NFL

Five Burning Questions For the Cleveland Browns

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Cleveland appears to be heading in the right direction after years of being a permanent fixture as the doormat franchise of the NFL.

Their return in the 1990’s after owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore left Cleveland rebuilding their organization in the sand. Sinking endlessly year after year into last place in the AFC North.

Times are changing for a franchise with a proud and distinguish past. They finished 7-9 last season and for Cleveland that is definitely a step in the right direction.

How good was last season?

Their 2014 record of 7-9 marked the third-best record the team has achieved since the returning to the field in 1999.  Their best finish was 10-6 (2007), followed by a 9-7 (2002) record and only playoff appearance that same season.

Plenty of progress has been made in Cleveland, and more importantly their roster is littered with talented players on both sides of the football. Something that was absolutely nonexistent with their previous rosters.

That leads us to…

Five Burning Questions

 

Will Jimmy Haslam or Ray Farmer interfere?

The new regime is trying distance itself from their predecessors of top brass front office executives but it appears the same dysfunctional antics are still haunting the Browns.

“I would tell you that to that degree people understand what the rules are and sometimes, and in my case I would tell you that, it’s not an excuse, but sometimes your emotions get the best of you at times,” said Browns general manager Ray Farmer about the text scandal.

Farmer violated the league’s electronic device policy and will be suspended without pay for the first four regular season games of the 2015 season.

Speculation of if he was covering for owner Jimmy Haslam will continue (and never be known), but the issues bring up the fragile nucleus in Cleveland regarding the front office and the coaching staff.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Farmer insisted that no relation mending had to take place between he and head coach Mike Pettine.

For that question to even be asked and reflected on shows that some internal turmoil exists privately.

Also take into account that former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left after one year, which is usually not the norm for any position coach in the NFL. Jobs are hard to come by in the NFL and leaving a post on your own behalf is simply unheard of in the league.

The fact that he did leave on his own shows that there is an underbelly of some sort of foul communications going on between the front office and coaching staff.

Does that stem from Jimmy Haslam, the owner?

Noone beneath (Haslam) would ever come to the forefront to call the owner out knowing their dismissal would quickly follow, but heading into this season it has to be documented and kept in the memory bank of how things are going behind closed doors in Cleveland.

It may get a little worse before it gets better. Haslam wanted quarterback Johnny Manziel and he is anxious to get this thing turned around in Cleveland.

Will his patience wear even thinner in 2015?

Probably and it will likely lead to more shenanigans.

 

What happens in Year 2 of the Johnny Manziel era?

2014 could not have went much worse for both Manziel and the Cleveland Browns. Suckered into his boyish charms and Heisman hype, owner Jimmy Haslam took the bait and general manager Ray Farmer moved up in the 2014 NFL Draft to select Manziel with the 22nd overall pick in the first-round.

Manziel spent part of the off season in rehab, leaving hope he’ll turn his career and more importantly his life around in Cleveland.  The instant success Manziel displayed at Texas A&M has not followed him into the pros. Playing behind a offensive line in college that featured three first-round drafted offensive linemen, one receiver (first-round) and a second-round running back helped mask the liabilities of Manziel’s game at the next level.

Improvement by default is the likely scenario for Manziel in 2015.

His first season was a colossal failure. He threw 175 passing yards, zero touchdown passes and two interceptions. Barring a season ending injury, surely he’ll surpass those numbers and display to the league if he has the goods to make it in the NFL.

If not, then another rookie quarterback is on his way to Cleveland in 2016.

 

Can the defense improve?

Head coach Mike Pettine’s resume is filled with a long list of defensive coaching positions that eventually landed him his first head coaching gig in Cleveland.

The Browns finished 22nd overall last season in defense. Not a staggering, knee buckling statistic, but in reality the only team in the bottom-ten to make the playoffs from that category were the Arizona Cardinals. The nine others including Cleveland missed postseason play.

Pettine hopes to fortify the defense and began to show enough improvement that he’ll be retained for a third-year with the Browns.

Cleveland selected defensive tackle Danny Shelton with their first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Shelton is one of the more versatile defensive linemen and warrants some early (bold) predictions as a futuristic Warren Sapp. He possesses raw power and quickness for a guy his size (6-2, 339 pounds).

Realistically, the defense has plenty to be excited about but the offensive woes leave the unit on the field for extended periods that translate to a tired, worn down group by the fourth quarter.

Expect the Browns to play better defensively with more big plays. The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and improving on last year’s 7-9 record may be hard to equal, even with a bolstered roster.

 

Who will be their offensive MVP (skill position)?

Johnny Manziel gets the most attention and tackle Joe Thomas is the best player on offense.

In a perfect world Manziel would be the team’s offensive MVP, although it appears he’ll be starting the year behind free agent acquisition Josh McCown.

Cleveland also signed former Pro Bowl receiver (Kansas City) Dwayne Bowe. Massive and physical, Bowe brings some added life to the offense as he looks to resurrect his career after a couple of less the phenomenal seasons with the Chiefs.

Last season both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell proved as rookie running backs that each possess the ability to make it in the NFL. In addition to West and Crowell, the Browns used their third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on former Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson.

Finding who will emerge as the team’s starting running back may be difficult to judge as of today. Time and carries will ultimately reveal which running back Cleveland is going to use to manage the clock and keep the chains moving. It is possible the trio shares plenty of carries early in the season before the leader in the clubhouse emerges and takes control of the starting job.

With the passing game having huge question marks it seems like the safe bet would be on a running back being offensive MVP.

 

Does linebacker Barkevious Mingo finally emerge?

Barkevious Mingo was the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The thinly built former LSU linebacker has struggled to make an impact defensively and faces a critical year in his NFL career.

Entering Year 3, Mingo’s first-round glimmer has now faded as he enters camp as a player who must prove that his seven sacks in his first two seasons were just a mirage of his true talents.

Mingo should eclipse that previous total of two combined seasons if he wants to remain the starting outside linebacker in Cleveland.

Opposite of Mingo is veteran Paul Kruger, who finished with a team leading 11 sacks last season. Kruger is drawing the attention and making the plays while Mingo is still searching for the ingredients to make his career a boom and not a bust.

Unless he finds some aggression in his play and makes a substantial contribution, Mingo is facing the reality that his days of starting or even playing in Cleveland are numbered.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.