September 2, 2019,
How can a team that went 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017 have so much promise, anticipation and yes..even expectations? The easy answer is Baker Mayfield, but when you look at this team it's a whole new look at almost every position and department of the team.
Yes, Baker is everything Cleveland has needed since 1999 as they have sifted through 30 other quarterbacks (not a misprint) trying to find the right piece. Mayfield became the 31st starting quarterback for Cleveland in 20 seasons and brings attitude, toughness and an "all in" approach you always hope your quarterback has. His commitment has been shown on and off the field in less than 2 years and the Browns will need that attitude to rub off on his teammates.
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This is where it gets interesting for the Browns. They've notably added (their Top 5 moves in offseason) Odell Beckham Jr, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Greedy Williams and then named Freddie Kitchens as head coach.
Let's start with coach Kitchens. Some people, whether through sour grapes or something else, have hinted that Kitchens may have not been the offensive mastermind during the Browns' resurrection in the second half of the season in 2018. While none of us outside the locker room and board room can truly say either way, I can tell you as a Browns honk, there was no mystery or confusion about who was calling the offensive shots after Hue Jackson was fired. Former coaches publicly making this claim seemed like a cheap shot and pathetic...and talking heads are gonna be, well, talking heads. Time will certainly tell if hiring virtually an unknown guy to take over a franchise with a ton of upside was a good or bad move, but Baker Mayfield reportedly loves Freddie Kitchens and that can't be a bad thing. Chemistry is just about as important as the X's and O's.
Chemistry in the dictionary has two main meanings. The first is "the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change; and the use of these processes to form new substances."
The second definition is "the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two people."
And oh boy, chemistry issues in pro sports can be complex, especially when you trade for an insanely talented wide receiver who also happens to lash out at kicking nets when he's upset. Yes, Odell can virtually catch every ball that's near him, but does OBJ have his own expectations regarding how many targets he gets? Does he have a number in mind about how many catches, yards and touchdowns he SHOULD get playing with a highly touted, sophomore quarterback who already hears fans wanting to build a statue of him?
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Under normal Cleveland seasons, well the new normal since 1999, we'd all say "this is a no brainer, throw Odell the ball all day." There's just a few problems with this philosophy. First, NFL teams could adjust, double team and more. Secondly, the Browns have talent everywhere including Jarvis Landry who's not exactly the most level headed wide receiver in his own right, when things are going bad. One seemingly small blow up by one of these guys could kill the positive chemistry of this team, it's almost a ticking time bomb.
Then, you have a coach who likes to establish the run and utilize the tight end, and boy do the Browns have exciting pieces to that puzzle. Will the receivers stay engaged as we establish these pieces game by game?
These all sound like trivial, manufactured problems and "having too many weapons" doesn't seem like an issue on the surface. We just have to remember we're dealing with modern day players who know if they don't get "their" numbers, it could effect their next contract so they tend to get a little heated when numbers start dropping. Coach Kitchens' biggest effort will need to be managing these dynamic personalities in the locker room and on the field. Mayfield is known to spread the ball around properly and appears charismatic and so far Odell looks like he's loving the fresh start and has a better attitude, so far.
So as we focus mainly on the offense for this article, we know we have a quarterback and running back (Nick Chubb) who enter their second year with as much hype as any Browns players in the "new era". Chubb, in many ways, is heralded just as much as Baker and here in Northeast Ohio we truly believe we have the next Byner or Mack in our hands.
We have prolific wide recievers and a tight end (David Njoku) who shows tremendous potential. The offensive line ended last year at the top of the league wide grades, allowing only five sacks from Weeks 9-17, and the pressure numbers were staggeringly low. However, they did ship right guard Kevin Zeitler, who was one of the league's best pass protecting guards, to the Giants in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, and are set to replace him with Austin Corbett. The rest of the line remains from last year.
So...this (below) may be the biggest hurdle for this team.....
Yes...the odds. Some of the Browns' best players are young, and the others are eccentric. With expectations comes hype and with hype comes the rabid fans. The Browns picked up a linebacker from Atlanta in 2014 (name is escaping me) that took the field for first time ever in Cleveland to start what was also supposed to be a season full of promise. During the post game interview he was quoted as saying he's never heard a crowd, at an level or stadium, that loud. I can say this because I'm a Browns fan, we're crazy....we're crazy about football and we're crazy about this damn team. What other franchise could still fill the stadium after being moved away, screwed in the expansion draft and then go through 31 quarterbacks? We can...but we bring an aura that people like Baker feasts off of, but others crumble. Will we see crumbling or will they rally? Will they feed off the fans' hunger or choke? It's there for the taking, we're close to something special, but this is the NFL...you have to be ready every game, every play, every practice. The Browns have proved nothing yet, but this is the closest we've been to greatness since 1989.
I'll be one of the crazies at the game Sunday - let's go Brownies let's go!!