Getting to know the Browns

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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Bill Belichick got his first head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns back in 1991, and he would stay for five seasons and lead his team to 37 wins in 82 games, including a playoff appearance in 1994.

The Browns moved on from Belichick after the 1995 season and then just moved on, relocating to Baltimore and becoming the Ravens.

But it would be just a few years before the NFL returned to Cleveland, as the Browns were reborn in 1999, starting fresh for one of the league’s most passionate fan bases.

The Browns had something of an organizational restart this past offseason, as new owner Jimmy Haslam replaced the general manager and head coach, hiring former Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as his coach.

He hired several personnel executives to overhaul the roster, including former Eagles president Joe Banner, former Browns and Raiders executive Mike Lombardi (now the team’s GM) and well-respected former Chiefs pro personnel director Ray Farmer, the team’s current assistant GM.

The new brain trust wasted little time reshaping the roster, targeting top defensive players Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant in free agency and making one of the more noteworthy trades in recent NFL history, sending 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson, the former Alabama running back, to Indianapolis for the Colts' 2014 first-round pick.

The process of turning the franchise around is effectively underway.

Here’s our weekly primer on the Patriots’ upcoming opponent:

Record: 4-8 (last in AFC North)
Head coach: Rob Chudzinski (first season)
Offensive coordinator: Norv Turner
Defensive coordinator: Ray Horton

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. WR Josh Gordon. After making the Richardson trade, there was substantial buzz that Gordon would be the next skill player to be traded by Cleveland, but the 2012 second-round supplemental draft pick was retained and has been an absolute force this season. He became the first player in NFL history to record two games of 235 receiving yards or more in consecutive weeks when he went off for 261 yards against the Jaguars in Week 12. Gordon already has surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, becoming the first Browns player to do so since the 2007 season. He’s a long, linear threat who can extend the field and has shown himself capable of being productive no matter who is under center in Cleveland, as the Browns have used three different starting quarterbacks this season.

2. LT Joe Thomas. There may not be a player who better defines dependability, durability and consistency than Thomas, who has been named to the Pro Bowl every season since he was drafted third overall by the Browns in 2007, playing every single offensive snap since that time. He’s a dominant left tackle who can neutralize edge rushers and pave way on the ground for his running backs. Offensive linemen don’t often receive the same praise as skill players, but Thomas is one of the truly dominant starters at any position in football.

3. TE Jordan Cameron. The athletically gifted Cameron had a red-hot start to his season, catching five touchdowns in the first four games. His production has leveled off since then, but he’s still a target worth monitoring this Sunday. Cameron has the jump skills to go up and get the ball in traffic and the speed and wiggle to make yards after the catch. A former college basketball player, Cameron has blossomed in his third pro season.

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. CB Joe Haden. Haden’s ability can be boiled down to the production of standout Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green in two games against Cleveland this season: 9 catches, 58 yards, an average of just 29 yards per game (Green was shadowed by Haden for much of those two contests). In his other 10 games this year, Green has averaged 105 yards per game. Haden is an outstanding fourth-year pro who has virtually all of the tools needed to be a lockdown cornerback for many years.

2. LB D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson is a standout inside linebacker in the Browns' 3-4 scheme who has yet to miss a game this season. The latter detail is important to note because in each season that Jackson has played all 16 games during his career, he’s notched at least 118 tackles (he’s had two of 150-plus tackles). He leads the Browns in tackles again this season and is a quarterback for their defense, which is led by Ray Horton, one of the more well-regarded coordinators in the league.

3. LB Barkevious Mingo. When the Browns used the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft to take Mingo out of LSU, they had sacks aplenty in mind. Mingo delivered early on, recording a sack in each of the team’s first three games this season, though his production has tailed off from a sack standpoint since that time. Nonetheless, he’s a fearsome young rusher who can win off the edge with his combination of athleticism and power.

OTHER NOTES: As previously alluded to, the Browns have used three starting quarterbacks this season, including former Patriot Brian Hoyer. Brandon Weeden, a 2012 first-round pick, is now back in the starting saddle after Jason Campbell went down with an injury. He was diagnosed with a concussion following Week 12. ... The Browns have struggled mightily running the ball, averaging just 82.3 yards per game. ... Wide receiver/return specialist Travis Benjamin is among the fastest players in the league. ... The Browns have had something of a roulette style running back rotation, with Chris Ogbonnaya, Willis McGahee and Fozzy Whitaker all contributing of late. ... From a depth standpoint, the Browns have one of the more impressive defensive lines in the NFL, led by Billy Winn and John Hughes.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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