This was the starting defensive line when the Browns played the Steelers in
their first game back in the NFL Sept. 12, 1999:
Left end Derrick Alexander, left tackle John Jurkovic, right tackle Jerry Ball and right end Hurvin McCormack.
The backups on the defensive line that fateful night on ESPN were Darius Holland, Roy Barker, Mike Thompson and Arnold Miller.
No wonder the Browns were hammered 43-0! No wonder they gave up 437 points that year! No wonder then-coach Chris Palmer wished he had remained a plumber!
Those were the growing pain days of a first-year expansion team. Occasionally, Browns officials will still moan about how little time they had to crank out a team, compared to what Houston got after them and what Carolina and Jacksonville got before them. If one didn't know any better, one would think the NFL got revenge on all the fans who faxed the league in protest of the Browns moving in 1996 by giving them less than 10 months to put a team on the field in 1999.
But that was long, long ago. The defensive line is now a strength of the team. If Courtney Brown bounces back from tricky microfracture surgery it will be a bonus. He has greatness packaged in his body. He is a Quiet Storm eager to burst forth in thunder, lightning and hurricane.
If Brown needs more time, the Browns can afford to give it to him. He could work on strengthening his knee so he could play the second half of the season strong and ready for the playoffs.
Fifteen defensive linemen, including Brown, were in the veteran minicamp last week. Coach Butch Davis said a dozen have a chance to make the team. They will be fighting for eight spots when training camp begins July 22. Let's take a look at the most important ones in that group:
Left end Kenard Lang: He played hurt a lot last season. He and a bum ankle
and a pulled groin. Never complained. He is healthy, now, and he has to produce.
He doesn't have to be a big sack guy to help. He has to be strong against the
run, especially with young linebackers on the squad.
Left tackle Gerard Warren: Warren came out last week and said he didn't play his best because he partied too much. He said he doesn't need Coach Davis to keep him on a leash. We'll go along with that, at least in the beginning. This is Warren's third season. He has to start playing like a player nicknamed Big Money should. Be quick, shed blockers and make the play. If he does, Lang will automatically look better.
Right tackle Orpheus Roye: Roye got his $1.2 million bonus in March. It was a reward for last season. He plants his big butt in the middle and is a load for blockers to move out. He can play well without posting big numbers.
Right end Mark Word: He was a sack machine last season. He has to be better against the run to be a complete player. He could get some pressure from Cedric Scott. All will be well if Brown is healthy.
End Tyrone Rogers: You look at Tyrone's numbers from 2002 and maybe you don't get too excited. He made 27 tackles. That's less than two a game. No big deal for a guy with five starts. But if the Browns got rid of Rogers - take it easy, they aren't going to - he would be out of work for about 30 seconds. He can play left end and right end and he can get through the line. Four of his tackles were for loss.
Tackle Alvin McKinley: Don't be surprised if McKinley takes Roye's starting job. You read it here first on Bernie's Insiders. He is quicker and stronger than he was before. Even if he doesn't start, he's a heckuva player on goal line defense. Pity the opposing special teams coach, because he has to devise ways to keep McKinley from blocking kicks.
Another name to file away is Michael Boireau, a veteran of three years experience from Miami of Florida, of course. Boireau is an end. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Brown's knee, Boireau will get the chance to compete for a backup job.