Every year there’s a team that gets zero respect from many in the national media. Last year it was the Cincinnati Bengals, who many thought could win a game with their rookie quarterback. Of course the Bengals went on to make the playoffs.
That’s the NFL these days. Things change so much from year to year that many preseason predictions end up looking foolish. This year the team getting little respect is based in Cleveland, as many NFL gurus seem to be weighing the last 12 years of futility more than what’s really going on in Cleveland.
Of course there are many questions surrounding the Browns, and they may end up as a very bad team this year, mostly because the team is very young, with rookies expected to start at quarterback, running back, right tackle and possibly wide receiver. We can all expect some growing pains.
But last year the defense was much better, led by the improbably resurgence of D’Qwell Jackson. Jackson had missed two years in a row from 2009-2010 as a result of tearing each of his pectoral muscles in consecutive years. many doubted he would ever play again, let alone return as a top player at his position. But Jackson defied all the odds, and he flourished under the new 4-3 scheme implemented in Cleveland under the new regime last season. Jackson is a tackling machine and he helped the young defense post solid numbers, keeping the Browns in many ballgames despite one of the worst offenses in franchise history.
Jackson will be counted on again, and naturally he needs to stay healthy. But the Browns are young and talented on defense, so that side of the ball should be fine if they stay healthy.
It’s the offense that has some around the NFL predicting a long season for the Browns, but here they seem to be counting on a worse-case scenario. Sure, Brandon Weeden will be a 29-year-old rookie playing quarterback, and he may have some serious growing pains. But he has an amazing arm, and even if he struggles he should be a significant upgrade over Colt McCoy.
Trent Richardson is a rookie at tailback, but talented rookies often excel carrying the football, and a back like TRich can completely transform an offense.
As mentioned above, the Browns may also have rookies at right guard and wide receiver, but in 2nd round picks Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon (supplemental draft), the Browns have added serious talent to positions of need.
The upside for this offense is significant. If Richardson reaches his potential, every defense will now need to respect the Browns running game, yet they also have to contend with Weeden’s strong arm. When you consider the young defense led by Jackson and the revamped offense, the Browns are one of those teams where it’s dangerous to predict an outcome for 2012, as anything is possible.