Questions remain, but Browns look better


Cleveland Browns fans are a curious lot.

They’ve been burned time and again by unfulfilled expectations and downright ineptitude, so back-to-back impressive preseason performances have left some of them skeptical.

Understandable. The games don’t count yet.

But some Browns fans will always be Charlie Brown to the franchise’s Lucy Van Pelt.

One of these days, they’ll get to kick the football and the Browns will reverse years of doing everything wrong, put it all together and make the playoffs.

So while some fans are too cynical to put much stock in preseason wins over the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, others — so desperate for something good to happen to the star-crossed Browns — are willing to jump on a bandwagon that hasn’t even pulled out of the station in 2013.

I’m somewhere in the middle.

Brandon Weeden has looked sharp and far better-suited to Norv Turner’s vertical passing offense than the West Coast offense Pat Shurmur forced on him a year ago. I’ve never been a fan of the 3-4, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s first-team defense has looked crisp, allowing just three points and recording four three-and-outs.

But it’s the preseason. Some questions just won’t be answered until the games count and a healthy work sample is available for evaluation.

How will first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski manage games when they matter?

Will Weeden’s consistency against St. Louis and Detroit carry over to the regular season?

The Browns have been cautious with Trent Richardson and for good reason, given his injury history. Can he stay healthy and become the 1,200-yard feature back the Browns believed they took in the 2012 draft?

Will young receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon continue to develop and mature?

Do the Browns have the depth and skill at linebacker to run the 3-4?

Who will win the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden?

Will the Browns be able to rely on Phil Dawson’s replacement the same way they did on the long-time kicker they allowed to walk in free agency?

It’s going to be a while before we can answer any of those questions with any certainty, but here’s something I am sure about: Chudzinski and Turner — as head coach and offensive coordinator — are a serious upgrade over Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress.

Shurmur handled both roles in 2011, his first season in Cleveland. It went so well he brought in Childress — the former Minnesota Vikings head coach — as offensive coordinator for 2012. But it didn’t matter, because Shurmur still called the plays without much imagination or strategic success.

Browns fans saw enough dump-off passes on third-and-10 to last a lifetime in Shurmur’s two miserable seasons in Cleveland. Throwing downfield and challenging defenses won’t automatically turn a 5-11 team into an 11-5 team, but the aggressiveness is nice to see.

Shurmur’s Browns battled — just ask him. But they often were charged with overcoming his deficiencies.

Don’t expect a worst-to-first turnaround like the Rams pulled off in 1999, going from 4-12 in 1998 to 13-3 and an NFC West title and a Super Bowl victory.

But these Browns do look better, starting at the top.

Ed Puskas is sports editor at The Vindicator. Email him at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.

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