Owl: At Long Last, a Line...

The Owl discovers that it didn't take long for the Browns offensive line to begin preparing for Dwight Freeney and Corey Simon. But leave it to the wise old bird to find some historical perspective on the Browns offensive line's improvement among the current concerns...

Browns fans that have been complaining about the offensive line for years, seemingly decades, have every right to say 'I told you so,' now that the Brown and Orange finally have a good one. The task is finding anyone that didn't think the line was a problem before.

The line was an area of neglect long before the new Browns were born. I will never forget reading a column criticizing Mike Lombardi for signing Ben Jefferson and other players that had no business calling themselves NFL players. The writer's name escapes me, but not Lombardi's comment. This was back in 1990, during Bud Carson's second and final training camp as Browns' head coach. Bernie Kosar was the immobile quarterback.

"What's Kosar, a sacred cow?" Lombardi was quoted saying.

And, in all fairness to Dwight Clark and Chris Palmer, it is inaccurate to say they neglected the line. They just neglected to build it properly, as in through the draft.

We don't have to dredge up the unfathomable fact that the new Browns have NEVER, EVER drafted a guard or tackle in the first five rounds during the seven years they have been back in the league. Centers - they're good at centers. They drafted two centers in the first three rounds during their first five years in the league.

Palmer and Clark spent a pile of Al Lerner's cash on tackles Lomas Brown and Orlando Brown, tackle Roman Open and center Dave Wohlabaugh. For one reason or another, they did not work out.

Butch Davis spent a pile of Randy Lerner's money on Ryan Tucker and Kelvin Garmon. Tucker was a bulls-eye. The Garmon shot missed the entire wall.

Now, finally, the offensive line is solid, not only as a group of football players but as men. Romeo Crennel does not have to go to bed hoping against hope his phone does not ring at 2 a.m.

Phil Savage was named general manager Jan. 6, and the first thing he did was identify offensive line as the weakest unit on a Browns team that had a lot of competition for that dubious honor.

Savage had Joe Andruzzi, a left guard from the New England Patriots, under contract before the first day of free agency had ended. Six days later he had Coleman under contract.

When at the end of May Ross Verba threatened to sit out without a new contract, Savage signed L.J. Shelton. Verba is gone and sitting.

With a better cast around him, just as Savage predicted, Jeff Faine has emerged as a very good center. A year ago Larry Zierlein wanted to play Melvin Fowler instead of Faine. Savage scorned that idea and then traded Fowler to the Vikings for Nat Dorsey, a tackle with the 'P' word - potential - attached to his name.

"This is the best line we've had since I've been here," Tucker said. "We have experienced guys at every position on the line and it shows. Even when something goes wrong, the backs and quarterback make adjustments. It's something we haven't had here in a long time."

The Browns have not allowed a sack this season. Before, they were lucky to go two series without a sack, let alone two games. They beat the Packers because Dilfer had time to throw.

Next for the Browns is a four-game streak in 1988 without a sack allowed. It will be sorely tested against the Colts Sunday.

"The streak is fine, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't win," Tucker said. "We have a big challenge in front of us. They've got (Dwight) Freeney. They've got (Corey) Simon. They're probably the biggest sack team in the league right now. We started thinking about that game as soon as we got on the plane on the way home from Green Bay."

Crennel is thrilled with the pass blocking, but he wants to see more consistent run blocking.

"We've had some success in pass protection," said the gentle but demanding coach. "We have to work to become as efficient in the running game. But so far, the experience we've added to the team has paid off."

If the Browns win more than the doomsayers expect them to, the offensive line will be the reason why.

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