With the bulk of our off-season moves behind us, and the first official mini-camps taking place this week; it's time to officially start looking ahead to the 2005 season. The front office and personnel moves made this spring were encouraging, but for the third time in six years, the team was forced to essentially start from scratch in rebuilding this team.
A quick look at the Browns over/under for wins (five) at any of the major online or Vegas sportsbooks serves as a sobering reminder that the Browns are expected to be one of the worst teams in football this season. Eternal optimists will point to the fact that the 2003 Carolina Panthers and the 2004 San Diego Chargers had similarly low expectations, and both teams shockingly blossomed into Super Bowl contenders' years before anyone felt they had the talent to do so. They will tell you that a team with four to five win talent can win nine games in today's NFL if they avoid injuries, catch some breaks, and are coached well.
I'm probably with the majority of the fans on my expectations for the Browns this year. I think around six wins is likely, and would be elated with eight. But I reserve the right to be happy with a five win season and angry with seven or eight wins … because most of my expectations for this team have nothing to do with record.
I expect a reason to believe
I want to wake up on Sunday mornings, knowing my Browns have a good chance to win as opposed to hoping they don't get embarrassed. Asking for this in September and October may be a bit ambitious, but I'll expect it in November and December, and downright demand it in 2006.
I want the magic to return to the Muni Lot on Sunday mornings. The Browns have only played one truly meaningful home game since returning to the league … the last game of the 2002 season versus Atlanta. There was a buzz before, during, and after that game that I remember to this day. A buzz that makes those 8 AM adult beverages taste even better than they normally do, especially when enjoyed over pre-game conversations of potential playoff opponents. A buzz that makes you want to stay in the stadium well after the game ends, basking in the atmosphere of success that follows a big win. A buzz that makes Monday mornings at work downright enjoyable after wins instead of dreadful after brutal losses.
I expect impact players to emerge
Six seasons, one Pro-Bowler. That says it all.
This organization has been woefully bereft of game-changing impact players since its return to the league, thanks in large part to complete and utter incompetence on draft day. It seems safe to say (based on pedigree) that Braylon Edwards will develop into an impact player, but we were saying the same thing about Kellen Winslow Jr. a year ago at this time. Guys like Lee Suggs, Gary Baxter, Andra Davis, Chaun Thompson, Ben Taylor, Antonio Bryant, and Winslow are all still young and talented enough to evolve into core impact guys.
I expect competence from the offensive line
There's been no shortage of things to get angry about these last six seasons, but the Browns inability to impose their will at the point of attack in short yardage rushing situations has been the most maddening of them all to this fan. Watching our quarterbacks get pummeled every time they drop back to pass ranks a close second.
Hopefully, the long awaited presence of offensive guards that actually are justified of an NFL roster spot will help address this weakness. The Browns were last in the league in rushing touchdowns last year, and have been consistently bullied around in short yardage scenarios since their return. Six rushing touchdowns last year. That's it. There were backs that had five in one game last year. An offensive line is a unit of eight, not five, and the Browns lack of depth up front these past six years has been exposed even further in short yardage sets when a sixth lineman is brought in the game or when inevitable injuries to that unit occur.
I expect more honesty from the organization
There are certainly times where it is in the best interest of the organization to not make certain things public, and I realize that. But hopefully, the days of intentional deceit and a condescending attitude towards the local media are over.
For any people out there that think the Cleveland media is unfairly critical of this team, try spending a week reading the sports page of just about any other city that has three professional teams. The Cleveland media is far from "tough" as compared to its peers.
This is a
football town, and the new front office and coaching staff need to realize that
the smallest items regarding this team are big news to the fans. They also need
to sympathize and understand what fans of this team have been through since that
scumbag Modell snuck out the back door to Baltimore with our team in 1995. I'm
pretty confident that we will see more honesty and candidness from this new
regime, though that theory won't be put to the test fully until they are put
through their first real rough stretch on the field.
I expect less extravagant celebrations on routine plays
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but one of my biggest pet peeves is players making fools of themselves with extravagant first down celebrations after routine catches. On third or fourth down catches in meaningful games it's almost acceptable in today's world, but when guys on a four win team are making asses of themselves down twenty points on routine plays, something is wrong. I expect to see a lot of this wiped out under Crennel, as celebrating the ordinary should never be a common practice for a team of winners.
I expect home wins against Pittsburgh and Baltimore
The Browns have not been a very good home team, and have compiled a 3-9 record at home against their two main rivals over the last six years … many of those defeats coming in an embarrassing fashion. The fans of these vile teams no longer hate the Browns and Browns fans. They feel sorry for us. I want the hate to return. These games should be treated by our staff the way Tressel handles Michigan.
I expect a less sterile feeling at Cleveland Browns Stadium
I've been very vocal over the course of the last three years about the atmosphere at Cleveland Browns Stadium. I was frisked so thoroughly before one game last year, I needed a cigarette afterwards. And this was after waiting in line for thirty minutes. The next day I read a quote from Butch Davis where he was disappointed in the number of fans in their seats at kickoff.
Fans with "Pittsburgh Sucks" t-shirts were forced to turn them inside out. A tattletale phone line was established. Spectators are discouraged from standing up to cheer their team. New logos, uniforms, and lame puppy mascots were created … ignoring history for a couple extra dollars of merchandise revenue.
Attending an NFL football game live in the city of Cleveland is not for everybody, I'm sorry. The rules of engagement at Browns home games should not cater to the fan that is appalled when the fan in front of them stands up on 3rd and four. The fan that has had a couple of beers before the game at a tailgate party should not be made to feel like a criminal for boisterously supporting their team.
Unlike other sports, there are only eight home games a season, and many fans live and die for these eight Sundays, yet continue to be penalized by the wine and cheesers that have come to expect an environment devoid of any of the things that make watching live football one of the greatest experiences known to man.
Don't get me wrong, post-9/11 this is a different world, and additional security requirements are needed … but it can be done in a way that is less insulting to the devoted fans of this franchise that have been forking over beau coup dollars to watch a garbage product since 1999.
I expect steady development with the 3-4
Given the lack of depth in the front seven, another full scale turnover in
the coaching staff, and the switch to a 3-4 base set … this defense may not be
very good to start the season. I'm fine with that.
What I want to see is progress from week to week, and not the wild inconsistency we saw under Butch Davis and Dave Campo, that was magnified when we gave up 58 points to the Bengals the week after holding the Jets to ten points. I'd also like to see the team be a little more creative in finding ways to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks, which I am supremely confident we will see from Crennel, Grantham, and company.
I expect progress to replace inconsistency
Staying with the consistency theme, and wrapping up this piece, I just want to see improvement from week to week.
We may very well be a pretty bad football team when this season starts, and I can live with that given the gutting of this franchise this off-season. I just need to see development as the season progresses. I want to see players learning from mistakes they made in past games, instead of repeating the bone headed errors a week later. I want to be able to, at season's end, pinpoint areas that our players have improved in, which has been an impossible task the past few seasons. I want to see more progress from our young players, and a higher collective football IQ as a football teams.
By seasons end, I want to be genuinely optimistic about this teams chances to win the AFC North in 2006.