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Browns owner Haslam reaffirms Jackson return
The Cleveland Browns, after setting a franchise record for futility in 2016 by finishing 1-15, sunk lower in 2017 by becoming only the second team in NFL history to end a season 0-16.
It was not a season of bad bounces or bad breaks, bad calls by officials or a bad schedule that forced the Browns to experience burdensome travel. For the most part it was just bad football offensively and defensively from the beginning of the season to the end.
Impetuous owner Jimmy Haslam fired vice president of football operations Sashi Brown on Dec. 7, but decided to keep head coach Hue Jackson despite Jackson's 1-31 coaching record with the Browns.
Haslam hired John Dorsey as general manager the same day he fired Brown. Brown bequeathed Dorsey two first-round picks, three second-round picks in 2018 and more than $100 million in salary-cap room.
The plan beginning in January of 2016 was to sacrifice immediate success in 2016 and 2017 to make a splash in 2018, but not to the extent of winning only one game in two years.
No quarterback on the Browns roster won a game in the NFL, which meant rookie DeShone Kizer had no fellow quarterback to lean on when things were tough.
Brown cut Joe Haden, the Browns best cornerback, just before the season started. All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, after playing 10,363 consecutive snaps, suffered a season ending injury (left triceps) in the seventh game.
One stat defines the 2017 season: The Browns were minus-28 in turnover differential.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: It seems like a decade ago that the Browns were 4-0 in the 2017 preseason. The biggest plus in the 16 games that followed was the vast improvement in run defense. The Browns went from giving up 4.6 yards a carry in 2016 to just 3.4 yards a carry in 2017. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, in his first year with the Browns, switched to a 4-3 base defense and from the very beginning emphasized defending the run. Pass protection improved dramatically, too, despite losing Joe Thomas for more than half the season. The Browns signed center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency. Plus, left guard Joel Bitonio, after finishing 2015 and 2016 on injured reserve, played all 16 games in 2017. After giving up 66 sacks last season, the Browns allowed 50 in 2017.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Brown drafted four wide receivers in 2016, so he felt no need to take one in the following draft. Wide receiver Corey Coleman broke his hand in the second game. No wide receiver on the roster became a "go-to guy" for rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer until Josh Gordon was allowed on Dec. 3 to play in his first game in nearly three years. The Browns had no leader in the secondary after cornerback Joe Haden was cut and none on offense after left tackle Joe Thomas was injured. That contributed to meltdowns in the fourth quarter. For example, the Browns led the Packers 21-7 to start the fourth quarter, but lost 27-21 in overtime.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer, the 52nd pick in the 2017 draft, was forced to start before he was ready, but head coach Hue Jackson had no alternative because Cody Kessler, 0-8 as a rookie starter last year, and Kevin Hogan weren't starting material. Kizer became flustered in the red zone. He protected the ball poorly, as his league-high 22-interceptions reflect. Inaccuracy plagued Kizer all season. The errors did not decrease as the season progressed, which is why general manager John Dorsey will likely use the first pick in the draft on a quarterback.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Middle linebacker Joe Schobert. Schobert went from being a backup rookie outside linebacker in 2016 to the starting middle linebacker in 2017. He finished among the league leaders with 142 tackles. Schobert had the duty of calling out the defensive signals and is a major reason the Browns run defense improved dramatically. "Joe has just scratched the surface," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Defensive line coach Clyde Simmons. Simmons is in his seventh year coaching and first with the Browns. He played on the defensive line with five NFL teams from 1986-2000, so he knows what it's like to be in the trenches. The 2017 season was the best for third-year defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Simmons also gets credit for developing rookie defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. Trevon Coley, a first-year player who was with the Ravens last year, emerged as a starter at defensive tackle thanks to Simmons' coaching. All contributed to the Browns improved run defense.