Living and breathing the game of football is a way of life for Cleveland Browns fans. Everywhere you turn there is information on the team. There are radio-shows, newspaper reports, and of course you can find the Browns on the internet.
What we are going to do here is present some of what you may not hear on a daily basis in your local newspaper or on your local sports-talk show. Some may call it speculation, others may call it rumor, scoop could even be a definition used.
We tend to lean towards this phrase, "What we've been told."
Running the football in Cleveland is a goal that head coach Butch Davis has yet to achieve. Davis has gone out of his way to stress the importance of running the football, yet hasn't been overly critical of the offensive line play. Well, we should say that he hasn't been critical outside the meeting rooms in Berea.
What we've been told is that Davis is not satisfied with the play of the offensive line and 3/5 of the starting unit could change in the off-season. Names we are hearing as in jeopardy of losing their starting jobs are left tackle Roman Oben, right guard Jeremy McKinney, and right tackle Roger Chanoine.
Oben, next season would be going into the final season of a three-year, 10.8 million-dollar contract he signed in 2000. If the Browns can upgrade the position, the economics of the game don't permit teams to pay a reserve offensive lineman approximately four million dollars a season. If the Browns are unsuccessful, Oben will return to anchor the left side of the offensive line.
More on the offensive line: Inexperience and youth have been cited in the play of McKinney and Chanoine. The two players grade out according to the coaching staff as above average, but there is significant room for improvement in the run-blocking facet of the game.
A move to the left tackle position is not out of the question for Chanoine. He possesses good movement and footwork, qualities that are a necessity at the position.
It isn't more that coincidental that the Browns are rumored to have more than an passing interest in offensive linemen Bryant McKinnie, Joaquin Gonzalez, and Martin Bibla, all from the University of Miami, Florida. Davis coached all three players during his tenure at Miami.
Jackson is still number one? According to sources within the Browns organization, running back James Jackson is still "the man" right now in the eyes of Butch Davis. Davis reportedly is in the belief that Jackson will be a productive back in the NFL once a formidable offensive line is in place.
More on Jackson: Injuries to his ribs slowed him early in the season, lately it has been a sprained ankle that has caused him to miss playing time. The ankle is not expected to 100-percent for the remainder of the year and could cost him playing time, with the possibility of a limited role against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday.
Ben Gay, The Legend continues. Gay, the training camp sensation is guaranteed to see increased playing time in the upcoming weeks as Jackson struggles through injuries and the rushing game continues to stumble.
On a side note, what we've been told is that Gay has been told by the Browns to basically "stay silent" when speaking with the media. Gay, in an interview to a local newspaper entailed less than desirable details of his past, involving drug dealing, weapons possession, and the firing of weapons in a drug deal gone bad.
For the curious, the Browns say they didn't know about the incidents involving Gay prior to the interview.
Butch-whacked! The benching of starting free safety Percy Ellsworth didn't catch many an observer by surprise. Butch Davis cited that the move was made to improve the defense against the run. This is a significant move by a team that leads the NFL in pass interceptions and best in the NFL in red zone defense.
We've been told that this change has been in the winds for a considerable period of time, possibly as far back as to when Butch Davis evaluated the team shortly after his arrival.
We've been told that Davis seeks a different type player at the free safety position, one that is quick enough to lineup against a wide receiver, yet tough enough to play the run. Ellsworth, a fixture at free safety since joining the Browns via free agency prior to 2000 season isn't that type of player, while Bush provides excellent speed at the free safety position with the ability to stop a running back in his tracks.
As in case of Oben, Ellsworth would be entering the final season of a three-year, 5.4 million-dollar deal he signed in 2000. We've been told that the salary requirement alone would make him expendable.
The normally accessible and outgoing Ellsworth has suspiciously been unavailable in the locker room since the Browns played in Chicago. Incidentally, that was the game where he failed to cover his responsibility on the "Hail Mary" drill, in which the Bears scored a touchdown leading to the Bears overtime victory.
Improve the defense? We've been told that certain positions on the defense have already been targeted as areas to improve upon. A defensive tackle to take pressure of Gerard Warren and improved play from the middle linebacker spot have been discussed.
The Browns attempted to obtain middle linebacker Nate Webster (Miami, Fla player under Davis) from Tampa Bay more than once prior to the NFL trading deadline. The Browns were rebuffed as Webster is slated to become the starting middle linebacker for Tampa Bay in the 2002 season.
Some call it Butch-Speak: We've been told that Davis conducted separate meetings with Mike Sellers (drug charges), Lamar Chapman (drug-charges), and Gerard Warren (felony weapons charge), the trio of recently arrested players. We hear the meetings were stern, supportive, and the conduct displayed by these players is not acceptable and will not be condoned.
Members of the team were told when addressed by Davis that they (players) are grown men, will be held accountable as teammates and in the world outside of the game. Davis noted that they (players) are representatives of the Cleveland Browns and such further incidents would not be tolerated.
The events concerning the players proved to be a rallying tool for the players.
Davis and the Browns organization have been willing to help players in need, but we've been told that any further incidents involving the three players in question will result in their immediate release.
Having the opportunity to speak with five members of the Browns defense recently, we've been told, to a man that the attitude, professionalism, insight, and preparation are the qualities that Butch Davis has brought to the team.
Following the sermon on Butch, we've been told that defensive coordinator Foge Fazio and defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano bring out the best in them and allow them to play their game.