Eye on the Competition: Cleveland Browns

Much like Lovie Smith a year ago, Romeo Crennel is in his honeymoon period when he has yet to lose a regular season game.

The loss to Carolina in the third preseason game aside, not much has gone wrong for Crennel and the Browns so far.

Media and fans haven't challenged Crennel yet. Players speak of him almost reverently because he won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and two with the Giants. Browns management is convinced he must have great vision because of those five Super Bowl rings.

The question that can't be answered until next summer is: Will everyone have the same faith in Crennel if this season is the disaster most outside observers expect it to be? Players are turning deaf ears to the debate of who the Browns will take with the first pick in the draft next year -- USC quarterback Matt Leinart or Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

It might not be as bad as all that, but Crennel knows there will be rough spots. And then that faith in him will be tested. Asked the biggest questions he still has about his football team, Crennel mentioned its physical toughness, because contact was light in training camp, and its mental toughness.

"An area of concern is, how are we going to do when it gets bad?" Crennel said. "Everybody will face adversity in the NFL. How are we going to react when the adversity comes? Are we going be able to stay the course and keep our composure and do the things we know we need to do to win the game? That still needs to be answered."

Crennel will be tested early. The Browns host Cincinnati in the season opener and play on the road in Green Bay and Indianapolis. Then they have their bye week, which could turn out to be merciful timing.

"You have to learn to walk before you can run and you have to learn to crawl before you can walk," general manager Phil Savage said. "We're still learning to crawl."

Players believe the 3-4 defense will work because Crennel says it will work. It works only if the right players are in place. So far, Chaun Thompson has not shown he is that player as the weak-side outside linebacker. Ben Taylor started inside with Andra Davis in the first three preseason games, but Orlando Ruff is close to taking the job away from him. Taylor is better than Ruff in pass coverage, but Ruff is better against the run.

The players accept what Crennel says without questioning him. He tells them they can't talk about injuries, and they don't.

"It's good to know that because it means they respect what I tell them," Crennel said. "Still, it goes back to what will happen when adversity hits.

"Hey, it's still a honeymoon. I tell them that all the time -- it's still a honeymoon. The attitude is great. Everybody believes we're going in the right direction. But we haven't lost one that counts. When that happens, we'll see what happens."

Savage says one thing that has to change is the "Woe is me" attitude that has been prevalent since the Browns were 2-14 in 1999. They have lost 66 games, an average of 11 a year, since their rebirth.

PLAYER NOTES
--RB Lee Suggs has a high left ankle sprain and probably won't be ready for the season opener against Cincinnati.
--Rookie WR Braylon Edwards played some with the first offense against Carolina in the third preseason game. It was significant because he was with the third offense the week before.
--CB Gary Baxter is recovering slowly from a concussion suffered Aug. 20. The Browns are being cautious with the hope he can play against the Bengals Sept. 11.
--When WR Andre Davis was traded to New England for a fifth-round draft choice, it meant 21 players that started at least one game for the Browns last season are no longer with the team.
--Rookie QB Charlie Frye played well for the third straight time in the preseason and nearly rallied the Browns to victory over Carolina, but coach Romeo Crennel is holding off naming him the backup to Trent Dilfer. Doug Johnson is in the running.
--K Phil Dawson's job is safe, but he kicked poorly in preseason. He missed a 35-yard field goal attempt against Carolina and came up short indoors from 55 yards and 52 yards in Detroit.


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