Excitement and anticipation are the themes this week in the big white building on Lou Groza Boulevard. A month from now, if all goes as the Browns hope, they could be 6-2, and everyone will be touting Romeo Crennel as Coach of the Year.
As it is, the Browns are 1-2, but what does not show in the standings, and what only those of us privileged to be in the locker room daily can see, is the way this team is sticking together and following Crennel.
"Do we wish we were 3-0? Yeah," General Manager Phil Savage said. "The reality is we're 1-2. By the way we've performed, going into the next five or six weeks we say, 'hey, we're going to win some games this year.' When you saw the schedule at the beginning, I think most people thought we had no chance to be competitive against those teams."
The next five games should give Savage a better picture of where the Browns are in their rebuilding process, starting with a home game against Chicago Sunday. After the Bears (1-2) they play in Baltimore (1-2), host Detroit (1-2), visit Houston (0-3) and host Tennessee (1-3).
The excitement and anticipation of the next five Sundays exists despite lopsided statistics that indicate their record is deserved. Still, the Browns are more confident than every they will not end up as National Football League doormats, as many outside experts expect them to.
The Browns' opponents lead them in every major category - first downs (73-49), third downs made (16 of 32 for 50 percent compared to 13 of 35 for 37.1 percent), time of possession (33:41 to 26:19), yards rushing (375 to 225), penalties (14 by opponents, 20 by the Browns) and points (64-45). The Browns do lead in takeaways with four interceptions compared to two thrown by Trent Dilfer.
'"There is no question, I think the whole building is encouraged right now," Savage said. "If we got beat 35-0 three straight games it would be a different conversation, but I think everyone is real positive and anxious to see how we're going to do the rest of the season."
Twenty-eight players that were not on the roster for the final game of 2004 are on the current roster. With that many new faces there are bound to be growing pains.
The Browns did not play well in a 27-13 loss to Cincinnati in the opener, but they beat the winless Green Bay Packers 26-24 and might have had a chance against Indianapolis if the Colts had not held the ball for the final 7:40.
Expecting the Browns to go 5-0 in the next stretch is unrealistic. They can beat all five teams, but since they are learning as they go there are bound to be mistakes made.
Conversely, though young players are on the roster, Crennel is counting on veterans. If he is reluctant to start first-round pick Braylon Edwards you know he is not going to turn the safety job to rookie Brodney Pool or one of the outside linebacker jobs to either David McMillan or Nick Speegle.
Last week I stressed playing Charlie Frye some time this season. His situation is different than other positions because Crennel has to find out whether Frye can make it as an NFL quarterback. Every indication in preseason says he can, but you never know until a player does it in the regular season.
Crennel is doing the right thing by giving the veterans a chance to win now. Players like Ryan Tucker and Daylon McCutcheon have worked too hard to lose their jobs to younger players just because the would-be replacements are younger.
This season is about winning first, but it also is about establishing credibility that did not exist on the first two coaching staffs. The young players can accept not playing now. Theoretically, in time they will be the older players and won't want to be swept out with yesterday's dirt just because the coach wants the excuse of a perpetual youth movement.
Doomsayers predicted no more than four or five victories for the Browns. Because of Crennel's approach, they could be eating their words by Halloween.