NFL training camps are underway. Up north, Cleveland Browns fans are flocking to watch the team go through drills. The Browns are setting attendance records and don’t even have room to admit everyone who shows up to watch practices.
Is this because the Browns are expected to contend for the Super Bowl this year? Hardly. Most pundits expect that the Browns will be one of the worst teams in the league this season. But the Browns’ faithful are just that — full of faith — and they are hoping that some high-profile draft picks turn the team around.
Last year the Browns were awful. They finished 4-12 and lost every game they played against the other teams in the AFC North. The Browns’ “three-and-out” offense was so putrid it was unwatchable. Their running game was laughable, quarterback Colt McCoy had a dismal year, and the Browns probably had the NFL’s worst receiving corps. The defense was better than the offense (which truly is damning with faint praise) but still gave up lots of yards on the ground. Neither the offense nor the defense had a true NFL-caliber playmaker — someone who would command the attention of opposing coaches and make them change their standard approach to the game.
This year, the Browns hope they got some offensive playmakers by using their high draft choices to select running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weedon, and receiver Josh Gordon. In the NFL, one or two true playmakers can take a moribund offense, energize the returning players, and turn it into a powerhouse. If Richardson runs the ball effectively and add a few breakaways, and Weedon throws with more zip and accuracy than McCoy managed, the Browns could be significantly improved. Whether there is enough improvement to convert an abysmal offense into one that is even decent remains to be seen.
Defensively, the Browns already are struggling with injuries to key players — Phil Taylor and Chris Gocong among them — and it’s not clear that the Browns will be any better against the run this year than last. The real hope for the defense is that the offense will move the ball, allow the defense to get off the field, score some points, and put some pressure on the opposing offense. If that happens, the defense may be in position to force some turnovers. The defense clearly won’t be one of the most feared units in the league, but it could keep the team in games with a bit of help from the offense.
I’m not expecting anything much from the Browns this year, but I don’t think they will be as bad as many experts are forecasting. I’ll watch their games and hope for improvement, secure in the knowledge that things really couldn’t be much worse than last year.