In years past, Browns players getting sent to NFL Europe was the brown-and-orange equivalent of being assigned to an outpost in Siberia. Even if players (Madre Hill, for example) excelled in the NFL's developmental league, there weren't many expectations that their success would carry over to success once training camp began.
That view of NFL Europe, however, may be changing.
Head Coach Butch Davis has gone out of his way to talk about players in NFL Europe a number of times during this off-season. Rather than the four-to-six players who had participated across the Atlantic in years past, the Browns this year sent eleven.
Davis views NFL Europe as a way for developing players to get game experience, which they simply can't get in other ways. It's a Catch-22, perhaps: Players can't get snaps in the NFL until they are able to develop additional skills the team requires, and can't develop those skills until they get the snaps. Davis now appears to see NFL Europe as a way out of this trap.
Defensive end Corey Jackson is the team's poster boy for Davis' approach to Europe. A basketball player at Nevada, Jackson tried his hand at football, playing sixteen snaps at tight end his Senior year. The Browns liked Jackson's size and potential, and viewed him a potential defensive lineman. After spending some time practicing with the Browns, NFL Europe provided Jackson with an opportunity to get playing time he would never get in Cleveland.
Jackson vindicated the team's scouting of him this year in NFL Europe, leading the league in sacks and twice being named Defensive Player of the Week.
This past weekend, the NFL Europe regular season came to a close. Here are some stats and comments about the eleven players the team sent to places like Amsterdam, Cologne, and Frankfurt.
Richard Alston, WR, Berlin Thunder
The Browns originally looked at Alston during training camp last season, and the quarterback-turned-receiver wasn't able to stick with the team. Given more opportunity in Europe, however, the speedy Alston managed to turn in some excellent numbers in multiple categories. Alston will be challenged to win a role in the Browns deep receiving corps.
Receiving: 28 catches, 481 yards, 17.2 yards per catch, 6 TDs (led NFL
Passing: 2 attempts, 2 completions, 58 yards, 1 TD
Punt Returns: 9 returns, 93 yards, 10.3 yards per return, 0 TD
Kickoff Returns: 5 returns, 131 yards, 26.2 yards per return, 0 TD
Felipe Claybrooks, DE, Cologne Centurions
Claybrooks has been with the Browns since 2002. He was overshadowed by Corey Jackson early in this year's NFL Europe campaign, but finished strong, and wound up with 8.5 sacks in 10 games. Claybrooks was named NFL Europe Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago.
Final Stats: 28 tackles, 2 passes broken up, 3 forced fumbles, 8.5 sacks for 47 yards
Nate Hybl, QB, Scottish Claymores
Nate Hybl spent the 2003 season as the Browns third quarterback after Josh Booty was sent packing. Hybl wasn't able to distinguish himself in Europe, and faces a tough time winning a spot over rookie Luke McCown in 2004.
Final Stats: 131 attempts, 76 completions, 654 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 66.8 QB rating
Corey Jackson, DE, Frankfurt Galaxy
Despite limited playing time prior to NFL Europe, Jackson exploded onto the Browns' radar with a league-leading 9.5 sacks and two Defensive Player of the Week awards during his ten weeks in Europe. Jackson will get an extended look in training camp.
Final Stats: 23 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble, 4 passes broken up, 9.5 sacks for 48 yards (led NFL Europe)
Chuck Klabo, OT, Rhein Fire
Klabo wound up the 2003 season on the Browns IR and, unfortunately, encountered much of the same during the NFL Europe season. Klabo started the first three games of the season, but missed the final seven due to an ankle injury. Klabo played left tackle for the Fire.
John Nix, DT, Amsterdam Admirals
Nix was originally signed by the Browns late in the 2003 season, although he
didn't see any game action. Drafting Amon Gordon and the re-signing of Michael Myers will create a challenge for Nix to win a roster spot.
Final Stats: 18 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Joffrey Reynolds, RB, Rhein Fire
Reynolds, who has pro experience with the Rams, signed with the Browns immediately after the end of the 2003 season and got an extended opportunity to run the ball in NFL Europe. He was primarily a kick returner with the Rams.
Final Stats (rushing): 121 carries, 471 yards, 3.4 yards per run, 4
Final Stats (receiving): 13 receptions, 84 yards, 6.5 yards per catch
Cedric Scott, DE, Scottish Claymores
Scott was originally signed by the Browns during the 2002 season, and go another look thanks to NFL Europe this season. Scott was not on the team in 2003.
Final Stats: 29 tackles, 3 sacks (16 yards), 2 passes broken up, 2
Special Teams: 1 blocked punt
Derek Schorejs, PK, Cologne Centurions
Schorejs' chances of unseating incumbent kicker Phil Dawson are close to nil, but he performed well in NFL Europe. Schorejs made the most of his limited opportunities, converting six of seven field goals. The only field goal he missed as a 56-yard attempt.
Final Stats: 6-7 FG attempts, 1-1 PAT.
Rickey Sharpe, CB, Frankfurt Galaxy
Like several other NFLE players from Cleveland, Sharpe was a 2003 undrafted free agent who was re-signed by the team after the season and sent to NFL Europe for playing time. Sharpe was part of a Galaxy defense which made its way into the World Bowl.
Final Stats: 2 interceptions (42 yards), 7 passes broken up, 35 tackles
Mason Unck, LB, Frankfurt Galaxy
Unck was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Browns following the 2003 draft. Known as a special teams ace, NFL Europe provided Unck with the opportunity to play middle linebacker. Excellent special teams skills give Unck has a solid chance to stick with the Browns in 2003.
Final Stats: 64 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass broken up, 3
interceptions (12 yards).
Special Teams: 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble