WWBT: Is this the Line Davis Wants?

The loss to the Steelers in the 2002 playoffs was more than just another Browns heartbreak... it exposed weaknesses in the Browns approach in the trenches. In today's <I>What We've Been Told</I>, Lane tells us what he has learned from within the Browns organization about the thinking and approach the team has taken to molding the offensive line, including new talent like Qasim Mitchell (pictured) and Jeff Faine, into a new image.

Since their return in 1999, rushing the football has not been the forte of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns braintrust concluded over the off-season that the team must become physically stronger at the point of attack, minimize the mental errors, and play the game with attitude.

Looking back at how well rookie William Green ran with the football in the second-half of the 2002 season, it really came as a surprise that the Browns were able to achieve success in the rushing game. Running the ball in the NFL is an "attitude", as much as anything else.

Not that the offensive linemen are choir-boys, but the offensive line was not the physical, athletic bunch that Davis prefers. The Browns offense came together when the rushing attack and passing game could feed off one another, and achieve the balance that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had longed for.

From what we've been told, the Browns would like to be a 55-45 type team, meaning they would like to run the football no less that fifty-five percent of the time. To accomplish this, the Browns coaching staff and players geared themselves towards an off-season of dedication in the weight-room. Only starting tackles Ross Verba and Ryan Tucker were locks to retain starting positions heading into the 2003 training camp.

The competition for the quarterback job holds nothing on the battles ensuing along the offensive line.

It has been difficult to discredit the improvement of the offensive line in the 2002 season. A very poor pass-blocking team in 2001, the Browns of 2002 became a unit that provided Holcomb and Couch ample time to throw the football on most occasions. Of the 35 sacks the Browns relinquished in the 2002 season, 24 of those sacks were attributed solely to the offensive line. Of the remaining 11 sacks, they were blamed on missed assignments in the blocking scheme outside of the offensive line (running backs, wide receivers, etc). But the majority of the eleven sacks came from the quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long, from what we've been told.

The stunning loss in the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers put the Browns 2002 season into perspective. What got the Browns into the playoffs is what ultimately helped close the door on the season: the running game, or lack of it.

In a story that we know too well, the Steelers challenged the Browns at the point of attack both mentally and physically. Forcing the Browns offense to become one-dimensional, Pittsburgh relied on its defense to shutdown the run and pressure backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb.

The playoff game confirmed what Davis had thought of his team throughout the 2002 season: his stable of offensive linemen were not physical enough to control the line of scrimmage and a there was not an element of 'nasty' that he felt was needed. The offensive line, however, had become a better than average technical group of pass-blockers.

In the weeks heading up the 2003 college player draft, the Browns personnel department had scouted every corner of the country and every small school imaginable to find talent to improve the depth on the roster as a whole. With the Steelers exposing the weakness on the offensive line, selecting a lineman in the first round became a strong possibility. The surprise came when the team selected Notre Dame center Jeff Faine.

Faine, a solid technician at the center position, is known to be a 'little mean and nasty' on the field and plays with attitude. When the team was looking at potential first-round draft choices, Faine was the best fit for the team and an immediate projected starter, since the team had already released starting center Dave Wohlabaugh.

Now, three weeks into Camp Davis and the perception is that the offensive line has yet to take shape. Don't bet on that being the case...

- Lane

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