1. Call me crazy but I expect some real nice things from the Browns this year. Not so much an improved record, but at the very least I expect the team to be HIGHLY competitive in all of their games and pull of a few upsets. The schedule is definitely a challenge with teams like the Saints, Jets, Patriots and the improvement of the Ravens.
2. The reason for my expectations? One is Mangini’s second year with an improved defense. Not only should the unit be more versed and disciplined in the Mangini style, but veteran depth and young talent has been infused into both the secondary and the linebacking corp. I expect to see a defense that can get more pressure on the opposing quarterback and make it much tougher for opponents to create the big play. With improvements on defense and Mangini’s talent for it, the Browns should be stingy. They won’t shut teams down, but they will harass them and make life difficult.
3. Coupled with a more stout and disciplined defense, the Browns will impose upon other teams with their physical and talented offensive line led by Pro Bowler Joe Thomas. Drafting Monterrio Hardesty to pair with Jerome Harrison has been phenomenal thus far. Add Petyon Hillis in the mix along with Lawrence Vickers as a lead blocker and the Browns will do some serious damage running the football.
4. That’s not to even mention the possibilities that Josh Cribbs and Seneca Wallace can bring the team. One thing for sure is that the Browns will have the ability to keep other teams on there heels with multiple formations and packages and a number of ways to beat you.
5. Jake Delhomme will fit perfectly with this team as long as he limits turnovers (nothing new). His ability to stretch the field will be made that much easier because of the Browns ability to run the ball successfully. I expect Mohammed Massaquoi to have a nice year. Robiskie could post some decent numbers as well.
6. I think the Browns should think about sending Cribbs deep this year. Last year, they really only utilized him on short passes or direct snaps, but I think he might be effective on some deep fly routes where he can rely on his pure speed, physicality and athleticism to go after some jump balls.
7. So while I’m not expecting the Browns to beat the Raven, Jets or Saints, I definitely think they can give these elite teams a run for their money. On the flip side, matchups against teams like the Steelers, Patriots, Dolphins and Bengals should definitely be viewed as winnable. I don’t see Cleveland being overmatched by anyone. Thus far, the talent on the roster has been nicely upgraded and appears to be well coached.
1. If there was ever a team to not expect much out of this year, it would be the Cleveland Indians. But that should be viewed as normal. What Tribe fans should be most concerned about is how well our prospects adjust to life in the major leagues.
2. The recent emergence of Matt LaPorta should be very pleasing to Indians fans. He still strikes out too much, but his five homers is encouraging. He has the ability to become the type of player that will hit for a nice average, provide a lot of power and drive in a lot of runs. Whether or not he developes more plate discipline will determine if he becomes Jim Thome or Richie Sexson.
3. Victor who? When the Indians promoted Carlos Santana I did not expect the guy to play as if he’s in his fifth major league season, but that’s exactly what he’s done. In just 95 at-bats he has fiver homers, has driven in 16 runs and is hitting .284.
4. Let’s take a very early and rough look at what the Indians lineup could look like Opening Day 2011.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
CF Grady Sizemore
RF Shin Soo Choo
C Carlos Santana
1B Matt LaPorta
3B Lonnie Chisenhall/Jared Goedert/Jayson Nix
LF Michael Brantley/Nick Weglarz/Jordan Brown
2B Jason Donald/Jayson Nix
Granted, there are some holes but Cabrera, Sizemore, Choo, Santana and LaPorta is a nice start and there is good depth in the minors to fill in the gaps below them.
At some point, the team may have to bring in a decent veteran to possibly fill the DH spot, and I think the Indians would be wise to trade current third baseman Jhonny Peralta this year for some more prospect depth, and to also give either Lonnie Chisenhall or Jared Goedert some full time action at third. Splitting time between the two could also happen.
Left field is another area that has some questions. Michael Brantley, Jordan Brown and Nick Weglarz are all expected to compete for time in left. With the injuries to Choo and Sizemore, all three will get a long look. Trevor Crowe seems to be destined for utility duties.
Still, the Indians are probably at least another year or two away from serious contention although that process can be sped up if the team can get lucky (a la Casey Blake for Carlos Santana) as they prepare to unload Jake Westbrook, Jhonny Peralta, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns.
So goes yet another rebuilding process for the Tribe, but at least they seem to know what they are doing. They have definitely had adequate experience in the past.