Depth Chart Battle Update

<B><I>See!</I></B> Dropped passes string out a critical decision at quarterback! <B><I>Gasp!</I></B> As a middle linebacker is pulled after one series! <B><I>Blink!</I></B> And you've missed another transition from H-Back to Fullback and back again!<P> OK, it just sometimes <I>feels</I> like the Browns pre-season is a big budget Summer movie. Our friends at TI capture all the twists and turns in this exhaustive and up-to-the-minute report on this season's intense position battles.


The most important decision Butch Davis will make this preseason waits yet another week.

Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb settled little in the first preseason game against Tennessee, as both got little help from their teammates.

Browns receivers dropped at least three passes and fumbled another completion away at the one-yard line. As a result, the stats were pretty blasé.

Couch finished 4-of-8 for 17 yards against and at times looked bad. On one play he tripped over William Green, got up, ran out of the pocket to the sideline and threw a poorly-advised pass across the field that easily could have been intercepted.

He also had some good passes right in the hands of wide receivers that were dropped. The Browns felt that one drop by Andre King at the five-yard line could have been a touchdown.

Holcomb threw for 71 yards and came within an eyelash of a touchdown, but Kevin Johnson had the ball knocked loose as he tried to reach into the end zone at the one.

Holcomb also completed two passes just before halftime to set up Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal.

Who looked better? Probably Holcomb -- by one length. But he faced backups and Couch faced starters -- and the rest of the team was such a mess it probably made judging the quarterbacks impossible.

If the week of practice leading up to the game was significant, though, Holcomb would have the edge. He was very sharp, and Couch was intercepted on consecutive days to end practice.

The bottom line? Nothing has been decided.

Couch said he wasn't worried about his numbers because the Browns were trying to work on the running game -- a curious approach given the team's most important decision is the quarterback.

He shrugged off the night and promised everyone would get better.

Holcomb seemed more assured about his performance, but added he had no idea if it settled anything about the job.

The Browns will give Holcomb a start in the second game at home against Green Bay. Davis has vowed that he would name a starter before the third preseason game and he does not intend to veer from that plan.

This week of practice and the next game will be very important to the two passers.


Offensive Line: Melvin Fowler, a third-round draft pick a year ago, got a week of practice and some game experience with the first team at left guard. The results weren't overwhelming as William Green ran for 11 yards on six carries. Center Jeff Faine, the team's first-round draft pick, moved into the starting lineup at center and got a lot of playing time. Faine said there was little that overwhelmed him. "It's football," he said.

William Green averaged more than 100 yards per carry the final half of 2002, but in week three of preseason the Browns removed Barry Stokes from the starting lineup and inserted Melvin Fowler at left guard. With Fowler and rookie Jeff Faine starting, two-thirds of the line's interior was new.

Tight End: Steve Heiden was the object of much praise from the head coach throughout camp, but then dropped two passes in the preseason opener. Both were plays that would have led to first downs and could have helped each quarterback develop some rhythm.

Fullback: The team's on-again, off-again love affair with the fullback continues. After starting camp without a fullback and going almost exclusively with an H-Back, the team went out and signed fullback Kevin McLeod. They then gave McLeod a bunch of reps with the first team, and used him a lot in the first preseason game. Davis said he was signed to blow up linebackers, but in the game McLeod was the target of two passes -- which gained two yards. For whatever reason, the Browns seem to have trouble deciding if they're going to be an H-back team or a fullback team.

Wide Receiver: Undrafted wide receiver Antoine Burns continues to make big plays. Burns caught a 33-yard pass from Kelly Holcomb in the scrimmage against Buffalo, then caught a 60-yard pass from Josh Booty late in the loss to Tennessee. That catch and run gave the Browns a chance to win. ... Burns and undrafted rookie receiver C.J. Jones have both played very well in camp at a crowded position... The Browns say wide receiver Andre Davis has a bruised right knee, but he has not practiced since July 26 and he sounds very worried about his condition. The team hopes Davis returns this week, and it bears watching.

Defensive Line: The best defensive tackles on the field were Orpheus Roye, Alvin McKinley and Antonio Garay. Where did that leave Gerard Warren? Good question. His name wasn't called when he was in the game. The Browns hope Courtney Brown returns to full-speed practice this week as he attempts to come back from microfracture surgery on his knee. The team is cautiously optimistic Brown can play in the second preseason game, but a more realistic goal might be the third game in Detroit.

Linebacker: Coach Butch Davis assessed his young linebackers play in the preseason opener by saying: "They showed up." While it was good they did, the team's linebackers did not exactly stand out. Few people did on defense, as the Browns opened the game by giving up a 72-yard touchdown drive that included four third-down conversions by Tennessee. This was not the way the team envisioned the defense would play. Barry Gardner started at middle linebacker, but quickly gave way to Andra Davis. Neither player distinguished himself. Linebacker Chaun Thompson hustles and plays hard but has a lot of catching up to do after reporting late.

Cornerback: Lewis Sanders is making a push to win one of the cornerback jobs. Sanders is competing at both left and right corner, which could put Daylon McCutcheon or Anthony Henry into the nickel role. Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon had a tough first night. McCutcheon missed a couple tackles -- a rare occurrence -- and saw Derrick Mason catch five passes for 55 yards. McCutcheon is a good player, but is in a fight with Lewis Sanders to keep his job. Cornerback Michael Lehan may have earned a spot on the team purely on special teams. Lehan was the "gunner' on punt coverage and made a nice play in the first period as he broke free to make a quick tackle. Chris Crocker ended consecutive practices with interceptions, but didn't stand out in the game.

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