Here come the Browns, right?

  Scott Audette/AP Photo
It's not easy being a Cleveland Browns' fan, but that statement alone is chalk full of the richest irony.

While the yearly Browns' demise is a hard one for supporters of the team to stomach, the city of Cleveland turns out to support their NFL team without hesitation.

Seriously, this is the stuff of a tremendous Master's Thesis.

So as we gaze upon the 2015 Browns' season, it's hard not to wade into it without the caution of a grizzled, veteran boxer, waiting for an unsuspecting low blow.

What do the Browns have to offer this year? Chances are pretty good that you've already waded through website after website, diagnosing every position. You probably have had your fill of the Josh McCown talk, especially when it's consistently intertwined with Johnny Manziel. You likely have begun turning the page from Justin Gilbert immaturity factor, but I'll talk about both in a second.

Instead, you're probably curious about this team, and who they truly are. Are they the team that started of 7-4 last season, before crumbling down the stretch? Or, are they just the team that crumbled down the stretch?

How important will the Josh McCown vs. Johnny Manziel battle be to the Browns' 2015 season?

I'm not here to debate who Josh McCown is, because social media has been dancing with that questions since the Browns signed him. McCown is a leader in spirit. By all indicators, he's a guy that can lead a locker room with the right type of "energy," whatever that means. The 36-year old has played in 12 NFL seasons, has played for nine NFL teams, has played in 69 total games, and started 49 of them.

That's really where it begins and ends for me.

You can talk about leadership all you want, but in the end, there's a reason why he's played for so many teams for so many years. The Josh McCowns of the world serve an important purpose. The journeymen of the league bring experience, and the really good ones last a long time in this league. McCown has done that by playing in 69 out of 209 football games, and starting 49 of them.

He's the guy you want backing up your starter, not being your starter, and if you sign him as your starter, you quickly realize that he's fill until you can find another starter.

Which brings me to Johnny Football.

He was historically bad last year, but the main question with regards to last year is, should there even have been a last year? You can look at that in two ways. The first, which I'm not a fan of, is with a revisionists query pondering why the Browns didn't just take Teddy Bridgewater to begin with, the way Steve Orbanek, Mike Hattery and I opined for a year on our Cleveland Sports Insiders podcast? While I don't think anyone confused him to be a gamebreaker last year, it was clear that he has the look of an extremely competent NFL quarterback, if not better.

The other is to ponder why in the hell Manziel made it into the huddle if the Browns had any clue that he wasn't ready to be the NFL starter to begin with. Manziel ended up spending months in a rehab clinic, rehabbing...something.

He clearly didn't have a grasp of the playbook.

Which makes it damn hard to figure out if he's any good.

Where this bugs me the most though is with regards to a coaching staff that should have known better. There's this theory that Kyle Shanahan was at fault here, and that he didn't know that his quarterback had his head up his proverbial keister. Or, did Shanahan know, and leave because nobody listened to a word he said?

Who knows, and at this point, who cares.

The real worry here is that Manziel, who seems to be on a normal level of NFL tolerance right now, really isn't any good, and that the Browns screwed up their entire 2014 draft on a couple of guys that have the maturity level of five-year old who's been given a bag full off chocolate, except Manziel's isn't get the point.

In the end, the Browns season will likely rest on how these two ultimately perform, and I'm not confident that either can do the job. McCown is a stop-gap, and Manziel is set to learn from him. That's my hinting suspicion at why Ray Farmer grabbed McCown so early, and why Manziel isn't starting. My hope is that Manziel can learn, and not implode. If not, I'm okay with this arrangement.

Of course, who thinks he won't implode?

Last year, we were chomping at the bit regarding the Browns rushing attack, featuring rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, with Ben Tate added to the mix. Uh....

So this year we're chomping at the bit for Crowell and Duke Johnson. It appears as though West had poor practice habits, and after trading two picks to move up and get can see where the concern comes in.

The Browns took Gilbert, Manziel and West in the same draft, and all had the same lack of preparation characteristics. For many GMs, that would have been the end of the road, especially considering that Ray Farmer had problems texting last year, but Farmer appears to still be the guy, likely since so many "guys" have been fired in recent years.

Farmer admitted his mistake, traded West, and now will depend on Crowell, starting his second year, and Duke Johnson, who many are talking about the same way they were talking about West last year. I truly love the idea of Johnson and Crowell in our backfield, but at the same time, I also realize that they have the feel of players that are going to need some time to hit full gear as a tandem.

In other words, while I love their future, I'm not sure they are going to play up to it this year, although with that line, you never know.

So, isn't the conversation about QB and RB this year sound a lot like last year?


The offensive line is really good.

It will have to be, because McCown is terrible under pressure.

But it is.

Of course, the Jets front seven is really good, so we'll get a nice indicator today just how good their offensive line really is.

The Browns' left side of the line might be the best in football. At tackle, Joe Thomas is the best in the game, and while his career has an expiration date, last year's play is a decent indicator that we should be talking about years, plural. Joel Bitonio was one of the top three rookie offensive lineman in football last year, and some could make a case that he was the best, and not be wrong.

The right side has bigger question marks, especially with Cameron Erving not earning a starting spot. Instead, John Greco is starting at right guard, with Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle. Greco was fine last year in the role, and played a game at center when Mack was lost for the season. He really is more of a journeyman, but I like that he was chomping at the bit to start all offseason, and held off a #1 pick. Schwartz is solid, but prone to make mistakes, which are likely more noticeable because there are three likely pro bowlers on the line.

One of them is Alex Mack, who is back after a season-ending broken leg last year that had a major role in the Browns' struggles down the stretch. If Mack returns to form, and Erving finds his way, the Browns could tout the best offensive line in football, if they don't already.

How good is the Browns rush defense going to be this year?

They were really bad last year.

So they drafted Danny Shelton, and he's looked good. He's rough around the edges, but his raw ability is tantalizing. Desmond Bryant has looked good as well, and Starks brings int he veteran presence that they need.

There's some depth there as well, with Phil Taylor returning and not having to play every down, as well as rookie Xavier Cooper, who appears to be a future starter. Armonty Bryant will see plenty of snaps, as will John Hughes.

They could be pretty good, and if it all clicks, really good, but I do think it will take time.

Can Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Tyler Gabriel and Gary Barnidge be effective weapons, and will it even matter?

It's clear that the Browns are gearing up to be a running team, even though they lack depth at the running back position. What they need are position receivers that can keep a defense honest, even though they seem to lack a true deep threat.

Bowe and Hartline are on the downsides of their career, and while Hartline will likely have a nice season, I'm really not sure about Bowe. There were so many questions this offseason about whether or not he'd even make the team, so I do wonder. I love Hawkins in the role as a third receiver, but they can't forget about him, and Gabriel fits in that Hawkins role as well.

Gary Barnidge is likely going to have a key role in this offense, as Jordan Cameron was supposed to have last year. He hasn't done much in his NFL career, but there seems to be more there. Like the rest of the receivers though, it's a big question mark.

I don't like question marks for receivers when you have quarterbacks that, well, don't need question marks.

In Haden we trust.

He may be the best corner in football.

If he isn't, he is definitively a top five corner in all the land. I can live with that.

I love Pierre Desir, and think he's going to be a pro bowler in this league. As for Justin Gilbert, the kid has all the talent in the world, and a ten cent head. He won't play with a ten cent head, but if he figures it out, he could be good.

I'm just not counting on it, nor are the Browns, who will likely sit him on the bench.

I love Whitner and Gipson as well. The secondary should be fine this year, especially if Desir starts figuring it out, and stays healthy.

The Browns linebackers are a solid group, but could be spectacular if Barkevious Mingo reaches up, and hasn't plateaued.

Mingo has all the athletic ability in the world to be a star. You see it here and there, but he hasn't put it all together just yet. I think he will.

Dansby, Robertson and Kruger are steady hands, and Kirksey shows a lot of promise. It's a good unity that good be great if it all works out. When you meld it into this overall defense, you can really see something special over the horizon if players pick it up, instead of treading water.

That's where coaching comes in.

In the end, I don't know what the Browns are going to do this year. My gut says 8-8, but my brain says 6-10.

I'll split the difference, and say 7-9.

Now let's see if they can prove me wrong.
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