Three and Out: Tackling Some Cleveland Browns Storylines Heading Into Week 1

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Welcome to the debut of the “Three and Out,” a brand new, weekly article that will be published as a preview for the upcoming Browns regular season game. In this week’s edition of the “Three and Out,” we take a look at some of the storylines and misconceptions leading up to the Cleveland Browns Week 1 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

1st Down: The Wentz Saga

“It’s hard to be great if you don’t take some risks” – Howie Roseman

That is what Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman said when he traded with the Cleveland Browns for the No. 2 overall pick in April. Meaning, even he wasn’t completely sold on Carson Wentz, a risk the quarterback needy Browns weren’t willing to make.

Here’s the thing, the same media darlings that made a “hide-the-injury-history” conspiracy theory for Corey Coleman (because they failed to research the draft picks, or even read the scouting reports) didn’t care about Wentz’s injury history in college. The same media darlings only focused on Robert Griffin III’s at the pro-level.

The Browns probably view it like they did with every other roster move, risk vs reward. On one hand, Wentz has a history of injuries, yet lacks the history of prolonged production. On the other hand, Griffin has injuries, but produced as a starter in college and the NFL. Griffin and Wentz both have a history of injuries, but at least Griffin made it through camp in one piece so the Browns coaches could get a read on him. Wentz on the other hand, didn’t.

Remember how awful it was that Coleman missed two preseason games and two weeks of camp because of a hamstring injury? Imagine if that was the case for the Browns starting quarterback instead of a wide receiver. Oh, and Wentz is only two years younger than Griffin.

So, yes Griffin failed in Washington, but has the experience of playing in the NFL and playing at an elite level, but Wentz wasn’t even a quarterback until his senior year of high school when he was healing from arm injuries suffered while playing baseball. Sure, he had a glowing prospect report, but it didn’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling I want in a first-round pick, nor did it move not Hue Jackson or the front office.

2nd Down: Cuts, Trades and Doomsday Predictions

“We want to be a sustainable, winning football team for years to come.” – Hue Jackson

The negativity surrounding the Cleveland Browns is typical, but understandable. Despite, the awful record last year with the veterans, the offseason cuts have been labelled as a sort of purging of previous regimes to pave the playing way for the new draft picks.

Yes, the Browns did cut several veterans and made some trades, but none of those players were playing at an elite, or even hard-to-replace, level. The Paul Kruger cut, Barkevious Mingo and Justin Gilbert trades look like “purges” to the untrained eye, but what did you see out of any of them in the preseason games or last year that made them worth keeping?

How many losses should we add to the Browns record because Gilbert, who couldn’t maintain playing time under the coaches that wanted to draft him, was traded to, gasp, (inhales deeply due to an appalling shock) the dreaded Steelers. Sadly, the focus wasn’t on the only team willing to trade for Gilbert being in the division, or that his value had fallen from first-round pick to future 6th rounder.

Looking at the Browns roster, it is easy to see the reasoning behind the negative thinking.

RG3 is the Browns starting quarterback after not playing in the NFL last year. They are relying on a lot of rookies, second-year players and other team’s castoffs for big contributions. Cameron Erving is the starting center after struggling last season. It seems the roster is full of rookies or players trying to rebound from a bad season, with the exceptions of Joe Thomas and Gary Barnidge.

I’ll concede that 0–16 seems more feasible than 16–0 at this point, but people forget how smart an offensive coach Jackson is, or defensive line coach Robert Nunn’s track record, Al Saunders’ praise from around the league or defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi’s ability to get the most out of his players. They are coaches who make decent players good and good players great. This season for the Browns, it’s about getting something out of the rookies and second year players, while slowly expanding their roles when they are ready.

3rd Down: Rebuild Mode or Find Out What You Are Made Of?

“And the key thing for us is to maintain and really create that young nucleus of talent that we’ll build off of for some time….” – Sashi Brown

The last thing I think people have the misconception of is, the Browns are in “rebuild mode.”

The fact that the roster is composed mostly of first or second-year players and other teams’ roster cuts, the trades of the previous regime’s picks and the release of several veterans, means there wasn’t anything to build from.  However, one thing the Browns haven’t done, is scavenge their coaches’ old teams players in free agency. This was somewhat explained by Mike Silver’s The First 33 Weeks article on SI, a very interesting and enlightening read for those of you interested. Also, check out Robert Klemko’s May 11th article “How Quarterbacks Are Made” for some interesting background on the 2016 QB Draft class and some Browns tidbits.

To me, this year the Browns drafted some players they liked and thought they could develop, and are actually giving them the time to develop. The Browns are basically trying to win as many games as possible, while seeing what they have in their players and reclamation projects like Griffin and Josh Gordon; two guys who didn’t play a combined down last year.

Will they lose some games? Yeah, but I’d rather lose while developing younger players and getting them the valuable playing time they need to gain experience, than with a bunch of overpaid veterans, wouldn’t you?

“And at the end of the day… I don’t like being part of jokes. So, we’re going to do everything we can here to win.” – Hue Jackson

And the Punt (Because, as Browns Fans this is Something We Are Used to)

Here’s to hoping we see Brian Billick in a Browns jersey on TV next week…and don’t worry, Ohio’s own Nick Shook of the NFL Network has fans covered if Billick “Can’t find a Browns jersey” to wear according to his conversation with CSZ Founder Bob Evans on Twitter.

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David is a talented writer who has been covering the Browns for a few years now. He is a contributor to CSZ, and also writes for BrownsBeat.com and EverybodyHatesCleveland.com.

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