CLEVELAND — Things haven’t changed much for the Browns.
Oh, sure, the roster has been tweaked by draft picks, free agents and will be missing some familiar names. Cleveland’s deep defense enters 2015 with a chance to be one of the NFL’s top units. The coaching staff has undergone a makeover and the kicker and punter were booted.
And, the Browns finally freshened up their traditional uniforms.
However, one vital area remains the same: The Browns still don’t have a long-term answer at quarterback.
Josh McCown, who went just 1-10 as a starter for Tampa Bay last season, will open camp as the starter and barring an injury or unforeseen catastrophe, he’ll keep his job unless Johnny Manziel shakes completely free of his demons and develops into the player Cleveland hoped when it selected the former Heisman Trophy winner.
Assuming he stays No. 1, McCown will be the 22nd quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999, a confounding trend that shows no signs of stopping. The 35-year-old had some success with Chicago in 2013, going 3-2 after replacing Jay Cutler, but he knows most Browns fans view him as little more than a temporary Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
“I understand people’s perceptions of me,” said McCown, who is 17-32 as a starter. “I understand people’s frustration. But my mindset is to come in here, grow and improve as a football player, and help this team win football games.”
The Browns were 7-4 in coach Mike Pettine’s first season before the bottom fell out with five consecutive losses.
The spiral continued in the offseason as former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon was slapped with a one-year suspension; Manziel entered rehab for an unspecified issue; offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan resigned; and general manager Ray Farmer was suspended four games for sending texts to Cleveland’s sideline during games.
It’s always something with the Browns, who have lost at least 10 games in 10 of the past 12 years.
Pettine won’t survive another losing season, so it’s imperative for McCown to provide some stability and deliver some wins.
Here are five other things to keep an eye on this summer with the Browns:
JOHNNY’S COMEBACK: Manziel remains a national curiosity, but his star is waning. He appeared overwhelmed in his two starts last season, and although he appears to have his personal life in better order, Manziel was inconsistent on the field during minicamp this spring.
UNITED FRONT: Cleveland was last in the league against the run last season, allowing 126 yards per game. Massive first-round pick Danny Shelton, a 339-pound catch from Washington, will be counted on to help strengthen a glaring weakness. With Shelton, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Desmond Bryant, Randy Starks, Xavier Cooper and Billy Winn, the Browns have some big bodies to put up front.
PRYOR’S SWITCH: Former Ohio State and Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor has switched to wide receiver to prolong his pro career. A freakish athlete, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Pryor sees himself as more as of a “slash” player, and the Browns might be able to use his unique talents in a number of packages, including 2-point conversions.
Pryor spent part of the summer working out with Randy Moss.
MR. VERSATILE: The question isn’t whether rookie offensive lineman Cameron Erving plays, it’s which position? Erving lined up at tackle, guard and center during minicamp, and it’s clear the first-round pick from Florida State can handle himself at each spot. Erving could replace John Greco at right guard or Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
Down the road, he could take over at center if former Pro Bowler Alex Mack, who can opt out of his contract after this season, leaves.
GIFTED GILBERT: Manziel wasn’t the only rookie disappointment. Cornerback Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick in 2014, lost playing time, was constantly tardy to meetings and was suspended for the season finale. Gilbert has professed to be more mature and the Browns are holding him to his word.
If Gilbert can contribute, Cleveland has one of the league’s most talented defensive backfields.
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