Passan: A Fine Line

Rich Passan offers his thoughts on the Browns as the regular season looms ahead. What did we learn about the team during last Friday's narrow loss to the Carolina Panthers?

Defining football quality is about fine lines.

A fine line separates a successful play from an unsuccessful play. It could be a slip on a wet surface. Or a wide receiver cutting the wrong way on a pass route. Or a missed block. Then again, it could be a mistimed jump by a defensive back on a pass.

Oftentimes, one missed assignment can mean the difference between a touchdown and a sack.

There is also a fine line between a bad team and an average team. Another fine line and you'll find a good team. And then there is the ultimate fine line that transcends into greatness.

The Browns are not a bad football team. They more than proved that Friday night despite losing that meaningless exhibition game to the Carolina Panthers.

And they are not a good football team. They more than proved that Friday night despite losing that meaningless exhibition game to the Carolina Panthers.

They are floating somewhere in between. Their fine line travels in limbo these days.

Which direction it takes depends on the progress the club makes this season. On the surface, it appears as though there are enough weapons to shove the Browns toward mediocrity.

Mediocrity, in some circles, is unacceptable. It is incomprehensible. It is vile. It is repugnant.

But for the Browns, that has to be the next step. To expect a quantum leap to great, such as the San Diego Chargers made last season, is the stuff of science fiction.

The Browns are good enough to escape the "awful" label some national forecasters have pinned on them. The talent is there. Not in droves, but it is there. It is a clear step in the right direction.

Coach Romeo Crennel has the team's undivided attention. In this year of transition, that cannot be emphasized enough.

All during training camp, the one word that stuck out – it was repeated so often, it almost seemed like a mantra – was technique. Players spoke about working on their technique, making certain they did things the Crennel way.

They referenced Crennel's five Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. They believe.

Will they win the AFC North? Dream on. Will they finish second? Keep dreaming. Third? Don't hold your breath. But they will be representative, especially in the second half of the season.

Given the team's dismal finishes in 2003 and 2004, a respectable fourth place this season would not disappoint.

What we saw in the Carolina game – in addition to the two that preceded it and the one that will close out the exhibition season Thursday night in Chicago – bore nothing close to resembling what we'll see beginning Sept. 11 at CBS against Cincinnati.

Exhibition season is all about getting timing down and evaluating talent. What we have seen thus far is but a small percentage of what we'll see in the regular season, Crennel's protestations to the contrary. You don't show everything in the exhibition season.

En route, the Browns will surprise and disappoint. They will win a game or two no one gives them a chance of winning and lose a game or two they shouldn't.

Also . . .

It will be interesting to see to whom Crennel gives the running back job. William Green deserves it for any number of reasons, not the least of which is he has earned it with his hard work and strong running. Reuben Droughns, also a strong runner, is finding out he's not in Denver anymore. Running behind the bigger, slower Cleveland offensive line, he will not produce the numbers he put up last season behind the Broncos' smaller, much quicker line. . . .

When quarterback Trent Dilfer calls a pass play in the huddle, he had better call max protection from the blind side because tackle L.J. Shelton cannot handle a speed rusher. He can mash on running plays, but needs plenty of help in the passing game. . . .

Braylon Edwards is paying the price of missing the first 17 days of training camp. Blown assignments cost the Browns two timeouts against Carolina when he lined up wrong. Mistakes like that bring out Crennel's pencil and pad. . . .

On defense, Ethan Kelley has to be given strong consideration to take over eventually at nose tackle. A tireless worker, Kelley never gives up on a play until the whistle blows. Several times in the Carolina game, he chased down a ball carrier well after being initially taken out of the play. That's the kind of hustle Crennel and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should reward. . . .

It looks as though Sean Jones has played his way out of being the starting strong safety. Coverage problems. . . . If Orlando Ruff does not supplant either Andra Davis or Ben Taylor at one of the inside linebacker spots by the second game, the Browns are going to have trouble again stopping the run. . . . Crennel said Monday that Kyle Richardson won the punting job over Derrick Frost because he was more consistent. He must have forgotten Richardson's two shanks. One nearly hit him in the Carolina game. . . . Not to worry about Phil Dawson. When the regular season begins, he'll be fine and everyone will wonder why they were so worried in the exhibition season. . . . It will be a mistake to make Charlie Frye the No. 2 quarterback. When – not if – Dilfer goes down, Frye should not be exposed to the opposition's No. 1 defense. He's not nearly ready. . . . Who, then, should be No. 2? Now that's a problem Phil Savage had better solve quickly because Doug Johnson is not the answer.

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