4 Cleveland Browns

On the strength of a superb draft and some savvy off-season pickups, the future is . . . later. But at least things are looking up
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> Clevelandenters the season the clear-cut No. 4 team in a four-team division duringa time of nearly unprecedented strength in the AFC and with no idea who itsquarterback will be on Oct. 1. But as general manager Phil Savage said theday after the draft in April, "I think the sun might finally be out overthis franchise." He's right: No team was as rejuvenated on draft weekend asthe Browns, who got their left tackle of the future, Wisconsin's Joe Thomas,with the third pick and, they hope, their quarterback of the future, NotreDame's Brady Quinn, at No. 22. In the second round Cleveland plucked ahuge risk-reward cornerback, Eric Wright, who might be the long-term twin forunderrated Leigh Bodden.

But the bestthing the Browns did in the off-season was to try to establish offensiveconsistency by building a running game. They signed Pro Bowl-alternate guardEric Steinbach (seven years, $49 million) on the first day of free agency;Steinbach, 27, and Thomas, 22, should form a solid wall on the left side of theline. Cleveland followed by picking up discarded Ravens running back JamalLewis, who'll be looking to rejuvenate his career.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> If Savageknows what he's doing, this will be a good team, and maybe a very good one--in2009. The Browns just might have five of the most important positions on thefield covered for the long term in Quinn, Thomas, corners Bodden and Wright andpass-rushing outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. All are 25 or younger. Boddenand Wimbley had breakout years in '06; you may not have heard of them, butthey're on their way to becoming premier players. Cleveland also may have agame-breaking wide receiver, 2005 first-rounder Braylon Edwards, who had 61catches last year, but he's been plagued by injuries and off-field issues (atorn right ACL; flare-ups with staff and teammates) since being drafted. If theBrowns really are living right, and all six pan out, they'll be contenders foryears. If two or three of those players go in the tank or Cleveland doesn'tcontinue to build successfully around them, this will continue to be the Pigpenof football franchises.

Lewis should helpbridge the gap to respectability. After rushing for 2,066 yards in 2003 (thesecond-highest single-season total in NFL history) and gaining a solid4.3 yards per carry in '04, he totaled only 2,038 yards over '05 and '06,at a measly 3.5-yard clip. But he was slowed by right-ankle surgery in '05 andbone spurs in the same ankle last year. (They were removed early in '07).Properly motivated, the 5' 11" Lewis came to Browns camp at a rock-solid239 pounds and early on surprised the coaches and personnel staff with aburst they didn't expect from him. "I know I can be a dominant runner againin this league," says Lewis, 28. "I'm making cuts I haven't made inyears because I feel like a kid again. This line is suited to me--I have mean,hungry guys in a system that stresses running first. I'm seeing holes I haven'tseen in a long time." It'll be up to the line, and eventually Quinn, tomake sure Lewis isn't battered into submission before this team gets good.

On defenseCleveland still is too stopgap at too many positions. Defensive tackle TedWashington played 48.5% of the defensive snaps last year and could play as manythis year--at age 39. The Browns were 2-7 in the last two months of the seasonand got strafed for 22 points or more in seven of those games. They're hopingbetter coverage and consistent pressure from Wimbley can be the start ofsomething good, though the run defense must significantly improve on the 4.4yards per carry it allowed in '06. In fact, the Cleveland defense has not beenunder 4.0 for a season since the reincarnation of the team in 1999, a horriblestreak of generosity against the run.

Opponentsoutrushed the Browns by 59 yards a game last year, and until that changes, allthe shouting for Quinn to take over the starting job will drown out the realissue: The Browns simply have to run better and stop the run better. "Weknow we have to knock people off the ball, and stop getting knocked off theball, in order to win," says coach Romeo Crennel. "But that's usuallywhat you need to get done on a team that hasn't been very good for awhile."

If the Browns arethis year's Miracle Mets, we'll know early. They play the Steelers, Bengals,Ravens and Patriots in the first 29 days of the season. Crennel probably won'tbe around to oversee Cleveland in the long term; he's not even the one whobrought in new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, the choice of Savage. Butthe coach from the Parcells-Belichick school can get things headed in the rightdirection. "I see this team being in Year One of a great turnaround,"says Steinbach. If nothing else, at least the Browns are talking a good gamethese days.--P.K.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH ROMEO CRENNEL (10-22 in NFL), third season with Browns

OFFENSE

BRAYLONEDWARDS
POS WR
REC 61
YARDS 884
TD 6

JAMAL LEWIS (NEWACQUISITION)
POS RB
ATT 314
YARDS 1,132
AVG 3.6

REC 18
YARDS 115
AVG 6.4
TD 9

CHARLIE FRYE (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS QB
ATT 393
COMP 252
PCT 64.1

YARDS 2,454
TD 3
INT 17
RATING 72.0

LAWRENCEVICKERS
POS FB
ATT 3
YARDS 2
AVG 0.7

REC 6
YARDS 60
AVG 10
TD 0

JOE JUREVICIUS
POS WR
REC 40
YARDS 495
TD 2

PHILDAWSON
POS K
FG 21-29
POINTS 88

KEVIN SHAFFER
POS RT
HT 6' 5"
WT 325
G 16

SETH MCKINNEY*(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RG
HT 6' 3"
WT 315
G 13

HANK FRALEY
POS C
HT 6' 2"
WT 315
G 16

ERIC STEINBACH(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS LG
HT 6' 6"
WT 295
G 16

JOE THOMAS (R)(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS LT
HT 6' 6"
WT 315
G 13

KELLEN WINSLOW
POS TE
REC 89
YARDS 875
TD 3

DEFENSE

KAMERIONWIMBLEY
POS OLB
TACKLES 62
SACKS 11
INT 0

ORPHEUS ROYE
POS LE
TACKLES 32
SACKS 1

TED WASHINGTON
POS NT
TACKLES 52
SACKS 0

ROBAIRE SMITH(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RE
TACKLES 44
SACKS 1/2

ANTWAN PEEK (NEWACQUISITION)
POS OLB
TACKLES 13
SACKS 1
INT 0

DAVE ZASTUDIL
POS P
PUNTS 81
AVG 44.0

ERIC WRIGHT (R)(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS CB
TACKLES 29
INT 1

BRODNEY POOL
POS FS
TACKLES 67
SACKS 1
INT 1

ANDRA DAVIS
POS ILB
TACKLES 104
SACKS 1
INT 2

D'QWELLJACKSON
POS ILB
TACKLES 93
SACKS 0
INT 0

SEAN JONES
POS SS
TACKLES 111
INT 5

LEIGH BODDEN
POS CB
TACKLES 30
SACKS 0
INT 2

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
*2005 Stats

> 2006 RECORD4-12 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 31/23/31 DEFENSE 29/15/27

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
9 PITTSBURGH
16 CINCINNATI
23 at Oakland
30 BALTIMORE

OCTOBER
7 at New England
14 MIAMI
21 Bye
28 at St. Louis

NOVEMBER
4 SEATTLE
11 at Pittsburgh
18 at Baltimore
25 HOUSTON

DECEMBER
2 at Arizona
9 at N.Y. Jets
16 BUFFALO
23 at Cincinnati
30 SAN FRANCISCO

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank T12
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .508
Games against playoff teams 5

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PHOTOMATTHEW EMMONS/US PRESSWIREcarry on Lewis is once more running with the burst and power of a workhorse back. PHOTOTHOMAS E. WITTE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)