I’ve recently found myself newly excited for the Cleveland Browns this season, but it’s almost exclusively because of defense. I read the comments from Brandon Weeden yesterday and I really do believe he can get better from year one to year two. I’m glad that he’s seemingly taken his off-season so seriously this year as he tries to make himself a viable NFL starting QB. Ultimately though, I think his ceiling is relatively known. Brandon Weeden, at best, can be Matt Schaub or Jay Cutler. That’s nothing to sneeze at, mind you, but even as I recognize it as a possibility for Weeden, I consider those two comps a bit of a long-shot. What I’m more excited about is the prospect of this opportunistic defense that Joe Banner has been so very vocal about.
Before we get to the reasons I’m excited for the defense, let’s just consider a second what has to happen for the Browns offense to make a big jump. They’ll have to get good organic roster growth from Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Greg Little, Josh Gordon and at least maintain on the offensive line. They’ll have to get role-player performances (at least) from Davone Bess and maybe David Nelson. If they get lucky they’ll get an emergence from Travis Benjamin or some other wild card player. The best bet of all the guys that I just listed is still Trent Richardson and in this day and age a running back can only carry you so far.1
The defense on the other hand is poised to break thanks to free agency. Paul Kruger was the highest profile addition to the defense, but as I’ve conversed with different people on the podcast this off-season I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t most excited about Desmond Bryant. Add Bryant to an interior with Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor and it’s hard not to get excited about the possibilities. Add in Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo as prime suspects to put pressure on the QB all season long under the direction of former Steeler Ray Horton, and I’m pretty interested.
Speaking of Ray Horton, something occurred to me when Terry Pluto recently sat down with Joe Banner. Banner spoke about taking risks on offense and defense and how players and fans both like to play that way. It occurred to me just how important it is to play in a manner that keeps players interested. Yes players make millions of dollars, but when the game starts on Sundays you have to think they’re motivated in-game in ways not involving their bank accounts. As a member of a defense that is forced to play “bend but don’t break” week after week, it has to wear on you and impact confidence after a while. We’ve seen our share of beaten down Browns rosters over the years and you have to wonder if a more opportunistic style would keep the team hyped and engaged. It’s certainly a major component of Steelers and Ravens defenses we’ve seen first-hand all too often here in Cleveland.
The Browns can play many things close to the vest, but it’s impossible to do with player acquisition. That being said it’s impossible not to think that they’ve done what they thought was best to load up this defense with all the aforementioned players. They’ve shown their hand in that respect. So, if we’re looking at this team in week four or five of this season and they aren’t able to develop pressure, cause turnovers and put their offense in good spots to achieve, they will have largely failed their first off-season of talent acquisition. That’s not really what I expect and certainly not what I’m hoping for, but they’ve kind of gone all-in on defense if you really think about it.
That’s the double edged sword of free agency. You don’t get to say “wait and see” with Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Quentin Groves. They’ve been brought here to bolster the team on the field right away. They were chosen to do so at a time when the Browns also traded some current picks for the future. I’ve defended that move based on value, but that value is also predicated on achieving improvement via free agency. That’s what I’m excited for, but it’s also what I expect.
Is there anything scarier in Browns town than expectations?
- Literally and figuratively. [↩]