Edwards, Winslow leaving the past behind

BEREA, Ohio -- To this point in the brief but brittle professional tenures of Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, their résumés have been defined as much by broken bones as game-breaking plays.

Chosen among the top six players in consecutive NFL drafts, the tandem has registered more letdowns than touchdowns. Expected to emerge as the twin playmakers for the young Cleveland offense, Edwards and Winslow instead have become conjoined by misfortune and disappointment and the dreaded stigma of potential unfulfilled.

And now, at a seeming crossroads for them and for this franchise, they are drawn together by a shared determination to relegate whatever transpired in the past to the dustbin of history.

"For my first two years here," said Edwards, the third player selected in the 2005 draft, "I spent a lot of time asking myself a lot of questions. 'Why isn't this turning out the way that it was supposed to be? Is this how it's destined to be? Can it happen here and with this team? Is it possible to win here?' But you know what? That stuff is all just [garbage] now. It's time to stop worrying about all the questions and to concentrate on providing some answers. It's time for me to just play some football."

Such cut-to-the-chase pragmatism was echoed by Winslow after Thursday afternoon's camp practice, and its genesis might lie in the fact that both Cleveland receivers are the sons of former NFL players.

The elder Winslow, of course, is a Hall of Fame tight end and is regarded as a man who, in his nine-year career with the San Diego Chargers (1979-87), reinvented the position. Edwards' father, Stanley Edwards, was a running back with the Houston Oilers (1982-86) and the Detroit Lions (1987).

Both fathers are old-school, no-nonsense men, players who understood that, to succeed in the NFL, athletic talent had to be matched by work ethic, mental toughness and perseverance. So, from the time the current Browns tandem was old enough to wade through the bloodied and balled-up tape and the discarded athletic supporters that litter the floor of every NFL locker room, they witnessed firsthand what separated the guys who make it in the league from the ones who don't.

Even at an early age, exposure to the league and the sage advice of their NFL fathers clearly left an indelible impression.

"I don't know that it helped me through the tough times, you know, those [first] two years," said Winslow, referring to a two-season stretch in which he appeared in only two games. "I do know, though, that it made me appreciate and love the game more than I maybe otherwise would have. As a kid, I saw players -- my father included -- overcome a lot … and that really stuck with me."

His own setbacks, including one infamously self-inflicted incident that nearly cost Winslow his career, haven't diminished that passion, but they certainly reduced his overall productivity until last season. The sixth overall player chosen in 2004, Winslow fractured his right fibula in the second game of his rookie campaign when he jumped into a pile trying to recover an onside kick. He then mangled his right knee and sustained myriad serious internal injuries in a spring 2005 motorcycle accident.

Even after a breakthrough 2006 season in which he caught 89 passes for 875 yards, tying the franchise single-season receptions mark of Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, his right knee was so bothersome that on Jan. 30 Winslow underwent the always-dicey microfracture surgical procedure to seek relief. Before every practice session now, the former University of Miami star goes through a tedious one-hour routine -- massage therapy, heat treatments, cold treatments -- just to loosen up the knee and get onto the field.

Said Winslow: "Believe me, people don't know the half of it, and they don't want to. But to me, it's worth it because it's what I have to do to play. And I definitely love to play. This is my passion. It's all I've ever really wanted to do."

Edwards' interests might be a bit more diverse, but his love for the game and his commitment to do whatever it takes to approach his immense potential is just as unwavering. The former Michigan star tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee in the second half of his 2005 rookie season, then battled a staph infection. He rehabilitated diligently to return much sooner than anticipated, and the long hours spent working out with Winslow resulted in a friendship forged through perspiration and determination.

Playing in all 16 games in 2006, including 15 starts, Edwards registered 61 catches for 884 yards and six touchdowns.

Performing in yet another new offensive design, this one formulated by first-year coordinator Rob Chudzinski, speedy Edwards is certain his improved numbers of last year are merely a starting point. The Browns seem to change offensive coordinators and systems almost annually, and the revolving door has resulted in a lack of stability and a dearth of production.

But in Chudzinski, both Edwards and Winslow concur, the Browns finally seem to have hit upon a guy whose passing-game paradigm will enhance the playmaking skills of the former first-round choices.

Sitting in a hallway of the team's complex here before the Thursday practice, mentally reviewing the offensive ills of the past, Edwards recalled a time when the Cleveland attack was so predictable that opposing cornerbacks were calling out his pass routes as soon as he approached the line of scrimmage.

"Guys over on the other side of the line," Edwards said, shaking his head, "knew our offense as [well] as we did."

The offense installed by Chudzinski, a former tight end, is -- as Winslow described it -- "tight end-friendly." It is a sophisticated and synergistic, triangular-based offense that stresses the vertical passing game and an attack mode. And though some questions remain about who the trigger man will be in 2007, Edwards -- the guy who spent two seasons questioning himself about his place here -- figures the Browns already have the answers as to whether they possess sufficient bullets to make it all work. He should have a clearer picture of the Browns' offense after Saturday's preseason opener against the Chiefs.

"Oh, yeah, we've got the people," Edwards said. "Me and Kellen, the onus is on us."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.