<
>

2006 Browns preview

THE BOTTOM LINE

By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com

In the first season of the Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel axis, the Browns won six games, a plus-two mark over the final year of the Butch Davis regime. Repeating that feat would get Cleveland to the .500 point and mark only the second non-losing season since the franchise was reincarnated in 1999. But even with all the good work accomplished by the Cleveland general manager and head coach, respectively, winning two more games, as modest as that sounds, might not be easy.

For openers, the Browns are in a division that boasts a pair of 2005 playoff teams and a Baltimore club that feels it is much improved. Almost as critical, though, is the remarkable run of misfortune that plagued the Browns in training camp, beginning with the season-ending knee injury to center LeCharles Bentley, who was arguably the best player in this spring's unrestricted free agent pool. The Browns, who have acquired eight different centers since the end of the '05 season, haven't had their offensive line together at all in the preseason, and that could undo much of the progress they've made.

One encouraging element is the return of tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, the team's last two first-round choices, from knee injuries. Second-year veteran quarterback Charlie Frye, in his first season as the full-time starter, needs both those guys on the field.

SCOUTS TAKE

By Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

Their record might not end up reflecting it, but the arrow is pointing up on the Browns' team stock. The roster has been overhauled over the past two seasons and the level of talent in Cleveland is far superior to what it was when Romeo Crennel originally came on board. The holes are not as glaring and there are many players with a lot of upside to their careers right now.

The Browns have hitched their wagon to QB Charlie Frye. Expect an up-and-down season from him as he further learns the position at this level, but also pay attention to how he progresses throughout the season. He is a natural leader and playmaker and has a strong supporting cast -- even with the season-ending injury to center LeCharles Bentley, who should mature along with Frye. This team is still at least a year away, but another productive offseason and the continued development of the young talent they have could propel the Browns into a division contender one year from now.

Prediction: Fourth in AFC North.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD

By KC Joyner, ESPN.com

The Browns have one of the best, and least known, cornerbacks in the NFL in Leigh Bodden. Bodden got the chance to start last season after Gary Baxter went down with an injury and he made the most of it.

Bodden allowed only 5.5 yards per pass attempt, which was the third-lowest YPA total in the league. Bodden also placed in the top 15 in success percentage by stopping nearly 50 percent of the passes thrown his way. By the end of the 2005 season, Cleveland's opponents were avoiding throwing to Bodden's side of the field.

Bodden will get his first chance to start a full season this year. If he puts up similar numbers in 2006, he likely will get his first Pro Bowl nomination.


From ESPN The Magazine
The Big Number12 Charlie Frye and Ken Dorsey have thrown a total of 12 career TD passes combined -- the fewest of any team's top two quarterbacks. Even worse, no other Browns QB has tossed even one.

STRENGTH


PR Dennis Northcutt and KR Joshua Cribbs both reach top speed quickly and break off explosive returns. Meanwhile, P David Zastudil has a powerful leg with great hang time (though he needs to work on his consistency), and K Phil Dawson is coming off the most accurate season of his seven-year career. All of which are huge for a team that must win the battle of field position to have any chance at surviving.

WEAKNESS

Charlie Frye has the mobility, accuracy and build to develop into a quality starter … one day. But entering his second season, his decision-making is too inconsistent, and he doesn't have the arm to get away with throwing into tight coverage. Plan B? Skinny, soft-tossing Ken Dorsey. Maybe Jeff Garcia wasn't such a bad option after all.

PROSPECTS


"We're not jinxed," said C LeCharles Bentley after blowing out his knee, without contact, on the second day of camp. Dog Pounders know better. Cleveland has talented RBs (Reuben Droughns, Lee Suggs, William Green), budding star WRs (Andra Davis and Braylon Edwards) and a can-do coach, Romeo Crennel, who attracts players like Bentley (from the Saints) and Willie McGinest (Pats). They just have no good luck. Bentley was supposed to be a glue guy who would help Frye develop, not a guy on the IR. Cup half full: Kellen Winslow is back, and Frye thinks he's gained from the lumps he took last year (21 sacks in seven games). "It was good," he says. "I just don't want it to happen again." Around Lake Erie, though, history tends to repeat.