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4 Cleveland Browns

Sept. 05, 2005
Sept. 05, 2005

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Sept. 5, 2005

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4 Cleveland Browns

Still trying to get its act together, the six-year-old franchise looks for leadership from a rookie coach and a veteran quarterback with Super Bowl savvy

AFTER 24 YEARS of paying his dues as an NFL assistant, Romeo Crennel knew where he stood as he presided over his first minicamp as Browns coach last spring. At least Crennel thought he knew. Shortly after the start of that first practice, Crennel looked up to watch a downfield pass play develop and was nearly run over by a Cleveland receiver. "I'm standing there looking around, and all of a sudden, whooom--the player whizzes right by me," Crennel recalls. "It was then that I realized that part of my job was strategic positioning on the football field."

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

When he accepted the Browns' job last February, shortly after he had helped the Patriots win their third Super Bowl in four seasons as the team's defensive coordinator, Crennel had a much better idea of where Cleveland stood: near the bottom of the NFL. Since the reincarnation of the Browns six years ago, they have lost a league-high 66 games, including 12 in 2004, mostly because of a shallow talent pool.

Its roster depleted by years of dubious front-office personnel decisions, its players deserted by former coach Butch Davis, who resigned with five games left in the dismal 2004 campaign, Cleveland was as down as an organization could be. "We are a long way away from being the team we want to be," concedes sixth-year wideout Dennis Northcutt, "but we are making progress. Whenever you have a new regime coming in, it's not going to happen all at once. But I see a transformation."

Crennel's no-frills, upbeat approach has played well in the locker room, where so-called character guys, players with the presence to dominate the workplace, are more conspicuous, as at Crennel's previous stops. The free agents brought in by new general manager Phil Savage--cornerback Gary Baxter (Ravens), guard Joe Andruzzi (Patriots) and quarterback Trent Dilfer (Seahawks), among others--all have reputations for toughness and for being team-oriented. Dilfer, in particular, has made an instant impact on team chemistry. "He's a great leader, and that's something we've lacked here," says veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker of Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Ravens to an NFL championship five seasons ago. "Until now, we haven't had somebody who's had the confidence to get on a player's ass and not give a crap if it hurts his feelings. People say [of Dilfer], 'He can't throw. He can't run.' I don't want to hear it. He's getting us together right now."

A trio of talented running backs led by holdover Lee Suggs and an explosive receiving corps headlined by former Michigan star Braylon Edwards, the fifth pick in this year's draft, could give Dilfer, at 33, a final shot at proving he's a first-rate NFL starter. His career marked by Baltimore's not re-signing him after the Super Bowl triumph, Dilfer started all of 12 games in four seasons with the Seahawks. He was the sixth pick in the 1994 draft, but he struggled in the role of would-be savior of the long-suffering Buccaneers until Tony Dungy arrived as coach in 1996 and reenergized the franchise. In Crennel, Dilfer sees a similarly poised and purposeful leader.

"He seems like he's been a head coach for 10 years, like he was always meant to do this, which is the same way Tony was," Dilfer says. "There's no insecurity, no trying to prove something. He says what he means and he means what he says."

Crennel has installed the same 3--4 defense that was so successful in New England, though it's doubtful the Browns will be able to run it as deftly the first year. Cleveland's front seven is painfully thin, and the secondary could have four new starters. One other difference between last season's defense and this season's is that the players vow to work through the rough times as a unit, as opposed to 2004, when they were a fractured mess. "All year we heard all this b------- about togetherness, and then the head man went and ran off," Tucker recalls. "The last few games were kind of a joke. Not everybody here has to be a household name, but we all want to follow Romeo."

Crennel is taking the high road. "We do have some ability on this team," he says. "We're trying to start something new, to develop an attitude. I want a group of tough-minded, physically tough guys who value winning, the team and their jobs. If we can get those kinds of guys, we'll be on the right track." --M.S.

PLAYMAKER

Less than 18 months ago, Dennis Northcutt's agent, Jerome Stanley, vowed that his client would never play for the Browns again in the wake of a contract filing-date dispute. But the issue was resolved, and the 5'11", 171-pound wideout caught a team-leading 55 passes for 806 yards in 2004, including eight receptions of 30 yards or more. A gifted return man as well, Northcutt had eight touchdowns in '02--two on punt returns, five as a receiver and one as a rusher--despite not being a regular starter.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES

They've upgraded their talent. Their receiving corps was already full of playmakers, and then they drafted Braylon Edwards. I don't know how many "nontalented" teams have those kind of playmakers.... There might not be a tougher guard in the league than Joe Andruzzi, and if L.J. Shelton can get back to his previous level, they could have a pretty good line. Shelton didn't play as well after Denny Green got to Arizona, because they didn't see eye-to-eye.... Losing tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. [torn ACL] obviously hurts them, but Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea did a nice job when he was out last year. All they have to do is complement the big-play guys at wide receiver.... The key will be how quickly they can pick up a new [3--4] defense. Orpheus Roye has been a steady, tough guy who brings it every week.... All those young linebackers that Butch Davis threw out there last year have some experience, which should help them.... They made two good pickups in the secondary: Gary Baxter is a big, physical corner who can play the run and gets up in your face on bump-and-run coverage; Brian Russell is a tough, fill-the-alley type of safety.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

LEE SUGGS
POS. -- RB
PVR -- 88
ATT. -- 199
YARDS -- 744
AVG. -- 3.7
REC. -- 20
YARDS -- 178
AVG. -- 8.9
TDs -- 3

TRENT DILFER (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- QB
PVR -- 197
ATT. -- 58
COMP. -- 25
% -- 43.1
YARDS -- 333
TDs -- 1
INT. -- 3
RATING -- 46.1

TERRELLE SMITH
POS. -- FB
PVR -- 334
ATT. -- 4
YARDS -- 9
AVG. -- 2.3
REC. -- 7
YARDS -- 39
AVG. -- 5.6
TDs -- 0

PHIL DAWSON
POS. -- K
PVR XPs -- 246
MADE XPs -- 28
ATT. -- 28
FG MADE -- 24
FG ATT. -- 29
PTS. -- 100

BRAYLON EDWARDS (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 113
REC. -- 97
YARDS -- 1,330
TDs -- 15

STEVE HEIDEN
POS. -- TE
PVR -- 142
REC. -- 28
YARDS -- 287
TDs -- 5

L.J. SHELTON (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- LT
HEIGHT -- 6'6"
WEIGHT -- 335
GMS. -- 12
STARTS -- 9

JOE ANDRUZZI (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS.-- LG
HEIGHT -- 6'3"
WEIGHT -- 312
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

JEFF FAINE
POS. -- C
HEIGHT -- 6'3"
WEIGHT -- 300
GMS. -- 13
STARTS -- 13

COSEY COLEMAN (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RG
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 322
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

RYAN TUCKER
POS. -- RT
HEIGHT -- 6'6"
WEIGHT -- 320
GMS. -- 7
STARTS -- 7

ANTONIO BRYANT
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 175
REC. -- 58
YARDS -- 812
TDs -- 4

DEFENSE

CHAUN THOMPSON
POS. -- ROLB
TACKLES -- 58
SACKS -- 2 1/2
INT. -- 0

BEN TAYLOR
POS. -- RILB
TACKLES -- 8
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 0

ALVIN MCKINLEY
POS. -- RE
TACKLES -- 49
SACKS -- 3

JASON FISK (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- NT
TACKLES -- 30
SACKS -- 1

ORPHEUS ROYE
POS. -- LE
TACKLES -- 38
SACKS -- 1

ANDRA DAVIS
POS. -- LILB
TACKLES -- 70
SACKS -- 1/2
INT. -- 3

MATT STEWART (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- LOLB
TACKLES -- 67
SACKS -- 1 1/2
INT. -- 0

GARY BAXTER (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 88
INT. -- 1

SEAN JONES*
POS.-- SS
TACKLES -- 121
SACKS -- 1
INT. -- 5

BRIAN RUSSELL (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- FS
TACKLES -- 78
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 1

DAYLON MCCUTCHEON
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 50
INT. -- 2

KYLE RICHARDSON† (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- P
PUNTS -- 49
AVG. -- 40.0

2004 RECORD: 4-12

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE  23/25/28
DEFENSE  32/5/15

COACH: Romeo Crennel; first season with Cleveland (0-0 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college stats) *2003 college stats
†2003 stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 CINCINNATI
18 at Green Bay
25 at Indianapolis

OCTOBER
2 Open date
9 CHICAGO
16 at Baltimore
23 DETROIT
30 at Houston

NOVEMBER
6 TENNESSEE
13 at Pittsburgh
20 MIAMI
27 at Minnesota

DECEMBER
4 JACKSONVILLE
11 at Cincinnati
18 at Oakland
24 PITTSBURGH (S)

JANUARY
1 BALTIMORE

(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T8
Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .527
Games against playoff teams: 5

"There might not be a tougher guard in the league than Joe Andruzzi."

 

PHOTOED SUBA JR./AKRON BEACON JOURNAL/ABACAUP AND RUNNING The injury-prone Suggs had three 100-yard games at the end of '04. PHOTOLEON HALIP/WIREIMAGE.COMEDWARDSPHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM