Cleveland Is Feeling Bit More Optimistic
CLEVELAND — Jarvis Landry has heard the horror stories. Since being traded by the Miami Dolphins to the Browns in March, he’s been schooled on the misery, heartache and pain endured during a 0-16 season in Cleveland.
Landry’s sympathetic — to a point.
“I wasn’t part of that,” the three-time Pro Bowl receiver said during training camp. “I didn’t have nothing to do with what happened here. I can’t take that on my back.”
Landry was lucky, because anyone who lived through last season in Cleveland bears permanent scars.
However, thanks to an extreme roster overhaul orchestrated by new general manager John Dorsey, who previously revived the Kansas City Chiefs, there’s reason to think the Browns will not only be better than a year ago — they can’t do any worse — but they’ll contend in the AFC North.
“This team is headed in the right direction, for sure,” said former Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor, another of Cleveland’s talented new additions. “The attitude is right. The energy is right in the locker room. We just have to remain focused throughout the full season and be able to withstand the ups and downs.”
There were no ups last season when the Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions in ignominy as the only teams to whiff on a 16-game schedule. That calamity came after the Browns went 1-15 in coach Hue Jackson’s first season.
Yet despite his 1-31 mark, Jackson survived. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam pardoned him and are giving the fourth coach they’ve had since taking over in 2012, a third season to awaken one of the league’s most storied franchises.
Jackson’s role is more CEO than coach this season after handing off the offense to former Steelers coordinator Todd Haley, who will call plays and try to get the most out of Taylor, a talented receiving group and three-back rotation featuring the versatile Duke Johnson.
The Browns have spent most of the past 20 years looking for a franchise quarterback, and the team feels they’ve found one in Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted No. 1 overall.
Mayfield, though, will begin the season backing up Taylor, who guided the Bills to the playoffs last season but is being viewed — at least for now — by the Browns as a place-holder.
In the meantime, Taylor’s work ethic and positive attitude is influencing teammates who are starting to believe the bad days are behind the Browns.
Linebacker Christian Kirksey predicts Cleveland will make the playoffs.
“When I really feel something, I’m going to say it,” Kirksey said. “I’m confident in these guys. I’m a firm believer in if I put it out there, it begins to exist. I know a lot of people will say, ‘You haven’t won a game, this and that.’ I really believe we’re destined to win a lot of games.”
Here are some things to watch with the Browns this season:
Myles Garrett may be on the verge of superstardom. The second-year defensive end missed four games as a rookie with a severely sprained ankle that never got completely healed. He still finished with seven sacks in 11 games, and the former top pick could double that total this season.
Garrett is quick, explosive and strong. And don’t be fooled that he’s soft-spoken or enjoys writing poems. The dude is nasty.
Make no mistake, Jackson needs to win. He’s been given a pass because of previous mistakes made by the front office during the Browns’ rebuild. Now, Jackson has to show he can develop talent, manage games and produce victories. He’s running out of time. The Haslams have been supportive, but their backing could erode quickly if Cleveland doesn’t show major improvement in the first few weeks.
Supremely talented, sadly troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon is back after missing training camp to work on his health. The former Pro Bowler is out of second chances with the NFL following numerous suspensions, and if the 27-year-old is going to revive his career, it has to start this season.
Gordon’s speed stretches defenses, forcing them to respect the Browns’ deep passing game and creates openings elsewhere on the field. Gordon can make Landry, a three-time Pro Bowler, even more dangerous — and vice versa.
BIG CLEATS TO FILL
Joel Bitonio didn’t want to do it, but the Browns slid the standout guard into Joe Thomas’ old spot at left tackle during camp. Thomas retired following 10 Pro Bowl seasons, leaving the Browns to address a position they didn’t have to worry about for a decade. Bitonio played some tackle at Nevada and while he’s not built like the prototypical end blocker, he’ll hold his own.
Trouble is, by moving Bitonio the Browns may have weakened two spots. Rookie Austin Corbett has replaced Bitonio at left guard.
Turnovers were a major reason for the Browns’ ruinous season. Not only did they commit a league-high 41 (28 interceptions, 13 fumbles), but Cleveland forced just 13 takeaways (seven INTs, six fumbles), the league’s fewest.