Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Massive roster change propels Browns to 2018

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But if it is broken – really, really broken – get out the saw and hammer and get to work.

The Cleveland Browns, 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017, have 31 players on the current roster that were not with the team last season. They also have a new attitude led by one of those new players – wide receiver Jarvis Landry in his first season with the Browns after catching 400 passes in four seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

“If we get everyone playing to their potential, we can win the Super Bowl this year,” Landry said during training camp after making a dazzling one-handed catch in practice.

The Browns open the season on Sunday at home in FirstEnergy Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because of that new-found enthusiasm they are placing great emphasis on this game. There is a real danger of a letdown if it doesn’t go their way, which it rarely does against Pittsburgh. They have beaten the Steelers only three times in the last 31 meetings.

Nevertheless, the confidence flowing through the locker room is real, in part because of another new player – quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is not making any bold predictions as Landry did, but he did say he sees a winning attitude developing.

A year ago, Taylor helped end a 17-year playoff drought in Buffalo. The Browns traded the Bills a 2018 third-round draft choice because they admired his quiet leadership.

“Yes, I have seen those steps (that the Bills made last year), but it’s also still early,” Taylor said. “Right now we’re molding and shaping a team to be able to go out this year and do those things. But I think this team is headed in the right direction, for sure.

“The attitude is right, the energy is right in the locker room. We just have to remain focused throughout the full season and be able to withstand the ups and downs of the season.”

Most of the players new to the roster are from other teams, but left cornerback Denzel Ward is a rookie and he will get tested by fire in his first real NFL game when he faces Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.

Left guard Austin Corbett is a rookie and Joel Bitonio, in his fifth season, will be playing left tackle in a regular-season game for the first time when he squares off against the Steelers. Bitonio, who played well at his new position in the preseason, might discover the pressure grows when games start to count.

The biggest makeover on defense is in the secondary where seven players are new to the Browns. Ward, right cornerback Terrance Mitchell and free safety Damarious Randall will all be playing in an orange helmet for the first time. Strong safety Jabrill Peppers is in his second season.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 22-2 in his career against the Browns. Fans will know soon enough if a revamped secondary is enough to break Roethlisberger’s spell.

“They’re good,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said when asked about the Browns secondary. “They’re better in that respect on the ability right now to play a little bit more man to man. They have to stay healthy.

“A few of those guys had to get some understanding of how we do things differently than other teams. It is not always the same as when they go from another pro team to this pro team, but they fill in very well. It has been a very positive experience for everybody back there.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Browns after Sunday. They play in New Orleans on Sept. 16.

The Steelers were AFC North champions and the Saints NFC South champions in 2017.

SERIES HISTORY: 131st regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 72-58. Browns head coach Hue Jackson is 0-4 against the Steelers, but the last three have all been close – 27-24 in Pittsburgh in the final game of the 2016 season, 21-18 at home in the 2017 opener and 28-24 in Pittsburgh to end the 2017 season.