The decision to bench Percy Ellsworth for Devin Bush last Sunday is the first step Butch Davis took in his plan to retool certain areas of the team for next season.
Ellsworth doesn't fit Davis' mold of the ideal defensive player. In other words, he's not aggressive enough, and he certainly doesn't make enough plays at the free safety position.
Bush shouldn't feel a sense of security. For someone who was a first-round draft choice, he hasn't had the type of career you'd expect of a high draft choice. For now, he seems to be the best fit simply because there isn't much depth at the position.
When Davis finishes his work with the defense, don't be surprised if there are two new starting safeties. One could be 2001 sixth-round pick Michael Jameson, who's out for the season with an ankle injury, but the team might also look to free agency and the draft to shore up the two spots.
All of this might leave Earl Little as a situational and special-teams player. Little's speed and instincts are too good to let get away.
Ellsworth is keeping his chin up, but he has to know the future might not be bright for him in Cleveland.
"You can only control so much," Ellsworth said. "Coach is coach, and he knows what he wants from that position and what he wants from that defense. He made a decision that he felt was best for the team. Bush came out and played a great game. We got a shutout and five picks (interceptions) and seven turnovers."
Davis said that he hasn't given up on Ellsworth.
"I think he can be a contributor," Davis said. "He has to be ready like anyone else. He's a sprained ankle away from being back in the game."
STRONG WORDS: You can tell that Davis was angered by the off-the-field actions of Gerard Warren, Mike Sellers and Lamar Chapman last week. The arrests of the three not only was an embarrassment to the organization, it was a slap in the face to teammates that live quiet lives away from work.
Davis let the team know his feelings before the players left Monday afternoon to enjoy an off day on Tuesday.
"At some point in life you have to grow up and understand that playing professional football is a huge honor, but it's also a huge responsibility," Davis said. "A lot of people look up to these players. A lot of people don't want the responsibility of being a role model. You know what? Tough, because you are.
"You have an obligation to your teammates and the organization to do the right things. There are few people on this planet who are perfect. Everyone should be allowed to come back from a mistake, but you better learn."
GOOD REVIEWS: Defensive tackle Mark Smith might be playing his way to a contract offer. Smith, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason, has been steady up front. While other players have fallen to injuries or, in Warren's case, been suspended for one game, Smith has been someone Davis has been able to lean on.
"It was one of the better performances out of Mark Smith," Davis said of Smith's play last Sunday. "I was proud of the way he played."
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Receiver JaJuan Dawson might get an opportunity to show that he deserves to be back next season. With Jammi German suffering a sore knee from surgery he had several years ago, Dawson, who was inactive twice this season, should be given more playing time.
Dawson has been professional in his reaction to being pushed to the back of the offensive gameplan, but you can tell by the tone of his voice that he isn't happy.
RUMOR MILL: Word out of Cincinnati is that quarterback Akili Smith might be made available for the expansion draft next Ferbruary. Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was a big Smith fan when he came out of college in 1999. You can bet that he'd like to get his hands on Smith to see if he can accomplish what no coach in Cincinnati has been able to do – make Smith look like an NFL quarterback.
Smith's lucrative contract, however, could scare away the Texans.