If the Browns are honest with themselves, they’ll admit the weakest area on the team after the college draft and free-agent signings is wide receiver.
Mike Holmgren is in the middle of an extended stay in the blissful state of denial about his team’s wideouts, believing the coming change at quarterback will solve most, if not all, the problems.
The club president has taken General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. and coach Pat Shurmur along on this little ride into fantasyland. That’s clearly obvious since neither the GM nor coach has talked his notion back.
OK, so Holmgren knows quarterbacks. At least he did until coming to Cleveland, where his track record is taking somewhat of a beating. He is clearly gambling that rookie Brandon Weeden will step right in and help validate his assessment of the wide receivers.
He expects Weeden to turn Greg Little, Mo Massaquoi, Joshua Cribbs, Jordan Norwood and the tight ends into something other than what they were last season: mediocre at best.
Never mind the fact that they nearly led the National Football League in dropped passes last season. Or that they ran lazy routes. Or that they often times ran the wrong routes. Or, in the case of Massaquoi, had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage.
That’s not all the fault of the quarterback. In those cases, they made Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace look worse than they actually were.
If Little, Massaquoi, Cribbs, Norwood, rookie Travis Benjamin and the tight ends play anywhere near the same way this season, Weeden’s baptism in the NFL is going to be awfully painful.
It is incumbent on assistant coaches Mike Wilson (wide receivers) and Steve Hagen (tight ends) to correct the flaws that hampered the receivers last season. They must eliminate the little, nagging mistakes that prevented McCoy and Wallace from putting up better numbers in 2011.
Weeden will have enough pressure stepping into the starting role as a rookie. And this time, he won’t have Justin Blackmon to bail him out as he did at Oklahoma State the last couple of seasons.
The new quarterback will need all the help he can get with an offense that requires precision. As displayed last season in the Browns' first dalliance with the west coast offense, bad timing was a major factor.
Optimists say it can’t be any worse than last season. Oh yes it can, especially with a rookie who has never operated in this offensive system. It’s going to take time – and a massive amount of patience – before the new Cleveland offensive motor hums quietly and efficiently.
But it’ll never happen unless the receivers on this team start playing the kind of football that makes opposing defensive coordinators take notice.
Having Trent Richardson behind Weeden and an improved offensive line will go just so far in resurrecting the moribund Cleveland offense. If the ghosts of last season’s receiving corps show up, Weeden’s rookie season will be memorable in a most unkind way.
So let’s not get too comfortable with that corps until we see more than just marginal improvement. They’ve got a lot of ground to make up and very little time in which to do it.
And you can bet Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur will be watching intently.