With every professional organization, there is some kind of foundation that must be laid. Those that do not, fail.
In sports, this is also true and might even be in a much stronger way.
The Patriots are built around Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, veterans near the end of their contracts and very good coaches.
The Packers don't spend money on free agents, have had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers behind center and are not flashy about what they do.
The Steelers have modeled consistency at the head coaching position, try to build a strong defense and are willing to take some risks.
The Bengals tend to be cheap, only retaining the absolute best players and take risks on character players.
For every team, there are players, coaches, concepts and ideas that lay the foundation for who they are. For good teams, it often seems like a player just perfectly "fits" because of the foundation. Sometimes that is because the player fits the culture and ideals of the organization, sometimes it is because the player fits the coach and sometimes it is because the player fits with and around the foundational players on the team.
The Browns haven't had any of that. The closest they have come is Joe Thomas and the fan base. Thomas has been the anchor at left tackle when everything else around him has come and gone. The fan base has been the same for even longer.
When you talk about the teams noted above, as just a few examples, those are the things thought of very quickly. For the Browns it is the fans, Thomas and then players from the past, if you are looking for the positives. If looking for the negatives, it is all the changes, all the busts and all the jokes.
What about today?
Minicamp just ended and fans are looking forward to Training Camp. Has this regime set a foundation? Is there something that can certainly be said about this team? Or, at least, can we look forward with the expectation of what that foundation will be?
Starting in the Front Office, the Browns have laid the foundation of who they are. They value picks, love to trade, value young players with upside, good character and who produced in college and the Front Office is aggressive in moving toward what they want.
Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta may have to deal with the "analytics" moniker for a long time but they've shown that they have a plan in place and are aggressive in achieving that plan. They have added 24 players via the NFL Draft and plenty more in Undrafted Free Agency. They also have six extra picks in the 2018 NFL Draft having added a 1st, two 2nds, a 4th, a 6th and a 7th.
The coaching staff matches the aggressive nature of the Front Office. While they might be more "old school" football guys than analytics, HC Hue Jackson and DC Gregg Williams have instilled an aggressive mindset within their team. The personalities of the two main coaches is strong and comes out in everything they do. They match, which was a big reason Jackson fired Ray Horton after one season to bring in Williams.
The expectation is that the schemes on the field will match their personalities. Last year's offense was a little too tricky while Jackson dealt with 6 quarterbacks taking snaps, a shuffled/limited offensive line and a ton of young players. This year, with a revamped line, young talent developing and, hopefully, some stability at QB, expect Jackson to open it up.
On defense, there is only so much you can do schematically. When you get aggressive in one area, it opens up another. Williams expects to be aggressive but needs the players to do it. If not, unlike his personality, Williams may need to be more selective with his aggressive approach, much like Jackson was on offense last year.
On the field, the Browns have added all those young players with talent and upside and now need to see them start to produce. Young guys like Emmanuel Ogbah and Danny Shelton started to shine last year. TE Seth DeValve and WR Corey Coleman showed flashes. Young veterans Christian Kirksey, Joel Bitonio and Jamie Collins all have been stellar and all signed new contracts this off-season. Veteran additions on offense, Kenny Britt, Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, are expected to help big time.
The quarterback position is always the main focus. Few QBs look great early but fans seem to want immediate answers there. Even Carson Wentz had a ton of struggles but, since he started off strong, fans are already sold that he is going to be great. Last year, Cody Kessler looked much better than many, including this writer, thought he would. He got banged around, struggled with downfield passing and dropped his eyes toward the rush too much but was accurate and showed signs of upside.
Could Kessler develop into Andy Dalton?
This year, the Browns drafted DeShone Kizer in the 2nd Round after three other teams moved up, giving up quite a bit in draft capital, to pick other QBs. Kizer has all the size, arm, measurables that fans want. He also had a lot of issues at Notre Dame with fundamentals and was not in a system that makes for an easy transition to the pros. As a 2nd rounder, Kizer has little pressure to produce right away but many compare his physical tools to Andrew Luck. Unfortunately, playing QB isn't just about physical tools (Jamarcus Russell would be the best ever if that was true).
Between Kessler and Kizer, the most important position on the field has hope.
Taking a quick peak at the different position on the depth chart shows a team loaded with hope as well. The offensive line is solid to great at 4 positions with the hope of 3rd Rounder Shon Coleman to lock down the 5th.
Britt and Coleman are joined by Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins in a WR group that could excel greatly. DeValve and rookie 1st Rounder David Njoku give fans high hopes of matchup nightmares at tight end while running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson can handle the load at running back.
The defensive front 4 has been greatly upgraded. Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Tyrone Holmes has been joined by Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. That doesn't include veterans Desmond Bryant, Nate Orchard and Xavier Cooper who could all be fighting for roster spots after being considered foundation pieces just a few seasons ago.
At linebacker, Kirksey and Collins will be the only linebackers on the field for about 80% of the time but Williams' system could use rookie Jabrill Peppers, Calvin Pryor or Joe Schobert at times as the third 'backer.
The secondary depends a lot on Joe Haden returning to a steady, quality form. Peppers is expected to anchor the backend while Jamar Taylor is settled in as the nickelback. Can Briean Boddy-Calhoun be a quality #2? Who steps up to start at Free Safety are the team's biggest questions after the quarterback one.
Will it all work? Will the young, promising talent continue to develop? Will any of it matter if Kessler or Kizer doesn't develop into a Top 20 level QB? Will the Front Office or coaching staff be given enough time to see their vision out?
A lot of questions to be answered but for now a foundation is forming: Draft picks, trades, young talent from the Front Office. Aggressiveness from the coaches. Physical freaks with upside who produced in college, with a good mix of young, talented veterans on the field.
That is a foundation we can get behind!