THE BELIEFSecond-year man Charlie Frye will prove to be the Browns' long-sought franchisequarterback, leading an invigorated offense with the help of two receivers backfrom injuries, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. On defense, veteranfree-agent pickups Willie McGinest and Ted Washington will fit nicely intocoach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme.
THE REALITYFrye's first test in crisis management came in the initial 11-on-11 contactdrill of training camp, when center LeCharles Bentley, the team's prizefree-agent acquisition, went down with a season-ending knee injury. Shockedthat the powerful Bentley could be felled so quickly, Frye kept his emotions tohimself and moved the offense downfield. "You blow a tire, you change itand keep going," Frye says. "You can't let anyone see youmoping."
It's his coolunder fire as much as his athleticism that has impressed the coaches. Since theNFL returned to Cleveland in 1999, the club has had one winning season (2002)while rolling out quarterback after quarterback, including Ty Detmer, TimCouch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia and Trent Dilfer.
General managerPhil Savage first saw Frye during his junior year at Akron and was won over bythe passer's resilience while getting clobbered by Penn State in the opener ofhis senior season. At the Senior Bowl four months later, Frye didn't look likeanything special during the week of workouts; once the game started he ran offwith the MVP award. Similarly, in his first training camp last summer Fryeseemed to elevate his game during two-minute drills. While Frye doesn't throwthe deep ball especially well, the Browns like his mobility and creativity."I see a guy who is going to make a lot of big plays after plays breakdown," says Edwards.
Those breakdownsmay occur often this season because the offensive line is shaky at best, andFrye, who started the last five games of the season, has barely played with anyof his top receivers: Edwards, who tore his right ACL and sat out the last fourgames; Winslow, who missed all but two games of his first two seasons withinjuries; and Joe Jurevicius, a free-agent signee.
The defense has anew look too-and with good reason. Last season the unit had the fewest sacks(23) in the league and lacked the right personnel for Crennel's 3-4. Theyaddressed that issue through free agency (McGinest and Washington) and thedraft, selecting linebackers Kamerion Wimbley (first round, Florida State),D'Qwell Jackson (second, Maryland) and Leon Williams (fourth, Miami).
All these movesreflect a franchise in transition. At the opening of camp 70 of the 91 playershad been brought in by Savage and Crennel in the last 18 months. Crennel hasset a modest goal for his team in 2006: simply improve on last year's 6-10performance. Playing in the tough AFC North and having so many new andinexperienced players in the lineup, the Browns may quickly discover thatwinning two more games than they did in 2005 is the best-case scenario.
1 at Oakland
8 at Carolina
29 N.Y. JETS
5 at SanDiego
12 at Atlanta
3 KANSAS CITY
7 at Pittsburgh(T)
24 TAMPA BAY
31 at Houston
NFL rank 14
Opponents' 2005winning percentage .512
Games againstplayoff teams 6
AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE BROWNS
> CharlieFrye might not have every tangible-the big arm or big size or supermobility-buthe's calm under pressure, makes good decisions and has competitive fire.
> I knowpeople like Reuben Droughns, but I've never thought he could carry the load asa No. 1 back.
> I likeCleveland's first-round pick, Kamerion Wimbley. He can rush the passer and hastremendous upside.
> LosingLeCharles Bentley (knee injury) hurts. It's hard to break in a youngquarterback with a center who might be new to the system.
> I've neverliked linebacker Chaun Thompson. He's a liability in the passing game. You canscheme him.
> Failureearly in the season could be deadly. It takes early success to give youngplayers confidence.
Joe Jurevicius,Willie McGinest and Ted Washington will bring leadership, but they're on thedecline.
Displaying thehands and elusiveness that made him the No. 6 pick in 2004, a healthy Winslowimmediately becomes the Browns' No. 1 weapon, and they plan to use him in avariety of ways. Says coach Romeo Crennel, "Is he a tight end? Is he a widereceiver? Is he an H-back? Defenses will have to decide how they want to playWinslow."
COACH ROMEOCRENNEL (6-10 in NFL), second season with Cleveland
JOE JUREVICIUS --NEW ACQUISITION
KEVIN SHAFFER --NEW ACQUISITION
ROSS TUCKER --NEW ACQUISITION
D'QWELL JACKSON(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
TED WASHINGTON --NEW ACQUISITION
DAVE ZASTUDIL --NEW ACQUISITION
KAMERION WIMBLEY(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
SACKS 7 1/2
WILLIE MCGINEST-- NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
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