Owl: Look Behind the Record

The Owl analyzes some of the personnel choices made by the team in 2005 and reaches some conclusions about how fans should guage the results. Our feathered friend zeroes in on the decision to release the still-capable Robert Griffith, paving the way for untested Sean Jones (pictured) as he assesses Phil Savage's strategy...

It has been non-stop for General Manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel. For the next couple of weeks they will have the chance to sit back and reflect on exactly what they've built over the last six months.

Rome, the historians tell us, was not built in a day. Considering what shambles this team was in when the new management took over - 9-23 over the last two years qualifies as shambles - it is fair to assume the Browns are still under construction.

The bottom line is fans will have to be patient. There is a difference between disgusted and patient. I've watched fans from my perch in Cleveland Browns Stadium the last six years, and I've seen a lot of disgusted, bored fans. They certainly have every right to feel that way and to wonder why they bought a PSL in the first place. The Browns ticket prices are in the lower third of the league, and the Browns feel like they're doing their fans a favor because of that. The fact is if they were among the highest third in the league fans would be getting ripped off.

Success ultimately is measured only in victories and justly so. On that alone, fans will probably be disappointed again. But this year, fans should try to see what Savage and Crennel are trying to do.

Consider safety, for example. Will Robert Griffith, now in Arizona, be more productive as a strong safety than Sean Jones? He probably will. He is 34, but last year at 33 he had his best season as a Brown. Whether it was because he was trying to get out of here ands wanted to show he could still play does not matter. He showed he could play.

So maybe the Browns are giving something up for this year to aid Jones' development. That's fine, because even with Griffith the Browns would not be contenders this year. By the time they are on a par with the other teams in the AFC North, Griffith will be history and, theoretically, anyway, Jones will be approaching his prime.

The entire front seven is learning on the job. With the exception of end Orpheus Roye, who last played a 3-4 defense in 1999 while with the Steelers, and outside linebacker Matt Stewart, who played a 3-4 defense with the Falcons, players are learning new positions. Ben Taylor played inside linebacker in the 3-4 at Virginia Tech, but the position in the NFL is foreign to him.

The bumps should not be as noticeable on offense, but on that side of the ball young players are still learning. Savage and Crennel made the quick and wise decision to sign Doug Johnson to back up Trent Dilfer. That doesn't mean drafting Charlie Frye in the third round was a mistake, but it does mean Frye is raw.

As much of a building year as this is going to be, Crennel is not ready to put the season in the hands of the rookie from Akron, not just because he would be sacrificing the chance to win, but because Frye could be scarred if he is forced to play before he is ready. For a historical example, turn back to last year and recall what Luke McCown did.

To say the Browns are doing the right thing by saying Sean Jones can grow with the job and saying they are doing the right thing by bringing in a veteran to play ahead of Frye might seem contradictory, but it is not because of the nature of their two positions.

Browns fans are smart. Even players from other teams recognize that when they play in Cleveland, whether it was in old Cleveland Stadium or in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Butch Davis figuratively rode in on a white horse. He saved football at the University of Miami, and he more than doubled the Browns' victory total in his first year, going from three wins under Chris Palmer in 2000 to seven in 2001 and then the playoffs the next year. That happened, and still the Browns were not exciting at home.

Savage and Crennel have come in with great credentials, Savage with his history in Baltimore and Crennel with his five Super Bowl rings. Yet they are not boisterous.

They seem to have the right idea. Don't judge them until after the 2006 season.

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