Fan View: Looking Forward

Jeff Biletnikoff examines the Browns season to come, and the prospect of annoying Steeler fans...

As a fan, it's easy to get caught up in the offseason and then the preseason. As OBR Columnist Joe Brownlee says at the end of each and every one of his great stories, "The season is short. Bark hard."

We've been like forgotten dog left out in the rain for years making only a small whimper each time the door cracks with the awful state of the Browns since their return.

10-6? We had been getting the rotted generic brand of dog food thrown at us for years and now someone left a perfectly good steak in our bowl?

(Ok, missing the playoffs was like finding out the steak was overcooked and tough....but steak is steak).

It's not hard to understand why arguably the greatest fan base in professional sports has been lapping up each and every piece of Browns news this offseason and preseason and dissecting each and every tidbit.

Of course, those that cover the Browns for a living are more than willing to provide us each and every story we read because...........we read them!

Duh, right?

You could throw 100 stories at us an hour and it still wouldn't be enough.

So, it's not surprising that with the current information overload and extreme hunger to be part of the legitimate playoff contenders of the NFL that we would blow some things out of proportion and gloss over other stuff.

Wins in the offseason don't mean anything in the regular season. Just ask Dan Snyder.

Looking good in the preseason doesn't mean anything in the regular season. Ask Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb who absolutely lit it up against Green Bay in the preseason.

Remember when we thought back then that we had an embarrassment of riches at the QB position only to find out that the teams playing Cleveland in the regular season refused to use the vanilla schemes of the preseason opponents?

How did it work out for Tim and Kelly during that campaign?

Having said all that, I'm worried about the Browns. Not because of how they looked in the preseason or what they did in the offseason.

I'm worried about their chances because they've proven nothing yet and still have a long way to go, in spite of last year's success.

Let's take a look at their individual positions/units.

QB: Very unsettled. You wouldn't expect that when you have a guy coming off a pro bowl year like Derek Anderson is but defenses started figuring him out towards the end of last year and he has to step up his game to counter what they learned about him. Remember, the jury is still out on Anderson. He has potential but the best QB in the AFC North is still in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh is the team Cleveland has to beat to reach the postseason. Behind Anderson you have an unproven 2nd year player (Quinn) and a journeyman (Dorsey).

RB: Jamal Lewis is a pro bowl caliber back but behind him you have nothing but unproven guys. Wright and Harrison could surprise but until they do it during a regular season campaign then you can't really tell. Also, the argument I hear in some quarters that Cleveland needs RB depth to go somewhere is both true and false. Yes, they can't afford to lose Jamal Lewis because he is one of their stars but that applies to a lot of other teams. For Phil Savage to continually get questioned for not signing other guys behind Lewis is to me, a weak argument. First of all, how many guys like Jamal Lewis are out there that you can plug on your bench? Guys that you can fit in under the salary cap to put on your bench in case something happens to your starter? Teams don't have the $ or roster spots to just store a stable of elite backs. Face it; there are a lot of teams that are in trouble if their starting RB goes down.

WR: Strong with Edwards but shaky beyond him. The strength of the Browns has turned into somewhat of a weakness unless Donte' Stallworth shows up like he never has in his career and the Browns get some production out of the #3 WR spot (no, 8 catches like Tim Carter had out of the #3 hole last year is not acceptable for the Browns to take the next step).

TE: I take the WR woes with somewhat of a grain of salt due to the presence of Winslow. Again, not much behind him but then again, how many Winslow's are out there? Where is SD without Gates? Dallas without Witten? The list goes on. The presence of Kellen Winslow, Jr. shores up a shaky WR position but if he goes down, watch out! I don't know who outside of Edwards has the ability to consistently force opposing D-coordinators to plan for him.

OL: I am concerned about depth at T and an unsettled situation at RG with the Hadnot/Tucker injuries and the overall health of Seth McKinney (who never seems to complete an entire campaign). This is the rock of the Browns. A great offensive line can make up for a lot of deficiencies. Just ask Steve McNair how he did when he lost the great Bruce Matthews from the Tennessee line a couple years back.

DL: As long as we're talking about lines, the D. line looks to be improved on paper but the only consistent performer in the group is Corey Williams. Shaun Rogers is a beast but has a tendency to disappear in games. The 2 Smith's are nothing but role players (Robaire and Shaun). Corey Williams staying consistent and Shaun Rogers deciding to play an entire 16 games at a high level will make or break this group. Guys stepping up behind these 4 will be key too. If the Browns can't establish some kind of rotation to spell the 2 Smiths, Rogers and Williams they could wear down later in the year.

LB/CB/S: Lumping these 3 in together. Just as a great O. line can make up for deficiencies, a great D. line can do the same. CB depth is atrocious. There isn't a lot at S beyond Pool and Jones. The LB's haven't proven anything (outside of Wimbley's monster 2006). To be fair, without a push up front, you can't really judge these guys. If you're a LB that's consistently got a 300 pound G in your face, you aren't stopping many RB's. If the QB has 7 seconds to scan the field, you aren't going to cover very effectively as a DB. The point is if the guys up front can control the run and generate a pass rush, the LB's and DB's will be effective. If they can't................well, you've seen the results since 1999.

Special Teams: Good at K, hoping P will return to form. Cribbs injury and how he comes back could determine how the Browns do in 2-3 close games that could be the difference between sitting at home or going to the postseason.

This is my least favorite part of a season preview article because now I'm asked to make a prediction.

Anyone of us see the Giants coming? Who could have figured that Tom Coughlin would be meeting the President of the US? I figured him to meet the President of a University, trying to get a college coaching job.

Having said, that my best guess for the Browns this year is 8-8 and missing the playoffs.

It's between the Browns and Steelers for the division title.

Baltimore is a mess at QB and aging on D.

Cincy is just a mess.

I'm seriously dinging the Steelers for losing LG Alan Faneca to the Jets. You don't lose a future hall of famer on your O. line and expect to go very far.

But they will have enough to beat the Browns again this year. They'll get mauled later in the playoffs where your weaknesses are magnified, but they will get to the postseason.

The X factor is Big Ben. Outside of Manning and Brady, the Steelers have the best QB in football.

Combine that with just enough left over from their SB run, they'll have enough to take the division again this year.

I feel Cleveland is on the rise and Savage has set them up to be an elite team at some point. Just not in 2008. Not until they get consistent QB play and shore up some of their WR and defensive issues.

I hope I'm wrong because I can't endure another season of Steeler fair weather fans screaming about their team's superiority over the Browns.

Please, let me be wrong about this.


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