RUMOR CENTRAL: TAYLOR ON THE BROWNS AND NFL

Telling it the way it is... From Tim Couch to the draft, toss in some public enemies, and tidbits from the North-side to the baubles around the NFL.

For the card-carrying members of the Tim Couch Lynchin' Club, hoping that head coach Butch Davis' support of No. 2 is nothing more than grist for public consumption, you may want to strap on an oxygen tank while holding that breath.

In fact, as high as Davis is on Couch publicly, he privately puts that public gushing to shame.

"Take what he says publicly [about Couch], times it by 100, and you have the Butch behind closed doors," one Browns source told Bernie's Insiders.

"It's not an act, it's not something to win over [Couch's] critics, it's genuine. He really believes that he can win a Super Bowl with Tim. You better believe he sees Tim as another Troy [Aikman], with the leadership and three rings and everything. Like I said, it's not an act."

While it would be easy to make these types of statements after Couch's performance this past Sunday, it should be noted that they were made in the week before his career-best game against the Titans.

Look at the bright side, though. The radio callers and Internet message board will still have Tim to kick around for many, many years to come.

MIDDLE FINGERED: If you were to ask 10 people which position on Cleveland's defense is in the most dire need of an upgrade, you would probably get 17 voices - the ten you originally asked, plus seven innocent bystanders - screaming in unison "middle linebacker.

With that in mind, here is what one AFC scout says about Oklahoma's Rocky Calmus, arguably the best MLB available in the 2001 draft.

"He's not going to blow you away in Indy [site of the NFL Combine] with his raw numbers, but just put in a tape and watch him play," the scout says of the 6'3", 235-pound LB.

"Calmus just seems to always be in the right position to make a play. Tremendous instincts, although, again, his numbers won't blow you away. He won't be the biggest, strongest or fastest under the dome, but he'll be there making plays every Sunday."

The biggest question surrounding Calmus seems to be exactly where he will play in the NFL, either inside or outside. However, with Calmus' lack of speed in comparison to other outside backers, he will, in all likelihood, slip into the MLB position at the NFL level, the scout said.

Look for Calmus to be available in the second round, possibly even into the early portions of the third.

PUBLIC ENEMY: As Chuck D was wont to say, don't believe the hype that the Browns are 100% satisfied with the running back position. And don't make the mistake of thinking they will not look to upgrade that position in the upcoming April draft.

Yes, as everyone and their little sister know, the offensive line needs an upgrade both during the draft and free agency. And that's even with their improved play of recent weeks.

Still, there is a gnawing feeling pulling at some in Berea that the three RBs currently on the roster - Jamel White, James Jackson and Ben Gay - are not quite the answer and the position could be a target for an upgrade early in the draft.

And what exactly does "early" mean? The first round is a possibility, although, at this moment it seems to be an unlikely occurrence. Still, sources say, do not count out a back with the first pick just yet.

BROWNS NOTES: The Colts have a few interesting decisions to make this offseason in regard to their impending free agents, three of which could have a direct impact on the Browns' post-2001 plans. Three offensive lineman - offensive tackle Tarik Glenn and guards Steve McKinney and Larry Moore - are all slated for unrestricted free agency. Of course, given his ties to the city of Cleveland and the Browns' woes at the tackle position, Glenn gathers the most attention. While it's not 100% certain that Indianapolis will slap the franchise tag on Glenn, it will be more than a mild upset if they don't. One factor that could lead Indy to shy away from designating Glenn as their franchise player is, of course, the salary cap. As of December 22, the Colts were $3.8 million underneath next season's cap. Given that last season's franchised OL were slated to receive $4.5 million on a one-year contract - a figure expected to rise to between $5 and $5.5 million for this season - the cap could be a consideration in their decision. Don't be surprised, however, if quarterback Peyton Manning agrees to extend his current contract, which runs through the end of the 2003 season, and lower his '02 cap figure of $8.4 million in order to keep at least two of his standout OL. . It would be a mistake to let Roman Oben's performance at left tackle last week in place of flu-ridden Ross Verba fool you. Barring a major change in organizational thinking, he'll be released at some point following the conclusion of the 2001 season. His play aside, the club cannot afford a $4 million-plus cap hit for a below-average OT.

NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: For better or for worse, the Ravens are wed to quarterback Elvis Grbac for at least another season. Aside from head coach Brian Billick's staunch support, there is one other factor that will keep the Cleveland native in Baltimore. Grbac's salary cap number will be the same next season whether he's released or stays on the roster. Translation? Elvis will still be in Modell's building in 2002. . Despite Jon Kitna's career yardage performance in last Sunday's upset win over the Steelers, the Bengals are still likely to target the quarterback position for an upgrade this offseason. However, the free agent market is - shudder - thinner than last season's Jenny Craig special, with the likes of Chicago's Jim Miller and Seattle's Trent Dilfer the cream of a Kate Moss crop. Also, do not be the least bit surprised if/when Akili Smith and his exorbitant salary are exposed to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft. Speaking of Akili, here's a short memo for the former Duck: Coach Palmer is still waiting for his cut of the contract he got for you. Please make arrangements for payments promptly. . And just who was the top free agent pickup of the 2001 offseason? At least one front office type from a current AFC Central team tabs Pittsburgh center Jeff Hartings with that honor. Hartings was signed by the Steelers in February as a replacement for future Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson, even though Hartings had never played center in the NFL. "For [Hartings] to come in [and play the position] after spending his whole NFL career at guard, and to play the way he has, is just amazing," the exec says. "Is it a coincidence that as Dermontti's play had slipped over the last two seasons, so did the Bus'? Then, Hartings comes in and - bam - Jerome [Bettis] is back to being one of the top backs in the league. Coincidence? I don't think so."

LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES: The Bears, Redskins and Panthers will be three of the teams to express an interest in Drew Bledsoe if the Patriots place the quarterback on the trading block this offseason. That is assuming, of course, that New England doesn't make Bledsoe available to Houston in the February expansion draft. The Texans offense will be directed by former Browns head coach Chris Palmer, who was Bledsoe's QB coach during the last of his four seasons in New England in 1996. . While Ted Cottrell does not have the star power of some of the other names being mentioned in connection with the opening in San Diego, you can bet that his name is somewhere near the top of general manager John Butler's list. According to one league source, Butler is extremely close to the current Jets defensive coordinator and, had Butler not been ousted in a power play by Bills owner Ralph Wilson following the 2001 season, Cottrell, not Gregg Williams, would have been Buffalo's head coach in 2002. While it's far from a certainty, do not be surprised if the underrated Cottrell gets the 'Bolts job. . Forget about the rumors that either Ricky Williams of the Saints or Edgerrin James of the Colts will be traded to the running-back needy Dolphins in the very near future. If New Orleans were to trade to Miami, over $5 million in signing bonus would accelerate onto their 2002 cap. If Indianapolis were to send James packing this offseason, they would immediately be hit with over $6.5 million in cap acceleration. Neither team can afford such a huge one-time hit.


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