And boom went the dynamite. The lockout has begun, the Players' Union is no more, and we must now prepare for the potentially long winter ahead of us without football activities. How will the Browns handle the changes in their offseason schedule? New starting quarterback Colt McCoy cannot study the playbook to get a leg up on his new offense. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson cannot study the playbook for the new defense he will be leading next fall. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson can still kick as many footballs as he wants in his backyard. So it's not all doom and gloom, even though the Browns will probably be one of the hardest hit teams by the lockout.
I'm not the first to say this, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but this lockout is really bad timing for the Cleveland Browns. Three new coordinators in Cleveland, a new offense, a new defense, a new head coach, and who-knows-how-many new players to add to the mix all mean that the Browns will have a lot of catching up to do before they can realistically compete with the top teams in the AFC North. Fortunately for us fans, the Browns are at the beginning of our latest rebuilding effort so it's not like we were going to contend for the division title anyways. How's that for some optimism? Unlike how Bengals fans must have felt last season, we can begin preparing ourselves for another 4-12 season right now instead of realizing it halfway through the 2011 season! Isn't that something to be proud of?
On the upside, young Colt McCoy was able to gain some valuable experience last season so at least he has something to work off of heading into next season. Fan favorite Peyton Hillis, who wore down at the end of last year, should be very happy about having more time to rest his legs in preparation for another physical season. Running back is a position that doesn't require as much time to catch up as other positions, and Hillis is already well suited to a pass-first offense. Recent second-round picks Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi should spend their free time working on improving their hands, but they will be a little behind in trying to grasp the West Coast offense concepts because of the lockout. Tight ends Ben Watson and Evan Moore should actually benefit a little from having more time off. Watson is a veteran player from New England, so he should be familiar with pass-heavy offenses and Moore can probably use as much time as possible to make sure he is healthy for next season. The offensive line is made up of veterans and smart young players like Alex Mack. Second-year guard Shawn Lauvao is the only inexperienced lineman on the roster that could see significant playing time next year.
The defensive line and linebacking corps will also have a lot of catching up to do to become acquainted with new coordinator Dick Jauron's scheme. These front seven players have the most transitioning to do as they must now learn how to play the 4-3. Veterans Scott Fujita and Matt Roth have experience playing in this scheme, so hopefully they can help the younger guys learn their new positions quickly. The defensive backfield will be the spot least affected by the scheme change, as Jerome Henderson, the defensive backs coach, was one of the few members of Eric Mangini's staff that was retained. There will be some schematic differences that affect them because of the scheme change, but not as much as other positions on the field.
As far as overall strategies are concerned, the Browns are in a pretty good place regarding the lockout. While there will be no free agency until more progress is made on the CBA, the draft will still go ahead as planned. As teams like the Ravens, Steelers, and Green Bay Packers have demonstrated, it is wise to build through the draft and that is exactly what czar Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert will be doing this offseason. So far there have been rumors of many private workouts being held for the Browns, including one for high-profile prospect Cam Newton. As we all know, Holmgren loves working with quarterbacks and any insider info he can glean from a workout can only help us in the future, even if we don't draft a quarterback high in the draft. Overall, I think the concerns about the Browns are a little overblown. Yes, the lockout will hurt, but we are rebuilding anyways so going from a potential 6-10 team to a 4-12 team is not that much of a difference, even for long-suffering Browns fans.
As always, stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for a new CBA.