Who predicted rookie Cam Newton would play like a veteran for the Panthers last season? Did anybody think 2008 first round selected running back, Chris Johnson, could help the Titans tack six wins onto their previous season record to win their division? Not to mention the doubters that the 2007 Giants would go on to win a Super Bowl.
Teams and players come out of nowhere, and this year it will be the Browns, as led by Brandon Weeden, who will do big things.*
*(And let me clarify, by "big things" I mean they'll make the playoffs after a 10-year hiatus from the post-season. I'm going to stop short of predicting a Browns championship. Sorry, Cleveland.)
Naysayers will point to an incoming starter who's a senior citizen by NFL standards, but I look at Weeden as a 28-year-old QB with minimal wear and tear and tremendous upside. He comes into Browns camp with only a single (yet extremely impressive) full year on the gridiron. He's got size at 6'5", tremendous arm strength, and strong awareness in the pocket.
And he's strategic. Weeden is among the most prepared to step into a starting role (scoring a 27 on his Wonderlic) of any QB in the draft. He's now been a top pick in two different pro leagues (in 2002 he was selected in the second round by the Yankees), and while at Oklahoma State, ran an NFL-style spread offense en route to Fiesta Bowl championship.
Accompanying Weeden is rookie running back and former 1st team all-American, Trent Richardson. Like Weeden, Richardson will immediately step into a starting role and will take a lot of pressure off of him by helping to establish a formidable running game. In 614 touches at Alabama, Richardson lost just one fumble and won the Doak Walker Award as 2011's top running back. The two can also work together to create a comfortable flow for the offense by optimizing the dump-off pass in the flat and setting up screens.
The Browns, in addition to Richardson, have the offensive elements to complement a capable signal caller. People knocked the receiving core as ineffective but, plain and simple, Colt McCoy couldn't make the throws when he was under center. McCoy had the worst average yardage per pass at 5.90 last year, and I don't believe the Browns ever intended him to enter camp as the #1 starter.
Weeden, on the other hand, has the ability to place the ball where his receivers need it. Just ask Justin Blackmon.
And speaking of Blackmon, Weeden has compared his former All-American receiver to current Browns receiver, Greg Little. "There are a lot of similarities [between Greg Little and Justin Blackmon]. They are big body guys, big hands and strong. You can tell when Greg catches it he's strong with the football and that's the way that Justin was. He's going to be a fun guy to throw to.”
After leading the team in receiving yards as a rookie last season, Little could very well develop into an out-of-nowhere elite target to play alongside Josh Cribbs. Additionally, the rumor that Plaxico Burres might join the Browns' receiving corps picked up steam after he visited Cleveland back in May.
If things fall into place for the wide receivers, also look for TE Benjamin Watson's production to improve. He started last season strong by racking up 2 TDs and over 170 total yards in the first four games of the 2011 season. But he didn't score after Week 6 and accumulated only 237 more yards in 12 games, having drawn the attention of double teams. Watson, a 9-year veteran, still has the gas in the tank needed to be an effective target across the middle and in the end zone.
The Browns' ability to mesh offensively will also depend on how new offensive coordinator Brad Childress brings everything together.
The Browns' ability to mesh offensively will also depend on how new offensive coordinator Brad Childress brings everything together. "[Coach Childress] is always coaching and giving ideas. If he sees something, he is the first person there to tell you. He has been great so far. He has been a great resource. Whenever he tells me something, I try to be a sponge," said Weeden. Childress is no stranger to creating the kind of aerial offenses that will suit Weeden well. In Minnesota, Childress guided a Vikings' offense and that centered around a gun-slinging, yet somewhat immobile QB in Brett Favre and a rising star running back with Adrian Peterson.
Defensively, the Browns were weak in defending against the run, but that's in large part due to the offense’s inability stay on the field. More scoring by a revamped Browns' offense means more rest for the D and better overall play.
Experts criticized the Browns for selecting two defensive tackles (John Hughes and Billy Winn) in the draft, but that depth will be crucial in surviving until Phil Taylor can return. They'll still be able to learn from veteran DT Ahtyba Rubin and how he racked up 83 tackles last year. The Browns struggled defending the run (30th in the league), and a fresh crop of defensive tackles will address that need.
Safety Usama Young is coming off a breakout 70-tackle season which helped anchor a Cleveland team that was second in the league in defending against the pass and top ten overall in total defense. Additionally, veteran D'Qwell Jackson was second in the league in total tackles with 158.
Based on their bright spots in 2011, and with a little extra rest in between possessions, this Browns team has the potential to put a very potent offense on the field in 2012.
Now with enough talent for the Browns to make a splash, the question becomes whether they can get past their foes in the AFC North. Last season, the Browns were the lone team not to make the playoffs out of their division. This season, however, the Ravens and Steelers are vulnerable.
The Ravens will be without Terrell Suggs for the year due to a rumored basketball injury. Ray Lewis (37 years old) and Ed Reed have shown signs of age. Without a shutdown defense, this will be the Ravens' first season where the pressure is truly on Joe Flacco to lead. The Ravens' 2012 schedule features a .523 winning percentage among their opponents. Damian Berry, formally an un-drafted free agent, has been taking the majority of first-team carries at running back with Ray Rice sitting out with a contract dispute.
As a team, the Ravens will stumble through the 2012 season in a hangover from 2011's heartbreaking loss in the AFC championship.
The Steelers have problems too. Ben Rothlisberger's age, durability, and judgment may contribute to his worst season on record. Rothlisberger will also be without receiver Hines Ward (retirement) and possibly Mike Wallace (contract disputes). There will also be some major adjustments to make under new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, who doesn't seem to be on the same page as his QB.
The biggest challenge will come from the Bengals. Cincinnati put together a tremendous offseason and could very well run away with the AFC North. The Browns don't have to (and won't) win the AFC North to make the postseason, but they have to win at least five out of eight games within their division, and the bulk of those wins will come against the Steelers and the Ravens.
2012 won't be part of a multi-year rebuilding project. It will be a playoff year as the Browns, along with the AFC North champion Bengals, will be representing the division in the playoffs.
People can doubt Weeden all they want, but if you know the player I saw in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, one thing is for certain: he's a special player who can air it out. If the Browns can find ways to create targets for Weeden, open up the running game, and build on a promising 2011 defensive showing, look for them to be painting a 2012 NFL playoff logo on their field come January.
Fan Hub Action
Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
best player ever…..
Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
We don’t need to be hopeless about the situation bryant his. Because even david villa situation also up to the level of his own to…
Maritess Lim April 28th
I still believe in KOBE’s power…… He is still the best…… He will make it possible no matter what……
mimi_aragon84 April 28th
I feel no pity for him. First of all, it is EAGLE, COLORADO, not Eagleton, secondly he enjoyed success and adulation from fans from 2003…
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