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Memo to Defenses: Be Afraid

The Owl takes a look at the Browns offense as it heads into the 2003 campaign and likes what he sees: <I>"The Browns have gone from having a weapons cache that wouldn't scare the weakest defense in the NFL to having an arsenal powerful enough to strike deep on any secondary in the league."</I>

The Browns have gone from having a weapons cache that wouldn't scare the weakest defense in the NFL to having an arsenal powerful enough to strike deep on any secondary in the league.

Another way to put it is it takes times for an expansion team to be good, even one named "Browns," despite a history with Paul Brown, the Kardiac Kids, Bernie Kosar and all the good feelings generated in old Cleveland Stadium.

Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb have moved the offense like a rolling avalanche so far in training camp. Both are good quarterbacks, but their success says as much about the players and coaches around them as it does about Holcomb and Couch.

For proof, look at the list of players that caught passes from Couch and Ty Detmer in the 1999 expansion season. With the exception of Kevin Johnson and tight end Mark Campbell, most of the receivers were either over the hill or not good enough to start climbing it in the first place. Among the receivers and running backs catching passes the first season were Irv Smith, Leslie Shepherd, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Zola Davis, Sedrick Shaw, Ronnie Powell and David Dunn. And that doesn't even include a pass that somehow ended up in the hands of guard Orlando Bobo for three yards.

Building the current receiving group took four years _ longer than was necessary to build Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns used a second-round pick in each of the first four drafts on a wide receiver, and all four _ Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis - figure to contribute mightily to the success in 2003.

Johnson, the second-round pick in 1999, caught 67 passes last season, 17 fewer than he caught in 2001, but K.J. has the right attitude after pleading for the ball early in 2002. "I don't care how many passes I catch, as long as we win," he said.

Quincy Morgan, the second-round choice in 2000 is looking for even bigger things than last year when he caught 56 passes for a team high 964 yards and seven touchdowns.

Dennis Northcutt blossomed last year. After two injury-plagued years, he caught 38 passes for 601 yards and five touchdowns, scored two touchdowns on punt returns and added another rushing. Northcutt is the one to watch in 2003. He is in his contract year and admits he wants to cash in.

"But I'm not even thinking about that now," he said. "All I'm thinking about is doing what I can to make our team better.

Andre Davis, the second-round choice in 2002 with the polish of a five-year veteran, caught six touchdown passes last season. He hit the rookie wall around Thanksgiving, but his tank is full and he's ready to go.

Credit for the success has to be spread around, and some of it goes to Chris Palmer and Dwight Clark, two men swept out the door before their crop of draft choices was harvested. Palmer and Clark drafted Johnson and Northcutt. In reviewing the 2001 draft on draft day last year, Butch Davis said Morgan was the only player with whom he was unfamiliar.

Wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, said by Butch Davis to be the best in the business, gets credit for sticking with Northcutt - not that Davis wanted to cut him - when Northcutt struggled through injury and an inability to hold onto the ball in 2001. He also gets credit for motivating Morgan. Of all the players on the roster, Morgan made the biggest transformation in 2002, proving the theory players make their biggest jump from their first to their second year. If that's the case, Andre Davis should have a banner year.

Two full seasons in the offense, an intense offseason and better players have made the Browns' offense a potent one. And we haven't even talked about running back William Green or the tight ends yet.

"William Green is awesome," Couch said. "He's going to have 1,000 yards this season.

Oh, yeah. This offense is ready to roll.

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