Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rebuilding in store for Browns, Ohio State

Last weekend was an exciting one for Ohio State football, to be sure. The buzz around Urban Meyer was only overshadowed by The Game, held this year, of course Up North. And although the 2900-day domination over Michigan came to an end this year in The Big House, the future looks good—if not a little bit murky—for the Ohio State football Buckeyes.

Truth be told, early in the year, I was actually a Joe Bauserman backer. His first game reminded me more than a little bit of Joe Germaine. He was on target, strong armed, and solid in the pocket. Unfortunately after that, he reminded me more of Germaine’s pro career--confused and short-lived. Braxton Miller just wasn’t doing it for me. There’s nothing I hate more than designed quarterback runs, except maybe quarterback runs where the QB pulls it down way too early and takes off on pass plays. Which is what I saw too much of from Miller early in the year. As the season progressed, however, he grew on me--dramatically. Stayed in the pocket a little longer, made mistakes that definitely cost Ohio State some points, but showed more and more poise week after week. Working on deep throws should be a major priority for Miller and the Buckeyes this offseason. If Miller could have hit his deep receivers with any consistency, Ohio State wouldn’t have had one of the worst passing offenses in college football this year. Probably three touchdowns were missed against Michigan alone. Uggh.

When Miller's arm is as good as his legs--watch out. (AP)

I’m not one to suggest a coach is the deciding factor for success. But I’m more than willing (and much more than our own SamVox) to give Meyer some room to work. The spread offense that Meyer should bring in should allow Braxton Miller to flourish. Plus, nothing is more important to a college team’s success than recruiting, and I can’t think the Meyer era in Columbus will accompany anything less than premiere in- and out-of-state recruiting, year after year. Nevertheless, that’s next year; while this week Buckeyes fans will be forced to watch Wisconsin versus Michigan State, of all teams, in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. Uggh.

And of course, there’s another team about 135 miles north on I-71 which occupies half my weekends as well. And the Browns are in perpetual rebuilding mode. With the jettison of Ryan Pontbriand this week, the last Butch Davis holdover is gone—which tells you a lot about the continuity of talent in orange and brown. That it’s nonexistent.

I felt pretty strongly that, with a more mature Colt McCoy and an easy early season schedule, the Browns would be entering this weekend at 7-4. Unfortunately, the Ravens and Steelers show up twice at the bottom of my handy pocket schedule, and I forecast a 7-9 finish for the Brownies. But the Browns aren’t roaring in at 7-4, they are stumbling in at 4-7. The truly uninspired offense has been demoralizing for fans and players alike through the first ¾ of the season, yet they were oh-so-close to a 5-6 record, or even 6-5, had the ball bounced a little differently (mostly out of the hands of our previously mentioned long snapper.)

By now the Browns have played themselves out of an uber-high draft pick, but yet the needs of the offense--and the whole team--are many. At quarterback,Colt McCoy has looked a lot stronger over the past couple of weeks than the skittish, dump-off QB we saw for too many games. I’m not sure if that’s a (positive or negative) reflection on Pat Shurmur or Colt McCoy, but it was disturbing to be sure. The absence of Peyton Hillis in the backfield sure hasn’t helped the 2011 Browns. And the WR drops (particularly this past week by Greg Little) aren’t any help. But I would still love to see Colt continue to mature, and maybe with some creative playcalling, and an infusion of talent in the receiving corps, he can be the long term answer behind center for the Browns. But that’s a big “maybe”, to be sure.

I think Greg Little could be in for big things. (Getty images)
So what can we look forward to over the next few weeks? Hopefully, the emergence of a true WR stud in Greg Little. Despite the case of the dropsies that he has right now, I think he can be a stud. Big, fast, good blocker, you can tell this kid has it. Maybe a little more involvement for the tight ends? That couldn’t hurt the outside passing game. And maybe, just maybe, the Browns actually start utilizing Josh Cribbs more in the offense, and less in the return game. I love Josh Cribbs, but he’s 21st in the league in punt returns and 11th in kick returns (among returners with more than 10 this season.) He just doesn’t have the burst on the returns any more, it seems. He is, however, making up for that by having the hands and the nose for the ball at wide receiver. Might be time to rotate our returners a bit, and give fellow fan favorite Joe Haden a few more looks. And finally, a strong finish for a defense that hasn’t been half bad this year. Maybe the numbers don’t show it, but this Browns defense makes plays more often than would be expected. Unfortunately, they too often give up big plays when they can least afford it. Frustrating, but promising, at least.

It’s a long process for the Browns, and if they don’t start improving soon, the fans might give up for good. Which isn’t good for anyone.