I was throwing some passes to a group of kids not long ago and a little girl made a real nice catch. Someone watching us shouted "hey, it's Webster Slaughter." When the little girl brought the ball back to me, I looked at her and said "you're not Webster sweetheart, you're too quiet." If you were a fan of the Browns during the days when Web and I would hook-up downfield, you get the line. Webster loved to get the ball and he was never shy about telling me that every time he came back to the huddle.
I was blessed to have not only Web at wide receiver, but Reggie Langhorne and Brian Brennan, too. For six solid years, those three guys were my guys! Webster could stretch the field; Brian had the guts to catch the ball over the middle; and Reggie could do both. We enjoyed success. We made it to the AFC Championship Game three times in four years. I'll never forget that group of guys.
Their strength is a result of their depth. Make no mistake about that. This is a group of guys that is good together. Kevin Johnson said at the beginning of camp that the receivers "help each other get better." There are friendships in the group and KJ went on to say that they are all "happy for each other's success."
That's good to hear and I don't think he's blowing smoke. It's the attitude and approach that this unit will need in order to truly succeed.
Why? Let's face it. Every guy wants the ball. Just like Web did. You don't get to the ultimate level without having a competitive fire hot enough to melt steel. You need that drive. But you also need to be aware of the TEAM and this group appears to possess both qualities. KJ said, "Guys know under certain situations, this guy is going to get the ball and we understand that."
Here's another reason to bet these guys will be good. They're young.
Johnson is the receiver "long in the tooth" and he's only in his fifth season. The Browns have done a good job of putting together a unit that has the opportunity to grow and develop together. Quincy Morgan, in only his second season, caught 56 passes for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago. He scored seven touchdowns. He is a bona fide deep threat. His presence and ability to stretch the field will open things up for William Green. KJ is still the go-to-guy. I love the way he runs routes. His reliability can't be overstated. Northcutt has shown he can be a game breaker. After he catches the ball, defenses all of a sudden look like they're running a fire drill trying to contain him. And Andre Davis stepped off the campus of Virginia Tech and made everybody take notice. The rookie caught seven passes for touchdowns and totaled 432 yards.
Kelly Holcomb isn't just smiling because he won the starting quarterback job. He's smiling because the prize is getting to throw balls to these guys every Sunday. Holcomb does a great job of making quick decisions and when he gets rid of the ball he'll be passing it to guys who make a whole lot happen after they catch it.
That's what's so exciting.
Sure, other teams in the AFC have nice tandems. Pittsburgh has Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. Oakland has Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. There are individual talents like Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison and Buffalo's Eric Moulds. But, does any team have a set of four wide-outs that possess the combined threat that the Browns boast?
The Browns, at times, will line up in a FOUR wide receiver set this year. You know why? Because they can. Their talent and depth allows them to do it.
It's tempting to worry that so much praise and promise heaped on a group of young players could be detrimental. I'm certainly not the only one that projects great things from this group. But it's comforting to be reminded by something Andre Davis, the 24-year-old, said not long ago, "I still think we have a lot more to work on and a lot more to do to get better. I don't think we should ever feel like we've arrived."
Which brings me back to my guys: Web, Reggie and Brennan. They "arrived" in 1986 and are remembered, yes, because of their talents but mostly because they were winners.
Can it happen again with KJ, Cutt, Andre and Quincy? I think so. Enjoy watching them this year. They just may lead an offensive explosion. It almost makes me want to come back and play again.
Nah! Throwing passes to little kids is fun too. They don't talk back. At least not until they get an agent.