STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Over the course of a football season things can change. Players get injured, rookies emerge, veterans show their years. There may not be a team that evolved more as 2009 rolled along than the Browns did. Former Pro Bowl wideout Braylon Edwards was traded to the Jets in Week 5, starting running back Jamal Lewis was injured halfway through the season, and the team never found a consistent presence at quarterback between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
Despite the many adjustments the Browns underwent during the season and their 1-11 start, they managed to put together a four-game win streak to close the campaign. Over the course of that streak, the Browns ran for 900 yards and seven touchdowns on 181 carries, while completing just 31 of 65 passes for 363 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Head coach Eric Mangini, who was new to the team in 2009, was instrumental in the team's newfound dedication to the run. He also received a more cohesive effort from his defense as the season went on, lending notion to the idea that Cleveland's players had begun to buy into his system. After the
trying season was over, the Browns hired Mike Holmgren to be the new team president and he quickly made an impact in the front office by bringing in GM Tom Heckert from Philadelphia just four days after the
announcement of his own hiring. Many thought this would surely spell the end of Mangini's tenure, but Holmgren has decided to keep the coach around for at least another year. While Mangini and Holmgren haven't always seen eye to eye since Holmgren was brought on board, they do seem to be making progress toward their common goal; winning more football games and clawing out of the AFC North cellar.
How do they plan on accomplishing this goal? First of all, the team figures to build off last year and show a much greater commitment to the run than in seasons past. With Jerome Harrison coming off a breakout year, James Davis returning from a season-ending shoulder injury, the acquisition of Peyton Hillis from the Broncos and the drafting of Montario Hardesty, suddenly the Browns have a more than capable backfield. And that's a good thing, with a wideout corps lacking in star power and a transition to QB Jake Delhomme, who is coming off a down season with the Panthers.
Though the Browns don't seem to be an immediate threat in the passing game, there is some hope for the future. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy fell into the team's lap in the third round of April's draft, and we all know how much Holmgren likes a young quarterback project (see: Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck).
Round, Overall, Player
1. (7) Joe Haden, CB, Florida-A playmaker who will provide an immediate boost to an inadequate secondary.
2. (38) T.J. Ward, S, Oregon-Big hitter, but he has some injury concerns.
2. (59) Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee-Seen as a complete and physical back, the Browns plan on giving him plenty of carries in 2010.
3. (92) Shawn Lauvao, G, Arizona State-Played tackle in college, should help the run game.
5. (160) Larry Asante, S, Nebraska-A physical defensive back who figures to see time on special teams.
6. (177) Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida-He has the size and speed, but needs to polish pass-catching skills.
6. (186) Clifton Geathers, DE, South Carolina-More suited to stop the run than rush the passer.
QB CONTROVERSY REMAINS
At this time last year, the Browns had a choice between the strong-armed Derek Anderson or former first-rounder Brady Quinn. Quinn ended up being the Week 1 starter but lost the job to Anderson in Week 4 following some erratic performances. Neither player found a groove, and after the season they both found themselves in new uniforms. The team must now turn to a quarterback corps of veteran Jake Delhomme, career backup Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy. While there is some excitement surrounding McCoy, team president Mike Holmgren has said he doesn't expect the rookie to play a down this season. That leaves Delhomme-coming off a rough 2009-with the starting job and Wallace in a familiar backup role. If Delhomme gets off to a sluggish start, it would be interesting to see who the team would rely on for the remainder of the season. Wallace is the more experienced option, but McCoy is, after all, the franchise's new quarterback of the future.
BROWNS ON THE RUN
The Browns finished the 2009 season on a four-game winning streak thanks in large part to a heavy dose of the ground game. Jerome Harrison exploded, rushing for a total of 434 yards and four touchdowns in the final two games of the season, giving him a season total and career highs of 862 yards and five scores. The Browns also traded up to take Montario Hardesty in the second round of the 2010 draft. At 6-0, 225 pounds, Hardesty is a more punishing back than the nimble 5-9, 205-pound Harrison. Don't sleep on their two young backs-James Davis and Chris Jennings-who will be chomping at the bit to steal carries from Harrison and Hardesty. Combine all of this with the fact they added a quality fullback in Peyton Hillis in the Brady Quinn trade and the Browns seem primed to dedicate themselves to the run in 2010.
WR FORECAST: CLOUDY
This offseason, the Browns had several issues they needed to address. They completely revamped their quarterback corps and beefed up the secondary, but didn't aggressively address their lack of depth and overall talent at the wide receiver position. Mohamed Massaquoi showed a great deal of potential in his 2009 rookie campaign, but with a lack of proven options behind him he'll find it tough to get open. Joshua Cribbs has turned out to be one of Cleveland's most dangerous all-around offensive weapons, but so far his prime value lies in the return game where he's a consistent threat to return any kick back for a touchdown. The jury is still out on wideouts Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey, but the team did at least improve its group of tight ends with the addition of Ben Watson and Alex Smith.
Declining: Jake Delhomme had his starting job stripped from him in 2009 while with Carolina and donít be surprised to see it happen again in 2010.
Sleeper: Montario Hardesty wasnít taken in the second round to sit on the bench.
Supersleeper: Ben Watson has worked with Eric Mangini in the past and could get a lot of looks early on while the Browns adjust to a new quarterback.
D'Qwell Jackson, LB Led the NFL in tackles in 2008 but missed 10 games last season with a shoulder injury.
T.J. Ward, S Hard-hitting safety bolsters a porous secondary.
Shaun Rogers, DT Could miss time stemming from an April incident in which he brought a loaded firearm into an airport.
RotoWire Rank: 16