ROCKY RIVER —** Browns coach Hue Jackson is as confident as he’s ever been that Cleveland can turn the corner following the toughest season in franchise history.
“The last two years, we’re turning the page on that and moving forward,” Jackson said Monday morning at the team’s 19th annual Cleveland Browns Foundation golf tournament. “I think our guys, to a man, I think this is a better football team, I think this is a tremendous football staff and team and we’ve got to go out and prove that.”
Jackson and the Browns are set to open organized team activities Tuesday, the final phase of an offseason that saw the roster undergo significant changes following a winless season and 1-31 mark over the past two years.
Under new general manager John Dorsey, who was hired in December, Cleveland has added more than two dozen new faces since the start of the new league year, including veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry and free safety Damarious Randall. The Browns also drafted nine players, including first overall pick and quarterback of the future Baker Mayfield and former Ohio State star cornerback Denzel Ward.
In addition to those personnel changes, Jackson, entering his third season as head coach, also retooled his coaching staff. He tabbed offensive coordinator Todd Haley after six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, special teams coordinator Amos Jones, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and wide receivers coach Adam Henry.
Coupled with a young group of core players and influx of talent, Jackson believes the Browns stand to improve sooner than later. The upcoming series of OTA practices mark the first time Cleveland’s coaches, rookies, veterans (both new and returning) all come together as one team.
“It’s that time of the year where every team kind of feels great, but where we came from, and in our mindset at least of where we’re headed with the free agents we brought in, the draft picks we had, the new coaches, we feel really good where we’re at,” fifth-year left guard Joel Bitonio said.
“It’s going to be finally fun to be out on the field and at least see what’s happened a little bit. You don’t get the whole picture until you start playing real games, but to kind of be out there and play with guys you haven't been able to play with yet is an exciting time. I know we’re all anxious to get out there and get going.”
The early returns would appear to be positive thus far. Bitonio, a Pro Bowl alternate last season who’s among the longest-tenured members of the team, said he’s excited about the talent and depth across the roster.
“It feels different. If you look at the team, every position has one player that’s either going to compete to start, start or be a vital backup that we didn't have last year,” Bitonio said. “It makes your team a better team and that’s kind of where we’re at right now. You can really look down the whole team … there’s someone in every room that’s going to push someone else or become a starter for us and that’s a good issue to have."
It’s why Jackson is feeling bullish about the future.
“I’m a lot more confident, having been here two years, two tough years,” he said.
“The addition of John Dorsey and the personnel staff; the free agent period that we had and putting better talent on the team; the Draft, putting really good talent on the team; the talent that was already here coupled with that gives me a sense of optimism that we truly can turn the corner.”