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Hue Jackson: Cleveland Browns headed in right direction

By The Sports Xchange
Hue Jackson: Cleveland Browns headed in right direction
Corey Coleman and the Cleveland Browns are looking for marked improvement after a one-win season. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

BEREA, Ohio -- Hue Jackson is back for his second year with the Cleveland Browns, which means, historically, the sands in his head coaching hour glass are running out after finishing 1-15 last season.

The last Browns head coach to stay on the job longer than two years was Romeo Crennel. Crennel coached the Browns from 2005-08, had one winning season (10-6 in 2007) and was fired after going 4-12 in his final year. Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine followed without success before Jackson took over in 2016.

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Team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam seem ready to exercise restraint with the team in the second year of a major rebuild. The Browns have five picks in the first two rounds next year. The anticipation of what might be done with those choices, along with excitement over defensive end Myles Garrett, the 2017 first overall pick, and quarterback DeShone Kizer, the 52nd overall pick, has created a stir of optimism at team headquarters in the Cleveland suburb of Berea.

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"We're heading in the right direction," Jackson said. "I'm really excited about what we're creating on defense.

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"As the years go by here, we want to have an established quarterback. We don't want to have this question where you guys are saying, 'Who is the quarterback?' every year. That is a problem we have to solve. I feel good about our offensive line. We have some young emerging players at receiver. We have some young dynamic tight ends (Seth DeValve and David Njoku) that we have to continue to grow. The pass catcher, we have to get (wide receiver) Corey (Coleman) out there and keep him healthy so that we can be what we can be on offense.

"We have two dynamic runners (Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson), so I like our runners. Special teams wise, we have a real good punter (Britton Colquitt), long snapper (Charley Hughlett) and kicker (Cody Parkey), and there are some core guys that are returning to our football team. Are we close to where I thought we would be? Yes. For me, I have to continue to solve the quarterback issue because that's where it starts."

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The Browns' last winning season was 2007 when they went 10-6. To put that in perspective, left tackle Joe Thomas was a rookie that year. Barrack Obama served two terms in the White House, and in all that time the Browns never finished above sea level.

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But finally, there is reason for faithful Browns fans to believe there might be sunnier days ahead. But as Jackson so plainly put it, it all starts with having the right guy behind center. The Browns are entering their 19th season without being able to identify who that quarterback should be.

TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS

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--Find a starting quarterback. Some things never change at the Browns training complex. This year the contestants are Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer. Kessler might have the lead when camp begins because he started eight games last year - he lost them all - but he is not the long-term answer. Head coach Hue Jackson likes tall strong-armed quarterbacks. Kizer fits at 6-foot-4 and so does Osweiler at 6-foot-8. Osweiler will get a chance to compete, but could still be traded if another team loses its quarterback to injury. It would be no surprise if Kizer is starting by midseason.

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--Keep Corey Coleman healthy. The second-year receiver from Baylor missed two preseason games last year with a hamstring injury. He missed six regular season games with a broken hand. A shoulder injury and hamstring injury early in OTAs prevented him from participating in minicamp. The Browns desperately need Coleman to improve off his 33-catch rookie season a year ago, and if that means resting him as a way to prevent further injury, so be it. The Browns did not draft a receiver in 2017 nor sign one as an undrafted rookie.

--Improve the pass rush. Taking end Myles Garrett with the first pick in the draft should make the pass rush better from the first snap, but now Garrett has to put his boasting into action. Hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator should give the pass rush a boost, too. He has an aggressive coaching style that is contagious. The Browns drafted two defensive linemen along with Garrett - Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley - and Desmond Bryant is back from a pectoral injury that forced him to miss all of 2016. Bryant led the Browns with six sacks in 2015. The pieces are definitely there for Williams to boost the 26 sacks from 2016. The Browns ranked 29th in sacks per pass play.

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PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Cody Kessler. Backups - Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Isaiah Crowell. Backups - Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes, George Atkinson III, Terrance McGee, FB Danny Vitale.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - David Njoku. Backups - Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer, Taylor McNamara, J.P. Holtz.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis. Backups - Rashard Higgins, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Rannell Hall, Jordan Leslie, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Payton, James Wright.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Shon Coleman. Backups - C/T Cameron Erving, G/C John Greco, G Chris Barker, LG Spencer Drango, C Anthony Fabiano, C Gabe Ikard, T Rod Johnson, C Marcus Martin, LT Matt McCants, C Austin Reiter, RT Zach Sterup.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Desmond Bryant, NT Danny Shelton, DRE Myles Garrett. Backups -- DRE Jamie Meder, DLE Carl Nassib, NT Caleb Brantley, DT Trevon Coley, DRE Xavier Cooper, DE Jamal Marcus, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DRE Nate Orchard, DE Karter Schult.

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LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Christian Kirksey, SLB Cam Johnson. Backups - MLB Tank Carder, WLB Dominique Alexander, SLB Joe Schobert, OLB B.J. Bello, MLB James Burgess, MLB Ladell Fleming, OLB Kenneth Olugbode.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Joe Haden, RCB Jamar Taylor, FS David Kindred, SS Jabrill Peppers. Backups - CB Jason McCourty, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, FS Trey Caldwell, RCB Marcus Burley, SS Ibraheim Campbell, FS Justin Currie, CB J.D. Harmon, CB Alvin Hill, CB Darius Hillary, CB Najee Murray, SS Kai Nacua, FS Ed Reynolds III, SS Calvin Pryor III, CB Channing Stribling, CB Howard Wilson.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cody Parkey, P Britton Colquitt, LS Charley Hughlett, KOR Mario Alford, PR Jabrill Peppers, K Zane Gonzalez.

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