Monday, Nov 20, 2017
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David Briggs

Five reasons the Browns will rise or sink in 2017

The Browns had their first perfect preseason since 1986.

They are the preseason champions ... of the world!

A year after the Cleveland Browns forestalled a fan-organized 0-16 parade — they beat San Diego in Week 16 to finish 1-15 — their laugh-so-you-don’t-cry supporters celebrated a different sort of perfection this summer.

The Browns’ 4-0 exhibition season inspired shirts commemorating the mythical August championship — not to mention jesting cries of another, more super title surely in store down the road.

In any case, it was the Browns’ first perfect preseason since 1986, which just so happened to be the previous time they had a franchise quarterback.

Coincidence? We’ll see. For better or worse, here comes the regular season.

Five storylines to watch in 2017:

1. Kizer time: Rookie DeShone Kizer is the 27th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999. Can the Toledo native become Cleveland’s first golden-armed passer since Bernie Kosar? Bright with a big arm and prototype size, Kizer has it all ... but the experience.

2. The supporting actors: Kizer is just one man. It will require a village — or at least a few good sidekicks — for him to succeed. The good news is the Browns’ clear strength is their offensive line, with the offseason signings of solid interior veterans Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter fortifying a front that already included 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and guard Joel Bitonio. The bad news is there’s not much else. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are fine enough running backs, but in all, Cleveland’s skill guys might be the least skilled in the league.

3. Rookie orientation: The Browns selected 10 players in the first round between 2008-15. With the recent release of Joe Haden, only one of them — defensive tackle Danny Shelton, a 2015 pick — remains on the roster. Will the first two draft classes of the Browns’ new Moneyball front office prove more fruitful? Time to start proving it. Cleveland needs a big second year from receiver Corey Coleman, the 15th pick in the ’16 draft, and assuring rookie seasons from its three newest first-rounders: defensive end Myles Garrett, safety Jabrill Peppers, and tight end David Njoku.

4. Garrett’s ankle: This was one of those only-in-Cleveland kind of weeks. In the span of 24 hours of practice — practice! — the Browns cut safety Calvin Pryor for fighting with a teammate, and watched their franchise cornerstone go down with a high ankle sprain. Garrett, the terrorizing top overall pick, will miss several weeks with his third foot or ankle injury in the past 13 months. Along with the development of Kizer, Garrett’s health will be the season’s defining question.

5. Are the Browns better? The short answer is yes. But if last year was the first floor of a 20-story rebuild, this season is the second. A Cleveland franchise with the youngest roster in the league still remains at least a year away from contending for something more than the No. 1 overall pick.

Contact David Briggs at:

dbriggs@theblade.com,

419-724-6084, or on

Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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