GLS Preview: Cleveland Browns

It’s not going to be easy for the Cleveland Browns in 2011.

An inexperienced team is being forced to learn a new offense and a new defense while getting acclimated to a whole new coaching staff in a significantly short amount of time.

The good news is that the roster is very similar to the one they had last year. But based on their performance in 2010, I suppose that’s also bad news.

The Browns left $25 million on the table in the abbreviated offseason, signing virtually no free agents of note while letting starters Abram Elam, Lawrence Vickers and Eric Wright find greener pastures.

But Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert refuse to hand out bloated contracts to veterans when the team is realistically at least a year away from competing. In the meantime, they’re focusing on building a promise-stricken roster by way of the draft.

On the bright side, the people of Cleveland are used to this.

Random: Everyone was excited about the Browns after they won their final four games of 2009. Then they fell on their faces. No one’s excited about the Browns after they lost their final four games of 2010. Maybe they’ll surprise us? Or maybe the end of ’09 was simply a fluke.

2010 in a nutshell: They go 5-11 while finishing in the bottom 10 in pretty much every single offensive and defensive category.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. Colt McCoy will be inconsistent: McCoy was stellar in the team’s preseason debut against the packers, completing nine of 10 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown for a perfect passer rating. But he’s been up and down in practices and I fear he doesn’t have the weapons to consistently stay effective. Mohamed Massaquoi has already missed a significant amount of practice time with an ankle injury (making it more difficult for the offense to get comfortable in the west coast system) and rookie Greg Little, who’s expected to start in the thin receiving corps, has had problems with drops.

2. Peyton Hillis will prove last year wasn’t a fluke: McCoy was fortunate enough to receive support from the running game last year, and he should benefit from the productive Hillis again in 2011. The 25-year-old has once again stood out in training camp as he tries to prove that his breakout 2010 season wasn’t an anomaly. If he can stay healthy, limit his fumbles and avoid the Madden Curse, Hillis will have another good year behind a quality offensive line.

3. The defense will experience growing pains: Back to the 4-3 they go, but there’s a lot to get used to as Dick Jauron takes over. Rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard will likely start on the line from the get-go while they hope that youngsters Joe Haden and T.J. Ward continue to flourish in the secondary. D’Qwell Jackson is back after missing the team’s last 26 games due to back-to-back pectoral injuries, and he’ll be thrust into the middle linebacker spot. Will Jackson be the same player he was before losing the last two seasons to injuries? A lot of questions surround a defense in transition.

The final word(s): They’re obviously going to be bad again. I’m going to predict another 5-11 season, although I fear that could be the best-case scenario.