Owl: Slow and Steady

Romeo Crennel, writes the wise nocturnal bird, is running the Cleveland Browns exactly the way he said he would. The ramifications of Crennel's decision-making, writes The Owl, will echo into future seasons. More analysis you can't find anywhere else, but Bernie's Insiders...

The one theme Romeo Crennel has used from the first day of training camp to describe his team has been "slow and steady progress." As long as he continues to see it, he is content.

He was not content with the way the Browns played against the Steelers, but neither did he rant and rave and embarrass his players. For one, that is not Romeo's style and secondly, the Steelers have won exactly twice as many games than the Browns have since 1999 - 33 for the good guys, 66 for the Steelers - so what good is screaming going to do?

One game more than halfway through his first season as head coach of the Browns, Crennel says the defense has made steady progress. He is not as pleased with the offense, which has been spotty throughout the season.

Regular readers know The Owl has been saying Charlie Frye should get his chance around Thanksgiving. That would be Sunday against the Dolphins or next week against the Vikings. The Frye debut is getting close, judging by what Crennel says.

At 3-6 the Browns have already exceeded the expectations of some national prognosticators. They won close games, beating the Packers 26-24 and the Titans 20-14, and they lost close games, falling 13-6 to the Colts, 13-10 to the Lions and 19-16 to the Texans. They need one more victory to equal the Browns' total of 2004 and two to match what they won in 2003.

"I made no predictions about where we would be," Crennel said. "If we can win more games than this team did last year, that's an improvement. I have no idea whether we will be able to do that or not. We've won three games and have seven to play so we have a chance to do better. There is a chance that we might not.

"Like I told you coming in, we wanted to try to be a competitive and sound football team. We want to make good decisions and give good effort on the field. I think some of those things have happened."

Not exactly a "Run-through-that-wall, son," speech, but that's Crennel. Crennel has stayed "the course," to use his term, to a fault. He stuck with Trent Dilfer when it would have been easy to switch to Frye and he has made virtually no changes on defense unless dictated by injury, although starting this week Ethan Kelly will get more playing time at nose tackle.

The message Crennel is communicating to his players is two-fold. He is telling them he believes in what he is doing, even if it does not work right away, and that makes it easier for players to believe in their coach.

Also, he is telling players he will allow them opportunities to work out their own mistakes - Dilfer at quarterback, Sean Jones on special teams after a series of penalties, Kyle Richardson as punter, L.J. Shelton at left tackle and Kenard Lang at linebacker are examples. Perhaps none of those players will be starters with the Browns next season (Jones as a prominent special teams player), but every player knows making changes next season would not constitute a quick hook.

Crennel compares where the Browns are now to the New England Patriots of 2000 under Bill Belichick. Crennel did not join Belichick's staff until 2001; he was with the Browns in 2000. The 1999 Patriots were 8-8 before Belichick arrived. They were 5-11 in 2000 and have since won three of the last four Super Bowls.

"If you can give yourself a chance to win in this business, things will eventually go your way," Crennel said. "New England was close in a lot of its games in 2000, but they lost them. The next year after a slow start, we were able to start winning some games.

"Coming into this year, I wanted to try to put the team in a position to win. If we'll be competitive, fight and do things right we'll have our chance to win some games."

Playing not to lose as the Browns do so they can be close in the fourth quarter is not exciting football. The Patriots had plenty of those games in their Super Bowl years. Judging by the Patriots' fan support, boring is all right if the game ends in victory.

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