7 Reasons to Be Excited for the Cleveland Browns 2011 Season
At long last, with the lockout apparently drawing to a close, we're finally free to start getting excited about the upcoming NFL season.
For the Browns faithful, the anticipation is especially high. We're finally going to get our chance to see all the changes the Browns have implemented this offseason manifest on the field.
Given the stress of all our, "Will there even BE a season?" nightmares connected to the lockout, it's pretty exciting just to see football period, no matter what team you're a fan of.
But for the Browns, there are plenty of exciting extra reasons to get fired up for this football season besides just the fact that there will actually be a season.
Following are seven reasons to be excited about the Browns in 2011. There are loads more beyond these, so please share yours in the comments below!
1. A Bit of West Coast in the Midwest
Anyone who has followed football since the great Bill Walsh first came on the scene as a coach has seen a West Coast offense in action. But as Browns fans, it's always been seen only in opponents.
This season, however, the Browns will make their first ever attempt at running a true West Coast style offensive system.
Last season, the Browns ran a sort of modified West Coast Offense (WCO), but it was more of a modified version of it than a pure WCO. This year the Browns are aiming to run a true WCO in its purest form.
It's exciting to watch a team put any new system into use (not to mention, a little nerve wracking), but Browns fans should be especially excited about this particular change.
The talent they have on their offensive roster lends itself well to such a system. Their quarterback, receivers and tight ends are just the type of players built to succeed in the WCO.
Looking at the struggles these players had last year, particularly the WRs, it makes sense that the WCO would play to their strengths much better and eliminate a lot of the recurring problems they had.
The biggest challenge will be improving their yardage after catch, something the Browns WRs struggled with in 2010. This is a key element for a WCO to succeed, so the Browns receivers will need to step up their game in this area in order for it to work.
If that happens, it will be beyond exciting to watch the new WCO in action for the Browns.
2. Can Peyton Hillis Repeat His 2010 Performance?
Peyton Hillis is the ultimate success story for any kid who ever dreamed of being an NFL running back. One day you're dragging cars around rural Arkansas with a rope, the next you're on the cover of Madden.
For Clevelanders, Hillis was pretty much the easiest guy in the world to get behind. It wasn't just that he was so impressive on the field. It was the way he tugged at our blue collar heartstrings by embracing the city of Cleveland and its fanbase by demonstrating humble work ethic and publicly declaring himself one of us.
There's no one we would rather root for than Hillis, which is why we're all so excited to see if he can be the defense destroying force he was last season again in 2011.
Concerns abound regarding that: Can Hillis be as effective without Lawrence Vickers blocking for him? Can he take that kind of beating again and not land on the IR?
These are legitimate concerns, to be sure, but if there's anyone who can prove them invalid, it's Hillis. Even if his numbers aren't quite as sky high as they were in 2010, it will be thrilling to watch him bulldoze opponents again this season.
3. Is the Second Coming of the Dawg Defense Drawing Near?
First, let's get one thing straight. We may never again see anything comparable to the original Dawg Defense, which consisted of Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon, one of the greatest CB tandems ever to grace the field.
But that doesn't mean the Browns can't give us a pretty impressive reinvention of it anyway.
Right now, the catalysts for a dynamite secondary for the Browns are CB Joe Haden and S T.J. Ward.
Obviously, despite the fact that these two players may have comparable DB talent to Dixon and Minnifield, it still won't allow them to recreate the Dawg Defense exactly since one is a CB and the other a S, but it could still mean the Browns are in for a sort of modified version of it.
This is the first time since the days of Dixon and Minnifield that the Browns have had two such talented players in their secondary.
It can't be an exact recreation, but it does have the potential to elevate the secondary to levels not seen since the Dawgs were putting on their show in the mid to late 1980s.
4. The Thrill of the New (Coach, That Is)
Anytime a team gets a new coach (especially one who has declared he plans to be his own offensive coordinator), it frays the nerves of the fanbase.
Despite not having yet coached a single game for the Browns (or for any team as a head coach), opinions on Pat Shurmur have already begun to form. There are plenty of well-informed fans who are already declaring him a hack and equally as many already declaring him our savior.
Everybody has an opinion, but none of us can say for sure at this point. The production he was able to get out of the Rams' offense as their OC suggests that he could be the guy who finally coaches the Browns back to glory.
His inexperience suggests that he could be the next guy in a long line of failed coaches who runs us right back into the ground.
There's no way to tell which way things will go with any certainty at this point, but you can bet it will be exciting to see how the Browns' first season under Shurmur plays out.
5. What Will This Year's Draft Picks Contribute to the Equation?
It's always exciting to see what your team's new draft picks can do in their rookie season. It's especially exciting for Cleveland, given how much positive impact last year's rookies had on the team.
We learned to trust Holmgren and Heckert's draft capabilities in 2010 after seeing how much former rookies Haden, Ward and Colt McCoy did to elevate the team. Thus it stands to reason that some of the Browns 2011 draft picks could do the same.
We have high hopes that first- and second-round picks Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard can solidify a defensive line that had major, major problems last season.
Late second-round pick WR Greg Little brings the sort of raw talent to his position that the Browns haven't had in recent years and seems to be a guy who embodies all the things (yards after catch ability, aggressive nose for the ball) that we've complained the rest of our receiving corps lacked of late.
FB Owen Marecic is intriguing as perhaps the heir-apparent to Vickers, as well as the fact that he can play both sides of the ball.
And don't forget about late round steals CB Buster Skrine and S Eric Hagg, who just might contribute more than their draft slot indicates to the aforementioned recreating of the Dawg Defense we all miss so much.
6. What's Next for Renaissance Man Josh Cribbs?
You can't make a list of exciting things about the Browns' upcoming season without including the ever-intruging Josh Cribbs, a guy who has shown up on lists like this since the day he joined the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
Every year we find ourselves asking the question, "What will Cribbs do next?"
The answer to that is particularly interesting for this season, perhaps more so than ever, because the one role that jack-of-all-trades Cribbs always played was kick returner.
The new kickoff rules have pretty much killed that, so our anticipation of what Cribbs can do for us aside from that is at its peak.
Browns fans have spent many, many days discussing other roles for Cribbs in 2011. The ones that make the most sense are wide receiver, third-down back and safety. There are arguments for and against each of those, but so far there is no absolute correct answer among them.
For most of us, the anticipation of which role the Browns ultimately choose for Cribbs this season has reached a fever pitch. We're all dying to know where Cribbs will end up, whether he'll wind up playing multiple roles and how well he might execute in each of them.
One thing is for certain. No matter how the Browns decide to use Cribbs, it will be exciting to watch. Six seasons of watching this guy is concrete proof that when it comes to Cribbs, there's never a dull moment.
7. Is This the Year the Browns Finally Turn the Corner?
It's been a long, long time since the Browns have strung together a number of consecutive successful seasons. Sadly, you have to go all the way back to before Benedict Art skipped town with the team and ran off to Baltimore with our most prized possession.
Though we all harbor pipe dreams that the Browns will magically mesh into a juggernaut of a team in 2011 and go deep in the playoffs, we know deep down that overnight success is unrealistic.
However, the pieces do seem to be in place for the team to finally turn a corner and begin its march in that direction this year, even if the road to success takes longer to traverse than just one season.
We can't hope for a Super Bowl appearance this year, but we can hope to see an 8-8 team that is well on its way to becoming a team that wins far more games than it loses in subsequent seasons.
While we all would ideally like to see the Browns in their new incarnation under Shurmur, Heckert and Holmgren in the playoffs right off the bat, most of us would consider a .500 season a successful one and certainly would consider it an excellent sign for what the future holds for the Browns in 2012 and thereafter.
The greatest thrill of all in football is of course to see your team in the postseason, but the next best thing is seeing your team play like they could be headed in that direction in the very near future.
The greatest and most exciting gift the Browns can give us in 2011 is hope, and all signs at this point indicate that they'll be able to deliver.