The Browns' fans are known as some of the most loyal in all of the NFL and the biggest questions facing the Cleveland Browns in 2014 are more minor than what they are use to. This loyalty hangs on the fact that the Browns have only made one playoff appearance since the rebirth of the franchise in 1999. In the past 14 years, the Cleveland Browns have managed only two winning seasons in total. These same fans are used to questions facing their team, however this year seems to be one that is really energizing them despite a 2013 season record of 4-12. Training camp has been sold out and has even included zip lines along with extensive media coverage. This excitement may seem strange considering the fact that the team does not have a definite answer at the quarterback position. A position that has been one of the biggest concerns for the Cleveland Browns in the past dozen years.
Still, there is plenty for the fans to be hopeful about. The Browns have made some big improvements in the off-season. Most notably on the defense, offensive line and the running game. The cornerback tandem of Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert may emerge as the best in the league. Similarly, the running back pair of Ben Tate and Terrence West provide a diverse attack. Tate is a powerful downhill runner while West has a more shifty breakaway style. The offensive line is also one of the best in the NFL. That being said, there are two main concerns for the Cleveland Browns.
1. Who is the number 1 receiver following the suspension of Josh Gordon?
The void leaves a dire need for a big play-maker who can be considered number 1. A wide receiver who will line up against an opponent's best defensive back. There is no doubt that Josh Gordon is a special talent that can not be replaced, but one of the wide receivers will undoubtedly have to step up tremendously and become a favorite and productive target for either Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer.
Part of the success of the offense working will be giving the quarterback a reliable target not named Jordan Cameron. A tide end can't be relied on to be the top target all the time for the quarterback. The top wide receiver options for the Browns include Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin and Nate Burleson. All three are both in their first year with the team and are over the age of 28.Andrew Hawkins hopes to play a key role in the Browns offense in 2014
Andrew Hawkins spent the last three seasons with divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns must have been very familiar with him and saw his talent since the Browns have played against Cincinnati plenty of time in the last three years.
Hawkins is a slot type receiver, possessing great speed but lacking in size. He found his most production in the 2012 year with the Bengal catching 51 passes for 533 yards. He became a fan favorite in Cincinnati earning the nickname "Baby Hawk."
The concerns that surround Hawkins is his durability. At 5'7" 175 lbs, he is one of the smallest players in the NFL when it comes to body mass which makes him more susceptible to injuries from big hits. Injuries would not be new to Hawkins, who suffered an ankle injury before preseason 2013 which kept him out until week 9.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you will find Miles Austin who stands at 6'2" and weights 216 lbs. Similar dimensions and deep threat that Josh Gordon was known for.Miles Austin will have to fill Josh Gordon's shoes in 2014
Miles spent 2013 with the Dallas Cowboys in which he struggled with both injuries and production. In 2013, he managed only 24 catches for 244 yards. The 2013 statistics are more of an aberration of his career as he managed 3,883 yards of receiving in his previous 4 years in Dallas.
Miles Austin is just the big target needed for either Maziel or Hoyer. Last year Hoyer had a favorite receiver of similar proportions in Gordon and Manziel had plenty of success with big bodied Mike Evans at Texas A&M. Miles give either quarterback a quantum of comfort and familiarity. The biggest concern for Austin is whether he will play like his 2013 self or 2010 self.
Nate Burleson has a chance to make an impact on the team as well but seems like an unlikely target as number 1. Burleson is a 12 year veteran who has seen success and has made plenty of great catches. He has over 5,000 yards and 39 TDs in his career. Last year was spent in Detroit pairing with Calvin Johnson and catching 53 passes for 461 yards. Consistency is the word that can best describe Burlesons career. He is an incredibly balanced player who combines speed, route running and great hands. His greatest value may be his work ethic.
This ragtag group of receivers may seem like a crew assembled for a movie along the lines of Bad News Bears or Little Giants, but one of these players will need to emerge with a 1,000 yard season in 2014 for a movie-esque ending.
2. Who will be the quarterback?
The quarterback battle is in full swing and rightfully so because even if every other position on the team is solid, the difference making factor will be who is under center. No other position has as much impact on a team as quarterback because no other player touches the ball as much as them. The pros and cons of both rookie Johnny Manziel and incumbent Brian Hoyer have both been analyzed and no consensus has been agreed upon as of yet. This is why the question of who will be quarterback is the most daunting one. The difference between playoffs or not will be determined by quarterback. All the pieces seem to be in place for a winning season but there is a giant question mark with the most important position.
Brian Hoyer is the best quarterback on the team as of right now and he is rightfully considered the starter. He may even be the best quarterback who has been on the team in the last 5 years. It can be said with great confidence that if Hoyer had not been injured last year, the team would have went at least 8-8.The biggest concern for the Cleveland Browns is whether Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel is the answer at quarterback
His strengths are his experience, leadership, work ethic, confidence, accuracy and most importantly his hunger. The drafting of Manziel really lit a fire under his rear and he seems to be rising up to the challenge of the competition. Knowing he is on a short lease and under a lot of pressure to preform seems to have elevated his confidence. Seeing himself stack up against and outperform Manziel in practice has made him hungry.
He has a few factors going against him though. His brief but great play in 2013 may have just been a fluke or it may be greatly enhanced by having a superstar like Josh Gordon. The second thing going against him is both the popularity and investment of Johnny Manziel. Hoyer will have approximately 4 games to prove he deserves to be the starter. Anything less that 2-2 in those first 4 games will give Manziel the job likely for the rest of the season. It's Hoyer's job to lose and only he can rise to the occasion.
Johnny Manziel is not lacking in confidence either and he shouldn't be. He knows he has talent and he knows he has time on his side. He will eventually start and he knows that. Johnny's mediocre performance in practice doesn't seem to bother him and from interviews he makes it clear that it is a learning process that requires time.
Manziel's strengths are his intangibles, athleticism, winning spirit, surprising arm strength and confidence. In college, Manziel was able to throw receivers open quite well. He had the ability to make his receivers better than they were. This trait will come in handy very well with the group of eclectic receivers that the Browns have rounded up. Manziel's special running ability also makes linebackers hesitant which can give inside receivers the gaps necessary to get open. He hasn't been incredibly impressive in practice but a player like him can't accurately be judged on practice because it is very scripted and the plays aren't exactly tailored to his style of play.
Biggest concerns facing Manziel are his off field issues, playbook comprehension, and his NFL inexperience. During recent post training camp interviews, he has acknowledged that he needs to conduct himself in a more professional manner and in time he will. The playbook comprehension will not determine when he gets to play, but how well he plays. What determines when he plays is how well Hoyer plays. His untested ability at the NFL level is a big question mark and many have wondered whether his skill set will even translate in this league.
It's no question that these players have many pieces of the team already set in place for them. The biggest questions facing the Browns revolve solely on the offense and passing game. There doesn't seem to be a clear cut answer as of yet to the quarterback and wide receiver questions and they will not likely be answered until a few games into the regular season. The newly found energy and hope of the Cleveland Brown's fans will hinge on a few key players stepping up in 2014.