As the quarterbacks went through passing drills one day in camp, two young boys watched in awe from behind an end zone. "That's Jeff Garcia!" said the smaller of the two, pointing excitedly at Cleveland's new starting quarterback. He paused and took another look. "He's so short."
"I told you so," his buddy said.
They watched for a few minutes, then provided a bystander with unsolicited comments. "We like Garcia because he's tough," said the tall boy.
"Yeah, we didn't like Tim Couch," said the other, who was sporting an oversized T-shirt with players' signatures on it. "He didn't pull his weight."
And there you have it, the conventional wisdom on Browns quarterbacks of the past (inconsistent) and the future (tough, if undersized) nicely summed up by a couple of kids who probably weren't even born when Bernie Kosar was the team's star passer. Couch, the first pick in the 1999 draft, never lived up to expectations, and after four turbulent seasons as the starter he played listlessly in splitting the job with Kelly Holcomb last year. Heading into the off-season, the Browns had to decide whether to re-sign Couch or, in coach Butch Davis's words, "go after the A.J. Feeleys and those type of guys"--backups on other teams who were ready to become starters. But in March the 49ers released Garcia, a four-year starter whose tenure had been marked by individual accomplishment (three Pro Bowls) and constant criticism from one of his receivers (Terrell Owens), and Cleveland changed course. "When he became available, immediately it was all settled," says Davis. "He gives you a clearly defined leader. There's no quarterback controversy."
Not only is the gritty Garcia a much better fit for blue-collar Cleveland than the country boy Couch was, but he also sheds the burden of following in the footsteps of Steve Young and Joe Montana in San Francisco. "The main thing is that people are thankful and excited to have me here," says Garcia, who signed a four-year, $25 million contract. "Within two weeks of signing, I moved to Cleveland. I didn't want to linger in the Bay Area. I wanted to acclimate myself as soon as possible."
Almost immediately Garcia became a vocal team leader. When tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., the Browns' first-round draft choice in April, missed the first 12 days of camp before agreeing to a contract, Garcia publicly called for him to get into camp. In practices the quarterback didn't hesitate to get on players who were slacking. He talked to the receivers--on and off the field--about routes and where they liked the ball. "You have to be alert at all times [for Garcia's passes]," says wideout Quincy Morgan. "Not taking anything away from the last few quarterbacks, but Jeff's going to throw it to you if you're open, and he's not afraid to take a shot if he sees you break coverage."
Garcia's prime target figures to be Winslow, who quickly proved to be a hothead and a gifted player. In his first week with the team Winslow threw a punch in a preseason game (he was flagged for a personal foul), leveled Cleveland cornerback Roosevelt Williams after making a catch in a no-contact drill, questioned the desire of his teammates in the media and consistently beat Browns defensive backs on deep balls. "A monster, an absolute monster," says wideout Dennis Northcutt, shaking his head.
"The complete package," says Garcia. "We want to get the ball to Kellen because he can create separation."
Davis and new offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie plan to employ a power running game, a risky proposition when a team has no power runners. Cleveland hasn't produced a 1,000-yard running back since 1985, the longest such drought in the league, and it's unlikely that either third-year back William Green or second-year man Lee Suggs will break that barrier. The passing game will be tailored to Garcia's skills--escaping the pocket, throwing on the run and going with mostly short routes. He has never been a threat to throw deep.
"As much as I need to adjust to this offense, they need to adjust to me," says Garcia. "We need to find a middle ground. If we can do that, I think we can be dangerous." --C.B.
> As a second-year player in 2003, linebacker ANDRA DAVIS was made a starter, played almost every down and led the team with 136 tackles, including five sacks. A bit undersized at 6'1", 255 pounds, he uses quickness and hustle to cover a lot of ground and has Pro Bowl potential. In an inexperienced linebacker corps, he'll be the rock this year.
ENEMY LINES An opposing scout's view
I think getting Jeff Garcia will be a good thing in the short term. He is a tough competitor, which this team hasn't had at that position for the last few years.... William Green hasn't stepped up the way they wanted him to. Lee Suggs looked O.K. during the preseason, but they can't be happy that Green didn't take hold of that job.... The line will be a strength for them. They have a very good tackle in Ross Verba, a potentially great tackle in Ryan Tucker and a solid anchor in center Jeff Faine. Their pass blocking still needs work.... They need Andre Davis or Quincy Morgan to step up as the No. 1 wide receiver. Garcia will need a target other than Kellen Winslow. He'll be too athletic for most linebackers to cover, and he'll force teams to put a corner or safety on him.... Their defensive line has to be better. Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren still haven't shown that they can consistently dominate.... Their linebackers are average. Warrick Holdman needs to make an impact.... Robert Griffith is a veteran presence, but you have to wonder how much he has left.
They need Andre Davis or Quincy Morgan to step up as the No. 1 wide receiver.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003 statistics
2003 RECORD: 5--11
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
COACH: Butch Davis; fourth season with Cleveland (21--27 in NFL)
19 at Dallas
26 at N.Y. Giants
10 at Pittsburgh
31 Open date
7 at Baltimore
21 N.Y. JETS
28 at Cincinnati
5 NEW ENGLAND
12 at Buffalo
19 SAN DIEGO
26 at Miami
2 at Houston
NFL rank: T-26 Opponents' 2003 winning percentage: .484 Games against playoff teams: 5