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Browns 2004 Preview

Postby slowkidz » Tue Aug 10, 2004 6:27 pm

Cleveland Browns 2004 Season Preview
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Browns were
supposed to be a team on the rise.

Following a playoff appearance in 2002, Butch
Davis' team looked to have turned the corner and
shed the "expansion team" label that had been
conferred on the franchise since it returned to
the NFL in 1999. In season number three under
Davis, the Browns looked to be ready to take
their rightful place among the AFC elite.

But the wine didn't ferment in 2003, and in its
place lay only grapes of wrath for Cleveland's
long-suffering fans. An offense that ranked 26th
in the NFL and coughed up 33 turnovers never
jelled under quarterbacks Tim Couch and Kelly
Holcomb. Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal
Lewis set an NFL single- game rushing record with
295 yards against the beleaguered Browns' run
defense, then came back and bolted for 205 more
against the team weeks later. Bitter home defeats
to supposed or actual also-rans like Cincinnati
and San Diego stood in the way of any momentum
the team could muster early-on, and a season of
optimism gave way to one that was ultimately

Davis and company will attempt to turn things
around in '04, beginning with a new quarterback,
Jeff Garcia, who will be firmly entrenched as the
No. 1 signal-caller. A talented draft pick,
Kellen Winslow, figures to be a menace from his
tight end position while helping to keep an
overworked defense off the field. Garcia and
Winslow will be counted on to make a huge impact,
and if they don't, Davis' job could be in serious

Below we take a capsule look at the 2004 edition
of the Cleveland Browns, with a personnel
evaluation as well as a schedule analysis and
prognosis included therein:

2003 RECORD: 5-11 (4th, AFC North)

COACH (RECORD): Butch Davis (21-27 in three
seasons in Cleveland, 21-27 overall)

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jeff Garcia, QB (2704 passing
yards, 18 TD, 13 INT, 319 rushing yards in San

DEFENSIVE STAR: Andra Davis, LB (136 tackles, 5

QB: After two seasons of playing musical
quarterbacks with Couch and Holcomb, the Browns
visited the waiver wire and tabbed the 34-year
old Garcia, a starter for five seasons with the
49ers, to be their man. The team released Couch
and relegated Holcomb (1797 passing yards, 10 TD,
12 INT) to his former No. 2 position. The knock
on Garcia has always been his average arm, but he
still runs well and generally makes good
decisions. Cleveland used a fourth- round pick on
Louisiana Tech's Luke McCown, who is seen as the
quarterback of the future for the organization.
Unless he dazzles in the preseason, McCown will
hold the clipboard.

RB: The most closely-watched battle during
training camp is in the backfield, where Lee
Suggs (289 yards, 2 TD) is attempting to hold off
incumbent William Green (559 yards, 1 TD). Suggs
is smaller, shiftier, and less experienced than
Green, who is seen more as a downhill-type
runner. Whoever gets the job will run behind
former Saint Terrelle Smith, one of the finest
blocking backs in the NFL.

WR/TE: Winslow, the tight end out of Miami on
which the Browns used the No. 6 pick in this past
year's draft, has started training camp with a
long holdout but should be an immediate force
within the offense when he reports. Steve Heiden
(18 receptions) worked in Winslow's place as camp
began. Andre' Davis (40 receptions, 5 TD) and
Quincy Morgan (38 receptions, 3 TD) were slated
as the starting receivers, but it seems unlikely
that Dennis Northcutt (62 receptions, 2 TD), the
Browns' most reliable offensive player of 2003,
will stay off the field long. Frisman Jackson
appears set as the No. 4 receiver.

OL: The right side of the Browns' line appears
stable, with tackle Ryan Tucker returning after
starting all 16 games a year ago, and free agent
pickup Kelvin Garmon (Chargers) taking over at
guard. Center Jeff Faine should also be a
fixture, but the left side could be a mess. Enoch
DeMar, Chad Beasley and Paul Zukauskas were
locked in a battle for the left guard hole during
the preseason, and oft-injured Ross Verba looked
like the top choice at tackle. Tackle Kirk
Chambers, a sixth-round draft choice out of
Stanford, could see some early action within the

DL: Two former first-round draft choices, left
end Courtney Brown (37 tackles, 6 sacks) and
tackle Gerard Warren (32 tackles, 5.5 sacks),
were supposed to solidify a top-notch line but
have been disappointing thus far in their
careers. Brown, who has already missed training
camp reps with a bad knee, has been injury-prone.
Warren's conditioning and desire have both been
in question. Right end Kenard Lang (60 tackles, 8
sacks) and tackle Orpheus Roye (57 tackles) have
both played well, further frustrating those who
envision Cleveland's line being dominant with
Brown and Warren playing at 100 percent. Two free
agent pickups, Ebenezer Ekuban (26 tackles, 2.5
sacks with the Cowboys) and Jamal Reynolds (5
tackles with the Packers), will add depth at end.

LB: Apart from middle linebacker Andra Davis, a
former fifth-round draft pick who blossomed into
a team MVP in his second season in the league,
this looks like a makeshift unit. Free agent
acquisition Warrick Holdman (73 tackles with the
Bears) looked to have the edge on incumbent Kevin
Bentley (96 tackles) on the weak side, while
former backup Chaun Thompson (11 tackles) was
pencilled in on the strong side before fracturing
his wrist in training camp. If Thompson cannot
reclaim his job, Ben Taylor (81 tackles) will
likely be back at his familiar starting spot.
Veteran Barry Gardner (36 tackles) and special
teams regular Sherrod Coates (8 tackles) will be
among those adding depth.

DB: Left corner Daylon McCutcheon (46 tackles)
and free safety Earl Little (60 tackles, 6 INT)
head up a secondary which will look to improve on
the mere 11 interceptions it registered in 2003.
Opposite McCutcheon, Anthony Henry (54 tackles, 1
INT) appears to be developing into a fine corner,
but strong safety Robert Griffith's (92 tackles,
2 INT) job could be in jeopardy. Special teams
leader Chris Crocker (35 tackles) could supplant
Griffith there.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Phil Dawson (18-21) will be
back in the fold, though he will work with a new
holder following the exit of Chris Gardocki to
the rival Steelers. Untested second-year man
Derrick Frost figures to handle punting and
holding chores. Northcutt (8.2 avg.) is an
electrifying punt returner, but the team wants to
replace receiver Andre' Davis at kickoff
returner. Wideout Andre King (19.1 avg.), who
handled nine returns last year, is a candidate in
that slot.

SCHEDULE: Playing well within the friendly
confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium will be
important, since top-notch teams like Baltimore
(9/12), Philadelphia (10/24), and New England
(12/5) will all be rolling through town. Only
three road games come against teams that had
winning records in '03, and two of those are
against the lightly-regarded Cowboys (9/19) and
Dolphins (11/26). The matchups against the rival
Steelers (10/10 on the road, 11/14 at home) might
not determine much in the way of playoff
position, but figure to be fun as usual.

PROGNOSIS: Cleveland has been a near-consensus
pick for last place in the AFC North, and it is
not difficult to figure out why. The offensive
line and linebacking corps' are shaky, the
running back and secondary spots are unsettled,
and quarterback duties have been entrusted to a
34-year old quarterback that was cast aside by an
already woeful 49ers team. Winslow's prolonged
holdout and a season-ending injury to
second-round pick and safety Sean Jones in
training camp puts a wrench in any type of youth
movement, at least for the moment. Though the
schedule appears favorable, it is hard to
envision the Browns having the talent to win
consistently, no matter who they're playing. A
.500 record should be enough to keep Davis' job,
but that's not likely.
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