The moves have been made. Training camp and the preseason is over. The 53 players and practice squad guys have earned their stripes. It’s time to kick off the 2019 regular season for the Cleveland Browns.
The big question everybody wants to know, can they live up to the hype? We’ll find out starting Sunday when the Tennessee Titans visit FirstEnergy Stadium.
“The excitement is always focused on the beginning of the year for fans, for coaches, for players and all of that,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “What I am really excited about is getting into a routine of what we are doing every Wednesday, every Thursday, every Friday, every Saturday and then go play the game on Sunday.”
“Nobody has done anything yet so I would say everybody is starting from the same square one,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “I would say it is pretty hard to live up to any hype if you are listening to the outside. None of that really matters so I think we have a bunch of guys who have bought in to what is going on in this building and the standards we are setting. To us, that is all that matters.”
“Yeah, I think there is always excitement,” guard Joel Bitonio said. “No matter if you are coming off 0-16, 1-15 or some improvement. I think the key for this year is to be better, but you still have to play that first game, at least for me to get that first game jitters out first, the first hit, the first regular season play. It still feels the same to me.”
The offense and defense are expected to be improved from 2018. There are some concerns on both sides of the ball and especially on special teams.
Mayfield runs the show on offense. After shining in his rookie season, the Browns hope Baker takes his game to the next level and doesn’t suffer the dreaded sophomore slump. With the addition of Odell Beckham in the passing game, Cleveland is expected to have one of the best passing games in the league. Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins will present opposing defenses some problems in 2019.
“I do not know what kind of emotions, thoughts or feelings are going to be running through me when I hear that,” Beckham said. “I’m definitely anxious. I am excited about playing.”
“I am still excited. It is finally putting the pads on,” Mayfield said. “We have had a long offseason. It has been a long wait. I feel like it has been a longer one than last year. We are ready to go. I am ready to go. It is all business.”
Lets not forget about the running game. Nick Chubb will get the majority of the carries especially in the first eight games of the season. Depth at the running back position is thin due to the eight game suspension for Kareem Hunt. Dontrell Hilliard will serve as the back up running back until Hunt returns.
Chubb finished four yards short of 1,000 yards in his rookie season. He should easily surpass 1,000 yards as the full time feature back in 2019.
Everything is just coming to me easier and I am seeing things a lot faster,” Chubb said. It is just coming more natural. I am excited to play together and see what we have. We had a long, hard, tough camp and banged up on each other a little bit. I am excited to go out there and play some guys in a real game and see how we put things together.”
The Browns offensive line is a concern. Right guard has been one of the key battles during training camp. Eric Kush will start on Sunday at right guard. Kush struggled in the preseason and is likely to be on a short leash once the season starts. The Browns traded for a pair of offensive lineman right before final roster cuts. Justin McCray or Wyatt Teller could take over at right guard if Kush struggles early.
Now lets shift to the other side of the football. The Browns defense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. For years Cleveland had little to no pass rush. That’s not the case in 2019.
The defensive front four of Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi and Olivier Vernon will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares int eh days leading up to their matchup. Garrett could challenge for the NFL sack record and should be a preseason candidate for defensive player of the year. That’s his goal for 2019.
“Same as my first year – Defensive Player of the Year and be the best player on the field every time I walk out there,” Garrett said. “So that is it.”
“Here is what I like about Myles, he said he wants more production,” Kitchens said. “He wants to be a better player. I want the same things for him. I like the fact that he is willing to get coached to help him get there.
“I’m sure most teams throughout league are going to look to try to look and help on Myles’ side and try to chip, which I think is going to open things up on the other side for Olivier Vernon, as well as an inside look for (DT) Larry (Ogunjobi) and Sheldon,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. So we feel we are talented across the board and they are going to try to come in, particularly being depleted a little bit at the left tackle, try and protect a little bit more and give the quarterback time to get the ball down the field.”
“We know what we are capable of. We just have to put it out there on the field,” Vernon said. “We’re not really focusing on what is going on outside and what people are trying to put us up on some type of pedestal or anything like that. We just know what we can do. All we have to do is just work hard and see how it goes from there.”
“Everybody wants to be great on the D line and the defense, period,” Richardson said. “It is friendly competition amongst us all. Nobody wants to be second to anybody. It is fun, but we know we have to get the job done.”
Hopefully the new look defensive front will help improve the run defense, something that has been a problem for years.
As for the linebackers, veterans Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert will lead. Rookie Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson will see their fair share of playing time. Adarius Taylor is expected to to start alongside Kirksey and Schobert. The linebackers have had issues with tackling in the past, the rookie additions should help improve that starting in 2019.
“Taki has been hurt unfortunately,” Wilks said. “He missed a lot of training camp and a lot of preseason games. Mack Wilson is doing well. I expect those guys to be in the mix. I would rather not say whether they are going to start Week 4 or Week 5 – I could not tell you that – but I am very impressed with what (LBs) Joe (Schobert) and Christian (Kirksey) have done. When you look back on some of the film from last year and some of the things they are doing this year, I love the physicality that Christian is playing with, Joe with his ball skills has been able to play out in space and those guys are doing a great job of playing downhill, which we emphasize a lot at our linebacker position.”
So have the rookie linebackers pushed the veterans to step up their game?
“I do not want to say that. Hopefully, they have the wherewithal to do it themselves, just trying to be a better player,” Wilks said. “Competition, just like we talked about with Greedy and Terrance out there at the corner position, it is important that you continue to make sure that you have that.”
“It is one of the things that I have not done in the past a lot. Rotation is always up front because we want to keep those guys fresh,” Wilks said. “Linebackers and DBs, we play. We want to get into a rhythm. We are going to do everything we can to get these guys ready to play throughout the year because once again, they are one play away. Look for both of those guys to be in there at some point in time.”
Williams has surprised people with his tackling. That was a question mark about him coming out of college.
Mitchell took on the challenge of Williams and won the starting job. This veteran took the challenge of the rookie to heart and made himself a better player.
“I think he responded well. I think he had a great camp and competition is something we emphasize across the board because we want guys constantly trying to get better each and every day. We really do not want guys to get into any kind of comfort zone. I think Mitchell responded well. I think (CB) Greedy (Williams) had a good camp as well and made some plays. You guys saw in the preseason game. The biggest thing that we need is the consistency throughout the year.”
“Very excited,” Randall said. “Every time the football season comes back around, I just get stoked up and just ready to get going and ready to hit somebody on the other team. “Everybody knows who we are and we just got to go out there and just do what we have to do together and play as one.”
Special teams have been a concern the last couple of years. It will be a concern again in 2019. All of the kicking duties will be handled by rookies. Fifth round pick Austin Siebert is the kicker. Jamie Gillian is the punter.
Gillian beat out a pro bowl punter in Britton Colquitt. A 74-yard punt and his tackling due to his rugby background was enough to win the job. Can he translate what he did in the preseason to games that count starting Sunday?
“We thought he performed well,” Kitchens said. “He kicked the ball well, and we have total confidence that he is going to do the job. The upside is tremendous on it. I think you saw that during the course of the preseason. He is working on consistency on an everyday thing. We think he can get there, and that is why he is here.”
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Gillian said. “I have made a ball club for now. It is incredible being here, but now I have to go and keep getting better and more consistent, punt well and go win some games with the Cleveland Browns. I still have a long season ahead, hopefully, and go and get it done.”
As for Siebert, the plan was for him to be the kicker considering the Browns spent a fifth round draft pick on him out of Oklahoma. The rookie struggled early but seemed to find his game in the final two preseason games. So now can he find that rhythm for the regular season?
“As a kicker you are going to go through those rough patches,” Siebert said. “You can choose to either give up or keep pushing. I do not give up, I keep pushing. I worked hard because I want to help my team the best way I can. By me working hard and figuring things out, that is how I am going to help this team win.”
So with all the issued addressed and the season underway, how will the 2019 Browns do? It has been 30 years since the Browns won a division title. The Browns won the old AFC Central division in 1989.
That changes in 2019, Cleveland will be partying lime it is 1989. The Browns will win their first AFC North Division title with a 10-6 record. The Browns will host their first playoff game since 1994 on wild card weekend. However dreams of a first ever trip to the Super Bowl will have to wait until at least next year. The Browns feel the pressure of NFL playoff football and lose to the hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers on wild card weekend.