The Cleveland Browns’ 2013 campaign was disappointing, but this season could be different. Free agency brought significant changes to the team, as they upgraded at multiple positions. The Browns didn’t become Super Bowl favorites, but they should provide a competitive team.

First, we begin with the signal callers, the quarterbacks. As the roster stands, we replaced Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell with Johnny Manziel and Rex Grossman. Weeden recorded a disappointing rookie season followed by a mediocre sophomore campaign consisting of 1,731 yards and nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Additionally, Jason Campbell added 2,000 plus yards and an 11:8 touchdown-interception ratio.

Needless to say, Cleveland needed an upgrade at the most important area of concern, the quarterback. Through the 2014 draft, we snatched up the media circus known as Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel). The potential that this young man possesses is already known, but has yet to be displayed. At Texas A&M, Manziel passed for over 7,000 yards and ran for an additional 2,000 plus while registering 93 total touchdowns (63 pass, 30 rush). The Texas native could create the spark Cleveland football has been missing. Manziel may not have been given the starting nod, but he will get his opportunity.

Besides Brian Hoyer being dubbed the starting quarterback, Rex Grossman is a more than qualified quarterback. He led the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl XLI, despite a loss, and has been integrated into the Kyle Shanahan system for five years, one with the Houston Texans and four with the Washington Redskins. Despite not playing in a game since 2011, his football IQ and knowledge of the system could enhance the progression of Manziel or even Hoyer.

As much as the field general is the key to success, successful offenses must possess a running game. This off season, Cleveland acquired running back Brandon Tate while drafting Towson’s Terrance West, completely changing the backfield. The Browns swapped Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya for more efficient pieces. McGahee finished last year with career lows with two touchdowns and a meager 2.7 yards per carry. Although Ogbonnaya set career highs in receptions, 48, and receiving yards, 343, he never seemed to dominate the run game.

Nevertheless, Tate showcases a career 4.7 yards per carry while trying to prove he is more than a backup running back. Throw in a workhorse like West, 132.1 yards per game, 6.1 yards per carry, and the Browns have a two-headed dog hungry for opportunity. These backs appear to be the best chance for success, with the questions at the wide receiver position.

In spite of the criticism, the Browns improved at the position. Disregarding Josh Gordon, the Browns rid themselves of the unsure hands of Greg Little and Davone Bess. Cleveland hopes that Miles Austin remains healthy and can produce another 1,000 yard season. Opposite the Pro Bowler, Nate Burleson is dependable enough to handle the receiving responsibilities of a number two. He can be a great complementary receiver if lined up across a legit number one, which appears to be Austin.

Furthermore, Cleveland added slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to give the receiving corps another weapon. Despite missing the first eight games last year due to an ankle injury, Hawkins finished with 199 yards on 12 catches (16.6 yards per reception). When healthy in 2012, the slot receiver caught 51 passes for 533 yards while appearing in 14 games. Hawkins certainly appears as an upgrade to Davone Bess’ frustrating year consisting of numerous drops, resulting in just 362 yards on 42 receptions.

Although the Browns addressed the areas of concern on offense, they added key defensive players as well. Unfortunately, defensive team captain, D’Qwell Jackson was released this off-season and it won’t be easy to replace his 141 combined tackles, but his 1.5 sacks and interception can be. Linebacker Karlos Dansby finished last season with 6.5 sacks, four interceptions, and two touchdowns. Out of  his 122 combined tackles, only eight of them were assisted. Dansby, without a doubt, toughens up this defense.

As a matter of fact, Donte Whitner adds toughness as well. The Ohio native replaces safety T.J. Ward, who statistically is similar to Whitner. Whitner has completed eight NFL seasons compared to Ward’s four. Throughout eight glorious years, the Clevelander has registered 669 tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, ten interceptions, two touchdowns, and 46 passes defended. Whitner brings more experience despite only being two years older than Ward, 27. In a shorter, but similar career, the California native’s statistics include 342 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five interceptions, five forced fumbles, 22 passes defended, and one touchdown.

Ultimately, our improvement and development of the defensive side should supply the Cleveland Browns with a threatening shut down defense. Cleveland has the opportunity to keep ball games close, giving the chance for victory. Additionally, with doubts about the passing game, the Browns should rely on the running game. Also, this will accomplish two things, clock management and extra rest for a tired defense. Overall, if The Cleveland Browns play the way they are capable of, there is no reason moderate success can’t be achieved.

– Max Gold

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