ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Cleveland Browns have been the butt of jokes for many years, but first-year coach Mike Pettine is not laughing.
It is easy to poke fun at an organization that drafted Tim Couch, William Green and Brady Quinn. And Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren. And ... you get the point.
The Browns are also known for firing Bill Belichick, who has emerged into one of the best coaches in NFL history. Pettine is Cleveland’s fifth coach over the past seven years, following the bad legacies of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski. Cleveland has not been to the playoffs since the 2002 season, and the Browns have not won more than five games in a season since finishing 10-6 in 2007.
Yes, there is more.
Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden started at quarterback for the Browns last season. Hoyer at least gave Cleveland a glimmer of hope, and was 3-0 as a starter, but sustained a season-ending knee injury. Running back Trent Richardson was traded after two games. Chudzinski and general manager Mike Lombardi were fired after one season.
Nevertheless, Pettine is optimistic Cleveland will turn things around and make a playoff run this season. That would be nothing short of a miracle considering the team’s consistent struggles, although Pettine doesn't believe it would take divine intervention.
"I wouldn’t call it a miracle," Pettine said at the NFL owners meetings. "Some people in Cleveland might think that. It’s hard to really get to that point when we’re still right at the infant stages. We haven’t even had access to the players yet, but we want to build that culture, that mentality, that we approach every game we prepared well, we’re going to go win, and have more than every opportunity to win. One game at a time is a cliché for a reason. I don’t think you can caught up with before the season we’re going to win 10 or 11 games. You prepare to go 1-0. If you win it, you prepare to go 2-0."
Okay, the Browns making a playoff run sounds like another feel good offseason story, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this could be the year.
Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron, cornerback Joe Haden, center Alex Mack and offensive tackle Joe Thomas were Pro Bowl selections last year. Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards (1,646) and had nine touchdowns, while Cameron had 917 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Mack received the transition tag, which allows any team to negotiate with the center, but gives Cleveland an opportunity to match the offer.
In addition to the returning talent, Cleveland signed running back Ben Tate, safety Donte Whitner, receiver Andrew Hawkins, and linebacker Karlos Dansby during free agency. Cleveland could select a quarterback during the NFL draft, which would add to the impressive talent the Browns already have.
Last season, Kansas City, San Diego, Philadelphia, Carolina and New Orleans made the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2012. The Chiefs finished 11-5 in 2013 after a 2-14 record the year before.
Cleveland finished 4-12 last season, and Pettine wants his squad to be on the list teams that made the playoffs after a subpar year.
"That’s the reason we brought in guys from other organizations who have won, to change that mentality and change that culture," Pettine said. "You look at the NFL, and you look at the number of teams, it’s an average of more than four a year that make the playoffs that didn’t make it year the before, or you have how many consecutive years of a team going from worst to first? The players have to understand that and realize that and ask ‘Why not us?’ Sometimes overcoming the mental is more important than the physical.
"I think that’s what we’re progressing toward, and that’s why we’re excited about this draft. We have a chance to make a huge impact on this roster. You can’t be in the NFL and talk about reclamation projects. We’re in the win now (business). When you look at it as a slow process, you’re doing yourself, your fans, your team, your staff a disservice. The way the league is structured, the promotion of parity, I think things can turn very quickly."
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