Optimism is abundant as the Brown begin training camp in preparation for the 2008 NFL season. And for good reason.
The Browns, at least on paper, appear to have the ingredients necessary to cook up a winning, championship-type season. There's strength at the skill positions on offense. There's experience and familiarity on the offensive line. There's been an emphasis placed on improving the pass rush and the run defense. And there's a hunger amongst the players, many of whom are eyeing their first trip to the post-season.
But before anyone starts lining up for playoff tickets, I need mention the fact that Cleveland sports fans had an equal amount of optimism in recent months for the city's other two professional sports franchises – the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians.
Let me remind you that the Cavaliers were coming off a trip to the NBA Finals and, with that playoff experience under their belt combined with the player many consider the best in the world, LeBron James, many seemed to think the franchise's first NBA title was right around the corner.
Instead, the 2007-08 season was marred by holdouts and injuries. The team still had enough to make the playoffs … who doesn't in the NBA … but the eventual World Champion Boston Celtics cut short their return trip to the finals.
And then there were the Indians, who last season had come within a game of reaching the World Series for the first time in a decade. With virtually their entire team intact, including two of the best pitchers in all of baseball in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, there was a great deal of optimism that the team would end its 60 year World Championship drought this year.
Unfortunately, injuries, a lack of hitting and a complete blowup by the bullpen, quickly dashed those hopes, thus leading to the Tribe being a "seller" instead a "buyer" prior to the July 31 trade deadline. Gone is Sabathia to the Brewers for four prospects. Other veterans might follow the big southpaw out the door.
You might not believe it, but I'm not trying to rain on the Browns' parade. But history shows us that it might not be a bad idea to pack an umbrella as we begin what many hope and believe will be a trip to the team's first-ever date with the Super Bowl.
I'll go on record right now as predicting there will be stumbling blocks along the way. Already the team has lost veteran wide receiver Joe Jurevicius for an unknown amount of time due to a knee injury Fortunately, there seems to be enough depth to cover his loss, but that tends to weaken the overall depth, which also could prove a factor on special teams.
The major area of concern heading into the 2008 season has to be the defensive backfield, in particular the corners where there are major question marks regarding both the starters and the depth. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker might be able to get by with what he has, but if there are a couple of injuries, it could prove to be a major problem.
There will also need to be some getting used to amongst the defensive linemen and linebackers, who must find a way to get a lot more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks this season, not to mention the constant need to do a better job against the run.
And the last thing head coach Romeo Crennel needs is a quarterback controversy. If starter Derek Anderson struggles in the preseason or in the first few games coming out of the gate, you know the fans and media will start clamoring for Brady Quinn.
Crennel can tune out the fans and media. His major concern will have to be what is being said behind those closed locker room, Players will start mumbling amongst themselves about who should start at quarterback. If indeed Anderson has a game or two like he did against Cincinnati late last season when he threw away the team's shot at the playoffs.
I point out all of the above not to try and extinguish the optimism which current exists in Browns Town, but rather to make it clear that the road to the playoffs won't be easy.
This is the very first time there's been any type of pressure on many of these players in the NFL. They have been used to going into the season and individual games as the underdog. And while the Browns certainly have not yet reached the top of the mountain as of yet, there is great pressure that comes from just being mentioned as one of the favorites to make it to the top.
How the players and coaches respond to that pressure could be just as big a factor as injuries in 2008.
Let the journey begin.