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THE BROWNS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: Running backs don’t carry as much value in the draft anymore these days, but Trent Richardson was an exception to the rule when he came out of the University of Alabama. Not only did the Browns spend the third overall pick in the 2012 draft to land him, they traded up from fourth overall with Minnesota to make sure he wouldn’t wind up with another team. Richardson’s numbers as a rookie in 2012 — 950 rushing yards, 3.6 average — weren’t overwhelming, but minor injuries played a factor and, more importantly, there were enough flashes to suggest he’ll be every bit as good as advertised before too long. While quarterback Brandon Weeden had an impressive preseason that suggests he could make significant strides in his second season in the NFL, it’s clear the go-to guy on offense is Richardson.
THE BROWNS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: For all the promise Weeden showed in the preseason, he’ll still need for some receivers to emerge and help him out. It won’t help his cause Sunday against the Dolphins that the Browns’ deep threat, Josh Gordon, will be out of the lineup because of an NFL suspension. Gordon was among the four players at the top of the team’s reception list with between 49 and 53 catches. Another was veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, who is now playing for New Orleans. The Browns are expecting big things from new starting tight end Jordan Cameron, the former basketball player at USC, but he’s still an unproven commodity in the NFL. The starting wideouts Sunday are expected to be Greg Little, who led the team in 2012 with 53 catches, and former Dolphins slot receiver Davone Bess.
THE BROWNS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: The Browns have switched to a 3-4 scheme with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who did a lot of his learning as a coach under the legendary Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. That means you can expect a high-pressure defense with blitzes coming from just about everywhere. The Browns appear to have the outside linebackers to apply pressure in converted defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who led the Browns with seven sacks last season, and newcomer Paul Kruger, who led the Super Bowl champion Ravens with nine sacks. And that’s not even counting first-round pick Barkevious Mingo, the pass-rushing specialist from LSU, whose status for Sunday’s game is cloudy after he sustained a bruised lung in the preseason.
THE BROWNS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: The Browns have one of the top young cornerbacks in the league in former first-round pick Joe Haden from the University of Florida. But there’s a big question mark on the other side, where Cleveland is hoping 2013 third-round pick Leon McFadden eventually can emerge. For now, though, the starter is likely to be Buster Skrine, who is coming off a difficult 2012 season. Another issue for the Browns is how well the personnel can adjust to the 3-4 scheme. For example, how will former first-round pick Phil Taylor perform at nose tackle after playing defensive tackle in a 4-3?
THE BROWNS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: For years, the Browns had a major weapon in the return game with Joshua Cribbs, but age and injuries eventually caught up with him. Cleveland, however, might be just as dangerous in that department this year. The reason is former University of Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin. As the backup to Cribbs on punt returns last year, Benjamin only had three attempts, but one of those went for 93 yards and a touchdown against Kansas City. Then in the preseason opener this summer, he took a punt back 91 yards for a touchdown against St. Louis. Unlike Cribbs, the Dolphins only will have to deal with Benjamin on punt returns, as it looks as though Johnson Bademosi will handle the kickoff returns.
THE BROWNS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Though they struggled in recent years, the Browns always could count on placekicker Phil Dawson. But he left for San Francisco as a free agent and Cleveland found itself in scramble mode early this week after releasing veteran Shayne Graham and putting Brandon Bogotay on injured reserve. The Browns eventually settled on veteran Billy Cundiff, but he was only 7-for-12 on field goal attempts during a brief stint with the Washington Redskins last season.