Friday, September 7, 2007

Getting close to kickoff

A quick roundup of some 2007 Browns predictions...

Bill Simmons:

The Rebuilding Projects

28. Cleveland Browns
One year away from being turned around by Bill Cowher and his rejuvenated spittle.

TMQ's All Haiku Predictions (with computer simulated records):

If don't win this year,
UPS will change color.
Second Cleveland Browns.

Forecast finish: 7.6-8.4

Peter King: (from July)

32. Cleveland: The Browns are beginning to draft their way out of the abyss. But it's a pretty deep abyss.

King Kaufman:

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12, fourth place)
Four of the Browns' first five games are against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore and New England. Better win the other one, against Oakland. The Browns' best day of the year was probably draft day, when they landed tackle Joe Thomas, then traded up to draft quarterback Brady Quinn.

Until he's ready, it'll be Charlie Frye handing off to the faded Jamal Lewis and throwing to talented but not yet good Braylon Edwards and supremely talented and good Kellen Winslow Jr. -- who's coming off microfracture knee surgery, which makes him a question mark. Cleveland's defense isn't good enough to make up for the offensive shortcomings. It's yet another rebuilding year, which is to say a building year, in Cleveland. If the task for Romeo Crennel's team is to improve on the 4-12 disaster of 2006, the chances for success are pretty good.

Best gimmick: Old-timey uniforms
Worst gimmick: Never having enough good football players
If they were a female pop star they would be: Ashlee Simpson

Rich Eisen on

And then there's the quarterback situation in Cleveland. After months of speculation over who the starting quarterback would be, coach Romeo Crennel finally gave us an answer. But the answer was far from definitive. Six days before the Browns' season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Crennel announced that Charlie Frye had beaten out Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn for the starting job ... against Pittsburgh. And that's it. The soft-spoken head coach praised Frye for his leadership skills and experience. He unequivocally stated Frye gave his team the best chance to win. But Crennel steadfastly refused to give Frye a whole-hearted endorsement beyond Week 1. Indeed, the quarterback position in Cleveland will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. On one hand, it keeps pressure on Frye to keep his job and gives hope to anyone in the organization or fan base eager to see Quinn under center. On the other hand, it's a rare instance of an NFL head coach virtually inviting the media to ask him about the performance of his quarterback on a weekly basis. The Ohio media no doubt could not believe its ears, immediately pressing Crennel on why he wouldn't just name Frye his guy and proffer a policy of open-ended support rather than open-ended scrutiny. Crennel did not blink.

"I don't think anybody makes a guy a starter for the whole year because things happen in this game," Crennel said. "I think there's one team in the NFL (Jacksonville) who named a starter (Leftwich) and then all of a sudden named somebody else the starter (Garrard). So, hey, that's this business we're in. To say that a guy's the starter for a year, I can say that. But then if I leave him in the whole year, and if he's not doing good, then you're gonna say that, 'You're a bad coach, because you won't make a change.' So, it doesn't do me any good to sit here and say a guy's a starter for the whole year."

In other words, Crennel doesn't have a crystal ball.

What he certainly has is one big mess if Frye falters. The Browns have the proverbial make-or-break schedule to start the season: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, at Oakland, Baltimore, at New England, Miami, bye week. Or, depending on how those first six weeks transpire, Bye-Bye Week. Talk about needing a quick start: The Browns will be completely done with the home portion of their division schedule by the end of this month. In order to have even a remote chance at a successful year, they must take two of those three home games against their AFC North brethren and one of their two games on the road (I'd suggest targeting the game at Oakland rather than the one at New England.) And I don't buy Crennel's line of thinking. Not on Frye as choice of quarterback. If the coach feels he's the best guy for the job, who am I to claim to know his roster and players better than he? No, I think Crennel should have said Frye was his quarterback for the forseeable future, rather than admit his quarterback is on a one-week leash every single week. Isn't a team supposed to be more prone to succeed when they know who their quarterback is? Aren't we, as NFL fans and observers, taught that the most successful teams are the ones with consistency at the quarterback position?

Crennel essentially told the Ohio media that if he named Frye his guy and stuck with him despite poor play just so he could back his word that Frye was his guy, he'd get roasted. But if Frye throws two picks in a season-opening loss to hated Pittsburgh and Crennel still sticks with Frye even after defiantly claiming his quarterbacks were on a week-to-week evaluation, Crennel would get roasted, too. Right? Or would Crennel really bench Frye after one week and go with Anderson or Quinn in Week 2 against Cincinnati, starting two different quarterbacks in as many weeks to start a season? If Anderson falters against Cincinnati, would Crennel go to the raw rookie Quinn or go back to Frye, thus angering a fan base eager to see Quinn as soon as possible? Talk about inviting controversy. Thanks to Crennel's stance, it's a weekly referendum on the quarterback position in Cleveland. If the Browns stumble out of the gate, the media will quickly start asking the players where they stand on the situation. And the Browns have a handful of brash inmates in their offensive asylum who could add considerable grease to this fire if they speak out of turn to the wrong reporter. Do you see how quickly this can spiral out of control?

Two of the game's greats (heretofore referred to as GOATs, as in Greatests of All Time) disagree with me. Both Marshall Faulk and Terrell Davis applauded Crennel's candor. On Monday's NFL Total Access, Marshall and TD said they believe many players in the Browns locker room appreciate Crennel's straight-forwardness in dealing with a position that usually gets handled with kid gloves. It's about time a coach put a quarterback on the same thin ice as virtually everybody else on the team plays, they said.

And then there's this point from the GOAT running backs: If the whole team knows Frye is on a short leash by what they hear out of Crennel's mouth in practice, and then see that same mouth publicly claim to back Frye indiscriminately, then Crennel could be viewed as a hypocrite by his own players.

Bottom line: Crennel needs Frye to play well and do so from the first snap this Sunday. But we didn't need a crystal ball to know that, did we?


We've already discussed the quarterback issue at length, so let's turn to the defense. Does it have a single playmaker of note? Second-year player Kamerion Wimbley appears to be emerging as one. The jury on the youthful secondary is still out, but the unit could be solidified by second-round character question mark Eric Wright out of UNLV. On offense, is this going to finally be the year an offensive line arrives in Cleveland? And will Jamal Lewis torch opponents the way he used to torch the Browns? Man, that's a load of questions on offense, to the point that the defense could wind up getting overburdened. Or the running game finally flourishes behind a resurgent offensive line and Brady Quinn gets to sit and learn from Frye as he leads the Browns back to the playoffs. Which will it be? Hmmm.

Len Pasquerelli on

Although the Browns are an ugly 10-22 under the leadership of general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel, the blueprint is a good one. The Browns have put a clear emphasis on building through the draft and filling in with some key free-agent acquisitions. Unfortunately, the franchise hasn't had much good fortune with some of its big-name free agents, with guys such as center LeCharles Bentley and cornerback Gary Baxter suffering catastrophic injuries.

The Browns are starting to get some nice, young pieces in place, such as tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, linebacker Kamerion Wimbly and safeties Brodney Pool and Sean Jones. But this is a year in which Cleveland's progress may not be measured so much in wins as in growing up in general.

There will have to be progress in the division, or Crennel's job could be in jeopardy. Inside the division, the Browns are a miserable 1-11 the past two years. They have been outscored by an average of 13.5 points in those games, lost eight of them by 10 points or more and three by 20 or more points. The Browns will find out quickly how they stack up against their division foes this year because they face all three in the first month of the season.