Cleveland Browns Look to Debut New Era Under Mike Pettine


The 2015 season is just beginning, so it’s natural that positivity pervades the Berea, Ohio facility where the Cleveland Browns’ rookie minicamp is happening. With head coach Mike Pettine now in his second year and the 90-man off season roster set, there have been a lot of encouraging reports from coaches and front office staff about what they’re seeing.

This year more than years in the recent past really is a season of rebirth for the Browns. They have a new look, on the field and off the field. Pettine’s defensive system has all-new parts. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is installing his system. And the scandalous headlines of 2014 have been laid to rest.

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Make no mistake about it – this year’s Cleveland Browns will not look like last year’s. 2014 was a strange season for the team. There was internal turmoil with Josh Gordon, and Johnny Manziel took us all on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. But under quiet, hard-nosed Brian Hoyer, the team managed to eke out first place in the division for an instant, before falling down again, as they have so many times before.

The let-down of 2014 was particularly bad because it seemed like there were wins left on the table. Work ethic and scheme tactics and ownership pressure combined to derail something that, if it wasn’t exactly succeeding, it was at least good at pretending to.

Hence, 2015 will be different.

Starting with the offense and the weapons available, there is obviously no reliance on the wide receiver corps to play the hero. On paper, there are no above-average playmakers among this group. This is fair, because the quarterback situation is equally as uninspiring. As disappointing as it is not to see a splash draft choice at that skill position, there is a certain wisdom that picking up that player this year was a waste when your quarterback can’t take advantage of their skills.

Pettine confirmed this line of thinking when speaking to Arthur Weinstein of Sporting News, saying, “I’m very confident in the plan that we’re going to build and I’m thrilled with the players we’re putting on the field around the quarterback. I’ve talked about this from the beginning — that you want to minimize the importance of the quarterback.”

Dec 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine on the sidelines against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

This plan is contrary to the thinking in the rest of the league, what with this being the golden era of the passing game. But the Seattle Seahawks showed that ground and pound workhorse backs like Marshawn Lynch still have a place in this league and a role to play in championships. And this past season’s Super Bowl was lost for the Seahawks off a pass, when everyone and their grandma was expecting a Lynch run to punch in the killing blow, so there’s a lot of legitimacy to this thinking.

Of course the Kansas City Chiefs have also been trying to follow this formula and it’s yet to get them out of the first round of the playoffs. At least they’re going?

This strategy is especially daunting in the AFC North, where strong quarterbacks play on all the other teams (yes, even Cincinnati). Weinstein noted that Pettine brushed this deficiency off.

“We go 11 against 11, we’re not just trotting quarterbacks out on the 50-yard line and thumb wrestling,” Pettine said.

That might work on the defensive side of the house, where giant nose tackle Danny Shelton and fellow 2015 selections Nate Orchard and Xavier Cooper are already making an impact in rookie mini-camp.

Kevin Jones of noted the immediate difference, “Cooper was nearly unblockable in 11-on-11 drills. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder screams potential as both a disruptive run stuffer and threat to quarterbacks. Alongside the gargantuan Danny Shelton – who was practicing his swim move quite often – Cleveland’s defensive line is projecting to have much more playmaking firepower in 2015.”

It could hardly be otherwise after ranking last in the league at run blocking last year but the vision coalescing in mini-camp is exciting. The defense could feature at least three rookies this year. That makes for some great opportunities to surprise your opponents (and fans) with your ability.

Hopefully the enthusiasm and progress continue into training camp.

Next: Grading the 2015 Browns Draft

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