When the Cleveland Browns hired Hue Jackson as their latest coach, optimism flowed through an incredibly downtrodden fan-base. It didn’t matter that the team had a glaring lack of talent, nor did it matter every indication given by the front office was this upcoming season was going to be the first step in a long and painful rebuild. Jackson exuded so much confidence when he spoke, all of the negativity hovering over the team seemed to fade away for a bit.
Fans noticed it, media noticed it and, most importantly, even players noticed it. There was a new energy in Cleveland, brought on by a coach who was both in demand and seemed like the perfect guy for the job. It seemed as though this was the man who could finally navigate through the decades of failure and bring the team out of the storm.
Even if Jackson was anticipating a rocky start to his first year with the Browns, it’s tough to believe he thought things would go this crazy.
Robert Griffin III – the quarterback Jackson made his own personal reclamation project – only lasted a single game. Veteran Josh McCown proved to be an improvement on offense, but he, too, is now recovering from an injury. As a result, the Browns are three weeks into the season and forced to start their third-string QB, rookie Cody Kessler.
Odds favor Kessler – the quarterback Jackson valued over already-succeeding rookies Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott –struggling in his debut this Sunday. He looked unprepared in his limited preseason appearances, and it’s unlikely a couple days of practice with the starters is going to change much.
Lump all of this together, toss in an 0-2 record, and you have what appears to be a monstrous challenge for Jackson to overcome. Not only does he have to try and win this Sunday with a raw rookie quarterback, he also has to do whatever he can to ensure he doesn’t lose his team.
Everyone outside of Cleveland is convinced the Browns are purposefully tanking this year. As much as the front office begs to differ, it’s a message being declared so loudly it would be impossible for the players within the locker room to ignore it. The team has always been the butt of media jokes, but it seems as though everyone is taking extra shots this time around.
Players can quit under circumstances like these. Cycling through quarterbacks this quickly, having to rely on a rookie who everyone expects to fold. I’ve seen past Browns players quit after less, no longer buying in to whatever positive feedback coaches gave as the losses continued and just going through the motions until the season came to a close.
It’d be difficult to believe the feeling of doom and gloom hasn’t crept into the team facility after these first two insane weeks. Rookies may be wondering what they got themselves into, while the remaining vets are likely fighting the urge to say “here we go again.”
It’s up to Jackson to ensure this doesn’t happen, a task nobody in their right mind would volunteer for.
He has to somehow convince his players the season isn’t now officially a waste, that there’s something to play for. That there’s a greater goal which can still be achieved.
Jackson must somehow close out the world beyond Cleveland’s locker room. He has to keep his players from being influenced by the negativity surrounding everything related to his team. When pundits file in more columns or takes bashing the Browns in every way imaginable, Jackson has to make sure his players remain unaffected by it.
He’s already proven he can elicit positivity from his team, as both rookies and long-suffering vets spent the summer raving about him. That said, this was well before the season went off the rails in epic fashion. Before a quarterback internal sources claim is “nowhere close to being ready” was thrust into the starting lineup.
So, Jackson now faces a task much more difficult than winning football games. It’s a challenge that could end up being a devastating blow to his coaching career should he fail. The Browns tabbed him to be their coach for the long-haul, but this plan could change if players start tuning him out thanks to all the losing.
When he was introduced to the team, Jackson said he was here to “chase greatness.” He’ll now have to work incredibly hard to ensure he’s not chasing it alone.