PFW senior editor Mike Wilkening, who covers the AFC North, answers five key questions about the Browns entering the preseason.
What position bears especially close attention in training camp?
New head coach Pat Shurmur's offense figures to get the wide receivers more involved, which makes this an important season for third-year wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. If they get more and better opportunities in this offense and do not produce, then wide receiver must be a top priority next offseason. Rookie Greg Little will get a chance to contend for playing time early and could be a key contributor right off the bat if he picks up the offense. Massaquoi and Robiskie were drafted by former head coach Eric Mangini and need to prove they fit this new scheme.
Can Peyton Hillis come close to matching his remarkable 2011 production?
If he plays a full season, yes, he can. In addition to rushing for 1,177 yards a season ago, Hillis racked up 477 receiving yards. His receiving skills will serve him well in the West Coast offense, and he figures to continue to be a key part of the passing game. The Browns did not draft a running back, and Hillis' top backup, Montario Hardesty, comes off a knee injury. That is, in part, why the Browns signed ex-Packers RB Brandon Jackson. Nevertheless, Hillis could be a busy man again this season.
Give us one area of the club that the Browns can rest easy about — and one that could make them restless.
The biggest strength is the offensive line, which features two Pro Bowlers — C Alex Mack and OLT Joe Thomas. The biggest worries? The Browns lack playmaking punch on offense and are switching defensive schemes.
Is it possible the scheme change on offense will lead to a more dynamic Browns attack?
Yes, if QB Colt McCoy takes to it and improves off a relatively solid rookie season. McCoy is the key to the entire operation. If McCoy plays well, it will show up in the Browns' passing stats — and could be reflected in their record.
What's the biggest challenge the Browns face in moving to the 4-3 scheme on defense?
With the Browns notching only 29 sacks a season ago, generating the requisite pass-rush pressure looks to be the most pressing issue for Cleveland. Marcus Benard, who led the Browns with 7½ sacks in 2010, might not be a full-time player or an ideal fit in the 4-3. Rookie DE Jabaal Sheard, whom the Browns drafted in Round Two, will be expected to contribute right off the bat.