BEREA, Ohio—As the players packed up their belongings to head into another off-season without the playoffs, several of the players said they think the team is heading in the right direction despite finishing 4-12, a game worse than 2010.
"We're very close," Sheldon Brown said. "We were one or two plays in each game away (from winning). We just have to understand the sense of urgency."
Brown said it wasn't just something he was saying when told that most teams could say the same thing.
"I really believe that," Brown said. "I've been on teams where we started 0-4 or 1-3 and then ran off eight wins in a row.
"I didn't say that last year (at this time)," he said. "I thought we were a long ways away. I think we're really on the right way."
Brown thinks the defense is really on the verge of excelling as they finished 10th in the NFL.
"The foundation is in place," he said. We have some young guys that experienced growing pains, but we have some good, young players."
Phil Taylor agreed.
"We'll be a lot better next year," Taylor said. "There were a lot of things that I took in and learned this year that will pay off next year."
Rookie Eric Hagg said Pat Shurmur's message was simple.
"We just have to stay the course," Hagg said.
On the offensive side of the ball, players felt the same despite finishing 29th in offense in the NFL. They averaged just 13.6 points a game.
"I definitely feel positive things are getting better," Shawn Lauvao said.
Montario Hardesty said it starts with the players.
"We have to find a way to get better both individually and as a team," Hardesty said.
Phil Dawson says the players have to look at themselves realistically.
"We were 4-12," Dawson said. "That's unacceptable. Every game has its challenges, but at the end of the day, you are what your record is."
Dawson said coming close doesn't cut it.
"We were in a lot of games, death by inches, I call it," Dawson said. "Everyone has to look at themselves critically and see what they can do better. I know (kicking the ball) if I'm off by an inch I miss the kick.
"It's too easy to say a lot of things, but it comes down to getting the job done."
Hardesty Positive: RB Montario Hardesty is confident he can return in 2012 healthy and productive.
"I'm very confident that's what I'm going to do," he said. "It will help to have an off-season and I want to be as normal as I can be."
Hardesty was slowed coming off an ACL injury and then strained his calf that held him out of several games. Hardesty finished with 266 yards and no touchdowns and just a 3.0 average. He caught just 14 passes for 122 yards.
"I want to try and get healthy and get ready for next year."
Dawson Uncertain: K Phil Dawson enters the off-season in a similar situation as last year as a free agent. However, the Browns used the franchise tag last year and could do the same thing this year.
Dawson, who will turn 37 on Jan. 23, said he hasn't thought about retiring.
"I'm just getting started."
Dawson said he doesn't know whether the Browns will franchise him again or try to sign him to a longer contract.
"There are so many variables," he said. "I'm going to go home and have a burrito and until the variables become clear, then figure it out."
Dawson's family stayed in Texas this season and he said the family will be involved in what's next.
"It was a tough year, but I have a strong wife," he said. "The boys are old enough to give some input now, so we'll have some good conversations."
Dawson passed K Don Cockroft for second place in all-time scoring for the Browns this season and said he will pass Doug Dieken with 204 games played in a Browns uniform if he returns next season.
"I'll give Diek a plaque or something," Dawson said.
Dieken, who was within earshot, replied "Kickers don't count."
Dawson made 24-of-29 field goal attempts and was 20-of-20 on PATs for a team leading 92 points scored. His seven field goals from 50 plus yards was one short of a record. Dawson kicked a 49-yard field goal in the wind against the Steelers and laughed that he should've moved the ball back a yard.
Hodges Ready: P Reggie Hodges, who missed the entire 2011 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon says he's back to jogging and ahead of schedule.
"I'm right on schedule," Hodges said. "There's no soreness."
Hodges collapsed early in training camp and knew right away."It was something I've done 400 times or more," he said. "I knew right away."
Hodges hopes to be ready to start the off-season program scheduled for April 16.
"That would be the goal," he said. "I would love to be ready by then."
The Numbers: The Browns finished ranked 29th overall in offense in the NFL. They were 28th rushing and 24th in passing. Defensively, the Browns ranked 10th overall, 30th against the rush and second against the pass…RB Peyton Hillis led the Browns in rushing with 587 yards and three touchdowns. His average was 3.6 per carry. He also caught 22 passes for 130 yards…Rookie WR Greg Little led the Browns in receiving with 61 receptions for 709 yards and two touchdowns…Rookie DE Jabaal Sheard led the Browns with 8.5 sacks.