The collection of embarrassing performances turned in by the Browns’ offense last season prompted the organization to embark on an aggressive overhaul in recent months.
In the draft, the Browns traded up from the fourth overall selection to the No. 3 pick, ensuring their selection of running back Trent Richardson. They took quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 22, even though many thought he would be available when the team picked early in the second round.
Instead, they chose right tackle Mitchell Schwartz at No. 37. And two weeks ago, they gave up their second-round pick in 2013 to nab wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft.
Richardson, Weeden and Schwartz will be counted on to start immediately. Gordon is expected to contribute right away and could start sooner than some think.
The Browns also hired Brad Childress as their offensive coordinator. Nolan Cromwell was added as a senior offensive assistant and charged with whipping one of the NFL’s least productive receiving corps into shape.
The Browns need their new foundation to spearhead a resurrection after finishing 29th on offense (288.8 yards per game) and 30th in scoring (13.6 points per game) last season. Whether the new arrivals can combine with the veterans to bring some semblance of respectability to the offense in 2012 remains to be seen, but clues should surface during training camp.
Rookies are scheduled to report Tuesday and practice Wednesday. Veterans are set to report Thursday, and the first full-squad practice of camp will be held Friday. Camp opens to the public Saturday.
Here are 10 questions to ponder about the offense as the action unfolds this summer:
1. Will Weeden make a smooth transition?
Comment: If he doesn’t, it’s going to be another long season. If he does, this team will finally show some life after going 4-12 last season and 9-23 since Mike Holmgren became its president. Weeden will turn 29 in October, and the Browns believe his maturity will be an advantage out of the gate. The more pressing matters involve his ability to adjust from Oklahoma State’s spread offense to coach Pat Shurmur’s West Coast system. He must get used to taking snaps under center and making decisions under pressure. This is the top question because, make no mistake about it, Weeden is the most important draft pick of the Holmgren era.
2. Who’s the No. 2 quarterback?
Comment: The Browns have not officially named Weeden their starter, but it’s only a matter of time before they do. Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy are the candidates to become the primary backup, and even Wallace said only one of them would probably stick around. Keeping McCoy, the incumbent starter, could cause Weeden to look over his shoulder, so the logical move would be to make Wallace the main backup and find a new team for McCoy. My best guess is it will happen at some point during the preseason.
3. What kind of impact will Childress have?
Comment: Holmgren didn’t do Shurmur any justice by letting him spend his first season as an NFL head coach without an offensive coordinator — especially in a lockout year. In other words, Childress should be a significant addition. Even though Shurmur plans to call the plays, having a right-hand man with Childress’ experience should keep the third-string tight end from carrying the ball — or at least trying to — like he did last season. The game planning should also improve with Childress running the offensive meetings and Shurmur being freed up to focus on the bigger picture.
4. Will the wide receivers be better?
Comment: For the sake of anyone who watches the Browns, let’s hope so, because they led the league in dropped passes and were just all-around brutal last season. The coaches challenged Greg Little to become more consistent, and he responded by losing about 12 pounds in the offseason. Meanwhile, Holmgren put pressure on Mohamed Massaquoi to have a breakout year. If Weeden plays well, it will help this group, but Little and Massaquoi also must step up if the offense wants to avoid ineptitude.
5. What will Gordon and fellow rookie Travis Benjamin add to the receiving corps?
Comment: General Manager Tom Heckert believes that Gordon can be a No. 1 receiver, and if that assessment is accurate, he’ll be the most talented receiver on the roster. But after sitting out last season at Utah because of NCAA transfer rules, Gordon is not a lock to start right away. Still, at the very least, he should work his way into the rotation. Benjamin will need to fight for time as a slot receiver. His elite speed could make him a special-teams threat, but Josh Cribbs still reigns supreme in that category.
6. How much of the offense will revolve around Richardson?
Comment: He’s going to be a workhorse from Day One. If the young offensive line in front of him jells and he stays healthy, expect him to live up to every bit of the hype in his first year. Shurmur had Steven Jackson when he was the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, and Childress had Adrian Peterson when he coached the Minnesota Vikings. Now they have another bona fide feature back.
7. Who is the No. 2 running back?
Comment: It’s whoever stays healthy between Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson. Hardesty didn’t play in six games last season as he suffered from a torn muscle in his right calf, and Jackson missed the entire 2011 regular season with torn ligaments in his big toe. If they both stay healthy, it’s up in the air, though Jackson seems to fit the description of an ideal backup in Shurmur’s system because he’s a good pass protector and receiver. If neither one stays healthy, it’s Chris Ogbonnaya.
8. Will the right side of the line be OK?
Comment: Schwartz played in a pro-style offense at the University of California, and he might be the smartest man on the roster, so he shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting to the NFL from a mental standpoint. Even if he takes some lumps as a rookie, he should still be a significant upgrade over last year’s starter, Tony Pashos, who struggled while playing with an injured ankle. Shawn Lauvao is the starting right guard, and he must progress this season to prove he’s worthy of keeping the job long term.
9. Who is the top fullback?
Comment: It’s Owen Marecic, provided he can bounce back after suffering two concussions last season as a rookie. Seventh-round pick Brad Smelley could challenge, but Marecic is in the driver’s seat. Marecic lost 10-15 pounds since last season, and like Little, he believes that he’ll benefit from changing his body.
10. Will second-year tight end Jordan Cameron emerge as a playmaker?
Comment: Shurmur has gushed about Cameron’s improvement in the offseason. With starter Benjamin Watson trying to come back after suffering three concussions last season and Evan Moore’s disappearance from the game plan at times, Cameron should certainly get chances to show what he’s got. As an athlete, he’s the real deal. As a football player, he’s still unproven.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.