As the Browns prepare to open the 2007 regular season Sunday by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, here are a few thoughtsâ€¦
Five reasons for optimism:
5. Joshua Cribbs returning kicks and punts;
4. Kamerion Wimbley having a year of NFL experience under his belt;
3. Joe Thomas at left tackle on a revamped line;
2. An offense taking advantage of Charlie Frye's strengths, such as mobility;
1. Jamal Lewis.
Five reasons for concern:
5. The offensive coordinator is a new, as his offense. So while the potential for success is there, so is the learning curve â€“ and that will happen as the Browns face some pretty tough defenses: Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore and Miami. Oh, and the other two teams before the bye week are Cincinnati and New England.
4. That revamped line hasn't gelled -- Eric Steinbach missed the preseason; Kevin Shaffer is coming off a concussion and still making the transition to right tackle; Seth McKinney has a history of injuries;
3. The defensive line is old and has no outstanding players, so stopping the run will be an issue/concern as always;
2. The secondary is dicey, with inexperience and lack of depth a major concern;
1. Injuries. With this team, thatâ€™s always the main concern.
The Browns are going to want to come out and make a statement. Last season, they held back from showing Frye throw any deep passes in the preseason, then opened the season with a play-action deep pass that Braylon Edward took to the house. Shafferâ€™s holding penalty negated the TD, and the Browns went on to lose by five points to New Orleans, setting the tone for the 4-12 season. The line was a mess all year, never really recovering from the fiasco at center started by LeCharles Bentleyâ€™s injury. Reuben Droughns, having signed that big contract in the off-season, played like a fat cat, never living up to the two-time 1,200-yard rusher that he was. And the team switched offensive coordinators but never really found a good offense. All of that caused Frye to run for his life and try to do too much, as if he were still playing for Willard or Akron. With Cleveland being 2-6 at the seasonâ€™s halfway point, despite pretty good performances by the defense, some of the older players seemed to mail it in during the second half and the team surrendered a lot of yards and points. Fryeâ€™s injury led to playing time for Derek Anderson, and a quarterback controversy arose. All of that is behind the Browns now. A new offensive coordinator and a new offense, one that makes use of Fryeâ€™s mobility and other skills and uses multiple packages of skilled players, should bring excitement. Lewis at running back should bring production â€“ especially near the goal line. The revamped line, once it gels, should better protect Frye and punch running lanes for Lewis. The defense also should be improved, being in the third year of the same system but having added a few more pieces. And special teams should continue to be a strength, even though the team replaced the coordinator. All of that said, the Browns open with a tough schedule â€“ hosting the three division opponents during the first four weeks. This, for a team that is 1-11 in the division under Romeo Crennel. And the fan base will start crying for Brady Quinn whenever a slump in the offense occurs. Should Crennel pull the trigger too early with Quinn, it will send a message to the veterans that the team is shifting from competing to developing, and theyâ€™ll start mailing it in like last year. Ugh! I predict the Browns will indeed open strong, perhaps a touchdown on their opening possession and a 13-7 lead at halftime. But, the defense will wear down and the team will give up a late scoring drive, falling 24-20. Itâ€™s the Steelers, remember? Only Tim Couch can beat them for the Browns. And the loss will lead to lost confidence and a blow-out to Cincinnati in Week 2. That will be followed by a narrow win in Oakland. Baltimore, New England and Miami will send Cleveland into its bye on a three-game losing streak, 1-5 overall. And that will lead to Crennelâ€™s firing, Todd Granthamâ€™s promotion and the beginning of the Rick Mirer â€“ I mean Brady Quinn â€“ era. Bill Cowher will be offered the czar title (head coach/GM) and Phil Savage will be sent packing. And then weâ€™ll have five more years of mediocrity. Hey, if it took Cowher 15 years to get a ring despite the talent-laden rosters he oversaw, what could he possibly do in Cleveland, where the players typically are marginal at best and hurt more often than not? Yep, itâ€™s 4-12 all over again, baby. Go Tribe! When do the Cavs tip off the season?