Like most Cleveland Browns fans, you have probably long been tired of this Peyton Hillis contract saga. Drawn out by the media, perhaps in an attempt to have enough to write about through the bye week, this situation has seemingly gotten on the nerves of just about everybody. What was once a quiet footnote to begin the season, Hillis’ contract situation has become a dark cloud looming over the organization.
That being said, Peyton Hillis is not the only news story worth talking about on the Browns. Believe it or not, there are other things happening in the organization, especially as the team looks to prepare for their Oct. 16 game against the Oakland Raiders. Here’s a quick look at the state of the Cleveland Browns:
- The Browns are looking to find ways to give third-string running back Armond Smith more time on the field, which is difficult with Hillis and Montario Hardesty getting almost all of the carries. You might remember that Smith was used on a failed fourth-and-one attempt against the Tennessee Titans, a play that has received plenty of criticism. However, it shows that the Browns respect Smith and his speed, and fans could see him used in a similar capacity (i.e. catching the defense off-guard) as the season progresses.
- There hasn’t been much word on the progress of cornerback Joe Haden’s knee sprain, but that’s likely because coach Pat Shurmur gave his players the rest of the bye week off. If Haden can’t start, the Browns will likely put Dimitri Patterson in his place.
- Quarterback Colt McCoy still has a lot to prove, but that doesn’t mean anyone should dismiss him just yet. This is still only his first full season as a starter and he’s not exactly throwing to a lot of playmakers. While receivers like Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, the Browns still don’t have a player who can stretch the field. Thus, fans are subjected to the maddening dink-and-dunk style of play calling.
- Speaking of play calling, it’s also too early to make a judgment on Pat Shurmur. This is a rookie coach who, thanks to the lockout, is still getting used to his players. He’s going to make mistakes and must figure out how to best utilize the playmakers he does have. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Hillis-Hardesty hoopla when the Browns get back to business on Oct. 16.
- The Browns are still in a good position defensively. Consider the Titans game a hiccup in the maturation process of a relatively young defense. What this season has highlighted, though, is the Browns’ need to find linebackers in the 2012 NFL Draft. It makes sense – the team has addressed the secondary and the defensive line in the last two drafts, leaving the linebacker position without a lot of depth. Beyond D’Qwell Jackson and Chris Gocong (signed partly because of the aforementioned lack of depth), there isn’t much to bank on for the future.
- At the end of the day, despite the constant off-field distractions, the Browns still maintain a 2-2 record. While the season could always go south in a hurry, there is little reason to be terribly upset. One must remember that the Browns opened this season with new systems in place on both sides of the ball along with a new coaching staff, so growing pains are something to be expected. Expectations were unfairly raised before the start of this season, and those likely will need to be tempered before things really get out of control. Just keep in mind that things could be a whole lot worse.