Senior Writer

Season preview: 2011 Browns


Offense: Second-year quarterback Colt McCoy has impressed his teammates and the Cleveland Browns staff this summer. He doesn't have the big arm, but he knows where to go with the football. He isn't big, but he's tough. McCoy just might be one of those guys who just finds a way to get it done. He's a gym rat, which helps. The problem is he doesn't have a great group to throw to outside. Keep an eye on rookie Greg Little. He has impressed in the preseason, and he is big and fast. The Browns need more from some of their other young receivers. Veteran tight end Ben Watson does a nice job. The line is solid, led by left tackle Joe Thomas. Losing guard Eric Steinbach is a hit, even if he wasn't as good as his reputation. The Browns have to hope Peyton Hillis can duplicate his impressive 2010 season. He doesn't have great speed, but he knows how to move the chains. The Browns were 29th in total offense last season and 29th in passing. McCoy needs to take those numbers into the teens if the Browns are to get to 8-8. If he doesn't, the Browns will be drafting his replacement next spring.

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Defense: The Browns are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means they will use some young players up front. Rookie Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard are penciled in as starters at tackle and end. They both impressed during the preseason. Cleveland struggled to stop the run in 2010, so Taylor will be an important part of improving that part of the defense. They have to get pass rush from Sheard. Ahtytba Rubin, who plays next to Taylor, is an underrated player. The linebackers are just OK and lack great speed. The secondary has two good young players in corner Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward, who both were starters as rookies. This is a unit that looks to be one more offseason away from being a top-10 defense. They added some nice pieces this offseason, but there are still too many questions. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has a lot of work to do.

Coaching and schemes: New coach Pat Shurmur is a West Coast offense disciple. Expect to see an offense similar to that of the Philadelphia Eagles. In McCoy, he has the right kind of guy running the offense. Jauron is a 4-3 coach who isn't a big believer in the blitz. His defense is predicated on getting pressure with the front four and playing coverage behind it. He is the opposite of Rob Ryan, who coached the Browns defense last season. Jauron is laid-back as much as any coach in the NFL.

Outlook: If McCoy can take big steps forward, and a weapon emerges outside, the Browns should be much better on offense. They will be feisty on defense, but a lack of talent will hurt. They will push to get to seven victories.

Predicted finish: 6-10, third in AFC North.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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