Entering the offseason, the Cleveland Browns needed help at the three key skilled areas on offense - quarterback, running back and receiver.
Welcome Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon.
If nothing else, the additions of those rookies will make for an entertaining training camp and perhaps an even more entertaining 2012 season. In drafting Richardson third overall from Alabama, the Browns added one of the top running back prospects in several years. Weeden, picked 22nd overall, brings a big-time arm and Gordon, plucked out of the supplemental draft for a 2013 second-round draft choice, is a big receiver with potentially game-breaking skills.
Add right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, picked in the second round, and it's likely that coach Pat Shurmur will start four rookies on offense. That's enough youth to make one prognosticator pick the Browns to win all of one game. Most national media observers are sticking with the usual four or five wins.
We'll start to get a better idea when camp officially opens to the public Saturday. Here is how the position areas shape up:
OFFENSIVE LINE: All seems set here with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas leading the way. Center Alex Mack also has Pro Bowl credentials and is a strong inside anchor. The coaches are really high on left guard Jason Pinkston, who stepped in as a rookie in 2011 after Eric Steinbach suffered a back injury. He stumbled early but improved late. The concern is on the right side, where guard Shaun Lauvao and Schwartz will start. Lauvao was a weak link last season. Schwartz will face all the challenges that go along with being a rookie.
EYE ON: Schwartz and fellow rookie Ryan Miller. Schwartz is supposedly NFL ready with the body frame to be a solid run blocker. Miller has a chance to contribute at guard.
RECEIVERS: The collective sigh heard a couple of weeks ago came from fans that were pleased with Gordon's addition. This area was arguably the weakest spot on the roster last season - lacking speed, competent route runners and consistent hands. Gordon isn't a burner at nearly 230 pounds, but that won't matter if he can get open and maintain possession. It will be a positive if he can unseat the injury-prone Mohamed Massaquoi as a starter. Greg Hill is another big receiver ticketed to start. Hill has plenty of tools, but he also has a bad set of hands. He reported to minicamp in great shape and is determined to put the drops of last season behind him. Hopefully Gordon's emergence will allow Shurmur to look at Joshua Cribbs more as a special teams standout and less as a receiver. The receiver experiment has been a bust. Jordon Norwood and rookie Travis Benjamin provide speed from small body types.
EYE ON: Carlton Mitchell and Benjamin. We've been hearing so much about Mitchell since he was drafted in 2010, but he's injured all of the time and invisible when he's healthy. Benjamin looks like a high school kid on the field, but if he can stretch the field for Weeden his size won't matter.
TIGHT ENDS: This area has become more important as offenses gear attacks more toward big, agile tight ends. Ben Watson is back after suffering three concussions last season. Don't expect him to last the season. Evan Moore was a disappointment after signing a contract extension prior to last season. Alex Smith will likely make the roster for his blocking skills. Second-year player Jordan Cameron looks to contribute more, and seventh-round pick Brad Smelley of Alabama could find an H-back role as an extra back or tight end.
EYE ON: Cameron. He was noticeably bigger in minicamp and seemed to show up more on the field. He has a chance to take time away from Watson and Moore.
RUNNING BACKS: The Browns would seem to have hit a bonanza with Richardson, who was the centerpiece for Alabama's offense on its way to a national championship. Richardson combines speed and elusiveness with a compact 5-foot-9, 230-pound frame. That low center of gravity and power should create nightmare problems for linebackers. There's plenty of depth with Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogboyanna. Jackson is back after missing last season with a toe injury. The injury-prone Hardesty and Ogboyanna could be competing for one spot. Second-year veteran Owen Marecic is expected to start at fullback after ending last season on injured-reserve with a second concussion. Durability is a concern with him.
EYE ON: Jackson and Hardesty. It's not certain that Hardesty will make the final cut. He needs to show he can stay healthy and contribute. Jackson played on Green Bay's Super Bowl championship team of two seasons ago. He should be a good change of pace to Richardson with his scatback skills.
QUARTERBACKS: Barring something unexpected, Weeden will start. Let's get that out of the way right now. Weeden will be 29 in October. He wasn't drafted to ride the bench. It shouldn't take much for Weeden to unseat Colt McCoy, who doesn't look like a NFL quarterback. Weak arm inconsistent short passing game. What else needs to be said?
EYE ON: Weeden. He looked good in offseason practices, but how will he perform when the pads are on and he's getting hit in games? No one is questioning his arm strength.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The offseason got off to a bad start when Phil Taylor tore a pectoral lifting weights. Last year's first-round draft choice had a decent but not great 2011 season. He flashed at times but needs more consistency. Unfortunately, he might miss the entire season if the injury doesn't heal quickly enough. Jabaal Sheard is back at one end after a stellar rookie season. The front office added veterans Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker in free agency to add depth. Rucker will start at end opposite Sheard. The key piece is tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who's quietly become one of the better one-gap tackles in the NFL. He could be the Browns best tackle since Michael Dean Perry or, going back further, Jerry Sherk.
EYE ON: Rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn. One of the two could get plenty of time in Taylor's absence.
LINEBACKERS: Scott Fujita will likely miss the first three games for his supposed role in the bountygate scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Kaluka Maiava is expected to replace Fujita on the outside. Middle man D'Qwell Jackson is coming off an outstanding season and should be in his prime at 28. Chris Gocong also played well on the outside. Rookies James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho will help on special teams and possibly on defense.
EYE ON: Johnson. A fourth-round draft choice, Johnson will try to show that he's better suited to fill in for Fujita than Maiava.
SECONDARY: There wasn't a need to make many changes here. Third-year cornerback Joe Haden is developing into a star. Strong safety T.J. Ward could be a star, but he can't stay healthy. The big news in offseason practices was 2011 rookie Eric Hagg lining up with the first team at free safety. Either he's really caught the attention of the coaches or Usama Young, when healthy, underachieved last season. Sheldon Brown could be unseated as a starting cornerback by Dimitri Patterson. Second-year veteran Buster Skrine showed the speed and coverage skills needed to face slot receivers in the nickel.
EYE ON: Brown and Hagg. Can Hagg continue to make positive steps and be a starter? Brown is an old corner at 33. With no plans to move Brown to safety, is there room for him on the roster?
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Phil Dawson's nickname should be "Franchise." He received the franchise tag each of the last two years, which tied his services to the Browns instead of perhaps moving closer to his beloved Texas. At 37 he's showing no signs of losing leg strength or accuracy. Punter Reggie Hodges is back after missing last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. The coverage units need to play better. Giving up 11.7 yards per punt return won't get it done.