All Quiet on the Football Front

This is a sleepy time for the NFL, but there are still ways to improve this team, according to Bernie's Insiders columnist Rich Passan. Rich takes a look at the team and some potential free agents who still might be able to help in 2005...

All quiet on the Browns' front.

Too quiet on the Browns' front.

What's going on out in Berea? Is Phil Savage through savaging his roster?

What does the baby-faced general manager have in mind as the startup of training camp approaches? (Just  17 days to go.) He most assuredly can't be satisfied with his current group, especially the defensive line and linebacker corps.

That's supposed to be the key to the club's success or failure this season. Good coaching works well only with talent and that department, at least for the front seven on defense, seems somewhat wanting.

And if Savage comes off his vacation with Plans B through F not firmed up, it's time to gird for a very long season.

Free-agent linebacker Peter Boulware is out there, lurking like a big cat waiting to pounce on the largest dollar figure eventually thrown his way.

The big guy, sensing no one believes he's fully recovered from knee and toe injuries, will work out to prove it, hoping teams will fall over themselves trying to get his signature on a contract.

There are other free agents out there who can help the Browns.

Mark Word, recently cashiered by the Oakland Raiders, would be a nice fit at defensive end in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme. Critics say Word is strictly a pass rusher and can't play in the 3-4 whgere stuffing the run is essential. How do they know? All he's played is the 4-3. Worth a try?

Nose tackle appears to be the biggest problem with only Jason Fisk bringing any savvy to the position. There are no free agents left at the position worthy of coming in and helping out. Rookie free agent Simon Fraser or sixth-round draft pick Andrew Hoffman most likely will wind up as Fisk's backup with Hoffman the slight favorite, having played the nose at Virginia.

Roman Phifer, whose best days clearly reside in his rear-view mirror, is another free agent who can be had. Sure, he's 37, but Crennel knows Phifer is still a solid run stuffer and no doubt has several drops left in the tank.

If the club is sold on Chaun Thompson as an outside backer, why not bring in Phifer, put him next to Andra Davis and see what happens. Can't hurt. What have they got to lose?

Another possibility is Jason Gildon. Yeah, the same Jason Gildon who used to terrorize the Browns when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He brings 11 years of experience to the huddle and, at 34, still has a few good years left. How bad could he have become since leaving Pittsburgh?

In the overall scheme of things, Crennel cannot be expected to work miracles in his rookie season as a head coach. Only the most zealous and sycophantic fans believe the Browns will see the postseason.

Crennel, as he should, will get a free pass on this season, much like Butch Davis received upon his arrival in 2001. So why not experiment? Why not put in the new system and nurture it? Bring it along slowly, steadily.

The victories and losses are not important this season. Supplementation and development of Crennel's program are much more important. How the Browns play in November and December will weigh far more than how they play in September and October.

Coming here from the monstrously successful system in New England, Crennel must initially keep his expectation level low. The talent is just not there. Yet.

If he sets the bar too high and harbors expectations from his men they're incapable of giving him, he could become easily discouraged and frustrated.

The focus should be on improving from play to play at first. Then from series to series. After that, from game to game.

The growth of this team should be exponential with minimal stops in between. Baby steps at first, followed by strides. Then leaps followed by bounds.

But first, it's time to get rid of the quiet and bring on the noise. Time to see what this edition of the Browns is all about. In 17 days, you'll finally be able to scratch that football itch.

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