The Cleveland Browns enter the 2011 season with modest expectations. The franchise continues to build through the draft as Year 2 of the Mike Holmgren era begins.
Although the team consists of many young, inexperienced players, certain players may be evaluated more closely than others as the team hopes to build a consistent playoff contender in the coming years.
Here are five players who must perform well this season if they hope to establish themselves as a part of this team's future.
Perhaps no player will be under more scrutiny this year than quarterback Colt McCoy. Holmgren has thrown all of his chips in with McCoy this season. The Browns will go as far as McCoy can take them.
If he is able to absorb Pat Shurmur's offense quickly and excel in it as the team hopes, then Holmgren's search for a quarterback to build around may be over.
However, if he struggles to adjust to the new offense and is unable to further his development from last season, then the Browns may find themselves in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
McCoy may not possess the prototypical size or arm strength of an NFL quarterback. However, his accuracy, football IQ, and leadership skills should serve him well as he attempts to establish himself as the Browns' quarterback for this season, and for the future.
Montario Hardesty must justify why Holmgren traded up in the second round of last year's draft to select him. A knee injury suffered against the Chicago Bears in a pre-season game washed out his rookie year.
The team has been extremely cautious with him so far in camp, creating lingering doubts that he has not fully recovered from last season's injury.
Hardesty must first prove that he can be a durable player. If he can manage to stay healthy, he must display the talent that made him such a high selection.
Hardesty and workhorse running back Peyton Hillis could be provide the Browns with a formidable backfield. Hardesty must stay healthy if that is to happen.
The signing of Brandon Jackson is only added pressure for the second-year running back. Hardesty must stay healthy and produce this season if he is to be part of the Browns' long-term future.
I could have easily included Mohamed Massaquoi here as well. However, Massaquoi has displayed more potential and been slightly more productive the past two seasons compared to Brian Robiskie.
Robiskie, a product of Ohio State, was a high second round choice in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has yet to live up to those standards. He was unable to get on the field until the latter part of his rookie season. While he started 10 games last year, he provided little production.
Holmgren has expressed his support of Robiskie and Massaquoi. Head coach Pat Shurmur has been very high on Robiskie in camp.
The Browns desperately need this young group of wide receivers to emerge this season. Robiskie must improve his productivity this season. If he is unable to, his future with the Browns could be in serious jeopardy.
D'Qwell Jackson has had serious issues with injuries the past two seasons. Before that, he was consistently one of the league leaders in tackles, and one of the Browns' most productive players. His impact on the defense when healthy cannot be denied.
With the installation of the 4-3 defensive alignment and changing of personnel, the Browns desperately need a veteran presence on that side of that ball. If he can manage to stay healthy, Jackson should emerge as that leader.
However, another injury-riddled season would only raise more doubts about his durability. The Browns' defense will be much more respectable with Jackson in the middle of it.
Perhaps no player has been discussed more in training camp than Jayme Mitchell. Why? The Browns have enough confidence in Mitchell's ability that they decided not to sign a veteran defensive end in free agency.
This decision baffled many. Experts and fans alike believed that defensive end was a top priority for the team once free agency began.
The Browns were considered front-runners to sign one of the premier free agents at the position, such as Ray Edwards. The team instead reiterated its commitment to building through the draft, and this has provided Mitchell with a golden opportunity.
The Browns maintain confidence that Mitchell and rookie Jabaal Sheard can provide a strong pass-rush this season. He will presumably start opposite of Sheard, and he must justify the team's show of good faith. If he is unable to, look for this position to once again be a priority next offseason.
Many players will be closely evaluated this season as the Cleveland Browns continue their rebuilding effort. However, if new head coach Pat Shurmur is to have a successful first season in Cleveland, he will need significant contributions from the five players mentioned in the article, as well as many others.
These players are under a heavy microscope this season. They must all prove that they can be building blocks for the future of this franchise. The success of the Browns this season depends on it.