The Not So Good: With every rookie coach comes growing pains and although there wasn’t anything excessive with Pettine, I did notice a few things he could (and did) improve on. First off, it seemed like Pettine was too aggressive in certain games and went for it on fourth down, instead of kicking field goals. A lot of our games were decided by such a slim margin that any points you can get will essentially win you the game. As the season progressed, I noticed a more conservative approach by Pettine and better clock managing skills.
Why I’m Optimistic: Pettine is being brought back for another season to continue improving the Cleveland Browns. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo had previously worked with Pettine and understands how he likes to do things, something I feel we lacked with the coordinators (specifically with Kyle Shanahan) this season. I appreciate Pettine’s hardworking attitude and I think he is the right man for the job. I think it’s obviously a huge vote of confidence that owner Jimmy Haslam expressed immediately following the season finale that Pettine is returning.
The Not So Good: The wheels absolutely came off at the quarterback position, specifically after center Alex Mack had a season-ending injury in that glorious victory against Pittsburgh. Our offensive line destabilized and the quarterback position became tough to play. Hoyer began to struggle mightily and the Browns decided to turn to Johnny Manziel late in the season. This will forever be one of the most controversial decisions in Cleveland sports history. I was in favor of starting Manziel simply because we had a season to salvage and were still in the playoff hunt. Hoyer wasn’t himself anymore and I figured we had nothing to lose at this point. It was a tough spot for coach Pettine to be in, and I don’t blame him one bit. In comes Manziel… and it was a disaster. Manziel was unprepared, didn’t know the playbook, and his extravagant night life caught up with him. He was shelled against Cincinnati and was injured in the next game against Carolina. A lot of fans wanted Manziel to start from the get-go due to his overwhelming celebrity status. The media portrayed him as a larger than life icon who will lead us to victory. By the end of the season, it seemed like everyone was ready to cut and run from him.
Why I’m Optimistic: Johnny Manziel recently checked into rehab and admitted he has an alcohol problem. I was so happy to hear that he admitted to this. He understands he has a problem and now, he is getting the proper help. I want him to succeed and this is the first step in regaining his form. He still has a lot of work to do, but I’m pleased to see that he is moving in the right direction. Now we can focus on turning him into the best quarterback he can be. Brian Hoyer was also approached by the Browns in hopes of re-signing with us. I would like to see him back since he is respected in the locker room and a capable starter for the time being.
The Not So Good: The previously mentioned veteran Ben Tate was supposed to be a mentor to the young runners while also contributing to the offense. While he may have helped the young dudes, he fizzled out in production with only 371 yards (albeit four touchdowns) before the Browns released him midseason. The fullback position was also plagued with inconsistency. Starting the year off was Ray Agnew, who was cut for Kiero Small, who was then cut for Ray Agnew, who was then cut permanently. I get that the fullback position is dying out, but I’d like to see us have a reliable option at that position for defensive purposes.
Why I’m Optimistic: I expect West and Crowell to continue their development and make strides as a painful one-two punch in the backfield. I am especially impressed with Crowell, who was an undrafted free agent. He has phenomenal speed while West is more of a big bodied type. These two complement each other very well on the field and if we utilize them correctly, we will be set at the running back position for a while.
Why I’m Optimistic: We have to decide who to keep and who to let go among the receivers and tight ends. We were very undersized at the receiver position, despite the success we saw. Look for Farmer to pick someone up in the later draft rounds and potentially go after someone in free agency. This remains a wild-card analysis until we see who our quarterback will be. If it’s Hoyer, expect continued chemistry with him and Hawkins. If it’s someone else at QB, I honestly don’t know how well our receivers will do. As an optimist, I have to think that Hawkins is going to continue his catching ways and we bulk up on receivers for next season.
Why I’m Optimistic: When the Browns’ offensive line is fully healthy, it is UNSTOPPABLE. On paper, we have the best offensive line in the entire game. That’s right, I said it, deal with it. Regardless, we need to bulk up on our offensive line depth. If we do suffer such a devastating injury again, we need a suitable plan B ready to go. Besides, a good team never stops improving, even at positions as stacked as this.
Well folks, there you have part one of my assessment. In part two, I’ll discuss defense and special teams. Overall, we have a lot of good players on the offensive side and a lot of sleepers, too. We need to figure out who’s going to turn out to be a stud as quickly as we can, the rest will sort itself out.