Its time to expose myself as the blindly loyal, kool-aid drinking homer that I am. I decided to come up with a list of reasons of why we could be hopeful for the upcoming season* :
1) The Offensive Line: Explaining away poor play by quarterbacks and running backs because of sub-par offensive lines has become a tradition in Cleveland Browns football. This looks like the year to kill that tradition. The signings of Eric Steinbach and Seth McKinney to play guards, and Ryan Tucker returning to his spot at right tackle should be enough to show noticeable improvement. The drafting of Joe Thomas could improve the dynamics just as much as those signings both because of the skills he brings to the left tackle position, as well as the flexibility and competition he brings to the rest of the line. With Thomas in there, now Eric Steinbach is probably the only lineman who can feel sure of his starting position. To add some icing to the cake, LeCharles Bentley could be back this season.
Its hard to stress how big of a turn around this is compared to last season. Our backups this season may end up being equal to or better than our starters last season. We may get to see the power rushing attack that we always talk about, as well as an upright quarterback. And, even if we suck this year, we can feel comfortable throwing the skill players under the truck next year, because there won't be that eternal fall back, "Well, if the line had blocked for them. . ."
2) The injury bug: I hate to pull out this excuse, but with the Browns' recent history it cannot be avoided. We have been plagued by obscene injuries the past couple years. Even if we get a little relief, it should go a long ways towards fielding a better team this year than last. Just to remind you, here is what we dealt with last season:
>> Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow were coming off knee injuries. While Winslow probably won't be in much better shape this season due to off-season surgery, Edwards should be back to top form (or what passes for top form for him).
>> LeCharles Bentley, the highest ranked free agent during the 2006 offseason, doesn't even survive one practice with the Browns. Our best offensive lineman (behind Bentley), Ryan Tucker, was out for half the season, and even when he did play probably was seeing effects from his undisclosed mental illness
>> Gary Baxter played in 3 games before going down with a horrific injury. Daylon McCutcheon missed the entire season. Leigh Bodden missed 7 games with injuries.
>> Our best Defensive lineman, Orpheus Roye, was out 4 games and was limited for even more.
>> Other guys who missed noticeable chunks of time: Joe Jurevicius, Brian Russell, Joe Andruzzi, Andra Davis, Willie McGinest, Dennis Northcutt, Charlie Frye.
3) Defensive Secondary: What I called a strength going into last season ended up being a huge liability, with the aforementioned injuries keeping us from fielding a consistent, competent secondary core. Those injuries hurt alot, and not only kept us from shutting down passing games but also hurt ability to generate a pass rush. Bodden is a sure thing if he can stay healthy. Eric Wright sounds like he can be starting material. Kenny Wright is even an upgrade over Ralph Brown. This unit should be stronger, and have a little more depth than last year. And if Gary Baxter can return from his injury, and if he can return to his previous caliber of play (two big Ifs) he could turn this unit into a genuine team strength.
On top of that, Brodney Pool replacing Brian Russell could be a noticeable improvement at safety. Pool's spot duty at safety, as well as his starts at corner (covering Keyshawn Johnson, no less) showed that he has alot of potential. If he proves Phil Savage's projections correct, he will be a monster. Pairing him up next to Sean Jones could be dynamite.
4) Maturity: Its easy to forget, but Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel started this rebuilding project just two years ago. We are going into year three of the 3-4 defense. Our roster has been almost totally made-over, including alot of rookies playing big roles. Another year of maturity should show some dividends for Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson, Leon Williams, Sean Jones, Brodney Pool, Charle Frye or Derek Anderson, Lawrence Vickers, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and all our other low draft/undrafted guys who have shown some potential.
5) Offensive Co-ordinator: Given the reports coming out of practices of the offense being totally out of kilter, some may think I am crazy to call Chud's new offense a sign of hope. But compare it to last year: Mo Carthon and his fullback-based offense looked so pathetic through the beginning of the season that he was tossed mid-season and Jeff Davidson was given a chance to use Carthon's playbook, to similarly poor results. Not that Chud has proven himself as a coordinator, but he has the pedigree to succeed. Even if he's only mediocre, he will be a step up from Carthon. If he can successfully bring in the Norv Turner/Cam Cameron offensive success that San Diego has had for the past few years, well thats probably too much to hope for.
6) Jamal Lewis at 80% strength is at least no worse than Reuben Droughns at full strength. Jamal Lewis at full strength could be a sight to behold.
* Hopeful for WHAT is another post