Smoke and mirrors, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or having that magic genie in a bottle. How about being just good enough to sneak up and surprise the opponent.
All the above have been mentioned when looking at the success of the 2001 Cleveland Browns.
Being an improved team, preparation and leadership have been key elements attributed to the success of the Cleveland Browns, according to a scout from an AFC Central Division rival.
Scout-talk: "You look at that team and it is easy to see why they are playing as well as they are. (Jamir) Miller is having an all-pro season and (Dwayne) Rudd has added speed and coverage ability from the linebacker position," the scout said. "(Butch) Davis has them believing in themselves and in the scheme they run. Defensively they are intimidating, yet puzzling at the same time. Their uncanny ability to give up yardage, but not many points is a credit to Butch, his staff, and players."
Much less generous was the scout's assessment of the Browns offense.
"Offensively they do not scare you. The offensive line is young and below average, and the running game is weak, mainly due to the offensive line," the scout said. "Watching them on film, it is amazing that they are in the position they are in. Add some players up front (offensive line), get a top-notch receiver, that team can go a long way.
Brown-out? Courtney Brown, the first player selected in the 2000 NFL Draft is on the shelf again, this time with a high ankle sprain. We have been told that the injury could keep Brown out of action for the remainder of the season.
For Brown, this is the second injury he has suffered this season that has put him on the sideline. The first injury, reportedly a sprained knee sidelined him for the first six games of the season.
The Brown knee injury we hear the injury was more extensive than reported. We have been told that Brown actually suffered a partial tear of the MCL.
Who wants to be the MLB? Wali Rainer, Brant Boyer, Lenoy Jones, and Anthony Denman all have seen time at the middle linebacker position at one time or another this season. One may ask, why so many players shuffled in at this vital position.
A source close to the team tells us that the reasons should be obvious.
Rainer was injured, and somewhat inconsistent early in the season when healthy. Boyer is more valuable to this team in third-down situations that he is not easily replaced in those situations and Jones is more of an outside linebacker/special teams type player," the source said. "Denman is an interesting and eager prospect. He is aggressive, quick and is showing in practice the ability to read and fill the gap. He has work to do, but could be a player in this league."
We've been told on numerous occasions from those around the team and organization that the middle linebacker position is one that the team is looking to improve upon.
"The Assassin" is out there: We hear that former Cleveland Browns linebacker Eddie Johnson would love to work with Browns linebackers coach Keith Butler and the group of linebackers on the roster. Johnson we're told, would like the opportunity to work with Butler, aiding the players in preparation, study habits, film breakdown, and working on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the opposition.
The million-dollar question may be soon answered in the upcoming weeks. What is Butch Davis going to do about the offensive line?
We've been told that the discouraging play of offensive line is almost to the point of forcing Davis to look at the young reserve linemen on the roster, in game conditions. Offensive linemen Brad Bedell and Paul Zukauskus appear to be the prime candidates to see playing time. As the team struggles to find an identity, Davis understands the youth and inexperience along the line, but is said to be contemplating such moves.
For those FYI, We've been told that offensive guard Ross Verba is consistently the highest graded lineman when the game films are reviewed.
Throw the ball away Tim is what we've been told has been a topic of discussion with "The Deuce". Citing a team source, "Tim holds onto the ball until the last moment, trying to make a play. He's getting killed back there and must learn to throw the ball into the stands."
Tim Couch has been sacked 33 times this season, only Brad Johnson of Tampa Bay has been sacked more times (39 times).
Handing the ball to Ben Gay has become an adventure, never knowing what you're going to get.
"Ben has the potential to be explosive, he is very raw and inexperienced, but has come a long way since he arrived in Cleveland," according to a source close to the team. "He doesn't catch the ball well and will jeopardize the team until he learns to tuck the ball in, realizing when he can't gain additional yardage."
He (Gay) really wasn't expected to contribute in the offensive scheme until next season," the source said. "Obviously the plan was shelved due to the lingering injuries suffered by James Jackson"
Incidently, Gay has fumbled the football in the Browns win against Cincinnati and twice in the loss to Tennessee.
The word among league sources is the Browns are expected to be active during the off-season. Key free agent acquisitions, player releases, and extensive college player scouting are cited as reasons for the expectations.
At this time it is believed the team is approximately two-and-a-half million dollars under the salary cap and the salary cap is expected to increase by approximately five million dollars for the 2002 season. One league source tells us it isn't inconceivable that the Browns could enter the free agency period 12-to-15-million dollars under the cap.