Friday, September 10, 2010

Hoping for progress

Before I jump headfirst into another season of Cleveland sports, let me first invoke a couple quotes from my favorite movie.

First, from the immortal Red:

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.

And then later, from Andy Dufresne:

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

As a die-hard Cleveland fan, I'd like to think I know a thing or two about hope. After the nutshot of all nutshots earlier this summer, it seemed like all hope was lost. Our superstar took his talents to South Beach and we were left to pick up the pieces without him and nothing to look forward to but a miserable Indians summer, likely followed by more disappointment from our Browns. The same Browns who have given us just 59 wins (and 117 losses) since they were reincarnated.

Thinking about all of itwas enough to keep me from posting here for two long months. Hope is indeed a cruel thing and I nearly turned my back on it altogether. But time marches on and has a funny way of rebuilding optimism. I actually started feeling a little better about things for the Browns when I thought more about last season. Things seemed to hit rock bottom in Week 13 of when the they fell to 1-11 with yet another loss. Of course, the lone victory at that point was a brutally ugly 6-3 "win" over the hapless Buffalo Bills - a performance in which the Browns completed just two passes for a grand total of 23 yards.

At 1-11, the Browns were again the joke of the NFL. Somehow they looked even worse than the 2-14 expansion team of 1999. Eric Mangini was sure to be canned and the team would be starting from square one yet again. But if you look closer at that 12th game of the season against the Chargers, things began to turn around that cold December afternoon. They lost 30-23 to a very solid team - the 23 points being the second-most the team had scored in a single game up to that point in the season. It was a game in which they could have easily rolled over, but the team finally started showing some fight and soon after found a rushing game on the legs of Jerome Harrison. The Browns gave us a rousing 13-6 win on national TV over the hated Steelers, then capped off the season with three more victories over the Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars.

On paper, it was just another lackluster 5-11 season by the Browns. But in reality, the team seemed to finally find some direction and appeared to have bought into the system that Mangini was trying to install. After Mike Holmgren and Tom Eckert were given the reigns over franchise personnel, they wisely kept Mangini and will allow him to continue what was started in 2009. While the team is still far from perfect, the four consecutive wins to end the season have given some of us that elusively dangerous hope that keeps us watching, yet also waiting for the other shoe to drop - an art we seem to have perfected here in Cleveland.

So what should we expect for 2010? I honestly don't know. A quick glance at the schedule has me hoping for 6-10. While that wouldn't seem so great in most years, we have to remember to be patient. We just need this team to show progress. Jake Delhomme is certainly an upgrade at quarterback, despite the ridicule that is being hurled his way from the national "experts." After being forced to endure Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson last year, anything would be an upgrade. But Delhomme's veteran leadership should be helpful, especially with this group of young receivers. The offense has certainly looked more crisp in the limited looks we've had during the preseason.

The defensive side of the ball has me a little more concerned. But Shaun Rogers returned to full practice this week after his annual mockery of preseason play. I will be particularly interested to see how the secondary performs with youngsters Joe Haden and T.J. Ward now in the fold. Eric Wright has looked solid in his young career and should continue to progress. And D'Qwell Jackson will be a big addition if/when he returns from injury. But there are still a lot of question marks, particularly with the linebackers.

I'm just hoping the Browns can find a way to start the season 2-0. Wins at Tampa Bay, then at home against the Chiefs shouldn't be out of the question. And a solid start to the year could propel the team to an upset win or two when the schedule gets much tougher. All we can really ask for as fans of any Cleveland team right now is for a reason to hope. While not yet a Super Bowl contender, at least there are glimmers of that hope again. And after the summer we've just endured, that should be enough for now. Go Browns.

No comments: