Rob Chudzinski, we hardly knew you.
The Chudzinski era as coach of the Cleveland Browns lasted 11 months and 19 days. He went from landing his dream job of coaching the team he followed as a youth to being told he didn't do a good enough job with less-than-ideal talent and a ton of injuries.
The Browns opened with two losses and then won three straight to reside in first place in the AFC North Division for a short period of time. It was all downhill from then on. Losses in 10 of the next 11 games put the record at a season-ending 4-12.
Chudzinski might not have done the best coaching job, but there were plenty of other culprits, both on the field and in the front office.
Following is a season-ending report card:
OFFENSIVE LINE: Left tackle Joe Thomas made the Pro Bowl for a seventh time in as many seasons. He was joined by center Alex Mack. Thomas remains one of the best pass blockers in the NFL, but he, like the rest of his line mates, isn't a great run blocker. It's time for the line to get more physical up front. John Elway in his prime could be the quarterback next season and it wouldn't matter much if the ground game continues to perform so poorly. Getting 86.4 yards per game on the ground doesn't cut it. The line allowed 43 sacks, a number that was inflated because of the 27 times Brandon Weeden was brought down. No one complained about right tackle Mitchell Schwartz when Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell was at quarterback.
RECEIVERS: The only thing standing between Josh Gordon and greatness is Josh Gordon. After a rocky start in which he was suspended two games for a violation of the NFL's drug policy, Gordon went on to lead the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646 on 87 receptions. He runs as smooth as Paul Warfield but with more size and strength. There weren't any other viable options after Gordon. Greg Little made more news getting speeding tickets than he did on the field. He had 465 yards on 41 catches. Davone Bess, acquired in trade with the Dolphins, was supposed to be a consistent possession receiver with good hands. Instead, he finished second in the NFL with 14 dropped passes. He didn't play in the last two games because of personal reasons. Look for a receiver to be selected high in the draft - perhaps with the second of two first-round picks.
TIGHT ENDS: Jordan Cameron came of age in his third NFL season, finishing second in the NFL among tight ends in receptions (80) and yards (917). Cameron's speed and athleticism provided a big upgrade over the previous season, when Ben Watson was the number one guy. Cameron and Gordon were arguably the best receiver-tight end tandem in the NFL. Gary Barnidge stepped into the role of blocker and occasional pass catcher that had been filled by Alex Smith a year earlier. More depth is needed.
RUNNING BACKS: The first two weeks of the season brought questions about Trent Richardson's worthiness as an elite back, but when he was traded before the third game there was outrage among fans. There are few complaints about the trade with the Colts today. Richardson has been a big-time bust, and the Browns have an extra first-round draft choice. Willis McGahee was signed after the trade with the hope there was something left in his injury-ravaged body. There wasn't, which became painfully aware each week. McGahee finished with 377 yards on 138 yards for a paltry average of 2.7 yards a carry. Edwin Baker, signed late in the season, was the best of the post-Richardson backs. He provided the kind of spark that was envisioned from Dion Lewis before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a preseason game.
QUARTERBACKS: Where does one start? Each of the quarterbacks on the roster suffered injuries of various seriousness. Weeden sprained his right wrist in the second game, giving way to Hoyer. Hoyer went down for the season with torn knee ligaments in his third start after leading the way to two straight wins. Campbell started all but one of the last nine games, missing the Jacksonville game with a concussion. All we know at this time is that Hoyer performed the best of the three and could be the starter next season while a rookie is brought along slowly. Weeden showed again that he's not a NFL-caliber player and is likely gone. The Browns have an option on Campbell's contract that expires in February, which means he's probably also gone. Adding a franchise-caliber quarterback alone would make this a .500 team.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The front office budgeted much of its available dollars in this area for more than one season and by more than one regime. There were some positive signs, especially against the run, early in the season, but signs of wear were obvious late in the season. It hurt when end Desmond Bryant was placed on injured reserve after undergoing a surgical procedure to repair a heart arrhythmia. Bryant and tackle Phil Taylor were stalwarts in stopping the run, with Bryant adding some push to the pass rush. When all aboard are healthy, this is one of the strongest areas on the roster. There shouldn't be much turnover in this area because of needs at other position groups.
LINEBACKERS: The arrival of defensive coordinator Ray Horton resulted in a switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which meant the need to add linebackers. The sixth overall draft pick was used on LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo, and the key free-agent signing was Paul Kruger, who played on the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning team. The two were expected to upgrade the pass rush, and there were signs that would happen early in the season. Mingo led the defense with five sacks, but he had just two after the first four games. Kruger finished with 4.5. The lack of a consistent pass rush was the primary reason why the defense broke down in the fourth quarter of so many games. Opponents that trailed late in games had to rely on the pass, and they were usually successful because of the lack of pressure. Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson again led the way in tackles with 141, but he's not an impact defender. The Browns owe Jackson a $4 million roster bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus if he's back when the offseason program begins in March. That's probably not going to happen.
SECONDARY: Cornerback Joe Haden was selected to the Pro Bowl, and safety T.J. Ward is an alternate, making up half of a decent secondary. Haden was generally efficient facing the opponent's best receiver, but he had some breakdowns (most notably in a loss to the Jaguars). Free safety Tashaun Gipson showed promise at free safety, but there's room for an upgrade there. The biggest improvement was made by cornerback Buster Skrine, who avoided the bad games that stood out in 2012. He's best working against slot receivers. Chris Owens was a stop gap at the corner opposite Haden and probably won't return. Ward can become an unrestricted free agent, and there are no indications by management that he will return. Ward appears resigned to hitting the open market.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Billy Cundiff was signed late in the preseason after Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay failed in tryouts. Cundiff faced a stiff challenge in replacing the legendary Phil Dawson, but he held up well and finished by making 21 of 26 field-goal attempts. Punter Spencer Lanning had a 43.8 gross average but had two punts blocked in a loss to the Bengals that proved to be the turning point of the season. Blocking breakdowns were the primary reasons for the blocks. Punt returner Travis Benjamin went down midway through the season with a knee injury, which took the big-play threat out of the equation. There was no threat of big returns in the kick-return game from Fozzy Whittaker and others that filled the role.
COACHING: Chudzinski didn't come off as a passionate coach outwardly, but no one questioned his love of leading the team he pulled for as a young man. He genuinely appreciated the opportunity to be among the fans. He probably could have gotten more out of the players, but he didn't deserve the fate that awaited him after a loss to the Steelers last week. A coach needs time to build something from the mess he inherited. Could any coach have squeezed much more from a team that started the season with Weeden at quarterback and traded its featured running back after the second game? Horton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner did about what was expected from the talent they were given. Turner faced a no-win situation because of injuries to the quarterbacks and the lack of a solid ground game. Horton talked about harassing quarterbacks, but it didn't materialize on a consistent basis.