The running game: For years, Browns head coaches have talked about establishing the running game to take pressure off of the quarterback and help the offense when the weather turns rough in the second half of the season.
For the first time, however, the team is following through on the plan under head coach Hue Jackson. The Browns are 10th in the league in rushing yards, averaging 114 per game, and tied for third at 4.9 yards per carry.
It may not be translating into wins, but it is a nice development all the same.
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Terrell Pryor: In his first full-season at wide receiver, Terrell Pryor has been one of the biggest surprises in the league.
While he still has much to learn about the nuances of the position, Pryor has used his athleticism and work ethic to lead the team in receptions (41) and yards (532) while tying for the team-lead in touchdown receptions (3). With wide receiver Corey Coleman expected back from his broken hand this week, defenses should not be able to focus on Pryor, giving him an opportunity to put up some solid numbers in the second half of the season.
Pryor’s desire to work as hard as he can perfectly embodies the attitude that Jackson is trying to instill in the locker room and on the field.
Cody Kessler: The rookie quarterback is likely not the answer to the Browns ongoing quarterback issue, but he has been better than expected and rewarded Jackson’s faith in him on draft weekend.
Injuries to Robert Griffin III and McCown forced Kessler into the lineup earlier than anyone expected and he has responded by completing 67 percent of his passes for 974 yards and four touchdowns. Most importantly, in his five starts he has only thrown one interception.
One drawback to Kessler’s game is his inability to throw the ball more than 15 yards down the field as his 7.12 yards per attempt puts him at 20th in the league. It is interesting to note, however, that Kessler is ranked higher in that category than Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco.
Danny Shelton: In his second year, Shelton is turning into the player the Browns wanted when they selected him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
According to Pro Football Focus, Shelton has 26 run stops on the season, which is the most for any interior defensive lineman in the league, and is second with a run-stop percentage of 13.3 percent. The site also writes that, “Shelton is a disruptive presence who can majorly impact an offense and play in multiple positions across the defensive line. This could be the beginning of something big.”
Cody Parkey: It would be hard to imagine a worst debut than the one that kicker Cody Parkey had for the Browns.
Signed late on a Friday afternoon, Parkey caught up with the Browns in Miami for their game against the Dolphins only to miss three field goals, including the potential game winner in an overtime loss.
Since then, however, Parkey has been a perfect 10-for-10 on field goals and has yet to miss an extra point.
Not bad for a player that some Browns fans wanted to leave behind in Miami after his first game.
The front office: They may not have made a franchise-altering move, but so far the first year with Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta has been a success.
They wisely moved on from first-round busts Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert; swung a deal for Collins that won’t hurt the club if he leaves in free agency; minimized the damage from Josh Gordon’s inevitable misstep; had a solid, if maybe not spectacular, first draft; and, outside of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz, have not felt the sting of moving on from multiple veteran players.
The real test will come next spring as the Browns hold five picks in the first 65 (or so) selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, but so far the early results look promising for the latest front office group.