Owl: Search for a Signal Caller

The Browns are in "lockdown mode" inside Berea, and there are few believable signs showing which of many possible directions the team may turn. The Owl thinks the team will look to the QB position early, however, because of pressures created by other AFC North teams. Here's his analysis...

Phil Savage does not want anybody outside the white fortress on Lou Groza Boulevard in Berea to know what his plans are for the fast-approaching draft.

That, of course, is not unusual for the person in charge of the drafts of all 32 teams in the National Football League. But Savage is a bit unique. He was hired specifically because he has an eye for talent and, whether it was because of bad picks or bad luck, the Browns drafts for the first six years have been less than spectacular.

In other words, the pressure is on. Fans are excited about the moves the Browns have made since Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel were hired and the media likes the way Savage and Crennel are working together.

But the biggest test comes April 23 in the first round for the 15 minutes after the announcement, "The Browns are on the clock" is made, and then for the 10 or five minutes, depending on the pick, after that.

Fans want Savage to hit a home run with every pick. They are greedy, and understandably so, because of failures in the past. Savage says not to expect miracles.

"Because Phil Savage comes to the Browns doesn't mean we're going to get every single player right," Savage warned the day he was hired. "It's not possible. You're dealing with human beings. But the process and system we'll put in place obviously is designed to give us the best chance of getting the right players on your ball club rather than making mistakes. It gives you a chance to make consistently good decisions."

The Browns scouting department is in lockdown mode preparing for the draft April 23rd and 24th, and general manager Phil Savage is sending mixed signals about his plans, particularly at quarterback.

During the scouting combine in Indianapolis two months ago, Savage told reporters chasing Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of California they were putting too much emphasis on the two young quarterbacks. He instead steered the reporters toward Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell.

On his way to the league meetings in Hawaii, however, Savage attended the workouts of Smith and Rodgers, and last week each visited the Browns training complex in Berea because Savage wanted to see them again.

Would the Browns be willing to use the third pick of the draft on a quarterback? Even though no one running the team now had anything to do with choosing Tim Couch with the first overall pick in 1999, the organization still seems gun-shy about investing its top pick in a quarterback.

Finding a quarterback for 2005 became less a priority when Trent Dilfer was acquired in a trade with Seattle last month, but it would be unlikely the Browns would wait past the second round to find his eventual replacement, though Savage has not given up on Luke McCown.

Savage can look around the rest of the AFC North and see every other team in the division has a young starting quarterback. The Browns could have had Ben Roethlisberger last year, but drafted tight Kellen Winslow Jr. instead. The Bengals have Carson Palmer and the Ravens have Kyle Boller.

The opinion might not be unanimous, but there are some in the organization than want to take a quarterback early so the Browns don't fall further behind in developing a young quarterback. As it is, Dilfer is slated to start in 2005, so Palmer and Roethlisberger would each have at least two years starting experience on a Browns first-year starting quarterback in 2006. Boller would have more than two years.

Here's hoping Savage gets his man no later than the second round. From all reports, Akron quarterback Charlie Frye did everything asked of him during a workout last Friday. He might not even be around when the Browns make the second pick of the second round, but if he is, the decision for Savage could come down to Campbell or Frye.

Forget any "Yeah, but Frye played in the MAC" talk. Roethlisberger and Chad Pennington have already proven MAC quarterbacks can make the jump to the NFL without tripping.

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