Derry: Beyond the Record

Evaluating the Browns this season will be about more than wins and losses...

For the first time in a long time, possibly ever, I truly don't care how many games the Browns win this year.

But before you ask me to turn in my lifetime membership card to the Southern California Browns Backers Association, or return any of those fabulous Browns Backers shirts I've been given from groups from Alaska to Florida and numerous places in between, let me explain myself.

Sure, I'd like the Browns to win 20 straight games, a streak that would make them the next Super Bowl Champions.

But this season isn't about winning. It's not about whether the Browns can claim their first-ever AFC North Division crown, or sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team.

Rather, the 2005 season is all about laying the foundation for future success. This year will be about development. It'll be about weekly improvement. It'll be about weeding out the bad apples.

This year will be all about evaluating talent, some of which was around when Phil Savage took over as general manager and Romeo Crennel signed on as the head coach, and other guys who were brought on board by the Browns' new decision-makers.

This year will be all about changing the attitude of everyone who works inside the team's training facility in Berea. Negativity that comes from years of losing needs to be replaced with a positive, winning attitude.

This year will be all about developing chemistry on the offensive line. Maybe this group will break with tradition and be around for more than just a year. Will the Super Bowl experience of guards Cosey Coleman and Joe Andruzzi allow center Jeff Faine to take his game to another level? Will L.J. Shelton be able to hold up his end of the line?

This season will be about finding a No. 1 running back. Will William Green be able to keep his nose clean? Will Lee Suggs be able to stay healthy? Will Ruben Droughns be successful behind an offensive line not as talented as that of the Denver Broncos?

It'll be about finding out just how good No. 1 draft pick Braylon Edwards can be. Is Antonio Bryant the perfect compliment for Edwards? Will he be able to prove his preseason success was no fluke? Will Dennis Northcutt be a good tutor for Edwards and also be successful as a third-down receiver and punt return man?

Hopefully at some point this year the Browns will get some idea as to whether or not Charlie Frye is the quarterback of the future for this team. Few starting quarterbacks ever make it through and entire season without suffering some type of injury. If or when Trent Dilfer does go down, will Crennel turn to Frye, or will he go with veteran Doug Johnson? The hope here is that Frye gets the opportunity. Remember, this season is about development, not winning.

It'll be about installing a 3-4 defense. Will Kenard Lang be able to make a successful switch from defensive line to outside linebacker? Will Andra Davis be able to function while playing alongside Orlando Ruff or Ben Taylor on the inside? Will Chaun Thompson be able to use his speed to disrupt the running game?

Will the defensive backfield mesh? Will Daylon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter be ready for the regular season after missing much of the preseason with headaches and a concussion, respectively? Are veteran Brian Russell and young Sean Jones be ready to take over for veteran safeties Earle Little and Robert Griffith?

On special teams, will Kyle Richardson be as successful as Chris Gardocki, or will he make people wish last year's starter, inconsistent Derrick Frost, was still the punter? Will ex-Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs make a successful transition to kickoff returner/wide receiver? And will Phil Dawson overcome his preseason slump that saw him miss four of his first six kicks and return to the form that allowed him to kick a franchise record 27 straight field goals during one stretch of his career?

We also should begin to find out if Crennel is as good a head coach as he was a defensive coordinator. Of course, one has to remember that the talent he will be working with this year won't compare to the skill level of the players he left behind with the Patriots. But even if the talent is inferior, we'll be able to see how the players respond to him throughout the course of the season.

It'll be very interesting to see how well Crennel and his fellow coaches communicate during crunch time. Will they be able to get the proper personnel on the field in a timely manner? Will they make the proper adjustments not only at halftime, but also throughout the course of the game? Teams that wait until halftime to make changes often have to wait an extra week to try and pick up a victory. It'll be about clock management, which is often one of the most under-rated aspects of the ability of a coaching staff.

This season will be about limiting penalties, often times the barometer of a players' level of concentration. It'll be about winning the turnover battle.

I'll also be looking to see which players truly step up as team leaders. Dilfer certainly acts like a player whose leadership qualities are far superior to those of former quarterbacks Tim Couch and Jeff Garcia.

Will Faine step up as a leader on the offensive line, and will he be able to stay healthy for an entire season?

What about defensive leaders? Will Baxter be a leader? What about linebacker Davis, who is at the stage of his career where he should really start to exhibit leadership qualities?

Just as important as the performance on the field by the coaches and the players will be the actions of the players off the field.

It'll be about the team's ability to eliminate off-the-field controversy, which is usually a telltale sign as to whether the players respect their coaches.

Those are things I'll be watching for this season. Win or lose, I hope the team will be competitive in most games. There are sure to be a few clunkers, especially when you are not talented enough to overcome injuries or mistakes (re: penalties and turnovers).

But if the Browns can remain competitive, maybe pull an upset or two along the way, this team might be able to improve on last year's 4-12 mark. Again, whether they do or not is not the bottom line.

The ability of the Browns to lay a solid foundation will determine whether or not the 2005 season is a success. The 3-1 preseason record, capped by an excellent overall performance in all three areas of the game against the Bears in the exhibition finale, was a good start. But come Sept. 11, we'll truly begin to have the many questions answered.

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