Browns working to overcome early obstacles

Posted Aug. 16, 2012 @ 11:44 a.m.
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What would a Cleveland Browns season be without excessive adversity?

The team is only one game into the preseason and names like CB Trevin Wade and LB L.J. Fort (a 2012 seventh-round pick and undrafted rookie, respectively) are already seeing significant practice time.

Keeping that in mind, here is the Browns’ current situation:

LB Chris Gocong is out for the season with a torn Achilles. DT Phil Taylor is out until at least midseason with a pectoral injury. RB Trent Richardson just underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Other players who have recently dealt with or are dealing with injuries include WR Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion symptoms), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle), TE Jordan Cameron (back), DE Frostee Rucker (knee), DT Scott Paxson (knee), LB D’Qwell Jackson (shoulder), S Usama Young (hamstring), DE Marcus Benard (undisclosed), TE Ben Watson (undisclosed) and WR Travis Benjamin (undisclosed).

Had enough yet? In all, 15 players missed practice on Monday, most of whom are expected to be major contributors. Massaquoi and Benard have returned to practice, but everyone else is up in the air at this point.

This is just counting the injuries. LB Scott Fujita (also dealing with a leg injury) will be serving a three-game suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal, and CB Joe Haden is facing a possible four-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall.

Obviously, some of these players will come back quicker than others, but that doesn’t mean the Browns should make a habit of losing a couple of players a game to injury. This is simply not a team that can afford to see some of these nagging preseason injuries become regular-season nuisances.

But a bigger issue has emerged for the Browns, and it comes in the form of new owner Jimmy Haslam III. Since being introduced to the team and media nearly two weeks ago, he has expressed a desire to bring a Pittsburgh Steelers-like stability to the franchise.

It’s a plan obviously met with support, but it also means changes could be happening as soon as this season concludes. Both the front office and coaching staff know this is now the make-or-break campaign, the one in which their futures with the team will be determined.

How much of a fair shot will they be getting, though, if the team becomes decimated with injuries? There is no way to call this season a wash and simply move on; a scenario like that will cost them their jobs, and this season very well could develop into a raw deal for everyone (except Haslam, of course).

Despite that dark cloud looming over the Browns, it can be said that GM Tom Heckert has done an admirable job of rebuilding what was once a roster at rock bottom, dedicating himself to the strategy of putting together a team through the draft. With picks like S T.J. Ward, DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little, Haden, Richardson and Taylor to name a few, there has been an evident level of success in selecting talent.

It is possible that Heckert’s job could be safe, regardless of what fate Haslam gives to the rest of the staff after this season. Joe Banner, thought to be a front-runner for the position of president should Mike Holmgren step down or get fired, knows Heckert from their time together in Philadelphia. That right there is some of that continuity Haslam is craving.

As for everyone else — especially head coach Pat Shurmur — the future is decidedly more vague, and there appears to be a growing number of unfavorable factors.

The Browns would never use injuries or suspensions as an excuse, but the prospects of this season — already difficult on paper — become exponentially harder with so many potential, significant absences. And in a year where Jimmy Haslam III will be keeping a close eye on the entire organization, itching to make changes and put his own stamp on the Browns, there will be added pressure that could reach volatile levels by midseason.

In other words, it’s just business as usual in Cleveland.

Steve DiMatteo is a freelance writer based in Cleveland who currently serves as the editor/lead writer of Dawg Pound Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at steve_dimatteo.