Rich's Rant: Definitely, Definitely...

Mr. Passan feels the team can improve on the field this year, if...

p>The Browns will definitely be better on defense this season if . . .

  • They stop the run. It is vital – no, make that critical – that the Browns make certain the opposition averages less than 100 yards a game on the ground. The past three seasons, the Browns have given up more rushing yards than the previous season. That doesn't stop this season and it'll be the same old, same old.

  • Their pass rush produces far more sacks than the meager 28 it produced last season; their secondary picks off far passes more than the paltry 18 it produced last season; the overall defense produces more than the anemic 15 fumble recoveries it recorded last season.

  • Shaun Smith steps right in and becomes a force at nose tackle, tethering Ted Washington to the bench when Orpheus Roye returns. If Smith plays as well as he talks and drastically reduces Washington's playing time, the aforementioned running game improves.

  • Chase Pittman surprises everyone and turns his hell-bent style into a starting job. The rookie defensive end is a little on the light side for the 3-4 alignment, but if effort and desire to succeed are necessary components for success, watch out for this overachiever. He has the one intangible you can't coach: An overwhelming desire to succeed. Hopefully, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will take notice and give him a shot.

  • Antwan Peek's return to the 3-4 scheme after suffering in 4-3 purgatory in Houston last season turns Willie McGinest into a third-down pass-rushing specialist. But he must learn how to play the run better.

  • Kamerion Wimbley blows up the sophomore jinx, as well as opposing offensive linemen.

  • D'Qwell Jackson's added weight and strength enable him to make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He displayed a high football IQ last season. Now it's time to ramp up even more and turn that knowledge into making plays.

  • Leon Williams performs at the same level he displayed at the end of last season filling in for the injured Jackson and supplanting Andra Davis at strong-side inside linebacker, thus making him the first Phil Savage second-day draftee to crack the starting lineup.

  • Rookie Eric Wright plays more like a veteran and teams with Leigh Bodden to give the club the best pair of cornerbacks since Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield. He has quietly moved in as a starter and looks as though he belongs. Forget the first depth chart. He's your starter, Now let us see what he can do in games.

  • Brodney Pool steps up and plays as well in his first season as a starter at free safety as strong safety Sean Jones played in his first season as a starter last season. There are those who are skeptical that Pool doesn't have the veteran savvy that Brian Russell brought the last couple of seasons. Now, we'll find out.

The Browns will definitely be better on offense this season if . . .

  • The light goes on for Braylon Edwards and he becomes one of the elite wide receivers in the National Football League. It would appear, based on early returns, there is clearly some filament activity.

  • Travis Wilson develops some humility, listens intently to position coach Wes Chandler and concentrates on catching the ball. The Browns need for him to beat out Tim Carter and become the No. 2 receiver to Edwards. Otherwise, the club is in trouble at the position.

  • Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has enough discipline to dumb down his complicated schemes in the event his troops stumble out of the gate. Mental mistakes pockmarked the offensive performance early in camp. Chudzinski has to determine whether his skill players are bright enough to handle the multiple movements on nearly every play.

  • Seth McKinney is healthy enough to play right guard on a full-time basis. If he is completely recovered from the neck injury that sidelined him all last season and displays the form that made him one of Miami's most valuable linemen, that changes the dynamic of the entire line. Even with Ryan Tucker out for the first four games, the line will be substantially better.

  • That offensive line slices its sacks-allowed total in half from the 54 it permitted last season.

  • Kevin Shaffer's switch to right tackle is seamless. He shouldn't find it nearly as difficult on that side as he did the left side last season. Perhaps that's where he should have been in 2006.

  • Tucker is able to come back after his four-game suspension and be the Ryan Tucker of old. If that's the case, then Crennel and Chudzinski have one very pleasant problem.

  • They use Kellen Winslow Jr. more as a wide receiver than as a tight end. He's got the size, the speed, the hands, the moves and an indescribable desire to catch the ball. If Wilson fails to become the No. 2 wideout, why not turn Winslow loose? Imagine the mismatches.

  • Derek Anderson is the starting quarterback. He gives them the best chance to win because he's got a much better handle on the passing game than Charlie Frye, who is a mistake waiting to happen. Sure, Anderson makes mistakes. Yes, he is prone to throwing interceptions. Yes, he is not mobile. Yes, he has a tendency to stare down receivers. But there is something about him that shouts "he's your starter."

The Browns will definitely be better on special teams this season if . . .

  • Phil Dawson recovers from a below-average 2006 when he missed an un-Dawson-like eight field goals and returns to the form that made him one of the NFL's most accurate kickers. There is no reason to believe he won't.

  • Joshua Cribbs becomes more fearless fielding punts than he was last season when filling in for Dennis Northcutt. He found out right quick that catching punts with an opponent in your face is a lot different than fielding kickoffs with the opponent at least 15 yards away./p>

  • SSpecial teams coach Ted Daisher doesn't screw up what Jerry Rosburg worked so hard to develop the last few years before bolting to Atlanta during the off-season. Early on, Daisher seems to be somewhat of a loose cannon.

The Browns will definitely be better as a team this season if . . .

  • Romeo Crennel crawls out of that big shell he crawls into during games and coaches to win instead of coaching not to lose.

That's a lot of ifs, but if a majority of them lose their hypothetical label and eventuate, especially on defense, then it's logical to assume 2007 will be a turnaround year for the Browns.

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