For the first time in recent memory, there is preseason hope for the Cleveland Browns. As always though, Browns fans are cautiously optimistic.
Cleveland fans have experienced disappointments before, such as The Fumble, The Drive and Red Right 88, so they are hesitant talk about playoffs for the 2011 season.
However, with a new coach and a promising young quarterback, this just might be the year that the Browns shock the world and make their way into the postseason.
Peyton Hillis burst onto the scene last season, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries. Not to mention he caught 61 passes, which was good for second on the team. Hillis put the offense on his shoulders and spent the whole season grinding it out against tough AFC North defenses.
The Browns relied too heavily on Hillis last season, but that will change in 2011. Not only has quarterback Colt McCoy improved, but there is now added depth behind Hillis.
Running backs Montario Hardesty and Armond Smith look to take some of the pressure off of Hillis this season, while not stealing too many of his carries. This should lower the wear and tear on Hillis and make him more effective as the season goes on.
Barring any side effects brought on by the Madden curse, Hillis looks to be poised for a great 2011 campaign.
Last year, Colt McCoy was thrust into the starting quarterback role due to injuries.
Even though he was unprepared and under-developed, he showed flashes of potential as the season went on. He threw for 1,576 yards while tossing 6 touchdowns and 9 interceptions for a passer rating of 74.9.
While that stat line is not too impressive, he showed the ability to complete a high percentage of passes, as well as the ability to scramble when necessary. The new West Coast offense is perfectly suited for the accurate McCoy, who studied the system in the offseason with West Coast guru Brett Favre.
With a year under his belt and confidence in a new system, McCoy should improve greatly in his second NFL season.
Pat Shurmur knows football.
He has been coaching for 23 years, most notably as the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. Shurmur worked wonders with Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford last season, and Browns president Mike Holmgren hopes he can do the same with Colt McCoy.
He is implementing a West Coast offense, the same type that Holmgren used while coaching the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl in 1998. The offense utilizes short pass patterns and quick passes, which is perfect for McCoy.
The new an offense is tailored to the Browns' strengths on offense, and hopefully Shurmur can put an end to the coaching carousel that has plagued the Browns since 1999.
The Browns struck gold in the 2010 Draft when they selected cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J Ward.
Haden will be the leader of the Browns' secondary for years to come, and demonstrated last season that he has the ability to be a true lock-down corner, snagging 6 interceptions; the fifth most in the NFL.
Ward, on the other hand, is a classic strong safety. He punished all receivers who dared to cross his path last season, wracking up 123 tackles and making quite an impression along the way. His bone-crushing hits terrified opponents and got him $15,000 worth of fines from the NFL.
These two made an immediate impact in 2010, as the Browns ranked 18th in pass defense, allowing 220.7 yards through the air. That was a huge jump from when they ranked 29th in the league in 2009, allowing 244.7 yards without the tandem of Haden and Ward.
With the addition of safety Usama Young, as well as the veteran presence of Sheldon Brown, this secondary looks to only get better in 2011.
In 2010, Ben Watson led the Browns in receptions, with 68, and receiving yards, with 763. Watson only caught 3 touchdowns. Sadly that was tied for the most on the Browns. However, Watson is now sidelined with a hip injury and the the spotlight is now on Evan Moore.
Moore caught only 16 passes last season, but gained 322 yards; an average of 20.1 yards a catch. He had a spectacular training camp, and it appears that he is a favorite target of Colt McCoy. With Watson out, Moore looks to get most of the red-zone targets this season, but it's his explosive big-play ability that truly makes him a dangerous weapon in the passing game.
Moore did a lot with a little last year, and the Browns are hoping that 2011 will be his breakout season now that he is finally in a starting role.