The Cleveland Browns first training camp practice open to fans is Saturday, July 28. Finally, after months of rehashing another losing season and debating possible free agency signees and draft picks, the attention turns to the 2012 season.
As evident by the discussion on theOBR forums, there are plenty of areas to discuss about a young Browns team full of potential. The staff at theOBR zeroed in on five questions relevant to this year's squad:
1. Are you happy with the job Tom Heckert has done since becoming GM in January 2010? Read the guys' takes here.
2. Which area of this team do you think is the most improved since the end of the 2011 season, and which area needs the most work entering 2012?
3. What will you be looking for in the first few weeks of camp leading into the Browns' preseason opener Friday, Aug. 10 at Detroit?
4. Last season, the Browns defense allowed an NFL fifth-best 19.2 points per game. Yet they were third-worst against the run allowing 147.4 yards per game. Well, are you glass-half full with this defense or is it just more of the same?
5. Is it too simplistic to say that the only way to win in today's NFL is to have a top-tier quarterback? Will Brandon Weeden be that guy or is it more likely he'll join the long list of never-have-beens?
Join the fellas by providing your take in the comments below.
Next up, question No. 2.
Which area of this team do you think is the most improved since the end of the 2011 season, and which area needs the most work entering 2012?
The obvious answer here is running back, since Trent Richardson represents the highest potential back the team has had since their return. Adding Brandon Jackson back after injury is an oft-overlooked improvement as well.
After Peyton Hillis' post-Madden flare-out, the Browns backfield was badly in need of rebuilding, and the team has effectively done that this off-season.
Clearly, the opposite number is at wide receiver, where the mix of youngsters could be volatile, but is untested in the extreme. The situation at wide receiver will be fascinating to watch during the 2012 season.
The offense as a whole has to be considered an area where the organization focused on adding difference-makers and overall skill.
In adding promising talent at RB, QB, RT and WR, the Browns sought and addressed in bodies, the significant weaknesses within the player roster on the offensive side of the ball. Whether the amassed talent can step-in and quickly develop is the unknown, but there is little doubt from the onset, the offense has improved its overall speed, quickness and ability to throw the ball downfield.
The selection of RT Mitchell Schwartz is expected to solidify and offensive line a season ago that struggled along the rightside. A year of playing experience under the belts of LG Jason Pinkston and RG Shawn Lauvao should expedite the strength of the offensive line.
Entering 2012, the Browns need the youth at the skill positions to develop quickly, if this team is going to be competitive. WR Greg Little enters his second season, while rookie WR's Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper will each get an opportunity to flourish.
If Weeden can manage the offense and Richardson can move the chains as the organization anticipates, the 2012 season should be one of improvement for the Browns.
The most improved part of the team is the running back position since the drafting of Trent Richardson. He will give the Browns a threat they haven't had since 2010 when Peyton Hillis was the focal point of the offense.
Even with the additions of Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon, the receiving corps is the biggest area of question. The returning receivers need to show the brain trust was right in placing their faith in their improvement.
It's hard to consider an area of weakness improved based on the projected contributions of a rookie. Yet, the Browns could see dramatic improvements along their offensive line and at both running back and quarterback. Obviously, the keys to a dormant 2011 offense improving lie with the rapid advances that Weeden and Richardson can make this summer and fall.
However, the area that should clearly improve is the team's offensive line. The line boasts four returning starters, featuring All-Pro Joe Thomas – who quietly improved in 2011. Center Alex Mack is never spectacular, but is ridiculously consistent and the hope is that both Pinkston and Lauvao progress from last year. Pinkston in particular could have a breakout year – especially after surviving a torturous rookie season. Ideally, Lauvao – who shows perhaps the nastiest demeanor of a Browns' O Lineman since Ryan Tucker – cuts back on penalties and serves as a junction for rookie Schwartz.
Schwartz ideally represents the biggest indicator of improvement. The Cal rookie fills a hole that has been open since the days of L.J. Shelton. The revolving door at right tackle has continually caved in the Browns' horizontal rushing game and crushed many quarterbacks. If Schwartz can prove even remotely capable of securing the line's right side, the offense should see instant rewards.
We've witnessed some awful offense in Cleveland since 1999, and last season's effort was among the most awful-ist. That may not be a word, but it's hard to accurately describe how bad the offense was last season.
In the offseason, the Browns added skill players at key positions. From a purely on-paper standpoint, the Browns upgraded at quarterback, running back and wide receiver – in other words, "the skill positions."
Sure, the Browns are banking on rookies to perform in those key positions. Yet it is also refreshing the team has potential for playmakers in those key positions. The Browns simply didn't have that last season. It won't take much to see vast improvement from the Browns' skill positions.
While the search for a quarterback and playmakers has been well documented, the Browns' inability to stop an opponents running game continues to plague this team. Did they do enough to address that weakness in the offseason? Two of the Browns key free agent signings came long the defensive line, but the loss of Phil Taylor to a torn pectoral muscle puts that unit in dire need of improving quickly.