With the Cavaliers falling short in the NBA play-offs and the Indians’ reverting back to their mid-1980s ineptitude, Cleveland fans are starved for some winning. With the NFL about to kick-off 2009, the Browns don’t look like they are going to change that trend anytime soon but when it comes to this season the Browns can not be judged by their record.
Lacking an identity from the top down since their reincarnations, the Browns’ have been mismanaged by three separate regimes since the Lerner Family was awarded the franchise in 1999. Eric Mangini is the latest to take a chance at rebuilding the once proud franchise after three up an down years at the helm of the New York Jets.
What Mangini lacks in personality and forthrightness he makes up with attention to detail and accountability. The latter is something that has been missing in Cleveland for a long time. While Mangini may or may not be able to generate a wining record in his first year along the shores of Lake Erie how he builds and constructs the team is of much more importance.
Since their return, the Browns have not just played bad football. At times, it would be hard to classify the product on the field as professional football. If Mangini can make the Browns look like a professional football team for 16 weeks, it would be a giant step in the right direction.
Minimal penalties, competent games plans and putting players in a position to succeed are things that have not been seen on the North Coast for the last ten years. These things along with crisp execution and motivation need to be laid as the foundation to establish a consistent winning franchise in the NFL.
While establishing this foundation is key, the wins will not follow quickly in 2009 as the Browns face a serious lack of talent on both sides of the ball. This is why the 2009 campaign can not be judge by the win column. How many players and at what positions are what Mangini’s Browns should be evaluated upon.
ON offense it’s time to turn over the reigns to Brady Quinn and see what he can do. A first round draft pick QB needs at least two seasons to be evaluated properly. Brady Quinn has had 3 games. The likes of Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Heath Shuler have gotten more than that.
No offense to Derek Anderson but we have seen what he is and is not capable of. He may be a serviceable NFL QB but the need to evaluate Quinn is paramount to 2009. Because if neither Quinn nor Anderson is the answer then the Browns have a huge hole they need to fill for 2010 and beyond.
The rest of the offense is young and their development must parallel Quinn’s. A number of question need to be answer that will determine the direction of the franchise for 2009 and beyond.
Can James Davis and Jerome Harrison be a formative duo to supplant Jamal Lewis in 201 if not sooner? How will Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi develop as compliments to Braylon Edwards? Does Edwards fit into Cleveland’s long term plans and can he realize the enormous potential that rests deep inside.
The Browns also need to develop a cohesive offensive line. The offensive line is always more than the sum of its parts. In 2007, moving Ryan Tucker to guard somehow made The Human Parking Cone, Kevin Shaffer, into a serviceable NFL right tackle. Rookie Alex Mack is thrown into the fire at center with Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach anchoring the left side of the line. How this unit gels will undoubtedly affect the development of the offense as a whole.
The defense is an even bigger cause for concern. Shaun Rogers looks to me the only playmaker on that side of the ball in a defense that desperately needs more. The 3-4 defense demands a hard hitting impact player at ILB. D’Qwell Jackson may be a good second ILB but the Browns will need to find and develop a playmaker.
They also lack the pass rush from the OLB position that Kamerion Wimbley provided in 2006 but has been unable to replicate since. With out that pass rush young CBs like Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are left on island more often that not for way longer than a DB should have to cover.
The safety position is also a concern as Abe Elam has looked shaky in pre-season and Brodney Pool suffered yet another concussion that may inevitably cut his career short. A rugged, ball-hawking safety needed to lead the defensive backfield and set the tone across the middle. The Browns have no one ready to fill that role.
So they key for the Browns in 2009 is not how many games they win, but how many players they can develop. Because if they can fill a number of personnel voids internally this year it will minimize the areas that they have to focus on in 2010. If they do not have the players in place to fill some of these needs, or they are incapable of developing them, then the Browns face a much steeper mountain than they already do climb back to respectability.
In a city that is starved for sports related success, the words patience, progress and development are not popular ones. But when it comes to the 2009 Cleveland Browns they are the only ones that can be used to accurately gauge if their campaign is a successful one of not, regardless of what the win column says.