2003: What To Expect

David Carducci brings out the crystal ball and peers into the future, telling us what we can expect to see (and not see) in 2003. With Training Camp starting in a little over a week, here's something to get you primed...

All the hype surrounding LeBron James and the anticipation of finally seeing him in the new wine-and-gold of the Cleveland Cavaliers may have rekindled northeast Ohio's interest in pro basketball, but any passion the 18-year-old phenom may inspire will never overshadow this area's true love.

Around here, football is king. And with the Cleveland Browns set to open training camp in one week, a new season filled with excitement and great potential is just around the corner.

The Browns are hoping to build on their first playoff appearance in their expansion era, but what can we really expect in 2003?

Expect Tim Couch to win the starting job at quarterback. According to sources close to the team, coach Butch Davis had some very real concerns regarding Couch's ability to grasp the Browns' offensive system. But Couch has worked hard in the offseason, and more importantly, he has impressed Davis and the rest of the coaching staff with his willingness to accept the challenge of competing for his job with Kelly Holcomb.

Don't expect much from Courtney Brown. While Couch may be ready to finally live up to his "franchise" status, the Browns' second top overall pick is looking more and more like a bust. Brown has yet to show he can stay on the field, and with his shaky return from microfracture surgery on his knee, there is more reason to expect him to miss large chunks of time in 2003.

Even if he returns, Brown still needs to show he has the desire to play the game at a high level, not to mention the willingness to use the "very fine pass-rush moves" Davis claimed he worked on during the previous two offseasons. When Brown has played, he seems to get too high, relies too often on using his speed to the outside, and rarely uses his hands effectively.

Expect William Green's first 1,000-yard rushing season. The second-year running back is ready to build on his strong second half from last year, and he'll do it with a dramatically improved offensive line.

Rookie center Jeff Faine brings a much-needed toughness to the line's interior. Ryan Tucker and Ross Verba are bigger, faster and stronger after an outstanding offseason, and mammoth 350-pound guard Qasim Mitchell could end up being the best rookie free-agent find in team history.

Don't expect to miss Dwayne Rudd. In fact, don't expect to miss any of the four departed veteran linebackers. There may be some growing pains with such a young linebacking corps, but this speedy group better fits Davis' system. Even if Chaun Thompson slips and falls on every snap of his rookie season, how much less productive will he be than Dwayne Rudd was in the last two seasons?

Expect to feel better about this year's rookie class than you did on draft day. With so many gambles, Davis' 2003 draft is going to either make him look like a genius or a complete fool in a few years. With the potential flashed by Faine, Thompson and especially cornerback Michael Lehan in the recent minicamp, Davis looks like he may have filled more holes in the draft than any of us originally thought.

Don't expect a Super Bowl, but expect the Browns to go back to the playoffs and possibly deep into the postseason. This team may be a bit too young to challenge for the Lombardi Trophy, but if Couch has his breakout year, if a few disappointments like Gerard Warren finally live up to their potential and if some of the young players mature quickly, this team - built much with the same reliance on speed and athleticism Davis used in molding the Miami Hurricanes - could be a real surprise by the second half of 2003.

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