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The Owl Returns

That deep woods denizen with mysterious ways, The Owl, has flapped his way back to Bernie's Insiders and promises that this visit won't be his last. The Owl remains close to the Browns at all times and has once again offered us the benefit of his keen eyesight and sage wisdom.<P> Plus, he works cheap. Anyone know where we can find a store that sells "mint-flavored voles"?<br><br>

Sorry to crash the party, but The Owl being all-knowing, all-wise, and all-skeptical, still has some questions about the 2004 Browns.

Like, what are they going to do when they meet a real NFL quarterback, a challenge they might not encounter until Oct. 3 when the Washington Redskins are in Cleveland.

Let's face it. Only arrogant Brian Billick, the Ravens' head coach, would think Kyle Boller is any good. Vinny Testaverde, the quarterback they face Sunday in Dallas, was past his prime two years ago, though he's a whole lot better than Boller, and the Giants offensive line is so terrible it doesn't matter who the quarterback is.

What The Owl does like after talking to linebacker Andra Davis and head coach Butch Davis is the new team attitude this squad has. A lot of that comes from the new quarterback, Jeff Garcia.

The Owl is first to say he still thinks the Browns screwed Tim Couch by not letting him work out in the Berea training complex and then hanging onto him until after all the Packer minicamps had ended, but he was not the team leader Garcia is.

Garcia invited the entire team, offense and defense, to his home in Bay Village after the Browns beat the Ravens 20-3. The Owl kept waiting for an invitation, but it never came.

The party is a show of team bonding. If Couch ever invited the entire team to his pad, it was a secret. The Owl also hears the different segments of the team – the offensive line, the receivers, the defensive line and the other units – have been hanging out together. It's the kind of things good teams have been doing for years.

"Players understand what it takes to win," Davis says. "I look at several things as a coach that are good indicators of what might happen on game day.

"Friday is a real good indicator – the crispness of practice, the lack of mental mistakes. Are they pointing out formations? Are they communicating? It's not about intensity sometimes.

"The other thing is the off day Tuesday. We had 45 guys here last Tuesday. Some came in just for their mail. Some were here for treatment and some to visit or watch film, but they're around. There's no substitute for that kind of stuff. And that's all self-motivation."

Sunday will be a good test. If they don't wilt in the Dallas heat, they could surprise some people, including yours truly, this season, especially since they should be better in the second half of the season.

The offense is still feeling its way and should get better as it plays more games. Even quarterback Jeff Garcia says that, so don't go calling The Owl Mr. Pessimist.

Finally, after waiting five years, the Browns have depth at running back, tight end and linebacker. Offensive linemen that had to start last year because of injuries to the first team are backups now, and that's a very good sign. Butch Davis' long-range plan is to keep players fresher longer by playing them less.

"(Depth) gives us a chance to play more guys on Sunday," Davis said. "Sixty percent of games are won in the fourth quarter. If you can maintain and be fresher in the fourth quarter than your opponent, that helps your chances of winning. We would like to play all seven guys on the defensive line in a rotation. Not because guys are hurt, but we want to have the guys fresh.

"Same thing at running back, tight end and linebackers. It does two things. It helps the conditioning of your team and guys' preparation during the week. Their focus can be dramatically different if they know that they have a chance of playing 20 plays on Sunday rather than saying that ‘I'm only going in if someone breaks a leg.' Everything is definitely enhanced because of depth."

The Owl will swoop in again in a couple weeks. By then we should have an idea what this team is really about.


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