Training camp is getting set to start around the NFL, and now is the perfect time to catch up with how the rest of the AFC North is feeling going into the 2020 season.
We were able to catch up with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature and get his perspective on the other Ohio team.
Patrick Judis: The Browns have been praised by many national outlets for all the weapons they have on offense during this offseason. Most of those guys have been there for a season already though. How do you feel the new additions fit in with the big names?
Chris Pokorny: The Browns’ offense, for having Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Kareem Hunt (for half of a season) should have been so much more threatening in 2019. Freddie Kitchens’ offensive philosophies didn’t pan out, and both of Cleveland’s starting offensive tackles played below average. Combine that with some bad habits that Baker Mayfield developed, and the chemistry wasn’t there.
Your next question talks about the head coaching change, so I won’t mention the scheme change as much here. But the Browns went out and upgraded nearly all of their holes on offense: signing Jack Conklin from the Titans to be the starting right tackle, and drafting Jedrick Wills in the first round to be the starting left tackle. I think Wills could have a slow start to the year, because he’s trying to transition from being a right tackle in college to a left tackle in the NFL, and is doing so in a shortened offseason. The Browns also signed tight end Austin Hooper to a big deal, giving the team another receiving threat after some of the inconsistencies that David Njoku has shown. And lastly, Beckham and Landry both played through injuries all of last season, which supposedly explains (more so for Beckham) some of his productivity issues at times. I feel optimistic about the changes — you certainly can’t fault new general manager Andrew Berry for recognizing all of the team’s shortcomings on offense and addressing them all.
PJ: It seems like some fans outside of Cleveland may not know how big coaching played during the struggles of 2019. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel going from Freddie Kitchens to Kevin Stefanski could have this team reaching its potential?
CP: When Freddie Kitchens became the interim offensive coordinator in 2018 after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were dismissed, the offense started clicking with Baker Mayfield and company. There was a lot of creativity too! That glimpse of a high-powered offense was so tempting — and the feeling was, “hey, we could try to get an experienced head coach, but Kitchens just showed a promising offense for half a year, maybe we should go with him and ride that momentum.” That’s what the Browns did, but unfortunately, come gameday, Kitchens’ inexperience showed. He was in over his head as a head coach. He didn’t handle the juggling of all the duties of being a head coach well, and that led to bad decisions left and right. Then, we also became exposed to Kitchens’ dog house — if a player got on his bad side for whatever reason, he just cut out all of their playing time, which was stupid.
Kevin Stefanski is the Browns’ re-do attempt, because he is the guy the team would’ve hired if it hadn’t been for Kitchens. He has playcalling experience, and came well respected from Minnesota from all the people he has worked with. The work he did with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota was impressive, and exactly the type of fine-tuning fans think Baker Mayfield needs in his third year to get back on track. Stefanski has been given a ton of pieces to work with on offense, so we’ll see how well he manages them all.
PJ: The Browns’ defense is often overshadowed by their big names on offense. What can we expect from the defensive side of the ball in Cleveland for 2020 especially with the return of Myles Garrett after from his suspension?
CP: Speaking of Myles Garrett, isn’t it funny that the last thing he did in the NFL was the whole helmet fiasco against Pittsburgh, and now he’s the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history? The defensive unit also underachieved last year, and it’s a group that’ll still need to work through some holes this year. The defensive line depth has been improved with a couple of veteran players in Adrian Clayborn and Andrew Billings — that unit is not a concern.
The linebacker unit is a concern, though. Former starters Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey were let go in free agency, and the team really decided not to address the position in the offseason (besides taking fliers on young players). The safety depth last year was the team’s weakest element, but it has been addressed a bit with the signing of veteran safety Karl Joseph and second round pick Grant Delpit. The key for the Browns is to have their defensive line and cornerbacks play at a very high level, but when they don’t, the weaknesses at linebacker and perhaps safety will still be evident.
PJ: Who is a player you don’t feel like gets enough attention from the national media, or someone who is going to break out in 2020?
CP: There are so many big names already, so it’s hard to pick a breakout player. Linebacker Mack Wilson might be the one guy who I can point to. Even though I addressed linebacker as a position of weakness, he was thrown into a starting role last year and showed some good things. In particular, he is very athletic when it comes to reading a quarterback and making an interception with a good return. If the defensive line generates better pressure and forces quick throws, Wilson has the change to sneakily make some big plays this year.
PJ: What are your expectations for the 2020 Cleveland Browns? What win/loss record will they reach the postseason?
CP: I always tell people that I come to loathe the win/loss question each year, because I always want to be optimistic, but the Browns haven’t even made the playoffs once in the 14+ years I’ve been running Dawgs By Nature. I think their offense is powerful enough to take over games, but for teams who also have a fairly respectable offense, they will find the vulnerabilities in the defense still. I will maintain my optimism and predict that the team finishes 9-7, which will earn them a wildcard spot in the AFC.
Thanks again to Pokorny for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to see more of his work or Browns’ coverage, you can find him at Dawgs By Nature.