The Owl: A Running Start?

The Owl circles Indy, and ponders the running back situation...

If only The Owl could borrow Harry Potter's invisibility cloak for the next few days. Of course, The Owl would not need Harry's Zoom Zoom broom to fly to Indianapolis for the combines currently being conducted, but that invisibility cloak would allow me to be the proverbial fly on the wall when general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel interrogate potential draftees.

Certainly, this is not the first time Savage and Crennel have interviewed players at the combines. But it is the first time they have been in charge.

Savage became the first general manager of the reborn Browns Jan. 7. Crennel has been on the job a little more than two weeks. Crennel has been trying to assess the talent on the Browns while at the same time trying to form his coaching staff. Fortunately, Savage was grading the players on his own even as Crennel was busy as defensive coordinator of the Patriots, preparing for New England's third Super Bowl in four years. Phil practically had the whole roster weighed and measured before Crennel took office. It did not take long to discover Jeff Garcia did not belong.

Garcia was officially whacked Tuesday. Let's hear it for cleaning up someone else's mistake!

Crennel has made it clear he trusts Savage's judgment. And though teams always talk about taking the best player available in the draft, obviously it is imperative Crennel and Savage know exactly what they have in the cupboard at home as they the college meat on display in Indy.

"I think in some ways it was somewhat of an advantage for me to be here three or four weeks (before Crennel was hired) because I had the opportunity to interview most everyone in the building and find out what went wrong," Savage said. "It gave me a chance to watch a number of the games. I did not watch all 16. I would not be a very good personnel man if I had to watch 16 games on every single player to determine whether they're good.

"We've assessed the free agency market. It's not as if Romeo and I are starting with a blank sheet of paper and not knowing what direction we're going."

Savage would not detail his assessment of the current Browns nor talk specifically about what he is looking at during the combines. Of course, the Browns scouts, and Savage while he was with the Ravens before being hired by the Browns, already accumulated volumes of reports on potential draft choices they are seeing in Indianapolis. The combines give teams a chance to measure player against player in the same setting and interview the player separately.

"There is such a fine line in the NFL," Savage said. "When you break down New England individually you say, ‘These guys aren't that good,' but when you look at them as a collective team, they're outstanding.

"I think if we can get the right chemistry going, get Romeo and I in lock-step marching toward the same goal, which I think we'll be able to do – there are players here that can help us win. There are players that can't help us win."

From everything The Owl has heard, running back is the strongest area of the draft and an area Savage and Crennel should scrutinize closely in the draft. The Browns have three running backs on the roster – William Green, Lee Suggs and Adimchinobe Echemandu. Do any of the three fit what Crennel wants in a running back? The answer could be no.

Savage comes from a Ravens team that won because Jamal Lewis was a bull of a running back. The Patriots won the Super Bowl because they had Corey Dillon.

Three top running backs will go in the first round of the draft in two months. Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown of Auburn plus Cedric Benson of Texas are the Big Three.

Conventional wisdom says the Browns would help themselves best by trading the third pick, and everyone knows the offensive line is the weakest area of the team. But if Savage can't make a deal and doesn't believe one of the tackles is worth the third pick, he could walk away from the combine thinking that the best use of the third pick would be one of the running backs.

Crennel trusts Savage. Getting a 230-pound bruising back wouldn't be a bad way to start the new alliance.


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