Frankly Speaking: Suggs Should Start

Frank Derry stirred up a huge thread in our forums with his comments on the Winslow situation last week. This week, Frank talks about running backs. Frank believes that Lee Suggs should open the season as the Browns starter - but perhaps NOT the reason you think. Here's the latest from a true veteran of the Browns beat...

Their NFL resumes are short, to say the least.

William Green has played in 23 NFL games, piling up 887 yards on just 243 carries. He has shown flashes of brilliance on the field, but those efforts have been largely overshadowed by his off-the-field problems, which culminated last season with his spending time in jail and at a drug rehab facility.  

Lee Suggs has played in seven NFL games, piling up 289 yards on 56 carries. He also has shown flashes of brilliance, but his injury problems, which he carried as excess baggage when he arrived in the NFL in 2003, overshadowed his rookie-season performance.

He spent the majority of last season in street clothes due to the shoulder injury he first suffered in a bowl game in December of 2002. Aggravation of that same injury the following month sent Suggs' draft stock plummeting. Instead of being a No. 1 choice, he dropped all the way to the fourth round.

He has dedicated himself to proving to every team that overlooked him that he should have been a first-round choice, ala Green, the No. 16 overall choice in 2002.

Now,  the guy who was a first-round choice and the one who thought he should have been, are competing for the role as the Browns' No. 1 running back.

Suggs, based upon the scrimmage against the Bills on Aug. 7, when his outing included a 50-yard burst, would seem to have the early advantage. But there will be far more important games and far more important situations in the coming weeks that will likely carry a lot more weight as head coach Butch Davis makes his decision.

Both men want the job, although both have also expressed a willingness to come off the bench if necessary.

That's a splendid attitude and, hopefully, it truly exists at all times, not just for show when the media is around.

But why must Davis make a choice? Why does he have to proclaim either Suggs or Green as the No. 1 back? There is a reason for him to name one of them as the early-season starter, but not the reason you might think.

The beauty of the running back position is the fact you can change the personnel every series, every play for that matter, without disrupting the chemistry of the team.

Unlike the quarterback position, which requires precise timing with the wide receivers, and the offensive line, which is all about cohesion, good running backs truly are interchangeable.

Sure, one might hit a hole a little different than the other; one might get to the hole a little faster; one might get through the hole by being a bit more elusive.

But the common denominator in all successful running back equations is "the hole," the ability to have some space in which to run. Unless a hole is opened by the offensive line, no running back, be it someone as green as Suggs, or as experienced as James Jackson (hey, he has 38 NFL games under his belt and 990 yards so he's the graybeard among Browns backs), you aren't going to be successful unless you have somewhere to run.

Thus, rather that worrying about who will be toting the ball for the Browns this year, Davis should be concentrating the majority of his efforts upon putting together the much-maligned offensive line.

Every Browns fan knows that the offensive line has been a weak link ever since the team returned in 1999.

If the line does improve and become a rub-blocking machine, which is the team's goal this year, then it will matter not whether Green or Suggs, or even Jackson, lines up in the backfield.

The only reason … and I emphasize the word ONLY …. that Green should NOT be in the backfield on opening day is based upon a comment by Butch Davis this past spring.

Davis should live up to the feelings he expressed when he told the media that Green had a lot to prove. "Without trying to create a major controversy, William still has a lot to prove," Davis said, adding that Green has to "prove to the team, to me and everybody else" that he deserves the opportunity to play, and start, for the Cleveland Browns.

That comment could, and should, paint a fairly clear picture on how Davis should handle  the running back situation this year.

Barring an injury, I believe Lee Suggs should be lining up with the No. 1 unit when the Browns and Ravens kick off the 2004 season on Sept. 12 at Browns Stadium. Suggs should get that honor for the hard work he put in during his entire rookie season; for the dedication he showed in working his way back from the shoulder injury; for the outstanding job he did when he got the ball in the season finale against the Bengals.

And Green should come in at No. 2 because he let a lot of people, namely his teammates, down a year ago. When the going got tough; when the team needed everyone to be on the same page to try and save a sinking ship, Green was the first to abandon ship by his off-the-field actions.

Green has already paid mightily for his drug, alcohol and domestic problems. But he still has one more debt. He must pay one final penalty, which is to not be handed the starting job again to start the season.

Davis doesn't need to tell the media why Suggs is starting. He doesn't need to come out and tell everyone that Green is being punished for his past indiscretions.

But behind closed doors, he has to let Green, and the team, know that when you let your teammates down, you have pay a price.

In Green's case, if indeed he keeps his nose clean and gets through the preseason in top shape mentally and physically, then the "punishment" might very well be his having to come off the bench in the opener.

Nothing major. Nothing that will be noticed by anyone not privy to what happened behind closed doors.

But this decision is one that could very well earn Davis a great deal of respect from his players.


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