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Browns mailbag: How will the Browns utilize all of their new receiving options?

Our prediction in last week's mailbag was wrong, but we're not hanging our heads over what the Cavs accomplished this season.

Here's to next year, as the offseason officially begins for Cleveland's basketball team and continues to press forward for the Browns.

Since the Browns brought in two new receivers from free agency plus the receivers we already have, I got the feeling that they plan on passing the ball more than running it. Especially using our running backs to do this also. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you for answering. GO BROWNS!!!! -- Timothy H., Brunswick

The group certainly has a new look, and it goes all the way to the head of the class with new wide receivers coach Joker Phillips. The signings of Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe double the veteran savvy that was lost with the departure of Miles Austin. Their arrival also means Cleveland's top receiver in 2014, Andrew Hawkins, can move back to the slot, where he's most comfortable and Taylor Gabriel can continue to blossom and develop without feeling the pressure he experienced throughout last season, when injuries reared their ugly head. There's also rookie Vince Mayle and a healthier and confident Travis Benjamin to go along with special teams ace Marlon Moore, recent signee Josh Lenz, the promising Rodney Smith and others.

And, as you noted, there's also been a noticeable emphasis on running backs showing off their hands. Just Tuesday, we saw running back Isaiah Crowell lining up in the slot and rookie Duke Johnson, who was dangerous as a pass-catcher at Miami, has been spotted all over the field.

Those outside the building continue to hammer the Browns' receiving corps with criticism, but if you don't view them as having more reliable options in the passing game than they did last year, I don't know what to tell you.

The key word I disagree with here, though, is "more." The Browns don't have to pass it more than they run it to get the most out of this group. The key, as offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has noted on multiple occasions, is the diversity of the group. Bowe provides the big target Cleveland desperately lacked last year. Hartline is a well-balance, do-it-all kind of receiver. Hawkins and Gabriel have break-your-ankles quickness that makes them particularly dangerous on the inside. Tight end Rob Housler is a threat down the field well beyond the sticks.

If Cleveland's running the ball more than it's passing in the fourth quarter, you won't hear any complaints from this new-look group.

Leading up to the season, I'm having very, very positive thoughts on the outcome of this season. I either A) See Johnny Manziel winning the job week one and playing good football or B) I see a resurgence in Josh McCown looking more like his 2013 form. Not to mention our top tier defense. Either way, I see a playoff berth for us. Am I being too optimistic, or are my beliefs supported by what the team showed us last year? -- Stephen R., Norton

Your beliefs don't mesh with outside predictions, but they're certainly not off base on this platform. There's a lot of confidence among players and coaches that this team is poised to build off its 7-9 record in 2014 because the roster is deeper and competition will thrive at more positions than it did at this time last year. The key, of course, is how the Browns navigate a schedule that, on paper, appears to be arduous. The stretch of four consecutive AFC North games in late November and early December will be pivotal. If the Browns are clicking then like they were at the midpoint of 2014, the North could very well be a four-horse race.

Hey, Andrew. I first want to say that your reporting is a breath of fresh air. Thank you! I am very excited about the direction Pettine and Farmer are taking this team, and I have much more hope for 2015 than pretty much every other soul that roams the internet. This leads me to my question: Why do analysts and sports commentators routinely portray this team as one of the worst in the NFL when they really have so much going for them? -- Joseph K., Glen Falls, N.Y.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, general manager Ray Farmer and Pettine have all acknowledged, one way or the other, that they don't expect the benefit of the doubt from anyone outside the facility until the Browns become a consistent winner. They're not looking for sympathy, either, even though you're right when you say the Browns are in a better position for success now than they've been in a while.

We had a running back on the roster last year named Winston. Is he still with the team? -- Greg C., Cape Coral, Florida

Yes, he is. That's Glenn Winston you're talking about. He's currently competing with the likes of Shaun Draughn and Luke Lundy for a spot behind Terrance West, Crowell and Johnson in the Browns' running back room.

Though Winston didn't pick up a carry in 2014, Pettine and his assistants have lauded his potential. How Winston rises to the challenge of competition and where he can establish a role will determine how he fits on this year's roster.

What's the word on Pierre Desir? -- David S., Portland, Oregon

The second-year cornerback has worked primarily with the second-team defense throughout OTAs. Though he played well at the end of 2014 when he was pressed into action, his experience is still minimal. His work ethic and dedication to the game can never be questioned, and he'll continue to compete for a role in the Browns' loaded secondary.

Since the Browns will scrimmage and practice with the Bills, it seems we may be on a Hard Knocks episode ... no? -- Mike H., Lima

Though it'd be must-see TV with Pettine and Rex Ryan reuniting, you won't be seeing it on HBO this year. The Hard Knocks crew will be spending its summer in Houston with Bill O'Brien, J.J. Watt and the Texans.

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