One Big Reason to Back this Team: On-Field Leadership
It has taken a few years, some free agent acquisitions, and multiple draft picks – but the Browns are finally in a spot where they possess leadership traits at almost every position group. It appears the veterans know what they are doing (or at least can explain what needs to be done) for success at the professional level. If the younger athletes are determined and eager to improve and help out this franchise, the Browns will be a force for many years. And it will be all traced back to the guidance set forth by veterans. Who are these influences?
Quarterback – Josh McCown
The assumption is that Johnny Manziel is the heir-apparent to McCown, and could even take the reins week one of the regular season. However, before any of that occurs he must be a student of the game. McCown has been coached under John DeFilippo (in Oakland) and can provide a nugget or two of information relating to this offense.
Wide Receivers – Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe
Rookie Vincent Mayle and second-year pro Taylor Gabriel are both far from polished products in the NFL. Hartline and Bowe should be providing tips for getting open, finding separation within the secondary, and having a lengthy, successful career. It will not happen overnight, but if the duo can remotely resemble Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith – then the veterans will have done their part.
Offensive Line – Joe Thomas and Alex Mack
This could potentially be a really interesting area, as Cameron Erving might be Mack’s successor in 2016. Following in the footsteps of Joel Bitonio in 2014, inserting a rookie into the starting line would improve the unit. Erving appears to have mastered multiple spots in college; playing alongside some All-Pros should help him in his transition to Cleveland.
Defensive Line – Phil Taylor and Randy Starks
Both Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper are the new kids on the block – the former will require more tutelage from veterans about stuffing the run (which they might not know a ton). However, I have confidence Shelton can take what he’s acquired and combine it with his size and power to be a dominant force up the middle. Cooper is more of a pass rusher upfront, and possesses different skills than most defensive linemen on the roster. Therefore, he might have to learn on his own or have conversations with some outside linebackers.
Linebackers – Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger
Realistically, Nate Orchard is the rookie expected to contribute as a linebacker. The former Utah Ute can compete with and absorb what his fellow alum displays on the gridiron. Hayes Pullard will likely be starting out on special teams – but acquiring knowledge from the savvy Dansby might help him gain the edge in becoming a dependable linebacker in the future.
Secondary – Joe Haden and Donte Whitner
Whether it’s Charles Gaines or Ibraheim Campbell (and possibly Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in 2016), there are exceptional teachers to learn from. Both Haden and Whitner return as Pro Bowlers and have many years of experience in the NFL. The middle-round selections will have to scratch and claw to find their way into the starting lineup – so taking advantage of all resources would be wise.
Conclusion: On paper, the Browns have a unique combination of youth and speed, as well as experience and knowledge on their roster. These aspects must come together if this franchise is to be successful in 2015 and beyond. I like where they are headed, and the coming months are the period for learning how to secure an advantage over opponents.