Since 1999, there has been a distinction between the Browns of “old” (pre-1995) and the Browns of “new” (since 1999). Unfortunately, the Browns of old have been the only saving grace for current Browns fans. As the romanticized tales of Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe fade deeper and deeper into the annals of Browns’ lore, fans become more and more desperate for a winning identity to bridge the gap between the Browns of old and the Browns of new, to rebuild the identity, and the former glory that is the Dawg Pound.
Adding to the pain of not having a consistent winner in Cleveland is the fact that divisional rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh have had a winning identity throughout their histories, even though Baltimore’s history is brief. Obviously, every coach, general manger or president (i.e. Mike Holmgren), has promised the fans and the city a level of “sustained excellence”, so why should fans believe Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine are capable of of this seemingly impossible task. Even though each new regime has been introduced with its own level of optimism, nothing compares to the feeling right now in Berea.
For once can long-abused Browns fans feel excited about the upcoming season (even in the wake of the Josh Gordon debacle)? By looking at the moves made by in the past four months, Browns fans may actually have a glimmer of hope, and it’s not all because of Johnny Football. So who are the “New Browns”?
Coaching Staff Although he is a rookie head coach, Mike Pettine has already made an impact on the identity of the Browns. Coming from the Rex Ryan vein of “play like a Jet”, Pettine has instituted his motto of “Play like a Brown” creating an identity of tough, disciplined football. This motto would transcend the normal coach cliches and mold the Browns’ offseason moves.
Front Office Without a doubt, the most important moment of the Browns’ offseason was the firing of GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner. Yes, Manziel worshipers I am with you, drafting Johnny Football was the most exciting move of the offseason, but the hire of Ray Farmer came at a time when the franchise was truly on the brink of disaster. After hiring a rookie head coach, and dealing with the perception of the revolving-door known as the Cleveland Browns. Farmer’s aggressiveness in free agency and adeptness during the draft proved a sense of direction for a franchise that has so desperately been in need of it.
Offense Ben Tate and Andrew Hawkins may be the best personification of the “New Browns”. Both were signed during free agency, and both come in with a lot to prove. Hawkins, a former standout in the CFL has beat the odds all the way to the NFL, and now he has a chance to prove the Browns were wise to sign him away from the Bengals. Tate, who spent a majority of his career in the shadow of Arian Foster, is finally getting his chance to be the feature back in a run-heavy, Kyle Shanahan offense.
Defense The Browns opened this offseason by losing mainstays D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward, then quickly adding veterans Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby and Isaiah Trufant. The two primary signings, Whitner and Dansby, are guys that have played with a significant chip on their shoulder in previous years. Whitner, who is notorious for his open field hits that have led to various fines, and Dansby, who revived his career this past year in Arizona, both come from successful organization where they played leadership roles in the locker room and on the field. These additions, as well as 8th overall pick Justin Gilbert, combined with the Browns defense that ranked 9th in total yardage last year and the Dawg Pound might have something to yell about this year.
So who are these “New Browns”? No one really knows yet, but it’s safe to say they could be something special. The Mike Pettine defense is loaded with playmakers and young talent (Joe Haden, Gilbert, Barkevious Mingo, Phil Taylor) and guys that have experienced success earlier in their careers. The offense has shifted from the pass-happy Norv Turner system to a zone-blocking scheme that should allow for plenty of opportunities for Ben Tate and Terrence West. Finally, there is Johnny Manziel, who perhaps has the biggest chip on his shoulder of any of the new Browns. If Manziel can have the kind of impact on the Browns that he did in College Station, it will be safe to say that the tribulations Browns fans have experienced in the past years may finally be over.
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