We all know the Browns were bad last year. I think most of us also know that the Browns were pretty unlucky as well. I believe that you make your own luck to some extent by dealing well with adversity. The Browns certainly didn’t do that last season. Regardless, there’s almost no denying the bad luck. Peyton Hillis’ injuries and off-the-field incidents were unlucky (or cursed if the Madden Curse is your thing.) Marcus Benard crashed his vehicle and took away the Browns low-priced sacks leader. Brandon Jackson. Remember him? He was supposed to be the versatile second running back. Eric Steinbach wasn’t supposed to miss the whole season either.
It got me wondering what a season of good luck would look like. Obviously you can’t count on any of these things with a straight face. Betting on hope isn’t a plan that ends in success very often. Then again, it would be nice for the Browns to have a season where luck landed them somewhere north of their natural state of success dictated by contingency plans.
Rookies Make Jumps
For the class of the AFC North it seems like players make jumps all the time when veterans get hurt or leave via free agency. That has rarely been the case for the Browns, but what if Tom Heckert’s drafts start to produce those guys?
Offensively guys like Jason Pinkston, Greg Little, and Jordan Cameron could become top starters. Pinkston had the benefit of working between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack as a rookie, but most grading scales had him ahead of second year player Shawn Lauvao. Greg Little had ups and downs, but certainly wasn’t bad for a guy coming off a year of not playing football. Jordan Cameron finally got some playing time at the end of the year, but his athleticism and ability could make him as valuable as Kellen Winslow Jr. if he could make the jump in his second year.
Defensively, Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor were both pretty good in their rookie seasons. Their continued improvement is almost expected at this point. What if the Browns could get a big jump from one from this pool of guys though? Buster Skrine, Eric Hagg, Brian Smith, Quinton Spears, or James Dockery?
If the Browns can find one legit starter from that class of guys, it will go a long way to help the team. These guys will hopefully get enough better to just improve special teams in 2012, but great teams find starters in guys like these.
Injured Players Make Comebacks
I won’t go too far into this one, because for me there are three players that I’m looking at in this category. Eric Steinbach, Brandon Jackson and Marcus Benard.
Obviously first things first. The Browns need to make a deal with Steinbach that gets him back in a Browns uniform. That remains to be seen, but every day that he doesn’t sign with anyone else seems like a small increase in the likelihood that he will be back with the Browns.
Brandon Jackson signed a two year deal and then disappeared during training camp with turf toe that had him miss the entire season. We’re talking about a well-rounded 26 year-old running back who certainly would have been an upgrade a year ago to Chris Ogbonnaya or a still-hobbled Montario Hardesty. Assuming he’s back from turf toe, Jackson is like a free agent acquisition that nobody is counting right now.
Speaking of 26 year-old free agents, Marcus Benard had 3.5 sacks in his rookie year in just six games. In his second year he had 7.5 to lead the entire team. He was hurt by the lockout more than most players because he somehow thought he should put on weight to play defensive end in the Browns’ new defense. He started the year off slowly in training camp because of that and then ended his year with a crash of his three-wheel motorcycle-ish vehicle. There’s good reason for optimism for Benard.
That’s it really. It doesn’t take a ton to have a year of good luck. Avoid some injuries. Find a starter from a group of young players. Have guys come back and play well after an injured year. All of a sudden a 4-12 team can look completely different on Sundays. I don’t expect to hear Tom Heckert crowing about these things as opportunities, but you have to think he’s hoping hard that at least a few of these things come to pass for the Browns this year.