The Owl: Into the Frye-ing Pan

The Owl has a unique spin on the Browns situation at quarterback. Trent Dilfer has been excellent so far this season - better than many expected - and there are some excellent quarterbacks available in next year's draft. Where does this leave Charlie Frye? The Owl has a way to answer that question....

One of the privileges of owning a company is being able to wake up one day and take it in a completely different direction, knowing no one can block the decision.

I do not own this website, but once a week I have the privilege of owning this column space. I am going to exercise it today by taking the opposite stand I took earlier this month when I said Browns quarterback Charlie Frye could benefit more by standing on the sideline and watching. I think he should play.

Now before you go rushing to the message boards in defense of Trent Dilfer, I AM NOT SAYING Frye should start against the Bears when the Browns get back into action a week from Sunday.

A case for starting Frye some time this season has less to do with the way Dilfer plays and more to do with the way Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger play.

Palmer is in his third season with the Bengals. He was the first pick of the 2003 draft, but rather than start him as a rookie quarterback, Coach Marvin Lewis chose to let him learn for a season on the sideline.

Roethlisberger is in his second year with the Steelers. He also was a first-round pick. He started 2004 on the sideline but was starting by the third game because Tommy Maddox was knocked out with an injury in the second game.

Palmer and the Bengals are 3-0. The Steelers might be 3-0 if not for a game clock error by an official in Pittsburgh last week.

Each game the Bengals and Steelers play, their young quarterbacks put more separation between themselves and the Browns. The Ravens would be in the same situation the Browns are if they would ever admit they swung and missed on the Kyle Boller pick, but that's not the Browns' problem. Boller is out with a toe injury, yet will start when he is healthy, according to their bull-headed coach, Brian Billick.

The Browns cannot keep bringing in veteran quarterbacks as mentors. They do have an unselfish one this time in Dilfer, but eventually they have to develop their own quarterback, otherwise they'll be chasing the Steelers and Bengals for a decade.

"You'd like to get (Frye) time, but you have to look at the game situation to make that determination," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "If we could get ahead 30 points or 20 points—maybe two points—then maybe you could give him some time to get him some experience. Realistically, I don't know if that's going to happen or when that's going to happen."

The Browns will probably have a top five pick in the draft next spring, maybe even the first pick. They have to determine whether Frye is the quarterback of the future or whether they have to go another route, such as USC quarterback Matt Leinart. The only way to do that is play him in real games. Frye answered every challenge in preseason, but the regular season is a different animal.

This is a different situation than 1999 when Chris Palmer ruined Tim Couch by starting him in the second game, and this is not suggesting Frye should replace Dilfer today. Dilfer is playing well, and with winnable games against the Bears, Ravens, Lions, Texans and Titans coming up he should start against those teams.

Compare this team to the one Couch took over. The offensive line is better, the receivers are better and the tight ends are better. Couch's first running back was Terry Kirby. Crennel has three legitimate starting running backs to work with.

Crennel is reluctant to use Frye if the Browns are being blasted. So far the Browns have kept scores close, but there are indications that if the Browns are involved in blowouts this year the opponent will be doing the blowing.

"[In that situation,] he doesn't have operation of the full offense because he's going to come in and have to throw," Crennel said. "They're going to tee off and be coming after him. If your protection doesn't hold up, then he's going to get killed and get shell-shocked. I would rather put him in when we're 20 ahead."

Frye does not seem like the type to be shell-shocked. A couple weeks ago he got the chance to meet Packers quarterback Brett Favre. Heading into the draft, comparisons between Frye and Favre were drawn, primarily because the Packers showed interest in him.

"I thought it was crazy," said Frye, a little embarrassed. "I hadn't even taken a snap yet and you're talking about a guy who is going to be in the Hall of Fame."

But Frye did say there are some similarities. He and Favre are willing to block linebackers and both invent on the run when plays blow up.

"The thing I respect most about Brett Favre is the way he plays," Frye said. "He loves the game and every week he leaves it all on the field. That's what I try to do."

By Thanksgiving, if not sooner, the Browns should find out what Frye is made of.

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