Half of the 2009 season is in the books and the results have not been great. A midyear bye week is a great time to stop and evaluate what has transpired thus far. So what has transpired exactly? Well, ughlglh… oops, threw up in my mouth there a little. You know what? Why don't we skip the evaluation of the first half.
Instead of triggering my gag reflex, I have decided to earn my title, and stick to the positive. Here are ten things I am hoping to see the rest of the way. Listed in order of least to most likely to happen (percentages determined by a scientific algorithm based on my rough guesses), these are signs that an eternal optimist like myself would say point to an improving team that actually has some hope for the future.
10) Mangini Keeps His Job (Chance of actually happening: 7%)
Wait, wait, wait. Don't stop reading yet. Most fans would say that Mangini coaching the Browns next year is anything but an encouraging sign for the future. Granted, early signs are not good. But consider what it means if he does survive. At the very least, this team will have to show some dramatic signs of improvement for him to hang on. And with the impending power structure changes in the organization, Mangini staying employed would imply that he can coexist with a strong front office that holds him accountable.
Plus, I cannot be the only one that is dreading yet another regime change. If it is required for this team to improve, then I am on board. But if this team advances to the point that Mangini stays, that is really the best case scenario isn't it? Otherwise it is another offseason of "it takes time to learn a new offense" and "coach X is trying to change the culture" and uglhghl… dammit, there went the gag reflex again. Let's move on.
9) Brady Quinn Develops (Chance of happening: 16%)
The assumption here is that Brady actually starts the rest of the year. Failing that, the previous items chances should be reduced roughly 12% to a total of -5%. Without a legitimate chance (more than 2.5 games) to prove himself, Quinn will likely be gone next season and a quarterback via the draft is a near certainty. So instead of a competent quarterback and a difference maker in the draft like Eric Berry or Ndamukong Suh, we would be left with a rookie quarterback learning on the job. If Quinn fails, it's really no loss, but if he does develop, it could mean a drastically different outlook for next season. So failing to at least give him the chance seems… well… dumb.
8) An Offensive Game Plan That Makes Sense (Chances: 17%)
It appears to this observer that some players on this team actually do have strengths. Certainly it is not asking too much to see a game plan featuring a few of them. Harrison catching some screens in space, Cribbs coming out of the backfield matched up on a linebacker, Massoquoi using his size on a slant, or Robiskie using his length and hands to work the seam. The rest of the season is offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll's last chance to prove he can handle the job.
7) Rookie Linebacker Production (Chances: 29%)
On one play against the Bears, David Veikune shot through a gap and blew up the fullback who was attempting to clear the way for Matt Forte. The run went for a loss and Veikune had notched the first impact play of his career. If more follow, maybe this team is on its way fielding a competent set of 3-4 linebackers.
6) The Emergence of Wideouts as Playmakers (Chances: 41%)
To be a playmaker, a receiver must first be consistent. Thus far, that has not really happened for the Browns rookies. Braylon is gone. Winslow is gone. The bye week is gone. It is time for the training wheels to come off and the future of the Browns passing game to start putting it all together.
5) Jerome Harrison as the Feature Back (Chances: 54%)
It is time. We all know it is. Jamal seems like a real pro but unfortunately he no longer seems like a real good pro. At times he still shows some burst but most of the time… well, not so much. No, I will not accept any arguments about pass protection keeping Jerome on the sidelines. This team never passes on first or second down anyway and Harrison already plays some on third down. So no, that argument will not fly.
Every time Harrison sees a lot of carries, he impresses. Meanwhile, Lewis has the look of a veteran that can still be effective in certain situations, but no longer has the legs to do it every down. Everyone wins on this one.
4) An Offensive Role for Josh Cribbs (Chances: 60%)
This guy is just too good not to be featured in this offense. And no, a few wildcat plays and an occasional reverse does not count as a role. Sure, he has a couple fumbles and drops to his credit this year but seriously, who on this offense didn't make mistakes through the first half of the season? Ok, show of hands. Who here hasn't been making mistakes on a weekly basis? Anyone? Come on, raise them high. Yes Jamal, stutter stepping and then falling over counts as a mistake. Ok, glad we got that cleared up
3) Kamerion Wimbley – Pass Rushing Stud (Chances: 68%)
Through eight games, Wimbley has five sacks and he missed one game with the flu. On pace for double digits already, if he can somehow get to twelve or thirteen sacks on a team that is constantly playing from behind, then I am willing to call him the first honest to god pass rusher this team has seen since Jamir Miller. My money is on him to get there. Rob Ryan's scheme is giving him opportunities and he is bringing consistent pressure (one of the few players on this team to do anything good, consistently).
2) Continued Improvement of Alex Mack (Chances: 92%)
Mack started camp slow, frequently running laps for his mistakes, but he has been that rare rookie that just gets better every week. He's not a Pro Bowler yet but the more comfortable he gets, the more the physicality and high motor he displayed in college show through. If that trend continues, he will be paired with Joe Thomas as the linchpins of the offensive line for years to come. And really, it is just a good sign when a first round pick becomes what you hoped. Not a lot of playoff teams have a roster littered with first round busts.
1) The Team Does Not Quit [and/or plays a few games that make me happy to be a browns fan] (Chances: 100%)
I might be reaching a little on this guarantee, but I just don't care. The road to this point has been too long and hard for this team not to show some signs of improvement. It has to happen. I'm not asking for much. A couple games where Quinn and the rookie receivers finally click. A game where Jerome Harrison breaks out and Cribbs catches a screen pass, slips a tackle and goes the distance. A game where the offense fights and claws to stay in it and Eric Wright takes a pick to the house for the game clinching score. Just a few games that show this team might have something to build on.