Phil Dawson found a way to turn a negative into a positive.
Playing in his 200th Browns game today in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dawson, a 14-year veteran kicker, put a positive spin on the fact that his team’s roster dubiously boasts 15 rookies and 27 players in their first or second years.
“Hey, ignorance is bliss,” Dawson said.
Dawson said the Browns’ hard-luck history is so ingrained in their fans that when something starts to go wrong on the field, a tangible feeling builds in the stadium. He said those who have played here for several years pick up on it.
“I can remember being a young guy, you’re not capable of thinking about anything other than your assignment,” Dawson said Wednesday. “So if any of that ‘Here we go again’ or those emotions start creeping around the stadium, we’ve got enough guys here who have no acknowledgement of that. They may help us ignore that, grind through it and have a breakthrough in that area.
“I’m not viewing it as a negative, I’m viewing it as something that can help us.”
With five rookies slated to start against the Eagles, Dawson found another reason to embrace the Browns’ youth.
“Being around young guys there’s energy, there’s excitement, there’s newness,” he said. “I can hardly wait to congratulate some of these young guys when they make their first special-teams tackle or first adjustment in a game. That’s fun. It makes me feel younger.
“I remember being a young guy that no one expected anything out of and everyone had a long list of why I wasn’t going to last. There’s a part of me that still relates to those guys. I’m pulling for them and I want them to prove everybody wrong. I want us to embrace what it is they bring to the table.”
Keeping in mind how Dawson showed there’s two sides to every story, here’s how I feel about several other issues facing the 2012 Browns:
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What I like: Brandon Weeden’s arm.
What I don’t like: Brandon Weeden’s fumbles.
The rookie quarterback has a cannon not seen in Cleveland since Derek Anderson. Unlike good D.A.-bad D.A., Weeden’s touch on the short ball and to backs coming out of the backfield seems to be there, too. But going into minicamp, the Browns’ brass had concerns that Weeden operated out of the shotgun at Oklahoma State and had taken few snaps from center. Exchanges with Alex Mack haven’t been a problem lately, instead Weeden has shown a tendency to fumble when sacked. He had three fumbles in the preseason, two lost. He’s well aware such gaffes must be corrected immediately.
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What I like: Offense’s big-play potential.
What I don’t like: Quarterback-receiver chemistry.
The Browns drafted speedy receiver Travis Benjamin of the University of Miami in the fourth round and gave up a second-round pick in the supplemental draft for Josh Gordon, who sat out last season at Utah after transferring. Gordon averaged 17.0 yards per catch for Baylor in 2010; Benjamin 16.4 in four years for the Hurricanes. Adding them to the mix with starters Greg Little and Mohammed Massaquoi should help the Browns go deep and score more touchdowns. “Some approaches we’ve had have been very workmanlike, very methodical, nothing sexy. I think we can do some things with the talent we have here,” Dawson said. But it might take time for Weeden to develop chemistry with his receiving corps. He and Gordon look to be on the same page, but that’s not the case with Little.
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What I like: Trent Richardson’s versatility.
What I don’t like: Trent Richardson’s injury history.
The third overall pick is a powerful, three-down running back who can block, catch, run and score (43 touchdowns in three years at Alabama, including 35 rushing). But Richardson has undergone two arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee since Feb. 3 and also needed surgery on both ankles before he was 16. In his past four years of football, he’s carried the ball 765 times. He looks like the real deal, but the Browns have to have their fingers crossed that their big investment isn’t starting to break down.
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What I like: Sheldon Brown the man.
What I don’t like: Sheldon Brown the starting cornerback.
In his two years with the Browns, Brown, an 11-year veteran, has proved to be one of the best guys in the locker room, always available and willing to handle the tough questions. But he’s 33 years old and could be considered the weak link in the Browns’ secondary. “I don’t know where my career got skewed to some people. I think they kind of think I just showed up and they gave me my job for 11 years,” Brown said in training camp. He earned his spot, but opposing coordinators could go after him all season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Eagles do it on their first play.
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What I like: Defensive line.
What I don’t like: Linebackers.
Tackle Phil Taylor tore a pectoral lifting weights in May, which could keep him out until November, but highly underrated tackle Ahtyba Rubin is more than capable of leading this group. With a defense that ranked 30th against the run, the Browns brought in help with free agents Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker and draftees John Hughes and Billy Winn. Left end Jabaal Sheard led the team in sacks (8½) as a rookie. Hopefully the line will improve the rush defense because this could be the Browns’ weakest linebacking corps in years. D’Qwell Jackson is solid, but Kaluka Maiava, Scott Fujita and rookie James-Michael Johnson bring little to fear. Weakside linebacker Chris Gocong’s torn Achilles on Aug. 4 was a much more serious blow than the loss of Taylor and Gocong was better on Fujita’s strong side last season.
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What I like: Offensive line stability.
What I don’t like: Offensive line against the wide 9.
The Browns drafted Cal’s Mitchell Schwartz in the second round to play right tackle, a huge upgrade over Tony Pashos, who played hurt in 2011. Joe Thomas, Jason Pinkston, Mack, Shawn Lauvao and Schwartz have been together since preseason games began. But the Browns’ line had problems against the wide-9 scheme used by the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, which gave their foes a blueprint for how to wreak havoc.
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What I like: Browns’ special-teams stalwarts.
What I don’t like: Browns coverage teams.
Dawson, punter Reggie Hodges, long snapper Christian Yount and kick/punt returner Josh Cribbs make up a fearsome foursome. But the Browns’ youth and weakness at linebacker could show up on the coverage teams. They gave up a 60-yard kickoff return in the preseason.
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What I like: Addition of Brad Childress.
What I don’t like: Clinging to an old-school West Coast system.
A former Minnesota Vikings coach, Childress was brought in as offensive coordinator so coach Pat Shurmur could oversee more aspects of the team, including special teams. Shurmur (who will still call the plays) and Childress worked together from 1999-2005 with the Eagles, so they are on the same page with their West Coast offense. Hopefully, they will show creativity with a scheme they’ve run for years and add new wrinkles to fit their players’ strengths.
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What I like: Breath of fresh air from energetic Jimmy Haslam III.
What I don’t like: Combative Pat Shurmur.
Haslam is buying the Browns from owner Randy Lerner, and the transfer will be approved by a league vote Oct. 16. The president and CEO of Pilot Flying J truck stops, Haslam showed his energy at his introductory news conference Aug. 3. But his impending arrival brings uncertainty for everyone in Berea. In his second season, coach Shurmur seemed to have loosened up until the sale was announced. Since then, he has been taking media criticism and predictions of doom for himself and his team way too personally. His us-against-the-world mentality could serve the Browns well if kept internal.