Browns building the 2012 season on hope

BY foxsports • June 18, 2012

Disney encourages folks to wish upon a star.
Doing so makes magic happen and dreams come true.
They play that kind of hokey music stuff all day long at Disney parks.
The Cleveland Browns aren’t wishing upon many stars with their 2012 team. In fact, a lot of their hopes are built on hope.
A few are obvious.
The new running back, the new quarterback . . . hopes are high for them. As it should be when players are taken third and 22nd in the NFL Draft. Their talent is evident, and the basis for the hope is real.
But even with Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, at this point the Browns are hoping they come through rather than depending they come through.
Because at this point what is there to depend on other than potential?
With one player, the hope for a strong season almost demands somebody ask: If it’s not Disney, does wishing make it so?
That is with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, a player specifically mentioned by team president Mike Holmgren as a guy who can come through.
“There is no reason to think that he shouldn’t be fine,” Holmgren said. “There is nothing there to tell you this shouldn’t work.”
Holmgren bases that hope on several legitimate factors. Massaquoi was a second-round draft pick who looked good at times as a rookie (34 catches, 624 yards). But in 2010, Massaquoi was on the receiving end of one of James Harrison’s most vicious hits. The Pittsburgh Steeler's brutal shot to Massaquoi’s head gave Massaquoi a concussion and, though he missed only one game, he’s not been the same since.
Last season, he started decently, but got another concussion against Seattle, missed a game, left the next and missed the next. In the season’s final seven games, he caught 13 passes with no touchdowns.
In his three seasons, Massaquoi has 34, 36 and 31 catches.
That hasn’t dimmed Holmgren’s optimism.
“I think he’s ready to have a breakout year,” Holmgren said.
Maybe he will. He could. At 25, he’s still young. But he has to prove he really is past the concussions.
Just like Greg Little has to prove a slimmer physique has improved his hands. That’s another hope, that the receivers don’t drop passes. During minicamp, they did. The Browns hope they don’t during training camp.
The offensive line needed work last season. To shore it up, the team drafted right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Like Richardson and Weeden, Schwartz has given no indication he cannot step in and play.
If he does and if guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao come through, the line could be set for a few years.
But at this point that still starts with ‘if’ . . . because Schwartz has yet to gain any sense of what full speed in the NFL is like.
There is every reason to believe in Schwartz, but it’s still, at this point, a hope.
Defensively the Browns tout their improvement. But how can any team say it’s improved when the other team averages 129 yards per game rushing? Stopping the run is vital for any winning team.
The Browns are hoping to find a player to step in for injured defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who will miss months. His cohort at defensive tackle, Ahtyba Rubin, did not look close to being in good condition at minicamp — unless taking a knee at every break is meaningless.
Sheldon Brown has played good football, and the Browns hope he will do it again. But at 33, the margin for error at cornerback narrows.
The team also hopes Eric Hagg can come through at safety.
All over the field, there are hopes. The team hopes the receivers will make catches, that Weeden will come through, that Richardson will be able to run. It hopes to run the ball better, and stop the run better. It hopes it can replace Taylor, and it hopes that the linebackers play physically like they did in Pittsburgh last season. They hope Brad Childress helps Pat Shurmur and Nolan Cromwell helps Childress, and they hope that the oddities that dogged Shurmur last season were just that, oddities.
About the only things they don’t have to hope for is at kicker and left tackle, where Phil Dawson and Joe Thomas are as dependable as any players in the league.
Not all the hope is unjustified. And every team starts with hopes. But the Browns have hopes all across the field.
It’s what happens when a team struggles. It takes time to acquire the numbers of players to turn “hope” into “depend.” As those players are acquired, it takes a year, two or three to have them grow and jell together.
Yes, if all the hopes pan out, the Browns could be better in 2012.
That would be their Disney story come to life, a veritable "Nemo" swimming up on the shores of Lake Erie.
But it sure is a lot to hope for in one offseason.

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