With a record of 2-8 there obviously has not been a whole lot of positives within the Browns organization this year. It’s been the typical pattern in Cleveland: a losing record, a head coach on the hot seat, and questions surrounding whether the quarterback is THE guy of the future; however, despite all the negatives, there are always at least a few bright spots-specifically a handful of players who continue to bring it week in and week out despite the team’s winning (or lack there of) percentage. The following are, in my opinion, the most valuable players on this young roster during this 2012 season:
a. Corner Joe Haden. While Haden missed four games due to suspension, his return brought an energy to the defense, which also resulted in an elevated level of play from his fellow defensive backs. Though Haden is generally good for giving up at least one big play a game, which has at times resulted in six for the other team, the rest of the time he is generally lights out. Haden was out again last week in Dallas due to an oblique injury and was sorely missed, as back-up corner Buster Skrine got flagged multiple times for illegal contact. Fortunately for the Browns, it looks like Haden will return to the line-up on Sunday against Pittsburgh.
b. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Fellow team member Scott Fugita said when the Browns switched to the 4-3 defensive scheme that the player it would benefit the most was Jackson, and he was right. Jackson, with his quick lateral speed, has shined. On Sunday Jackson will face a Steelers offense missing their star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who is out with a rib injury and will instead line-up against veteran third string quarterback Charlie Batch, as Byron Leftwich is out with a rib injury.
c. Running Back Trent Richardson. T-Rich has already shown at times why he was the number three pick in the draft, and the Baltimore Ravens have deemed him the most difficult running back to tackle. He insists that he has yet to play at 100% and that when he does fans will have even more to which they can look forward. However, he struggled in the second half in short yardage situations against the Cowboys and will face a Pittsburgh defense led by defensive mastermind Dick Lebeau for the first time in his young career.
d. Kicker Phil Dawson. I hate to even type this, but Dawson has yet to miss a field goal this year, having made all nineteen of his attempts, with a long of 52. The only remaining player from the 1999 expansion team was inducted into the University of Texas’ Athletic Hall of Honor. Dawson has been the been the epitome of consistent this season and throughout his career in Cleveland and more than deserves a trip to the Pro Bowl this year.
The Browns will need MVP performances from their key players in order to knock off their nemesis. Other players to watch include defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who is playing at a higher level since the return of linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor; rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz who has been getting consistently better over the season; and wide receiver Greg Little who has finally begun to perform the way he is athletically capable .