Someone turned on the light and we were led from the darkness!
Now, I was a proponent of Chris Palmer's hiring prior to the 1999 season. A good man, a tireless worker and ... 5-27. I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but if you couldn't see a difference between the product on the field in 2001 and that of the two years prior, then you either didn't watch or you are introduced as "Mrs. Palmer".
This team never quit. They beat the hated ratbirds... TWICE! They went into Tennessee and shoved Jeff Fisher's words (paraphrasing) "we just had to remember that despite their record, these guys are still the Cleveland Browns" down his throat. Ya, they came up short of reaching .500 by a game, but this team was flat-out FUN to watch this season.
The Browns have much to build on and a great foundation to build with. Where to begin-
On offense, well.... OK, offensive offense comes to mind. The Browns couldn't run the ball very well, they couldn't pass the ball very well and I suspect they had difficulty dressing themselves properly after the games. But for those few shining moments...
- Coming back to beat the Chargers
- James Jackson from 12 yards out against the ratbirds
- Quincy Morgan's long catch/run against the Titans
- KJ over 1,000 yards
- Andre King stepping up late in the season
- Jammi German's clutch hands before his knee injury caught up to him
- Ben Gay's non-fumbled flashes
- Jamel White against Green Bay
- Couch against Tennessee
There were some things to build on from this season and things are looking better. The offensive line has been targeted for upgrade as well as a possible look towards a veteran receiver and another running back. Butch Davis is apparently looking towards the right areas to make some major strides towards improving this offense during the offseason. Some might suggest the lack of drafting some offensive linemen in previous drafts is coming back to bite the team but that has the potential to change in this next draft. It appears, per the Insiders, that some premier linemen will be making their way to Berea this offseason. Two straight years in Bruce Arians' system supplemented with a talent infusion on the offensive side of the ball gives us some hope for next season.
On defense... Great start, but dragging towards the finish line. And for the second straight season, injuries have taken their toll. A return to health for the defensive line gives great hope for a dominating pass rush as seen last season. That pass rush also led to an extraordinary season for the Browns' secondary with a team record number of interceptions. That same secondary that was battered relentlessly by the media, fans and critics turned in a stellar performance this season with that improved pass rush. Jamir Miller was outstanding, and rightly deserves his trip to Hawaii. Dwayne Rudd, though a bit inconsistent, made those short passes turn into 4th downs rather than 1st downs for the opposition. How many times did teams in '99 and '00 face a third and 6 or 8 only to dump off to the TE or back out of the backfield to easily pick up that first down and move the chains. Rudd played a key role in shutting down those plays. Gerard Warren and Anthony Henry proved to be the stars of the draft and with a year of experience, I expect them to dominate on the field for seasons to come.
All in all, the Browns have a very bright future with a few key additions and health.
The Browns actually get a bonus heading into the 2002 season. While most other teams will target the draft and free agency, the Browns get the benefit of the draft, free agency and ....players returning from IR! Woo Hoo!
Take the team that finished the season and then add- Courtney Brown, Keith McKenzie, Marcus Spriggs, Mark Word, Lewis Sanders, Orpheus Roye, Ricky Dudley, Mark Campbell, Aaron Shea, Michael Jameson, Jammi German... And that's before we hit free agency! Brown and McKenzie (assuming he's re-signed) will take up their spots at DE with some others getting quality experience during this past season and becoming backups. Marcus Spriggs will return his 314 pound body to the mix at DT along with Mark Word adding some DE depth. Lewis Sanders and Michael Jameson will return to provide some stiff competition in the secondary. Dudley, Campbell and Shea will head back into the battlefield to compete with high school legend part deux Alvin Morrow, Jake Moreland and Rod Monroe. Jammi German will bolster the receiving corps with his speed and glue-like hands. All provide a boost to the roster and will help shape the offseason strategy of the Browns.
I've decided not to pimp anyone this season for the Browns first pick in the draft. I want an offensive lineman or playmaker with that first pick, but I figure this year, I'll let Butch make his decisions without my interference. But if you're reading Butch, I wouldn't be upset at all with a move up to grab Mount McKinnie. You would have my blessing. Additionally, the Browns need to address depth at linebacker as well as picking a new starting middle linebacker. Seems to me this is overdue and a tackling machine with the instincts and ability to quickly diagnose the play as well as shed blockers would really pull this defense together. I expect to see a DT taken somewhere in the draft to help the new MLB improve the overall run defense.
Free agency is where the Browns have a real chance to make some things happen. Significantly under the cap, the only hurdles appear to be the Texans and the Tag. Franchise tag, that is. Certainly a guy like Tarik Glenn or Walter Jones would be desirable. Houston will be in the market tossing money like beads at Mardis Gras and will likely be our main competition for players. The Bungals are also way under the cap but then again, when haven't they been way under a cap during the offseason and has it ever really mattered before? I expect to see some offensive linemen, a receiver or two, a bevy of linebackers including a stud MLB and at least one or two safeties being led by the hand through the complex at Berea.
And this year, we'll have the teeth to make something happen with these free agents. Simply put, do you think a guy like Mike Minter decides to re-sign with Carolina before visiting the up-n-coming Browns under dynamic head coach Butch Davis? I don't. If Minter were available this year instead of last I believe he visits Berea, gets charmed, wined, and dined then signs on the dotted line. The lure of a quality organization clearly on the rise should benefit the Browns in terms of landing players. Now, they need to execute the plan and land the RIGHT players.
Call me an eternal optimist... or a fool once again stymied by the Cleveland Experience™ (gloss credit to Nasdaq).
Either way, that light at the end of the tunnel is no longer a runaway train.