Few teams are going through more change this offseason than the Cleveland Browns. … Again.
This time the turnover includes not just a new coach or quarterback, but a new ownership group led by Jimmy Haslam. Haslam wasted no time putting a new stamp on the organization, bringing in Joe Banner to run the team. The duo then signed off on the additions of Michael Lombardi as vice president of player personnel, Rob Chudzinski as head coach and Norv Turner and Ray Horton as coordinators.
The new regime inherits a team that has not shown much for results in the win/loss column in recent years. But the cupboards are not bare. With Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon, there is some skill talent. And while the defense took a step back in 2012, that unit was pretty good a year earlier.
Zoneblitz: I know it was driven largely by the change of ownership, but it looked at times to me like the Browns were making forward strides over the last couple years. Did you agree with the firing of Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert?
DiMatteo: It is what it is at this point. Shurmur likely needed to be fired, but it just didn’t seem plausible that Heckert would be able to stick around as well while everyone else around him got fired. I like what Heckert has done to the roster, and he certainly didn’t deserve to be fired, but that’s just how it works sometimes.
Zoneblitz: What are your early impressions of new owner Jimmy Haslam?
DiMatteo: I think he genuinely wants to put a winning team on the field, and will do it by any means necessary. I think anyone can appreciate that he is trying to turn the Browns into more of a recognizable brand, like the Cowboys, but that can only truly be enhanced by on-field success. I’ll have a better assessment of him and the rest of the front office once we see how this draft/season shakes out.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on the hiring of Rob Chudzinski and of the staff that Chudzinski has put together?
DiMatteo: I was a big proponent of bring in Ken Whisenhunt, so I’m in wait-and-see mode with Chudzinski right now, but I am much more confident in him based on his staff, which includes both Norv Turner and Ray Horton. Those could be the best moves of the offseason.
Zoneblitz: Brandon Weeden certainly wasn’t as good as a couple of the other rookie quarterbacks in 2012, but he seemed to show some signs. What are your thoughts on him as the starter and what will the position as a whole look like in 2013?
DiMatteo: Weeden’s progress seemed to be stagnant late in the season, but he’s a perfect fit for Chudzinski’s vertical offense. With a lack of other quality quarterback options out there, I think he returns as the starter in 2013.
Zoneblitz: With Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon, it appears as though Cleveland is at least starting to put together some young skill talent. What else does the team have or need that will help field a more competitive offense?
DiMatteo: Though Greg Little showed some signs of progress, the Browns could still use a go-to receiver, and Mike Wallace could be the perfect fit.
Zoneblitz: The defense took a step back in 2012 after a pretty solid 2011. Which is the true indication of the unit’s skill level and what does the team need to do to get back to the 2011 level?
DiMatteo: That’s a tough question, as the Browns are switching to a 3-4, multi-front defense this season. It’ll be hard to compare it to the 2011 team, but if the Browns don’t find some pass rushers through free agency or the draft, the defense is going to have issues.
Zoneblitz: Are there any players on the current roster you could see having a breakout 2013 season?
DiMatteo: Though he had a pretty good rookie year, I think Trent Richardson could explode in 2013.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Browns do in the draft and in free agency?
DiMatteo: More than anything, find a way to improve the defense. Linebackers and defensive ends are now a must for this team, and they have to address those concerns.
Zoneblitz: In a division where Pittsburgh took a step back, but Cincinnati has had back-to-back playoff seasons and Baltimore won the Super Bowl, just how far are the Browns from being a playoff contender?
DiMatteo: Luckily, this is the NFL, so no team is ever that far off. But they won’t go anywhere until they figure out the quarterback situation. If Weeden can’t give them a few solid seasons, they’ll be frantically searching for years, always toiling in mediocrity.