The Cleveland Browns are a franchise dealing with controversy off of the field, but for once it appears they are building in the right direction with a strong foundation on it. The Browns are a long shot to make the playoffs again in 2013, but with running back Trent Richardson set to lead an improving offense and a ton of new talent on a revamped 3-4 defense, there is finally reason for optimism in Cleveland
2013 Super Bowl Odds: +8,000
Notable Change #1: Richardson Ready To Emerge As A Star Under Turner
Richardson managed to rush for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie season despite playing with two broken ribs and a number of nagging injuries including a knee that required arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. Finally healthy again, the third-overall pick from last year’s NFL Draft is primed for a breakout year, and will be the focal point of the offense under new coordinator Norv Turner. Running backs playing under Turner have led the NFL in rushing five different times in the past, and Richardson will be looking to add his name to that list in a revamped offense.
Notable Change #2: Weeden Entering Second Year As Franchise Quarterback
Another beneficiary of Turner’s presence in Cleveland will be second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is expected to take another step forward after dealing with an adjustment period in his first year in the NFL. Weeden is a tall, strong passer that has all of the tools to be successful in this league, but he must improve his decision-making and poise under pressure. Part of the problem has been a lack of weapons around him, which the team attempted to address by adding free agent wide receivers Davone Bess and David Nelson. The offensive line is solid and experienced with Pro Bowl talents left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack leading the way, and should give Weeden the time he needs in the pocket while the rushing attack keeps the pass rush off balance.
Notable Change #3: Defense Much More Talented After Free Agency, Draft
The defense will get a makeover under new coordinator Ray Horton, who will install a 3-4 with an emphasis on getting after opposing quarterbacks and disrupting the timing of opposing offenses. The Browns landed Barkevious Mingo with the sixth-overall pick in the NFL Draft to set the edge on one side, and then signed Quentin Groves in free agency to man the other side. Cleveland also brought in former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Paul Kruger to play in the middle next to D’Qwell Jackson, with third-round pick Leon McFadden and free agent signing Kevin Barnes set to battle for the opening cornerback spot opposite Pro Bowl talent Joe Haden. The change in scheme and overall talent boost should be enough to set a fire under this defense, and it should show dramatic improvement as the Browns fight to prove they can contend in the AFC North.
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