The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 5-11. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is poised for a breakout season?
Jordan Cameron is not only my pick for breakout player of the year for the Browns, but for the entire NFL. Cameron has caught just 26 passes for one touchdown in 22 career games in Cleveland so far, but new offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows a thing or two about involving an athletic pass-catching tight end into a game plan. Antonio Gates played for Norv Turner in 86 games between the 2007 and 2012 seasons. During those 86 games, Gates averaged more than four catches and 57 yards per game and that was with a nagging foot injury that has plagued him throughout his career. In two preseason games this year, Cameron has hauled in 4 passes for 2 touchdowns in limited action. As Weeden improves so will Cameron’s statistics, but Norv Turner’s system is just the icing on the cake.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
The stigma of being the Cleveland Browns. The Browns haven’t made the playoffs in the past 10 years and have only finished with one winning record during that time. In the past five years, they are an awful 5-25 against divisional opponents and finished dead last in the AFC North eight times since conference realignment in 2002. In fact, the Browns have finished with a winning record against divisional opponents in 15 consecutive seasons, the longest such streak since 1970. Simply stated, the Browns are losers and winning is the only thing that can reverse that stigma, but they aren’t going to win until they change the culture in the locker room and in the front office. They are finally heading in the right direction, but that is a steep hill to climb.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
In 2012, Trent Richardson was identified as the best running back prospect to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson and while his stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, he lived up to those expectations. Richardson didn’t reach the 1,000–yard plateau and didn’t even average four yards per carry, but he played through numerous injuries, including broken ribs and an ankle sprain, and carried this offense on his shoulders. Without a legitimate passing game, opposing defenses had just one person to focus on stopping. Yet, Richardson was still able to have a very respectable rookie season.
Some have questioned whether the rule change that forbids running backs to dip their head into contact will impact his tough-running nature, but Richardson is more than just a bowling ball. Yes, he will run through you and over you to gain an extra yard, but he is an extremely gifted athlete that has lateral agility and above average speed to complement his physical style. Not to mention, he caught 51 passes last season, just two shy of the team leader.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Cleveland only selected five total players in the 2013 NFL Draft as they were without a second, fourth and fifth round pick, but that is fine as long as they hit on those picks. The Browns have a strong recent history of good first round picks dating back to 2009 when they selected Alex Mack. The center has started every game in his four-year career, while 2010 first-round pick Joe Haden has developed into one of the premier shutdown corners in the entire league. In 2011, it was Phil Taylor who started every game as a rookie and would have started every game last season as well had it not been for a pectoral injury. The Trent Richardson pick needs no justification and as I stated before, the door hasn’t completely shut on Brandon Weeden.
The Browns’ first pick in this year’s class can definitely maintain the tradition, but only if he can recover from a devastating injury. Doctors have considered Barkevious Mingo lucky to be alive after an injury he sustained in the second preseason game that left him spitting up blood and gasping for air. Mingo had suffered a bruised lung and the timetable for his return isn’t clear, but prior to his injury, the sixth overall pick was quickly becoming talked about in league circles as the most impressive rookie in the class thus far.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Of all the offseason coaching questions, the Browns may have come away with the best … and I’m not speaking about Rod Chudzinski. Chud may prove to be an excellent head coach, but he will only be as good as his staff, and he and the Browns’ front office got the two best coordinators on the market this offseason. You may question Norv Turner as a head coach, but his work as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself and many had Ray Horton pegged for a surefire candidate to become nab a head job this offseason. Not only that, Horton comes from the Steelers by way of the Cardinals and understands what it takes to win in the physical AFC North.