2011 will be a year of complete uncertainty for the Cleveland Browns organization as Pat Shurmur takes control of a raw and inexperienced team. However, in the small amount of time this team has played together, Cleveland has made some key strides towards becoming a franchise that the city and fan base can be proud of once again.
The 2011 Browns have plenty of questions to answer before their regular season begins against the Cincinnati Bengals. The following slideshow breaks down the five biggest questions surrounding the Browns organization heading into this season.
The Browns fan base has been calling for the team to acquire a force at the wide receiver position since Braylon Edwards departed for the New York Jets several years ago.
Cleveland spent high draft picks on Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie in 2009, but were forced to draft Greg Little in 2011 due to a lack of offensive production. Massaquoi has been the more productive of the two wide outs since being drafted. The former Georgia Bulldogs standout has compiled 70 catches for 1,107 yards in 31 games played.
Robiskie has only caught 36 passes in his first two seasons.
Cleveland does not seem to be very interested in acquiring another wide receiver before the 2011 season begins. So, that means that the young talent on the active roster must step up in order for the Browns to have any success.
The Browns' front office has stated repeatedly that they feel the receiving corps is better than what the public believes. However, it would be nice to see those talents instead of hearing about them.
When Cleveland announced the firing of Eric Mangini in January, Browns fans believed they were about to see a blockbuster coach entering the franchise. Rumors of Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Andy Reid quickly became harsh realizations that Pat Shurmur was the frontrunner and the eventual hire to lead the Browns into the future.
Many of Cleveland's faithful never even heard of Shurmur before his name appeared among the potential candidates for the head coaching position.
So, the big question is: Who is Pat Shurmur and why should the fans be excited about him?
Answer: Shumur is the former offensive coordinator for the St.Louis Rams and a long time acquaintance of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Other than coaching up Sam Bradford in 2010, his career accomplishments consist of coaching the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks to multiple playoff births from 1999-2008.
Colt McCoy will need a coach like Shurmur to help groom him in the coming years. However, the question on if Shurmur is a good fit for a head coach will only be answered with the results on the field. Shurmur has absoultely no experience as a defensive coach and will likely give all defensive control to new coordinator, Dick Jauron.
Josh Cribbs was a slight disappointment in the return game in 2010, but made huge strides towards becoming a quality receiver in the NFL.
However, with the addition of Greg Little to Cleveland's receiving squad next season, Cribbs will likely have a shortened role and will be expected to become the special teams juggernaut that made him so popular since he came to the Browns in 2005.
Cribbs signed a three-year $20 million extension before the 2010 season began. With Pat Shumur now controlling the show, Cribbs' influence will be in question until games finally get underway. But, if his numbers slump in 2011, expect Cribbs' to be a name to be involved in trade discussions before the 2012 season begins.
Peyton Hillis' performance throughout the 2010-11 season can best be desribed as heroic. Hillis carried the Browns franchise on his back throughout the entire year and also played the final three games of the season with broken ribs.
Hillis carried the ball numerous times on every Cleveland drive and was responsible for 1,654 all purpose yards and 13 touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Hillis and the Browns, the "Albino Rhino" will have to be even better in 2011-12 for Cleveland to compete in the AFC North. Hillis will be forced to show that he is not only a bruising runner, but capable of catching short passes for the second year in a row. Benjamin Watson was the only player to have better receiving numbers than Hillis last year.
Many fans around the league think that Hillis may turn out to be a one-year wonder. Although, Browns fans that watched Cleveland's games in 2010-11 know that it is almost impossible to be a one-year wonder with the type of effort Hillis put forth.
Colt McCoy is in a unique position in 2011. Cleveland fans desperately want a winning quarterback, and McCoy has already been labeled as the next Bernie Kosar for the Browns franchise.
But, the most intriguing thing about McCoy in 2011 is his potential to take over the entire city.
Cleveland wants and needs a hero to look up to since LeBron James headed for greener pastures last season. McCoy was only 2-6 as a starter in 2010 but gained the respect of the entire city with his poise on the field and his leadership during the NFL lockout.
However, McCoy will only be able to rise to star status if he wins football games. Pat Shurmur and Mark Whipple will be implementing a new system that fits directly to McCoy's strengths as a quarterback and highlights the strengths of his receivers.
That offensive system along with McCoy's ambition should be enough to take him to the next level. The key will be for Cleveland not to hit the panic button if things don't go smoothly early in the year.
McCoy is the NCAA record holder for wins as a starting quarterback. He has the ability to make smart decisions and has shown that he can be an accurate passer with proper protection. But, if Cleveland pulls the plug on him early, he will just be another talent wasted and another blunder for the franchise.