The Broncos face a unique challenge on Sunday as they host a team that is out of playoff contention, but has won three of its last four games.
The Browns have 16 rookies on the team, including four starters on offense.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson were first-round selections by the club in 2012. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, who leads the team in receiving yards, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz round out the rookie starters on offense.
Cleveland’s recent play has indicated that the club’s youth has developed and improved together over the course of the season.
“We’re going to grind it out together,” Richardson said in a conference call Wednesday. “It feels like you’re a college freshman again, when it comes down to it. We’re on that rampage, and that makes us feel good. It tells us that next year, we’re going to do a lot of damage. All our guys, we’re going to play together. When it comes time, the Cleveland Browns will be very special.”
Richardson said Weeden has gained confidence in his own game and earned the same from his teammates. It’s one example of how the young team has grown.
“Brandon’s becoming more of a leader, and he has more poise in the pocket,” Richardson said. “He’s becoming more of a voice on the team. We’re starting to respect him more because we believe in him. We know that he’s our quarterback.”
Head Coach Pat Shurmur said he hasn’t had to make many adjustments on the field due to his team’s inexperience. The challenge has been making sure the players are on top of important responsibilities that are part of life in the NFL.
“I think what I do though, is I constantly remind them a lot of the basics that veterans in this league already know,” Shurmur said. “It’s important to get their rest. It’s important to make sure they stay hydrated. I talk about preparation and how what gets young players – it’s not necessarily the games on Sunday – it’s preparation throughout the week and the length of the season. I go back to, I probably remind the players of what they should be doing more so out of the building and off the field than you would with a veteran group that’s kind of figured that out.”
As for the rookie running back, he has emerged as a premiere goal-line ball-carrier. Richardson is tied for second in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns. He has scored in four straight games, totaling six touchdowns in that span.
In breaking down his the Denver defense, it didn’t appear that Richardson needed any consultation on how to prepare. He was both aware and impressed with what the Broncos have done this season. The unit’s tackling ability specifically jumped out at him.
“Just watching film, they’re a fast defense and they keep their defense pretty plain as what they’re going to do,” he said. “They’ve got their game plan and they’re going to use it against anybody. From what I’ve seen, they’re a fast group and they’re hard-hitting and they know how to tackle. That’s one thing that defense needs to know how to do. I’ve been looking at their DBs and one thing that’s surprising is their DBs know how to tackle.”