The Cleveland Browns first training camp practice open to fans is Saturday, July 28. Finally, after months of rehashing another losing season and debating possible free agency signees and draft picks, the attention turns to the 2012 season.
As evident by the discussion on theOBR forums, there are plenty of areas to discuss about a young Browns team full of potential. The staff at theOBR zeroed in on five questions relevant to this year's squad:
1. Are you happy with the job Tom Heckert has done since becoming GM in January 2010?
2. Which area of this team do you think is the most improved since the end of the 2011 season, and which area needs the most work entering 2012?
3. What will you be looking for in the first few weeks of camp leading into the Browns' preseason opener Friday, Aug. 10 at Detroit?
4. Last season, the Browns defense allowed an NFL fifth-best 19.2 points per game. Yet they were third-worst against the run allowing 147.4 yards per game. Well, are you glass-half full with this defense or is it just more of the same?
5. Is it too simplistic to say that the only way to win in today's NFL is to have a top-tier quarterback? Will Brandon Weeden be that guy or is it more likely he'll join the long list of never-have-beens?
Join the fellas by providing your take in the comments below. First up, question No. 1:
Are you happy with the job Tom Heckert has done since becoming GM in January 2010?
This is where a smarter man than I would trot out the notion that draft selections can't be evaluated for three years, and conclude that it's too early to evaluate Heckert's job. Since being "smart" isn't in my job description, I would say that I'm "happy but reserved".
Two things that can be said for Heckert's stewardship are that (1) There's clearly a plan in place, and the front office is very methodical about bringing in the type of players they like, and, (2) There's very little reaching for short-term fixes, which is the proper solution for a team so badly in need of a talent infusion as the Browns were in 2010. Since those two philosophies map to directions that make sense for the team, I'm happy with the GM's approach. Whether we're all truly happy will be determined by whether the players he's selected will lead to greater success on the field. The early signs are encouraging.
If you look deep into the body of work, the changes within the player roster are providing a foundation and should enable this organization to become competitive and develop into a legitimate factor in the 2013 season, if the youth plays to the projected potential in most cases.
Without utilizing free agency as a legitimate tool under his direction for the most part, the process of fulfilling the roster with talent has been a slow proposition. As the draft selections Heckert has made build the foundation, free agency will become a factor in fortifying the build of the Browns.
While some of the so-called experts have questioned Heckert's perceived ‘reaches' on draft-days, such as selecting DT's Phil Taylor and John Hughes, QB Brandon Weeden and the trade-up moves to secure RB's Montario Hardesty and Trent Richardson, every team has players rated/ranked differently.
The Browns as an organization have a compiled list of rankings, then ‘their' list of the players they specifically target. Which at times has players rated higher or lower than many around the league and this is not a concern to this organization and the true indicator of a Heckert's draft shouldn't be immediately measured.
It is still early to tell how the draft choices will play out in the long term, but he has done what he said he would do and that is build through the draft. He has built the offensive line through the draft with all five projected starters coming through the draft, including three from Heckert. He has carried out the philosophy the new regime has said since the onset and overall, the talent has been upgraded. I give him a B grade.
Happiness is rarely a sentiment I associate with the expansion-era Browns. However, Tom Heckert appears to be the most competent GM the Browns have had since their 1999 return. While Heckert's work cannot be fully evaluated until he is replaced by the next GM or the Browns become consistent playoff contenders, his first three drafts have shown promise.
Under Heckert's guidance, the Browns have added a near elite talent in Joe Haden and promising starters in T.J. Ward, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao. Late round picks such as Buster Skrine, Eric Hagg and Owen Marecic should see significant playing time in 2012. Add these nine players to projected rookie starters Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Mitchell Schwartz and it's clear that Heckert has reformed a roster decimated by Butch Davis, Phil Savage and Eric Mangini.
Along the way, Heckert may have reached a few times – particularly in trading away multiple picks to secure Richardson a few months ago and Taylor last year, selecting Weeden too high and expending a 2013 second round pick to grab Josh Gordon in last week's Supplemental Draft. However, because of the vacuous roster given to him in 2010, Heckert has been forced into more aggressive maneuvers – and will have to make more in order to completely fill a still-thin roster.
Free agency sure has been dull with Tom Heckert in charge. Remember the days of Phil Savage? The Browns were major players on that first day of free agency, making a big splash with a signing or trade.
I know I prefer the measured approach to free agency the last two years.
As a result, I am pleased with the job Heckert has done. When he inherited this roster, there was a lot of work to do. Yes, we said the same things when Butch Davis took over and again when Savage was handed the reigns.
Yet Heckert's philosophy of building through the draft will help the Browns in the long term. He already has drafted solid starters in guys like Haden, Ward, Sheard and made that "big splash" on draft day to trade up to secure running back Trent Richardson.
Heckert looks at the long-term picture and not the quick, one-year fix. The latter has been proven — year after year — it doesn't work and it is not sustainable in the NFL. Heckert is working to establish this Browns roster so one day this team can approach offseasons similar to what teams like Baltimore, New England and Pittsburgh do year after year. The Browns will no longer associated with rebuilding projects. Instead, they will use the offseason to reload.