The Cleveland Browns are clearly a team that is on the rise. Head coach Kevin Stefanski saw his team contend with major injuries to quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Nick Chubb, yet the Browns still finished with an 11-6 record and made the AFC playoffs as a Wild Card team. While the Browns got blown out in that game by the Houston Texans, the arrow for the Browns is clearly pointing up.

That doesn't mean they are about to unseat the Baltimore Ravens for the division title, but the Browns are clearly moving up the ladder. They may have the best defensive team in the league and there's no telling how high they could fly if their best players can stay healthy.

The Browns used five different quarterbacks last season and the fact that they made the playoffs under those circumstances says something about Stefanski. The Browns have made significant changes on the offensive side of the ball as offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was fired after the season and replaced by Ken Dorsey.

The new offensive coordinator has had success working with Josh Allen and Cam Newton, so the hope is that he can help Watson become consistently dangerous with the Browns.

Watson and Chubb making big steps toward a return

Watson endured surgery on fractured right shoulder socket last year and the hope is that he will be ready to start the season. He demonstrated that he is truly on the road to recovery with his performance during the team's minicamp with some excellent throws, including a 50-yarder with pinpoint accuracy.

Stefanski said that Watson has been making progress all along. “I’ve said it before (that) I’ve gotten to see him throw throughout the course of this rehab,” Stefanski said. “I don’t know (exactly) when it was, but a while back, he looked very normal to me. So that looked normal to me.”

The news on Nick Chubb is also good, but it may be several weeks into the season before he competes. His recovery from a torn ACL and MCL is going quite well.

“I like where I am,” Chubb said of his rehab program. “I’m where I need to be. I’ve been through it before,” Chubb said. “My whole goal is to be back out there.”

Jerome Ford has to carry the load in the backfield

Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Ford (34) runs the ball during the second half against the New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Chubb may be on the road to recovery, but there is no specific timetable for his return to game action at this point. Ford did an excellent job for the Browns after the Chubb injury, and he will be Cleveland's starting running back until the Browns know that Chubb is 100 percent and capable of demonstrating that he is a top-three running back in the league.

That's one of the things that makes Ford a hidden gem on the roster. He is not just a back who is filling in for the starter. He is a fine back in his own right and an asset to the Cleveland offense. Ford carried the ball 204 times last year for 813 yards and scored 4 touchdowns. He also demonstrated that he is a major factor in the passing game. Ford caught 44 passes for 319 yards and scored 5 more touchdowns.

There is also a likelihood that Ford will be used in a kickoff return role for the Browns this season. The new rules impacting kickoffs in the NFL is likely to make that play more exciting and dangerous, and the Browns plan to let Ford have an opportunity to show what he can do as a kickoff returner.

Devin Bush expected to play a key role for the Browns defense

Myles Garrett is one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league and clearly the best player on the Cleveland defense, but Devin Bush is going to be a versatile performer for the Browns defense.

He spent the first four years of his career with the Steelers before he became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Seahawks last year. It may not have been the best match and he opted for free agency again and has come back to the AFC North.

Bush can play inside or outside linebacker, and he is likely to man one of the outside spots for the Browns. He had his best season in 2019 when he recorded 109 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4 passes batted down, 1 forced fumble and 4 fumble recoveries.

Bush should be a very valuable asset in a role where he does not have to be the dominant player. He has solid movement skills and is a reliable tackler.