This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Marc Raybin
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
You know the overall state of your football team is pretty low when the franchise's web site has an offseason countdown to when country musician Kenny Chesney will play at your stadium in order to get fans psyched. Such is the life of the Cleveland Browns. If you are the kind of person who needs a good cry that only a country song can deliver,
When 2006 mercifully ended, with the team losing six of its last seven games, heads
began to roll immediately. Nearly every assistant coach was cut loose and nobody's starting
job is guaranteed for this season. That's
because there were so few highlights in
another dismal season for the Browns, a
team that is most assuredly living up to
being known as the "mistake on the lake."
The team finished with the 31st overall
ranked offense in the league, including
rating 23rd in passing, 31st in rushing and
20th in receiving. It got a tad better on the
other side of the ball, with the team finishing
27th overall on defense.
Is there really any surprise as to why the
Browns endured a season of double-digit
losses for the fourth year in a row? The
team could not pass or run the ball and
while sometimes preventing opponents
from throwing, it could not stop the run.
The team's defense is a few years into
the 3-4 experiment and it may be time to
come to grips with the fact that it is just
Speaking of not working, there are a number of current Browns' employees who could
be doing just that in Cleveland come next year at this time. Nearly everyone is on notice,
including General Manager Phil Savage, Head Coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback
Charlie Frye, but more on that later.
To be sure, it has not been all bad news for the Browns in the last 12 months. The
team managed to pick two players, Joe Thomas, OT from Wisconsin, and Brady Quinn,
QB from Notre Dame, in the first round- talk about having their cake and eating it too.
Rumors had the Browns selecting Quinn with the No. 3 overall pick, but Savage demurred
and managed to snag him a few hours later. The two are thought to be long-term anchors
for rebuilding the Browns.
Thomas and Quinn should help eventually, but the reality is this team is so far away
from showing significant improvement right now that the Brown's prospects continue
to look poor heading into this season. Competing in the AFC North against the Ravens,
Bengals and Steelers won't help the team either. Don't be surprised to hear the same sad
song next year, but with a whole new band.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (3) Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin
Best interior lineman of the draft with great
footwork even coming off knee injury.
1. (22) Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame
Possible franchise-building player considered
steal of the draft; could start as a rookie.
2. (53) Eric Wright, CB, UNLV
Confi dent and fast with quick feet. Could
become starter, but has concerns about his
5. (140) Brandon McDonald, CB. Memphis
Will compete at cornerback and has special
6. (200) Melila Purcell, DE, Hawaii
Earned All-WAC honors three times. Could fi t
in 3-4 defense.
7. (213) Chase Pittman, DE, LSU
Has potential to develop into a lineman in 3-4
7. (234) Syndric Steptoe, RS, Arizona
Will compete for punt return duties.
1. Jamal Lewis, RB (Ravens)
Former 2,000-yard rusher who was horrible
last year and has off-fi eld baggage. Still, he is
only 27-years-old and could revive his career.
2. Eric Steinbach, G (Bengals)
Browns made him the highest-paid guard
in the NFL. Should help plug up the porous
3. Tim Carter, WR (Giants)
Speedster could win No. 3 wideout job.
1. Reuben Droughns, RB (Giants)
Followed up 1,200-yard fi rst year with Browns
running for only 758 yards. Became expendable
with signing of Lewis.
2. Dennis Northcutt, WR (Jaguars)
Importance to Browns decreased last year
as a receiver; had a decent performance as a
3. Alvin McKinley, DT (Broncos)
Bids adieu after recording just one sack in '06.
1. TEAM'S BRASS ON THE HOT SEAT
Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage are on notice for the season. While the Browns had a
successful draft in April, there was plenty of speculation that Savage chose Joe Thomas
with the No. 3 overall pick because it was the safer selection. That is because taking a quarterback
(Brady Quinn) so high in the draft garners a lot more scrutiny than does selecting a
highly-touted offensive tackle. Drafting Quinn (via a trade) so late in the first round will be
viewed as a possible steal rather than a possible bust. Having said that, the Browns did give
up their first-round pick next year, which much to both Savage's and Crennel's chagrin, may
very well wind up being in the top five again. Crennel is clearly in a must-win situation,
having a 10-22 record in his first two years with the Browns.
2. HOW LONG BEFORE Brady Quinn STARTS?
Charlie Frye's time as a starter with the Browns will come to an end in 2007. His 64 percent
completion percentage was good in 2006, but his statistics dropped off from there: only 10
TDs, 17 interceptions and a 72 passer rating. Compare that to Quinn's stats last year at Notre
Dame: 62 percent completion percentage, 37 TDs, seven interceptions and an eye-popping
146.7 passer rating. Not surprisingly, Frye was told at the end of last year that he would have
to compete for the starting position in 2007. Quinn is a proven leader having started four years
for the Irish and at this time next year he'll most likely be the starter for the Browns.
3. CAN Jamal Lewis BECOME AN ELITE BACK AGAIN?
It was just a few years ago in 2003 that Lewis rushed for the second-most yards in one
season (2,066). Since then, the power back has served time in prison for drugs and has
seen his on-field statistics dwindle. He had somewhat of bounce-back year in 2006, rushing
for 1,132 yards. If the offensive line can hold together, Lewis just might be a force for
the Browns in 2007.
4. WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE STOP BEING SO…OFFENSIVE?
Of the major deficiencies in the Browns, the offensive line is at the top of the team's concerns.
The squad averaged 83.4 yards per game running, down 10.5 yards a year prior, and
allowed 54 sacks. (Ouch.) Still, the team may have finally put itself in a promising position
by drafting Thomas and signing Eric Steinbach. Combine that with potential of players like
Lewis, Quinn and tight end Kellen Winslow (89 catches, 875 yards) and receivers Braylon
Edwards (61, 884) and Joe Jurevicius (40, 495) and the team just may be able to put some
points on the board.
Rising: If Braylon Edwards can stay
healthy and get the ball, he should improve
on his 14.5 yards per catch and six TDs
Sleeper: He's done it before and if the Oline
can improve, he could do it again. Jamal
Lewis could have a renaissance a la 2003.
Super Sleeper: If it wasn't for his off the
field concerns, Eric Wright might have been
drafted a round earlier than the third.
Andra Davis, LB
Veteran turned in another solid season with
team's second-most tackles (104).
Kamerion Wimbley, LB
Led team with 11 sacks in rookie year and
has room for growth.
Sean Jones, S
Led team with both 111 tackles and five
Article first appeared 6/13/07