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2012 NFL Preview: Rookies front and centre for Browns

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Pat Lovgren, TSN.ca Staff
8/29/2012 12:11:55 PM
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Reasons To Believe

1. Revamped Offence - The Browns were left with no choice but to focus much of their draft efforts on the offensive side of the ball after their 2011 offensive disaster in which they scored over 20 points in just one game. Weeden was drafted with the expectation that he would be able to step in and start from day one. Richardson gives Cleveland a game-breaking talent they hope will take some pressure off their rookie quarterback. The team also selected 6-foot-3 receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft and hope the troubled, but talented wideout can win a starting spot with a solid training camp.

2. Defensive Growth - Although the Browns did struggle badly against the run, they were actually the second best team in football against the pass. Youngsters Joe Haden and T.J. Ward continue to show promise in the secondary. D'Qwell Jackson is a tackling machine at middle linebacker, while Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin are young, underrated defensive lineman. The potential is there for the Browns defense to continue to get better and hopefully take some pressure off the inexperienced offence.

3. Running With Richardson - The powerful back is perfectly suited to go up against the intimidating defences of the AFC North. The organization is hoping his hard-nosed, take no prisoners running style will rub off on other areas of the football team. The Browns have lacked a franchise defining, central piece that they could build around since returning to Cleveland and hope Richardson will be the player that will lead them back to prominence.

Reasons To Doubt

1. Run Defence - A unit that gave up 147 yards on the ground in 2011 lost a key cog when last year's first-round pick, defensive tackle Phil Taylor was forced to have surgery after he tore a pectoral muscle. Rookie's John Hughes and Billy Winn will look to pick up the slack, along with free agent DE Frostee Rucker who was signed from Cincinnati. Replacing the 335-pound Taylor is no small task, figuratively or literally however, and by the time he returns – hopefully prior the Browns' bye in week 10 – the season may already be lost.

2. Pass Catchers - The Browns certainly aren't making Weeden's transition to the pro game an easy one. Besides the addition of Gordon – who has three failed drug tests in college, making him a huge wild card - the team failed to acquire anyone who would make a significant difference in the passing game. That means they will again be counting on the likes of Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Benjamin Watson to carry the bulk of the receiving load. Little did have a solid rookie season, but is not the type of down-field threat that scares defences.

3. Divisional Strength - Being stuck in one of the best divisions in football makes a Browns' turnaround that much more unlikely. The Steelers and Ravens are expected to again challenge for an AFC title and the Bengals are a team on the rise. Cleveland will play Cincinnati and Baltimore twice each in their first nine games, so if they are to challenge for a playoff spot, a split in those four interdivisional games is a must.

What To Expect

The drafting of Richardson should finally give the franchise a player in which they can build upon. Still, the development of Weeden will likely determine the Browns fate. A year along the lines of the one Andy Dalton had as a rookie with Cincinnati will have the Browns challenging for a playoff berth. Whereas, a Blaine Gabbert-type rookie season will have Cleveland back in a familiar position in the AFC North standings.

Trent Richardson  (Photo: Diamond Images/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Diamond Images/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
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