Maybe it’s new general manager Ray Farmer. Maybe it’s coach Mike Pettine. Maybe it’s the most talked-about quarterback prospect in the league. Maybe it’s all three.
No matter how you shake it, there’s some good vibes surrounding this year’s Cleveland Browns.
What about that gray Josh Gordon suspension cloud looming over the team’s training facility in Berea, you say? It’s a problem. A huge problem. But one player doesn’t make a team. Who was the superstar receiver hawking balls out of the air for the Seahawks last year? There wasn’t.
The Browns have added talent and have more depth across the board—on both sides of the ball. As players get their final weeks of rest before training camp begins in July, this fact is clear: The Browns’ offense is better than it was at this time a year ago.
Even if Manziel doesn’t start, the Browns should be in good shape with Brian Hoyer, who may be the best kept secret in the league.
Hoyer only made it through two games in 2012, but he led the team to a win in a hostile environment (Minnesota) and he beat eventual division champion Cincinnati with some savvy play.
Hoyer’s coming off ACL injury and was limited in OTA’s, but he should be at full health when training camp commences.
Heading into camp, reports indicate Hoyer has a big lead in the quarterback competition, but that doesn’t mean Manziel will be glued to the bench. With Hoyer unable to participate in 11-11 drills, the offense was able to run plays made for Manziel. That led to questions about whether offensive coordinator Kyle Shannahan would draw up plays suited for Manziel.
Often times, splitting time at quarterback rarely works at the pro level. The argument can be made the move disrupts the flow of the game and prohibits the starters from getting into a rhythm. But by getting Manziel involved, the franchise would placate the fan base by getting its star on the field, while the more stable Hoyer remains the starter.
• The Browns ranked 30th out of 32 teams at rushing in the ball in 2013 and that should change this fall.
Newly acquired running back Ben Tate managed to make a name for himself while playing with one of the league’s premier rushers, and brings the one-cut and run style coveted by Shanahan.
Third-round draft-pick Terrance West also figures to see some touches, and according to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, will push Ben Tate for carries. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell is also fighting for a spot on the roster, while the forgotten man, Dion Lewis, has to prove himself to a new set of coaches as he comes back from last year’s broken leg.
• If your lose your best player, you have a problem, and the’s the predicament this team faces. Tight end Jordan Cameron will be counted on to build off a stellar 2013 campaign, but defenses will surely be keying in on the former basketball player.
Cameron’s success will depend on the receiving corps ability to draw the defense’s attention.
Austin and Burleson would also be worthy counterparts at the No. 2 spot if Gordon were across the field.
But one of those players will probably have to take over the No. 1 role, because it appears a suspension is probable, and when a team loses a player of that caliber, there are no replacements. Both Austin and Burlerson have injury concerns, so just getting them on the field for the opener will be a minor victory.
Speedster Travis Benjamin can stretch the field, but he’s returning from an ACL injury. Charles Johnson is also coming off ACL surgery, but has caught the eye of the coaching staff, according to Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto. Fans should be realistic about Johnson, who was a seventh-round draft choice of the Packers. He has potential, but how much can he really help?
• In the trenches, the Browns did themselves a big favor by locking down center Alex Mack. With the former first-rounder secured, Cleveland returns two Pro Bowl lineman to the fold. Mitchell Schwartz has caught the eye of the new regime and should be the starter at right tackle in the team’s new zone-blocking scheme, according to Cleveland.com beat writer Mary Kay Cabbot.
Bottom line: Rookie Joel Bitonio has been highly praised since being drafted by Farmer last May. He’s explosive off the ball and will probably start at right guard. The line should be one the strengths of the team.
How do you think the Browns offense will look once the games finally start?