This is the time of the professional football season to chill. Really, truly chill. Grain of salt time.
The Browns open the exhibition season Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers in front of the home fans and you can bet many of those fans will jump to conclusions based on what they observe.
What they’ll see is a team in its infancy in just about every aspect. Yet, they will prejudge the outcome as if it were the middle of the season. They’ll take good performances and extrapolate them into the meaningful part of the season.
Bad performances will be treated as though they would become commonplace. Exaggeration would be rampantly on the loose. In some areas, out of control.
Nothing could be further from the actual meaning of Pat Shurmur’s debut as a head coach in the National Football League. The Packers game will be nothing more than an exercise in curiosity. In other words, trial and error.
If the Browns somehow win and look good doing so, there is a segment of Browns Nation that will automatically assume the light at the end of the tunnel has been sighted. That’s it. The bad ol’ days are finally in the rear-view mirror.
And should the Browns more predictably look like a team just learning how to play Shurmur style football on offense and Dick Jauron style football on defense, it would be easy to say,” Same old, same old.”
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. This team is in the baby-step phase of its resurrection. It will take more than four exhibition games to progress beyond that stage. A lot more.
The best way to judge the Browns this season will be on a game-to-game basis. Growth does not come suddenly. It comes slowly, gradually. Sometimes, it comes in fits and starts. Other times, backward steps will be taken.
Fans, especially those ardent enough to blow things out of proportion in their desire to see the club do well, have to know by now that the climb will not be easy, particularly in the tough AFC North.
What they should look for is a steady climb, one not readily noticeable on the surface. Cutting down on mistakes on a weekly basis, for example. How many times in the last seven seasons did we hear Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini lament costly mistakes – almost weekly – and suggest they had to “go back to the drawing board” to eliminate the miscues? Too many.
That’s bad coaching. When the message is delivered repeatedly and still doesn’t get through, that’s bad coaching.
Watch the Browns as the season unwinds and look for mistakes. Then watch and see if they are corrected and never occur again. If they continue to hamper the club’s progress, that’s when it will be same old, same old.
Watch games with a jaundiced eye as the Browns begin their journey under Shurmur. That way, you’ll get a much more realistic view. And then chill because things can’t get much worse than the last two seasons.