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Behind Enemy Lines: The Browns are poised for a big step forward, and it could start vs. the Steelers

To get a better grasp of the Steelers’ opponent in Week 1, we go behind enemy lines to get an update on the Browns’ lineup.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will square off in Week 1 and, to get a better assessment of the matchup, I went behind enemy lines to talk about the Browns with Dawgs By Nature editor Chris Pokorny.

In this interview, Chris discusses Hue Jackson, DeShone Kizer and everything else Browns — gross, I know:

The Browns are starting a ridiculous number of rookies. What is the expectation for a season starting with four quarterbacks on the roster, none of whom ever have won an NFL game?

Well, three of our quarterbacks never have lost an NFL game either, so we have that going for us. In all seriousness, this question couldn't have come at a worse time for Browns fans. Our psyche was built up by the team's terrific defensive effort this preseason (only one touchdown allowed in four games), led by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' attitude and the phenomenal camp and preseason that first overall pick Myles Garrett was having. For awhile there, the expectation was that Cleveland would be light years ahead of where they were in 2016, particularly on defense, where they could grind out some victories. Garrett's ankle injury on Wednesday has put a big damper on things because the whole trickle-down effect that his presence would've had is now erased, making life more difficult on the other defensive linemen (digging deeper into the depth chart) and the secondary (more time for opposing QBs to throw).

Addressing the number of rookies who will start given Garrett's injury, you can pencil in three rookie starters: quarterback DeShone Kizer, safety Jabrill Peppers, and kicker Zane Gonzalez. That's not too bad when you consider that it's just one rookie per positional group (offense, defense and special teams). Along with Garrett later this season, they are the reason fans will be eagerly tuning in despite coming off of a 1-15 season. The rookie missing from that list is tight end David Njoku, but he hasn't settled into the offense well enough yet, so he'll be a rotational player to begin the season.

Some of Cleveland’s rookies have been playing some pretty good football this preseason, especially Garrett and Kizer. Have the Browns found their answer at QB and elite pass rusher or is there still much to prove for these two athletes?

Injury concerns aside, the Browns have definitely found their elite pass rusher in Garrett. He was the talk of camp every single day because no one could contain him (although to be fair, left tackle Joe Thomas rested more practices than he participated in). What came as a surprise during the preseason games was how well he defended the run, too. All of the hype surrounding him was about his pass-rushing abilities, so the fact that he's a complete defensive linemen increased his stock even more. We already think the guy can walk on water. For perspective, we don't have that opinion about every first-round pick the team drafts; there was never any camp optimism about recent failures like Justin Gilbert and Cameron Erving.

When it comes to Kizer, I would say that his maturity and calmness are two factors that were most impressive to me, and those attributes make it easier to welcome a rookie quarterback right into the starting lineup. The competition behind him wasn't any better, so although Kizer will have some (or many) rookie issues this season (holding on to the ball too long, hesitating a second before pulling the trigger, or some inaccurate passes), we won't have to worry about him taking a beating because the team has the highest-paid offensive line in the NFL now with three players who could arguably play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Cleveland Browns organization has been trying to find stability for the past decade and longer. What are the thoughts on Hue Jackson and his coaching staff heading into 2017?

Despite a 1-15 finish last season, Hue Jackson never lost the team's attention, and his reputation as an offensive guru still precedes him despite last year's results. Ray Horton was the team's defensive coordinator last year, and by all accounts, it sounds like Jackson wasn't nearly as pleased with his management of the defense as he thought he'd be. Gregg Williams has done a complete 180 with the defensive mentality of this team, and Jackson has acknowledged and respects that. Even though it was "just the preseason," players on the first-, second-, and third-team units were always gang tackling, blitzing, or delivering hard hits from the opening kick to the final gun. Those guys are locked in.

The Steelers and Browns swapped players before the season. Joe Haden to Pittsburgh, via free agency, and Sammie Coates to Cleveland via trade. Why should Pittsburgh fans be excited about having Haden on their side this year?

Losing Joe Haden is a luxury that many fans around the NFL probably can't comprehend, and I don't blame them. However, I understand the position the Browns were in. Haden was on a very pricey contract from several regimes ago, but the past two years, injuries and an apparent loss of speed and confidence have lowered his productivity significantly. Instead of the old days where teams couldn't even complete a pass on him, it started becoming a surprise when a team DIDN'T complete a pass on him. The fact that he represented the city so well and passionately outside of football made it difficult to ever think about his departure, though.

The fact is the Browns had three cornerbacks who they were already comfortable with and could bring a physical presence. I believe that Haden has always been an above-average run defender and he also brought some of that hard-hitting intensity on plays near the line of scrimmage this preseason, but his coverage skills in one-on-one situations still appeared to be suspect, unlike the rest of the team's cornerbacks. Pittsburgh fans should be excited about him because he does appear healthy again for the first time in several years, and it's a position they've had trouble addressing for awhile now. To have him fall into their lap before the season can't hurt, unless they put too much on his shoulders like expecting him to be a shutdown Pro Bowler.

As the Browns embark on another season, what are the realistic expectations for the Browns, and what would success look like this season for such a young roster?

The NFL has had many instances of teams going from a record of futility straight to serious contention. While the Browns might not reach that contention point in 2017, they're expected to hover just below it. Why? Although it's still an incomplete football team -- the quarterback and wide receiver positions are still very unproven -- there’s also clear strength with the talent the team has on their offensive line, plus the combination of Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers over time should help trigger an infusion of big plays on defense. I mean, this defense recovered only one fumble all of last season, and I think they’ve already had three recoveries within the first two preseason games. The only disappointment I could see for the Browns and Hue Jackson is if DeShone Kizer turns out to be such a massive liability on offense that it doesn't matter how much hard work the offensive line and defense are putting forth. Then, some blame will surely fall on to Jackson who’s supposed to be a quarterback guru yet (might) go through two seasons and still not have an answer at the prime position in the NFL.