The path to rebuilding the Browns is beginning to follow the line of a driver that's asleep behind the wheel.
Normally the third year is when the plan nears fruition as the talent pool from previous drafts, augmented with a few key free-agent additions, blends together. Making the playoffs becomes more than talk; it becomes a mantra.
No one would dare bring up the playoffs as the Browns prepare for the 2012 season. That might not more of an indictment of previous regimes - i.e. Phil Savage and Eric Mangini - and less of the current leadership group headed by president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert.
What makes the path they're following a bit unnatural is the large number of rookies that made the final roster. You'd expect 15 rookies in the first year of rebuilding, but in year number three it's an anomaly.
The obvious reason for the large number is because of the draft. The Browns had 11 choices, including nine that made the roster (one is on injured-reserve and one is on the practice squad). Add in receiver Josh Gordon, who was acquired in a supplemental draft, and you see why youth ruled the day when final cuts were made last Friday.
Both Holmgren and Heckert were surprised when informed that 15 rookies are still around. Unlike reporters that analyze rosters like the final will and testament of a rich relative, presidents and GMs aren't as calculating when the final names are revealed.
"I wasn't keeping track of that, and then I saw it and I don't want to say it startled me, but it's a pretty young group," Holmgren said. "I suppose before we tee it up here, (coach) Pat (Shurmur) might give me a chance to talk to the team. My message to them would be, 'Look, we are young and everyone knows you're young. You can make excuses like that forever and ever, but the simple fact is no one will care.'
"I know they're smart, and I know they care. I know they're good players and so what we lack in experience, my hope is that we make up for it in enthusiasm, intelligence and skill. We've chosen to build the team that way. Building a foundation so the team can be good for a long time, and we're just in that beginning stage now where we're pretty young."
The plan should be fun to follow for the fan base. There will be young players throughout the lineup, including at some of the most important positions on the roster. It's hard not to get excited to see what Brandon Weeden can do at quarterback and what Trent Richardson can produce when he finally gets his first NFL carry.
The only problem is that the youth project might test the patience of new owner James Haslam III. No one knows how he will react when he watches the 2012 season play out and undoubtedly witnesses plenty of losses.
While Holmgren will tell him to stay the course because there's a light at the end of the tunnel, Haslam's reply might be something along the lines of wanting to be out of the tunnel. Can Haslam calmly wait to see the light or will be in a rush to get there.
If Haslam's patience is tested, we all know what's coming. There will be changes across the board, and Holmgren could be one of the men that are gone by the start of the 2013 season.
No one has been more patient than Browns' fans. What other group of people would put themselves through the self-inflicted pain they've endured and still show up to watch training-camp practices in 90-degree heat?
It would be wise for Haslam to adopt that level of patience. He has every right to make changes after dishing out $1 billion of his money, but he needs to be fair and wise about his decisions.
If the Browns keep blowing up the foundation, the ground will never settle enough for anything to grow.