REPORT CARD ENTERING REGULAR SEASON
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus: The receivers remain a large question mark, and if the Browns' fans are going to be honest, so does Colt McCoy. The Browns shrug off concerns about the receivers, saying people will see why they believe in them. In preseason, the wideouts played decently -- and rookie Greg Little improved every week. But the receivers have to prove themselves in the regular season, and none have blazing speed. McCoy is entering his second season as the starter after finishing 2010 as the rookie starter by default. McCoy has handled himself well and done a lot right. He seems to understand the new offense, and his teammates believe in him. The thing he and his receivers have to do is go out and prove the faith is justified.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus: A unit that starts with Peyton Hillis should be good, but the Browns have issues on the offensive line. Until those are sorted out, it's tough to believe completely in the running game. Hillis' punishing style nearly obscured what could be the quickest set of feet on a big man since Jerome Bettis. The guy can play. Problem is, the line could have two new players -- at left guard and right tackle -- for the opener. That's not the way to build early cohesion. The Browns have the ability to run the ball; they have to show they can.
PASS DEFENSE: C: Cornerback Sheldon Brown is solid, and Joe Haden could be a rising star. But the safety tandem that will come from Mike Adams, Usama Young and T.J. Ward barely played together in the preseason. Ward and Young, a free agent signee from New Orleans, both missed significant time with hamstring injuries. That allowed Adams to step in, but Adams' best role seems as a versatile backup in nickel and dime defenses. Whatever the pair is, getting the two to play together in the back end will be vital. One thing that will help the pass defense: Rob Ryan and his blitz-at-all-cost approach is gone, replaced by a more conservative approach from Dick Jauron. Jauron will take less chances, which should expose his secondary to fewer dangerous situations that result in big plays.
RUSH DEFENSE: D: The Browns feel like the addition of first-round pick Phil Taylor and the change in defensive schemes from a three-four to a four-three will benefit the defense. They best hope it does, because the Browns make not stopping the run an annual event. Dick Jauron's scheme calls for defensive line penetration to disrupt the offense and allow linebackers to run and make plays. The one benefit for a player like MLB D'Qwell Jackson is he doesn't have to sit and wait, he can read and attack. The big problem is the Browns have two light and inexperienced defensive ends in rookie Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell, and very little defensive line depth. Asking guys like Taylor to play every down on all series could lead to fatigue, which could sap the energy needed to play this kind of defense all game long.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B: The Browns have one of the best kickers in the league in Phil Dawson and one of the best returners in the league in Josh Cribbs. Their punter -- Richmond McGee -- has talent but lacks experience. That group could be solid, provided McGee comes through. Last year the Browns had some of the best coverage units in the league. Those units will be affected by the change in personnel, but there's no reason to think any dropoff will be massive.
COACHING: B: Pat Shurmur is a first-year head coach also serving as his own offensive coordinator. That seems like a lot to handle, until you spend time with Shurmur. He has a relaxed approach his players seem to like. He handles things logically and directly. Rookie cornerback James Dockery was flagged for penalties in the final preseason game, but they were questionable. Shurmur addressed it by saying he liked how Dockery played with aggressiveness. When rookie receiver Greg Little punted the ball into the stands after scoring his first touchdown, Shurmur called Little over and calmly told him his actions tarnished a good play and he didn't expect it again. Little responded. Demeanor does not win games, but it does help a team coalesce as it enters the season. Shurmur gets good marks for how he handled things in camp. Now he has to prove himself on the sidelines in areas like clock management and strategy. Those will be far more important factors in determining whether his first year is a success.