We’re less than 3 days away from the start of the Cleveland Browns 2015 season and the excitement is building throughout the fanbase. The bitter taste from last season’s ending is finally fading away and I know i’m ready to see what this year’s squad has in store. Most of the national media doesn’t the Browns to do much this season but I strongly disagree. The 2015 Cleveland Browns, much like the 2014 version of this team is going to be a tough team to beat every single Sunday although some of the same questions remain from last year. Do the Browns have a franchise quarterback on the roster? Is there enough depth to deal with multiple injuries? Can the front office sit back and let Coach Pettine and his staff do their jobs and not meddle in football decisions? Only time will tell but now let me break down the team.
Key Additions: WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Brian Hartline, QB Josh McCown, RB Duke Johnson, OL Cameron Erving
Key Losses: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Josh Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron
The offense continues to remain a big question mark for the Cleveland Browns. The quarterback position continues to be one thing holding the Browns back from being a contender. Brian Hoyer led the Browns to a 7-4 start in 2014 but the front office’s push to put first round pick Johnny Manziel led to the late season collapse. Brian Hoyer has since departed for the Houston Texans. The Browns signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown in late February to not only compete for the starting role but to mentor the troubled 22 year old second year player. Manziel spent ten weeks in a treatment facility in what he described as a way to change his lifestyle and leave the “Johnny Football” persona in the past. I fully expect Manziel to sit and learn behind McCown this season barring injuries to the veteran quarterback. The Browns are going to rely heavy on the run this season with Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson coming out of the backfield. Crowell and West combined for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns in their rookie seasons and I fully expect them to make just as much impact this season as they did last. Johnson was one of the highly touted running backs in the 2015 draft class known for his dynamic play making ability for the Miami Hurricanes. Expect Johnson to be used all over the field as a pass catcher and return specialist. The wide receiving core got a little stronger this offseason with the addition of veterans Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline. They will join the likes of Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel as they try to provide leadership to the young receivers. Add fourth round draft pick Vince Mayle and Terrelle Pryor, who is making the switch from quarterback to receiver, the wide receiver position is going to be one to watch during training camp and the preseason. With the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency, the starting spot is up for grabs as Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray and Rob Housler will compete for the job. The offensive line is healthy leading into training camp and they added some depth to ensure the line doesn’t crumble as it did when Alex Mack went down with an injury halfway through last season. The Browns picked up Cameron Erving in the first round of the draft and is expected to compete with John Greco for the right guard position in training camp. Erving can play any of the positions on the line and will fill in if needed. The offensive line though when healthy is one of the best in the National Football League, led by veterans Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. Joel Bitonio and Mitchell Schwartz both had strong 2014 seasons and continue to show why the Browns line will be great for years to come
Key Additions: DT Danny Shelton, DE/OLB Nate Orchard, DT Randy Starks, CB Tramon Williams
Key Losses: CB Buster Skrine, OLB Jabaal Sheard, DT Athyba Rubin
The Browns had the 9th best defense in terms of yardage last season but the front seven needed to be upgraded. Sheard and Rubin both left in free agency but the Browns filled up the holes via the draft and free agency. Browns added veteran Randy Starks and rookie Danny Shelton to the defensive line as the Browns look to upgrade the run defense which finished dead last in the league last season. They will join the deep defensive line depth chart which contains the likes of Desmond and Armonty Bryant, Phil Taylor, John Hughes and Billy Winn. The linebackers were good but needed some improvement on the pass rush, Paul Kruger had 11.5 sacks but his counterparts Barkevious Mingo and Sheard only combined for 4 sacks. They upgraded the outside linebacker position with the drafting of Nate Orchard in the second round. Orchard led the nation with 18.5 sacks last season at Utah and will look to help Kruger set the edge. This is a make or break year for Mingo, he graded out well but hasn’t lived up to the expectations the Browns had when they drafted him 6th overall in 2013. Not to mention Scott Solomon who had two pretty good games at the end of last season could steal some snaps away from Mingo. The secondary of the Cleveland Browns is one of, if not the best in all of football. With three Pro Bowlers in cornerback Joe Haden and safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, the “Lockdown On the Lake” is poised to have another great season. It’s a contract year for Gipson, who’s been one of the most outstanding safeties in football with 11 interceptions the last two seasons. Buster Skrine left in free agency but the Browns found a good replacement in Tramon Williams. Williams, 32, had 3 interceptions last season for the Packers will bring veteran leadership and hopefully be a great mentor to second year player Justin Gilbert who struggled off the field last season. Don’t forget about second year players K’Waun Williams and Pierre Desir, who when called upon last season played great for the Browns.
Browns fans love the special teams unit because sometimes it’s what we get the majority of our scoring from. And in 2015, there’s a fresh new crop of faces in the unit. We’ll have a kicking competition in camp with first year players Travis Coons and Carey Spear vying for the starting job. The Browns traded for Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee last month and he will replace Spencer Lanning. And at the long snapper position, the Browns will have another first year player as Charley Hughlett will replace veteran Christian Yount.
The Browns are a team to not take lightly this season. Although they have a tough schedule including games with six playoff teams from a season ago, the Browns are team that can make some noise in the AFC. They will rely heavy on the run to put whoever the quarterback (most likely McCown) in a position where he doesn’t have to be elite and can make smart plays and avoid mistakes. The defense has enough depth to where it can be a top five defense in the league. And with Coach Mike Pettine leading this team, don’t expect the Browns to lay down for anyone. I have the Browns going 9-7 and shocking the world by sneaking in to the playoffs.