskie has only recorded 416 yards on 36 catches. That's hardly the production the Browns were looking for when they drafted him in the second round in 2009.
That being said, Robiskie showed promise at the end of 2010. During a week 15 matchup with Cincinnati, Robiskie caught his first career touchdown. In the final three games, he developed as a good option down the field and showed strong hands.
Those hands and ability to create space should make Robiskie a solid option for Colt McCoy in the new West Coast offense being installed.
The lack of depth at receiver will create opportunities for the young wideout. Look for Robiskie to take the next step toward solidifying his spot in Cleveland with a strong 2011 campaign.
4. Ahtyba Rubin
Some Browns will benefit immediately from being in a 4-3 defense. Ahtyba Rubin is one of them.
Rubin had an immediate impact for Cleveland in 2010, where he became the heir apparent to the oft-injured and underachieving Shaun Rogers.
He recorded 82 tackles and two sacks despite facing double teams as the nose tackle in the former 3-4 defense.
With first round draft pick Phil Taylor taking over the nose tackle position, Rubin should excel with less double teams and more one-on-one blocking. His greatest asset is his strength, and it should prove to be essential in Dick Jauron's new defense.
5. Marcus Benard
Just like Ahtyba Rubin, linebacker/end Marcus Benard has much to gain from being in the new 4-3 defense.
Benard started just two of the 15 games he played in in 2010. Of those games, he only recorded 28 tackles. The more impressive stat comes as a result of his pass rushing prowess: 11 sacks in the 21 games he has played in Cleveland.
Benard could become a force in rushing situations under Dick Jauron's tutelage. His 6'2'' 255 frame fits under the size range Tom Heckert has called for in ends. Despite that, he is still small enough to play linebacker in certain situations.
There are many backups looking to become starters for the Browns in 2011, but Benard has the best chance to shine on the defensive line.
Betting on Benard to excel is risky because of his limited playing time, but the reward of his growth will be a huge boost to the Cleveland defense.