Minicamp ends; questions remain Sunday, June 15, 2003 BROWNS BEAT Steve Doerschuk Repository sports writer
The Browns have been very busy boys this off-season.
Among other things, they've fired key coaches and players, drafted a regular snapper and a long snapper, danced around a quarterback controversy, lifted weight equivalent to a small planet, run spring practice and finished two minicamps.
That leaves 20 questions heading into training camp.
1. Who's the man?
Randy Lerner was talking to a few writers the other day. He said he is not a coach and didn't know where the quarterback decision was going. "What do you think?'' he asked three scribes.
I think Kelly Holcomb wins the quarterback job if in training camp he cuts down on the interceptions that dogged him in minicamp. Too many people who know football tell us the Dawg Pound drunks are right: Holcomb is superior.
2. Will Courtney Brown rebound from knee surgery and play this year?
New Defensive Coordinator Dave Campo thinks so. Campo doesn't pretend to be a doctor or Nostradamus. Observed Butch Davis, "Mother Nature's gotta be Mother Nature. Whenever he gets well, that's when the doctors say, 'OK, let's turn him loose and see how it goes.' ''
Translation: Brown doesn't exactly seem to be in position for that breakout year.
3. Is the party really over?
It's nice that Gerard Warren confesses to having loved the nightlife too much, and has scaled back to improve his football. However, the $35 million man's habits leave him open to criticism that he has been stealing big money. Based on preparation and effort, Warren, not Tim Couch, deserved to be booed last year.
4. How startling were Warren's Wednesday minicamp confessions?
Half the young guys who work out when I do at the CYC talk about chasing women. Half don't, but I doubt they were shocked, either.
5. So, Warren should be allowed to chase babes in moderation and play his way into hero status?
A lot of people like their heroes to be grownups. One sensible thought in our e-mail box: "This guy sounds like a real role model, huh? Makes me hope even more Courtney Brown makes it back and performs well. He seems like the kind of guy I can pull for, not Warren.''
6. Is it etched in stone that rookie first-round pick Jeff Faine starts at center?
In granite. During minicamp, Faine was the first-, second- and third-team center. It was a crash course for the Sept. 7 opener against the Colts.
7. Who among these new linebackers is the next Jack Lambert?
Butch Davis is making a lot of noise about Andra Davis. I don't know if the boss is getting this from linebackers coach Clancy Pendergast, or vice versa. But Pendergast is very high on Andra Davis, too. It's possible Butch Davis is saying little about second-round pick Chaun Thompson simply to minimize pressure. It's possible Thompson still is a light year away from being an efficient starter.
8. Andra Davis?
Florida's only fear against Ball State in its 2000 opener was a serious injury. Davis blew out a knee and sat out the year. He seemed destined for first-round draft status before that. Even though he came back with a solid 2001 (team-high 107 tackles), he lasted until the fifth round of the 2002 draft. He is convinced he has regained the physical skills that made him a high school All-American. He strikes everyone as a confident, determined, serious young man.
9. Leadership was frayed and fractionalized last year. How does this get fixed?
Gerard Warren stands up in a team meeting and asks forgiveness. Then he says he doesn't deserve to rise to power until 2004 at the earliest. He pledges to get behind those more deserving. This sets a tone. Leadership must be earned, not absorbed by big egos or guys who just like to hear themselves talk.
10. What's the talk among the players about how well the team will fare this year?
More than a few seem to seriously believe this can be a Super Bowl team. "Division championship?'' Kenard Lang said. "That's chump change.''
11. Have they lost their minds?
No. The talent is as good as New England's was two Super Bowls ago. Maybe better. If Davis is the gridiron CEO Al Lerner trusted him to be, he'll do something with the talent.
12. Might the Browns wind up going backwards at quarterback?
Very unlikely. Couch makes a fair argument in saying he has made steady improvement when healthy. If he's the man, he should take another step this year behind an improving line, with improving receivers, and William Green past his rookie jitters. If it's Holcomb, he looked like a star in January. One would suppose he could look good with more practice reps than he's ever seen.
13. What's the pecking order for the receivers?
It appears Quincy Morgan is headed for the No. 1 role. Hands down. After that, it's a dogfight, with Kevin Johnson needing a strong training camp to keep Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis from usurping playing time.
14. Which sleepers are making noise on defense?
Fifth-round pick Michael Lehan zips around with confidence. He could be a future starter at corner or safety. The light has come on for tackle Alvin McKinley, who turned 25 last week. He could wind up on the field for half the defensive plays.
15. And the sleepers on offense?
Tight end Steve Heiden has spent most of his career looking like a South Dakota State guy who wasn't quite ready for prime time. Finally, he's starting to show why the Chargers spent a third-round pick on him in 1999. Butch Davis is downplaying guard Quasim Mitchell, but it's hard to hide a 370-pounder who can run. Keep an eye on tight end/H-back Rod Monroe.
16. Where are the leaks on defense?
The Jimmy Johnson model under which Butch Davis was formed tended to think linebackers grew on trees. If that model is flawed, this group is young, unaccomplished and susceptible to turning into a forest fire. Most teams have higher picks invested in the secondary. No projected Browns starter was drafted higher than Round 3.
17. On offense?
Before Steelers first-round pick Alan Faneca became a Pro Bowl guard, he was a lost rookie. Jeff Faine hasn't made a snap at center in an NFL game. Holcomb and Couch seem adequate at worst. But if their play goes worst-case, a strong receiving corps will be somewhat wasted.
18. Are the Browns better off without Corey Fuller?
Probably. He was an adequate cornerback. There is a chance Anthony Henry will be less than that, but also a chance Henry can be more. Maybe Fuller was an important leader, but he was right there in the locker room when the chemistry got weird in 2002.
19. How many times will Jim Donovan scream, "Run, William, run''?
William Green's second half in 2002 indicated a 1,200-yard season. The confidence Green displayed in minicamp and his perceived talent might produce bigger numbers on another team. Bruce Arians, though, loves this team's passing possibilities. In part, that means Arians thinks it will be more blessed for Jamel White to receive, when White plays.
20. What are the vibes coming from Butch Davis?
Confidence. Defiance. Energy. Command. This is a CEO who doesn't act too chummy with folks outside the loop. I don't recall anyone asking him directly, "Can you win Super Bowl XXXVIII. When he is asked eventually, expect a smart-aleck answer. I think his inner voice says yes.
Posted on Wed, Jun. 18, 2003
By Patrick McManamon
Beacon Journal staff writer
Browns' Griffith ready to take leadership role
Safety is unfazed by departures, wants to win
If one player could have been affected by the Browns' off-season purge of veterans, it would have been safety Robert Griffith.
Griffith was extremely close to defensive coordinator Foge Fazio and players Corey Fuller and Dwayne Rudd. The release of the players, and, in Fazio's case, retirement, could have wounded Griffith.
He insists, though, that is not the case.
``I feel good about being here,'' Griffith said during last week's team minicamp.
In fact, Griffith is the player Coach Butch Davis is looking to for defensive leadership.
``I've had many discussions with Butch, and I'm going to take it and run,'' Griffith said. ``He's given me the reins to lead by example and voice, and I'm not going to let him down.''
Griffith, Gerard Warren and Anthony Henry have all admitted being disappointed with their play in 2002. Griffith does not envision a repeat performance.
``I don't look at it as them bringing me in here to be another player,'' Griffith said. ``They're paying me to win. I'm getting paid to make a difference.''
The linebacker position remains unsettled and probably will not have any clarity until a few weeks into camp once it starts in late July.
Six players -- Ben Taylor, Andra Davis, Kevin Bentley, Chaun Thompson, Barry Gardner and Brant Boyer -- are competing to start, and Davis said he and the defensive coaches are focused on putting the best three players on the field, regardless of position.
``None of us has a set position,'' Taylor said. ``The top three are going to play.''
Gardner spent a lot of time with the first unit in the middle, but the team seems to want Andra Davis to take that position.
``There hasn't been a drill where he doesn't do something to catch your eye,'' Butch Davis said.
That could mean Gardner would move outside.
Who plays seems to be less of an issue now than it was in late February.
For one, they've had some practice time. For two, the system is much simpler for linebackers. It merely asks them to run and make tackles.
``It's linebacker-friendly,'' Griffith said. ``They're going to be able to pin their ears back.''
``Either way you got to go to battle with them,'' defensive end Kenard Lang said.
``They got to learn, and the only way to learn is to get better and us staying on them -- make sure they do their job and make sure we do our job. The team is only as strong as you let it be.''