Owl: Training Camp Questions

The Owl has some imponderables to ponder as training camp opens...

Questions too complex for one Owl to answer on the eve of Romeo Crennel's first full-squad practice.

Can Trent Dilfer make it through the season?

Any hope of success the Browns have depends on Dilfer. He has not played in 16 games since 1998 and has never played in more than nine games since 2000. He appears fit and is excited about a chance for a new beginning at age 33, and that's a good sign.

Long ago, fans of the 1948 Boston Braves shortened a poem into a saying: "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain," a reference to a weak pitching staff after starters Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.

Praying for rain won't help Browns fans if Crennel has to rely on Doug Johnson, Charlie Frye or Josh Harris. There is hope for Frye and Harris beyond this season. They just aren't ready yet.

How quickly will the secondary gel?

We don't want to see the safeties looking at each other and using body language that says, "I thought you had 'im" after Chad Johnson scores a touchdown in the season opener. Remember when Robert Griffith stood there watching when that happened just before halftime a couple years ago?

Safety is the biggest unknown on this team. The Browns have six weeks to find out just how good Sean Jones, Brodney Pool and Brian Russell are. All three have a lot to prove.

Can old dog Kenard Lang learn new tricks?

The switch to a 3-4 defense will go smoothly if Lang can make the transition from end to outside linebacker without a hitch. Since speed more than muscle is what made him a good pass rusher, going after the quarterback won't be an issue. He was giving up 60 pounds to some offensive tackles before, so it won't make much difference now that he's 255 pounds.

Lang will be watched closely to learn whether he can cover and anticipate the play. Practice will count, but where Lang will really be judged is in the preseason games.

How much will Kellen Winslow Jr. be missed?

This one is really difficult to project since Winslow played only two games last season before leg and ankle injuries ended his season.

Fortunately, the Browns have gotten beyond his foolish motorcycle ride. Not that Crennel would have dwelled on it anyway, but working under Bill Belichick would make any coach learn that feeling sorry for one self is no way to win football games.

I have faith in Steve Heiden. He is under-rated around the league. He is steady though not spectacular and he rarely drops the football. Aaron Shea typifies what Browns football is supposed to be about - a hard worker and a guy you can always count on to give it his best.

How deep is the D-line?

Finding four starting linebackers, as has been already mentioned, will be easier if Lang proves to be a complete player. Finding defensive linemen after starters Jason Fisk, Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley could prove more daunting.

Crennel likes beefy ends. The roster does not have a lot of those guys. Nick Eason weighs 301 pounds and Amon Gordon, a fifth-round choice last year, weighs 305. Each has potential, but neither has shown enough to give Crennel assurance the starters are protected. It is so thin that Simon Fraser, 288 pounds from Ohio State, has an outside chance to make the final roster.

Nose tackle is a little better. McKinley could move inside behind Fisk, and rookie Andrew Hoffman is a true nose tackle. Crennel would be reluctant to move McKinley, though, because that would leave him thin at end.

How good is the offensive line?

Just because a unit that has problems gets three new starters doesn't necessarily mean it is better, but in this instance it almost has to be. We are talking about an offensive line that has a different left tackle (L.J. Shelton), a different left guard (Joe Andruzzi) and a different right guard (Cosey Coleman).

The Browns definitely should run the ball better because of the changes. If they run better, they won't have to pass block out of desperation.

If the defense falters, though, the Browns will have to play from behind and then they'll be forced to throw.

Many of the questions will be settled before the season opens Sept. 11, but not all of them. It should be a learn-as-you-go season for Crennel and Browns fans.

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