Anyone entering the Browns' weight room at their suburban
Cleveland training center is greeted by a message painted in
block letters on a wall: THOSE WHO PREPARE THEMSELVES IN TIMES
OF PEACE BLEED LESS IN TIMES OF WAR.
In the expansion franchise's first two years the bleeding was
profuse, and now it's up to new coach Butch Davis, lured from the
University of Miami at $3 million a year, to stop it. He cautions
impassioned members of the Dawg Pound to be patient, though
that's not something people in Cleveland want to hear after
watching their team win only five of 32 games and lose by such
embarrassing margins as 48, 43, 37, 34, 32 and 31 points.
"I'm going to steal something I heard David Duval say," Davis
says of the British Open champ. "You lay it on the line; you give
it everything you've got; and if you don't win, that shouldn't
mean everything. The reality is there can be success without
wins. That won't be the case in my second or third year maybe,
but that's the reality of our situation now."
This year Davis is putting special emphasis on special teams.
"When you're not very good," he says, "that's the way to balance
the game." At the start of training camp Davis told his 80-man
squad that every player in the room had an excellent chance to
make the team, and he wasn't blowing smoke. "If a guy's an
absolute werewolf on special teams," Davis says, "he will play
for the Browns this year." Luckily for Davis, he already has one
of the game's premier punters in Chris Gardocki.
In the long run, though, the Browns need quarterback Tim Couch
(22 games, 22 touchdowns, 22 interceptions) to adapt quickly to
an offense that relies more on short- and intermediate-range
throws than former coach Chris Palmer's downfield scheme did.
"This system fits me great," says Couch, who at Kentucky in 1998
threw three quarters of his passes 10 yards or less downfield,
resulting in a completion percentage of 72.3.
In his first two seasons Couch had neither a top-flight receiver
nor running back to work with, though Davis thinks he has an
outstanding runner this year in rookie James Jackson, a
third-round draft choice. Jackson backed up the Jaguars' Fred
Taylor for a season at Belle Glade (Fla.) High School, then was
the understudy to the Colts' Edgerrin James for two years at
Miami, under Davis. "Except for the flak I took after resigning
from Miami to come here," says Davis, "I got the most criticism
for not playing James Jackson when Edgerrin was our starter."
Jackson, a 5'10", 209-pound slasher who ran for 1,006 yards for
the Hurricanes last season, says he's ready for his coming-out
party. "I would have benefited from more carries in high school
and college," he says, "but what could I do? I was glued to the
sidelines. I will not let this chance go by. I strongly believe I
can do in the NFL what Edge has done."
James has won two rushing titles in two years, something that
appears out of Jackson's reach because he'll be running behind a
poor offensive line. But the rookie back is determined to make
his mark. At a postdraft minicamp he set his pager to vibrate at
3 a.m. To keep from waking his roommate, Jackson then took his
playbook into the hallway and spent three hours studying for that
day's session. He maintained that work ethic when he went home to
Miami between minicamps, training with Taylor and James at least
two days a week from April through June. "We were serious, man,"
Jackson says. "Powerlifting, running, practicing on the field.
Fred told me it's important to hit the hole in a hurry; otherwise
it won't be there, because the linebackers in the NFL are so
quick. Edge taught me how to run routes perfectly and catch the
ball coming out of the backfield."
Even if Jackson plays well, the Browns still need help at
receiver. Don't look for the savior to be second-round pick
Quincy Morgan, the only wideout with any size (6'1", 209). In
June receivers coach Terry Robiskie made three appointments for
Morgan to go to Vikings wideout Cris Carter's prestigious camp
for skill players, but the rookie missed all three. "I was taking
care of business at home," says Morgan, who has had a good camp
and is still projected as a starter. "I think he understands now
that you have to work at another level to succeed in the NFL,"
Robiskie says. "I think he's finally listening to me."
These days the Browns' brass has more realistic expectations than
it had at the outset. "I have no idea how many games we'll win,"
says team president Carmen Policy, "but I do know pieces are
being put into place the way they should be."
This team appears to be staring at a four-win season.
Unfortunately, for the Browns that would be considered
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Jackson, who played behind a future NFL star in both high school and college, says it's his turn now.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE BROWN
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Browns
"My question in year 3 is, When is the personnel department, led
by Dwight Clark, going to be accountable for the product on the
field? It's convenient to blame Chris Palmer for winning only
five games in two years, and maybe he did a lousy coaching job.
But other than the defensive line, which has two players with
All-Pro potential in Courtney Brown at end and Gerard Warren
inside, every position group on this team is weak. With the
advantages the Browns had in acquiring players, that's
inexcusable.... It's hard to draw a bead on Tim Couch. If he's
lousy this year, even surrounded by a mediocre cast, you have to
start thinking he's a bust.... Our reports on running back James
Jackson at Miami say he was never very tough and fumbled too
much.... They've got a bunch of smurfy receivers, and only Kevin
Johnson impresses me with how he can separate from corners. He's
vital for Couch.... They wasted money on two tight ends who have
been horrible underachievers, Rickey Dudley this past off-season
and O.J. Santiago last year.... On defense Brown is a terrific
rusher and superb run-stopper, a guy who could start for every
team in the league except Tennessee. Warren had the most ability
of anybody in the draft last April. After those two I struggle to
find hope for the defense.... The secondary is embarrassingly
weak. Corey Fuller should be a free safety, not a corner. He
can't cover.... Chris Gardocki could be their MVP."
Sept. 9 SEATTLE
16 at Pittsburgh
30 at Jacksonville
Oct. 7 SAN DIEGO
14 at Cincinnati
28 Open date
Nov. 4 at Chicago
18 at Baltimore
Dec. 2 TENNESSEE
9 at New England
23 at Green Bay
30 at Tennessee
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 21 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .488
Games against playoff teams: 4
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Butch Davis; first season with Cleveland (0-0 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 3-13 (sixth in AFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 30/30/31; defense 29/12/26
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Tim Couch 129 215 att. 137 comp. 63.7% 1,483 yds.
7 TDs 9 int. 77.3 rtg.
RB James Jackson 91 201 att. 1,006 yds. 5.0 avg. 9 rec.
(R)[N] 56 yds. 6.2 avg. 13 TDs
RB Jamel White 291 47 att. 145 yds. 3.1 avg. 13 rec.
100 yds. 7.7 avg. 0 TDs
FB Mike Sellers[N] 297 1 att. 2 yds. 2.0 avg. 8 rec.
78 yds. 9.8 avg. 2 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Kevin Johnson 111 57 rec. 669 yds. 0 TDs
WR Quincy Morgan (R)[N]182 64 rec. 1,166 yds. 14 TDs
WR Dennis Northcutt 216 39 rec. 422 yds. 0 TDs
TE Rickey Dudley[N] 214 29 rec. 350 yds. 4 TDs
K Phil Dawson 276 17/17 XPs 14/17 FGs 59 pts.
PR Lenzie Jackson 358 no punt returns in 2000
KR Lenzie Jackson 358 9 ret. 18.7 avg. 0 TDs
LT Roman Oben 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Brad Bedell 6'4" 299 lbs. 12 games 0 starts
C Dave Wohlabaugh 6'3" 292 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
RG Tre' Johnson[N] 6'2" 326 lbs. 4 games 4 starts
RT Ross Verba[N] 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Keith McKenzie 51 tackles 8 sacks
LT Orpheus Roye 43 tackles 2 sacks
RT Gerard Warren(R)[N]76 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RE Courtney Brown 61 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
OLB Jamir Miller 66 tackles 5 sacks
MLB Wali Rainer 87 tackles 1 sack
OLB Dwayne Rudd[N] 53 tackles 0 sacks
CB Corey Fuller 36 tackles 3 int.
SS Earl Little 24 tackles 1 int.
FS Percy Ellsworth 57 tackles 1 int.
CB Daylon McCutcheon 57 tackles 1 int.
P Chris Gardocki 108 punts 45.5 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"If Couch is lousy, even with a mediocre cast, you have to start
thinking he's a bust."