It's a wonder the word optimism hasn't been deleted from dictionaries of Browns fans. Of the NFL's 32 teams, Cleveland is one of four never to reach a Super Bowl. And the Browns haven't tasted an NFL playoff win since 1994. The team has been 6-10 or worse six times since last reaching the postseason in 2002.
Somehow, though, optimism is in bloom.
The reason is new president Mike Holmgren. An overwhelming majority of Browns fans seems to love him, even if it hates what he inherited. In consort with new general manager Tom Heckert, Holmgren made an immediate splash, attacking a sparse free-agent market, trading quarterbacks out, bringing quarterbacks in, etc.
Holmgren avoided a complete overhaul by keeping coach Eric Mangini, who was 1-11 at one point last year but won his last four games. Aside from left tackle Joe Thomas and special teams dynamo Josh Cribbs, there wasn't much on the inherited roster.
Holmgren just wants to put together a credible season and build momentum for 2011.
Offense: The Browns went for a New England look in 2009 with ex-Patriots assistant Brian Daboll calling plays, but the passing game was pathetic. Quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson both struggled with a receiving corps that wasn't up to NFL snuff. By the end of the year, the offense not only gave Jerome Harrison his first shot at being a No. 1 back but also pushed him unusually hard (106 carries for 561 yards in the final three games).
Defense: Mangini and coordinator Rob Ryan loved brainstorming game plans when together in New England, and the two work well together now. The Browns' system requires a big, active three-man front that is willing and able to occupy double teams.
Ryan enjoys trying to outsmart offensive coordinators with creative twists, stunts and blitzes. Even though he didn't have an elite pass rusher in '09, Ryan milked 40 sacks out of 16 players. Look for him to take more chances if he gains more confidence in this year's revamped secondary.
Mohamed Massaquoi, WR: Massaquoi's rookie numbers weren't much to look at, but a few factors point to taking a big step in 2010. He is a hard worker who will put his '09 experience to good use. He has a new quarterback, Delhomme, who shows a knack for getting him the ball. Fellow second-year receiver Brian Robiskie has had a strong spring and is ready to diffuse the pressure.
"(Massaquoi) has outstanding hands. You could see that last year, not always in the games, although he had some good ones, but ... bunches of times at practice, he made just unbelievable catches. He makes good adjustments with his body. It's really impressive when you watch his growth—route in, route out." —Mangini
"Being a defensive guy, I have a better grip on their offense but who knows what to expect from their offense? They still had (Braylon) Edwards when we played them last year. I wasn't super-worried about him, which is just the way you have to think, but you could tell he was fairly polished, a lot further along than some of their young guys. ...
"It's hard to know what to make of them now. Jamal Lewis was their main runner when we played, and now he's gone, too. Harrison wasn't even playing much then. They were bouncing back and forth between Quinn and Anderson, and now they have a different quarterback. ...
"It was hard to tell what they were trying to do with their offense last year. I just took it play to play, and they didn't do a lot against us. Delhomme gets your attention a little more; he's a pretty savvy guy, a real competitive dude. I assume they'll be more organized. Between Jake and Daboll, the coordinator, they should have more of a clue."
It's one thing for the hiring of Holmgren to have energized the fan base, but it's another for such a move to have changed the thinking of the players, scouts and coaches. Owner Randy Lerner wanted a credible football authority to take charge and change the way his operation is perceived. Mission accomplished.
QB: Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace
FB: Lawrence Vickers, Peyton Hillis
RB: Jerome Harrison, Montario Hardesty
WR: Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs
WR: Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey
TE: Ben Watson, Robert Royal
LT: Joe Thomas, John St. Clair
LG: Eric Steinbach, Billy Yates
C: Alex Mack, Eric Ghiaciuc
RG: Floyd Womack, Shawn Lauvao
RT: Tony Pashos, John St. Clair
LE: Kenyon Coleman, Brian Schaefering
NT: Shaun Rogers, Ahtyba Rubin
RE: Robaire Smith, C.J. Mosley
OLB: Matt Roth, Jason Trusnik
ILB: D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava
ILB: Scott Fujita, Eric Barton
OLB: David Bowens, Chris Gocong
CB: Eric Wright, Coye Francies
CB: Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown
SS: Abram Elam, Nick Sorensen
FS: T.J. Ward, Mike Adams
Specialists K: Phil Dawson
P: Dave Zastudil
KR: Josh Cribbs
PR: Josh Cribbs
LS: Ryan Pontbriand
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
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