NFL Preview Series: Cleveland Browns

Byron Dixon| BKD TV

The Browns are a mess, and that’s putting it nicely. They don’t seem to have any sort of plan for how they’re going to score this season. Their apparent strategy to sign Josh McCown and pray that Johnny Manziel suddenly finds his way because he went to rehab and moved to the suburbs clearly illustrates why this franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since reentering the league back in 1999.

While We Were Away: Making matters worse, the “winner” of the Manziel-McCown training camp “battle” won’t have anyone to throw to. Jordan Cameron wisely bolted out of town, leaving behind nothing at tight end, unless the disappointing Rob Housler counts (he doesn’t). The “top” two receivers on the roster are Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, which is just pathetic. Bowe quit playing football long ago and will continue to steal money from a new front office. Hartline, meanwhile, wouldn’t even be on a 53-man roster on some teams; let alone be starting. Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins is the lone functional player, and he could do some damage if Cleveland actually had a quarterback who could get the ball to him consistently.

The running game at least isn’t a wasteland, though Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and Duke Johnson won’t have any sort of running room with opposing defenses not respecting the pass at all. It’s unclear who will lead the team in carries; Mike Pettine’s game plan in terms of utilizing his backs is unpredictable and erratic. Crowell is the most gifted of the three runners, but he could easily have the fewest touches in 2015.

2015 Season Outlook: Cleveland has two studs on the offensive line: left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. Thomas, who allowed two sacks in 2014, continues to prove that blind-side protectors are worthless if they don’t have anyone to block for; he has been one of the elite left tackles over the years, and yet he hasn’t made a difference in terms of the Browns’ playoff chances. Mack was having a great season as well until he broke his leg in October. The Browns are strong surrounding Mack. Both guards, Joel Bitonio and John Greco, were terrific this past season. Bitonio was especially brilliant; despite being a second-round rookie, he was one of the top guards in the NFL. The fifth position up front currently belongs to Mitchell Schwartz, who is the clear weak link on the unit. First-round rookie Cameron Erving could start there, though he’ll ultimately take over for Mack beginning in 2016.

2015 Record: 3-13

Sorry Browns fans and more importantly sorry Cleveland it looks like it will be another tough sports season in a city that yearns for winning. The defense is pretty respectable and the offensive line is solid as well. But with a tough schedule and playing in a tough division they could be at the top of the draft next season. That may help them find a legit QB and wide receiver to help this team find a way to make it back into the NFL’s relevance and win for this city and fan base that is waiting for something to root for on the football field.

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