Cleveland Browns 2011 Season Preview: Lots Of Changes But Optimism Remains

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 25: Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles during their pre season game on August 25, 2011 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

SB Nation is previewing the 2011 season for all 32 teams and up today is the Cleveland Browns. Check out all of our 2011 NFL season previews.

The 2011 NFL season is almost here which means it's time to preview every team's chances this year. SB Nation's Dawgs By Nature gives us the scoop on the Cleveland Browns

Record Prediction

It should definitely be an interesting year for the Cleveland Browns, who have installed new offensive and defensive systems under head coach Pat Shurmur. Offensively, Shurmur will guide the West Coast Offense, and defensively, Dick Jauron will guide the transition from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 defense. Although it seems like the Browns are starting new, they have a lot of their core returning players returning, and Colt McCoy has looked much improved in his second season. I think a good record prediction for them is 7-9. They face a much softer schedule than they did a year ago, and even with their lack of receivers, Peyton Hillis proved to be the ultimate difference maker a year ago to control the tempo of games against teams who struggle versus the run.

Best Game On The Schedule

The best game on the schedule could be one you don't expect: the Week 10 matchup against the St. Louis Rams. The Browns have not done very well in division games over the past several years, so it's hard to term any single one of those as the "best" game. The matchup against the Rams pits Shurmur against the team he was previously the offensive coordinator for, and it would also feature the first regular season matchup between McCoy and Sam Bradford.

Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year

One player who is expected to take a step back this year, at least in terms of statistical production, is tight end Benjamin Watson. Watson is still a good talent to have offensively, but he was just about the Browns' only receiving threat a year ago. This year, the Browns are more likely to spread the ball around to a variety of receivers, including tight ends Evan Moore and Cameron Jordan.

Breakout Player Candidates

When it comes to breakout player candidates, I think it is fair to look at three players: the tight end Moore, right guard Shawn Lauvao, and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Moore has been sensational in training camp and the preseason, creating mismatches due to his size for anyone he lines up against, whether it be linebackers, safeties, or cornerbacks. The Browns aren't afraid to line him up wide. If utilized correctly, he could turn into one of the league's best receiving tight ends. Lauvao, a high draft pick last year, was thrust into the starting lineup after the team did not re-sign veteran Floyd Womack in the offseason. He has filled in better-than-expected to this point, and could offer the Browns some much-needed stability on the right side of the offensive line. Jackson has been injured way too often the past two seasons, but is finally healthy and has been making a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage this preseason. He looks like an above average middle linebacker at this point.

Best Browns Player Others Have Never Heard Of

The best player on the Browns you've never heard, not including Moore (mentioned above), is defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.  Rubin was outstanding at the nose tackle position last year, giving incredible hustle on every play he was in on. Now that he has switched to the 4-3 and is playing alongside Phil Taylor, being part of a dynamic duo might finally give Rubin some more national recognition.

Browns Player Who Is Overrated

There aren't many over-rated players on the Browns, but the whole Madden cover situation has led some fans outside of Cleveland to believe that running back Peyton Hillis fits that label. It is true that Hillis can't take as much of a pounding as he did last year, but if he gets more breathers with Montario Hardesty healthy, he can last the duration of the season.

Fantasy Football Outlook

Right now, the only people worth taking in fantasy football on the Browns are Hillis and Watson. Hillis seems to be worth a second-round pick, while Watson can be selected in one of the last rounds. Moore is a sleeper tight end, but he's also someone you can probably wait on and pick off the waiver wire.

Best Media Personality

There are two great media personalities on the Browns: cornerback Joe Haden and wide receiver Joshua Cribbs. Both of these guys are so involved with the community and the fans that it would seem like a shocker if they ever left the team. Both players were also actively supporting the Cleveland Cavaliers this past losing season.

Best Player To Follow On Twitter

The best player to follow on Twitter is wide receiver Carlton Mitchell. He might not end up making the final roster, but he has been hilarious at times this offseason.

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