There is little doubt that the Cleveland Browns 2008 season was a disaster. The complete turnover in the front office and the subsequent roster moves are all the evidence that even the casual Browns fan needs to understand that particular point.
As a lifelong Browns fan, I have come to realize the danger of going into any season with high expectations. The last time any Browns fan went into a season with high expectations and came out with a championship was 1964. The last time the Browns saw any success in the playoffs was last century.
So how is 2009 looking after the draft and the subsequent rookie camp?
I don’t want to jinx anything by saying this, but things are looking up.
I was not impressed by the process that brought Head Coach Eric Mangini and General Manager George Kokinis to the headquarters in Berea, Ohio, but actions speak louder than words, and everything the front office has done since draft day speaks to a more professional organization that will make sure their team shows up prepared to play on Sundays in the fall.
Unlike the last regime, which pretty much ran a daycare during training camp, held no one accountable for their actions and then acted surprised when most of the players failed to perform as expected on game day.
After the complete ineptitude of former Head Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Phil Savage the last few years, it won’t take much for this team to exceed my expectations going into 2009.
After going 4-12 last season and losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers for what seems to be the umpteenth time in a row, I have my “successful” season bar set to “just show up and look like you know where the end zone is.”
With that in mind, I want to see the Browns win no less than six games this year with at least one of those wins coming against the hated Steelers. The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl Champions, and one of the gold standards when it comes to successful organizations in the NFL.
So notching one in the win column against Pittsburgh would do Browns fan a world of good.
If Mangini can lead this team to an 8-8 season and beat the Steelers at least once, then he’ll be exceeding my expectations. Even with the turnover in players and staff, this is a team that just wasn’t very good last year in every aspect of the game.
They couldn’t stop the run, they couldn’t find the end zone in far too many games last year, and they committed way too many penalties. If I wasn’t already bald, I would’ve torn my hair out every game last year.
The Browns finished the year ranked 31st in overall offense, according to NFL.com, scoring an average of 14.5 points per game. To heap on the embarrassment, the Browns only scored one touchdown in the last four games of the season.
The last two games of the year, versus Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both ended with shutouts. So if you’re looking for areas of improvement this year, the offense really has nowhere to go but up.
The obstacles facing the team are the same ones the Browns had last year. They still haven’t decided on a quarterback and the defense doesn’t inspire fear in opposing teams. The current regime can’t prove anything has changed until it takes the field for game one in September.
The fact that Mangini has declared an open quarterback competition soured me on his decision-making process as I’d seen enough of quarterback Derek Anderson in 2007-08 to last me a lifetime.
Anderson has a gun for an arm, but he has no idea where that ball is going to land once it comes down. He also gets happy feet in the pocket when under pressure and tends to make bad decisions while scrambling.
On the other hand, what little I saw of Brady Quinn was encouraging. The offensive line committed far fewer false starts when Quinn was under center, his passes were on target, for the most part, and he kept his head on his shoulders when the defense came charging through the tattered remnants of our offensive line.
Those factors are all I need to make my decision going into camp, and it would be up to Derek Anderson to take the job from Quinn.
Who will the eventual starting quarterback have to throw to? That’s the next obstacle to overcome in the 2009 season.
Braylon Edwards still could be traded before the season starts, and even if he isn’t, he wasn’t exactly known for his ability to hold onto the ball last year. The term “Brick Hands” comes to mind whenever I think of Edwards. Combine his drops with his diva attitude, and I’d rather take my chances on some rookies than rely on Brick Hands.
Donte Stallworth most likely has played his last game in the NFL and Joe Jureviciuswas released. Along with Brick Hands, the rookies and free agent signings, the Browns are returning Syndric Steptoe and Joshua Cribbs to the receiver corps.
Cribbs is one of the most versatile players on the team, and Steptoe isn’t. Steptoe doesn’t have much of a resume other than not completely sucking last year.
With the exception of Shaun Rogers, the defense was pretty much non-existent last year, so anything this coaching staff could do would, presumably, be an improvement over last year. The problem, again, is that the bar is set so low, I’m not sure one year of turnover is going to be enough to strike fear into opposing head coaches.
While the Browns did rank second, behind the Ravens, in interceptions, with 23 for 2008, they were tied with the Bengals at 30th in the NFL for number of sacks with 17. Only the Kansas City Chiefs were worse, with 10 sacks recorded.
As for the offensive line, rookie Alex Mack will, hopefully, help anchor that line along with Joe Thomas, Ryan Tucker, Rex Hadnot and Hank Fraley. While the line wasn’t great last year, the team was 26th in the NFL in rushing yards behind that line, they were decimated by injuries and brought down by poor coaching.
Mangini will bring more competence to the head coaching position and is continuing to implement the 3-4 defense, so the continuity in approach, and the good chance Mangini is more of a leader than Crennel was, raises my hopes a little.
But like all other teams, the true evaluation begins in September with the first game. I can gripe and praise all I want, but the numbers in the win/loss columns will be the true grade of this team.