NOWHERE WAS therelease of the 2008 NFL schedule as newsy as it was in Cleveland. QuarterbackDerek Anderson was on the golf course when he got a call from his dad. "Yousee how many times you're on national TV?" Glenn Anderson said. Fansbombarded wideout Braylon Edwards with the news. "Three Monday nightgames!" one of them told Edwards, who went to a computer to see forhimself.
There it was: AFox national game at home against the Cowboys in Week 1, a Sunday night NBCgame with the Steelers in Week 2, Monday-night ESPN games in Weeks 6 (Giants),11 (Bills) and 15 (Eagles), and a Thursday-nighter on NFL Network against theBroncos in Week 10. The Browns hadn't played on Monday night in five years oron Sunday night in three; now they were going to play five night games in oneseason—one more than the Super Bowl--champion Giants.
"Primetime," Edwards says. "Now that's what I'm talking about."
And Clevelanddidn't even make the playoffs last year.
So, the theorygoes, the Browns must be a team about to break out. Or they're being set up fora big tumble. "When I saw the schedule I said, 'That's what happens whenyou play exciting football,'" says sixth-year guard Eric Steinbach."The flip side, of course, is being a younger team, and after having yourfirst winning season in a while, you worry about how all the exposure is goingto affect your young players. The true test will be surviving that exposure andplaying your best instead of playing like a deer in the headlights."
The Browns were abunch of sluggers without a pitching staff last year, winning 51--45, 41--31and 33--30 (twice). And when Anderson struggled in December—he threw seven TDpasses and eight interceptions in five games—the defense wasn't able to coverfor the offense's drop-off and Cleveland suffered crushing losses to Arizonaand Cincinnati. The Browns wound up 30th in the league in yards allowed pergame (359.6) and in yards allowed per rushing attempt (4.5).
That's whygeneral manager Phil Savage, already without a first-round pick in 2008 becausehe traded it to move up and draft quarterback Brady Quinn last year, dealt hissecond- and third-round choices plus starting cornerback Leigh Bodden for twomonstrous defensive linemen: former Packer Corey Williams, who'll play left endin coach Romeo Crennel's 3--4 scheme, and Shaun Rogers, late of the Lions,who'll be the nosetackle.
Strange but true:The 340-pound Rogers has never played the position. But the Browns believe he'swell-suited to occupy more than one blocker and plug the middle of the line,creating the kind of congestion that makes for a great run-stopping unit.
"Our model isthe Patriots," says Rogers. New England is a 3--4 team with a history ofplaying good run defense, and Rogers has studied the Pats' scheme. "[TheBrowns] got me because they were looking for beef in the middle, and that's soimportant to a 3--4 team," he says. "I don't want to be the wholesolution, just part of the solution."
Cleveland needssome other defensive players to be part of the solution too. Pass-rushspecialist Kamerion Wimbley has to play hungrier. "How can I put this?"says Savage. "He played a little safe last year." It's not often that arookie gets 11 sacks and follows with a five-sack season, but that's what ahealthy Wimbley did. The Browns have told him to take more chances, become morereckless. Also, second-year cornerbacks Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright willbe picked on by opposing quarterbacks from Week 1, and by midseason fans may bewondering why their team invested so heavily in the defensive line when it'sthe secondary that's killing the Browns.
"We couldn'tfix everything in one off-season," Savage says. The question is, have theydone enough to help the Browns win their first division title since 1982—andmake them a featured team on the 2009 schedule?
PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH ROMEO CRENNEL (20--28 in NFL),fourth season with Browns
Rex HADNOT -- NewACQUISITION
Donte' STALLWORTH-- New ACQUISITION
Corey WILLIAMS --New ACQUISITION
Shaun ROGERS --New ACQUISITION
2007 RECORD 10--6NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 10/12/8 DEFENSE 27/24/30
21 at Baltimore
28 at Cincinnati
13 N.Y. GIANTS (M)
19 at Washington
26 at Jacksonville
6 DENVER (T)
17 at Buffalo (M)
7 at Tennessee
15 at Philadelphia (M)
28 at Pittsburgh
(M) Monday (T) Thursday
NFL Rank: 7
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .547
Games against playoff teams: 8
SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Browns' units.
Anderson found a home for his big arm and big-play ability.
Lewis must maintain burst and power late in the season.
Edwards is a big-time player; Stallworth a quality complement.
Winslow has great skills and playmaking ability; solid backups.
The reason for 10 wins in '07; excellent first year from Thomas.
Jumped several grades with pickups of Rogers, Williams.
Could use more speed and youth on edges but very productive.
Good inside; weak and injury-prone on the corners.
Excellent kickers and even better return men.
Last year the Browns kept waiting for theirfirst-rounder to show a weakness. Didn't happen. He wasn't intimidated by aroad game at Foxborough or two matchups with Ray Lewis's yappy Ravens. In 16games Thomas surrendered one solo sack. Says G.M. Phil Savage, "How manyrookie left tackles start from opening day and play like Pro Bowlplayers?"
NOW AT SI.COM
EXCERPTED FROM SI
August 29, 1988
"MY HEIGHT gives me an advantage," Kosar says.Yes, but it also makes him look awkward. And that is what is so refreshingabout Kosar. Here is a slow, humble, neighborhood kind of guy, throwingincorrectly like some kid down the block. "That's what he is," saysoffensive tackle Paul Farren, "a normal kid from anybody'sneighborhood."
Free access to all BROWNS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.
SHOWTIME Top receiver Edwards will strut his stuff with six national TV dates.
JASON MILLER/US PRESSWIRE
ANDY HAYT (COVER)