To the surprise of many, Browns Head Couch Butch Davis has decided that Kelly Holcomb should be the team's starting quarterback as the 2003 season begins. Davis announced the decision during a press conference at the team's Berea facility today. The selection means that 1999 #1 draft choice and veteran starting quarterback Tim Couch will be assigned to a backup role.
For Holcomb, 30, the assignment marks a major milestone in a career which began as an undrafted free agent signed by Tampa Bay in 1995. Subsequently waived by Tampa Bay in 1996 and Indianapolis in 1998, Holcomb followed offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to Cleveland in 2001.
Knowledgeable in Arians' offensive system, Holcomb unexpectedly emerged as a threat to Couch's starting job when replacing him early in 2002, while Couch was sidelined with elbow problems. Holcomb had never started a game prior to leading the Browns against the Chiefs to start the season, but responded by throwing for 329 yards (27 completions in 39 attempts). Holcomb followed that up with a two-touchdown effort against the Bengals before Couch returned to the starting lineup.
Holcomb replaced Couch twice later in the 2002 season, coming in after Couch suffered a mild concussion against Baltimore, and again when Couch suffered a leg injury against Atlanta.
Holcomb became increasingly popular in Cleveland following his two early-season appearances, and was heralded even more after battling through the Ravens game while suffering from a leg injury which would later sideline him for two weeks.
The Browns backup quarterback truly won the hearts of fans, however, with his record-setting post-season appearance against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Amassing the second-most passing yards in team playoff history (Bernie Kosar's 489 effort against the Jets remains the most), Holcomb nearly passed Dan Fouts 433 yards for the second-most in NFL history as well. The eye-popping yardage stats were accompanied by three touchdowns.
Coming into the 2003 season, the graduate of Middle Tennessee State, was given the opportunity to compete with Couch during training camp. While Davis and Arians offered that the contender must deliver a "knockout blow" to the reigning champion (Couch), it is difficult to say that there was any one moment when Holcomb surpassed Couch. Davis has seemingly struggled with the decision in recent days, but may have been convinced by Holcomb's stellar first quarter against the Green Bay Packers.
More on this story as it develops...