Baseball's no fun from now until September, and we can only watch old NFL highlights on YouTube for so long before we need to start prognosticating on the '06-'07 NFL season. Fall can't come soon enough. In the meantime, here's the eighth of our 32 team previews for the upcoming season, the Cleveland Browns.
TOM'S TAKE: What Art Modell did to Cleveland is pretty awful. It's sad that newer NFL fans might never know of the Browns' old dominance because of the mediocrity (or worse) of the new Browns franchise which was installed to supplement the city after Modell packed the original franchise up and moved it to Baltimore. But for the first time since Modell pulled a Tom Benson (or was Tom Benson trying to pull a Modell?), Browns fans have reason to hope this season (Tim Couch obviously doesn't count).
This will be year two of the Romeo Crennel regime in Cleveland, and his plan is starting to come together. The biggest question mark revolves around the quarterback, where second-year man Charlie Frye is firmly entrenched as the starter with Ken Dorsey as his backup. Last season the Browns traded Trent Dilfer despite the fact that the current Browns quarterbacks have a total of five career starts between them. This is an obviously inexperienced bunch, but Crennel has shown remarkable faith in Frye. The coach loves his leadership skills, and hopes another year in the midst of competition will help fix Frye's problem of holding onto the ball for too long. This, coupled with the Browns horrific offensive line, led Frye to spend a lot of time on his back. The Browns have fixed the line, bringing in expensive, marquee linemen LeCharles Bentley and Kevin Shaffer. Now it's up to Frye to use the added pocket time wisely. He'll be aided tremendously by Joe Jurevicius, the gritty, reliable, large-bodied receiver who was brought in this season to be the #1 guy. Reports out of Cleveland also suggest tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. has gained a rapport with Frye and the two have spent a lot of time working together in the offseason. Assuming that, as has been indicated, Winslow has matured and that the after-effects of two consecutive injury-riddled years are behind him, Frye will have another explosive weapon. Braylon Edwards, the team's #2 overall pick from 2005, will be out until at least October after January knee surgery. Reuben Droughns managed to run for over 1,200 yards last year despite the brutal blocking, and assuming he doesn't miss any time stemming from a domestic abuse incident, he should be poised for a monster year. He's a tough, durable runner -- the kind an inexperienced quarterback can rely on for 20+ carries a game and to grind out tough yardage. With physical and underrated fullback Terrelle Smith, a 1,400-1,500 yard season isn't out of the question.
What kind of Belichick disciple would Crennel be if he didn't run the 3-4? Kamerion Wimbley, the team's first choice, has the ability to produce somewhere between DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman's rookie production this year if he gets to camp on time. Their second pick was used on Maryland ILB D'Qwell Jackson, who's small frame doesn't take away from his ability to hit. He's a sure tackler, and is the brainy type of defender who can develop quickly and become a leader. To expedite the learning curve, Crennel brought in former Patriots Ted Washington (via Oakland) and Willie McGinest. The two are familiar with Crennel's defensive scheme meaning they'll be able to act as player-coaches for the younger guys.
The Browns are a team resting comfortably in the middle of a rising wave, and they'll be sure to play every team tough. In a division where no one team is clearly better than the rest, and in which every team has questions at quarterback, no true playoff favorite has emerged. I'm of the belief that two AFC North teams will make the playoffs, the division is just too good, and with some breaks the Brownies could very well be one of those teams.
KYLE'S TAKE: I'll be honest with you, I think Cleveland is going to be nasty this year. Compare them with the Bears. They were both crappy teams that were taken over by a good defensive coach. Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator for the Rams and Romeo Crennel was the defensive coordinator for the New England dynasty. Lovie's first year with the Bears wasn't anything spectacular. Neither was Crennel's. Lovie's second year with the Bears lead them to the division title, and although the AFC North is going to be too tough for the Browns to do that in, they are going to succeed this year as well.
Romeo Crennel is a bad mamma jamma.
The Browns started their climb by improving their defensive unit. Their biggest move was signing LB Willie McGinest, who worked with Crennel in New England. Under Crennel, McGinest was a two-time Pro-Bowler. Last year, against Jacksonville in the playoffs, he set a NFL record by recording 4.5 sacks in a playoff game. Look for the defense to rally around him and Crennel.The Browns also drafted Kamerion Wimbley, a DE from FSU, a school that often has a nasty defense. And, being a Maryland alum, I love their second round pick of D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson was a linebacker with the Terps and had to replace E.J. Henderson after he was drafted by the Vikings years ago. He did extremely well and was the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year last year. Watch Crennel prepare Jackson to become a all star in a year or so. They also signed Ted Washington, but as a 15 year pro, Washington has been ineffective as of late and I can't imagine him making much of an impact on the Browns.
Last year, their offense never seemed to click. They started the season with Trent Dilfer and ended with Charlie Frye, who will be their starter this year. He played five games and only had one real good one against the Jaguars, where his QB rating was 136.7. They lost that game. He never showed much promise otherwise, but he's young and may improve. If not, they have University of Miami alum Ken Dorsey backing him up. Dorsey played three games with the 49ers last year when they were rolling the dice on different quarterbacks out in San Fransisco. As it is, the Browns have no quarterback that a defensive can't push around.
They have Braylon Edwards at #1 receiver and he's good when healthy. At #2 they have white journeyman Joe Jurevicius, who has a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Bucs. However, having a white guy as the #2 receiver just doesn't feel right. It's like eating soup in the summer. You can do it, but there's just something weird about it. Ex-Bronco Reuben Droughns is at running back and he didn't have a spectacular season. He has shown some flashes of what he could do, but so far, has not put it together with the Browns. But they've picked up some new offensive linemen to try to help him out. Their big move was signing center LeCharles Bentley from the Saints, a Pro Bowler.
Now, you all must be thinking that the offense will doom this team. Well, look at the Bears. Their offense was inept last year and yet they still kicked ass based on defense. Look for the same thing with the Browns. However, the big difference between Chicago last year and Cleveland this year is that Chicago had an easy division to beat up on as Cleveland has a tough one. Because of that, they will not be making the playoffs. They do have the chance to use this season as a warning to other teams. The Browns are coming, and you may not be able to laugh at them any more.