Passan: Don't Blame Dilfer

Rich says the Browns are getting exactly what they should have expected from their quarterback.

Opinions expressed by commentators do not necessarily reflect those of Bernie Kosar or the staff of

Picking on Trent Dilfer can become exceedingly boring, but the guy is such a massive target, it's difficult to hold back.

If one buys into the notion that the Browns quarterback was, is and always will be mediocre, then any criticism that follows is unwarranted because he has played down to that level. He has not surprised anyone. Week in and week out, he takes mediocrity to new levels, all lower.

On the other hand, if one truly believed Dilfer's arrival begat a new and wonderful beginning to the Browns after the Butch Davis debacle, then his performance thus far must be stunningly disappointing.

When he broke in with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994, Dilfer committed numerous rookie mistakes, yet backed it up with the braggadocio of a veteran. Talked a great game. Played one that fell well short of great.

Eleven years later, Dilfer continues to make the same rookie mistakes. They have become his trademark. And yet, he remains positive in the wake of a 4-7 season.

Does he not know he is slow to recognize and correctly read defenses, holds the ball way too long and too low, lacks pocket presence, does not make intelligent decisions and mangles time management?

Some guys never learn. Dilfer is the poster boy for that group.

Don't blame him for the club's offensive passing woes this season. You see, he can't help himself.

And don't blame the offensive line. The fact Dilfer is still vertical after 11 games is silent testament.

Blame for Dilfer's performance falls in the lap of Phil Savage, whose success rate for helping Ozzie Newsome draft quarterbacks in Baltimore fell somewhere between awful and abysmal.

There were some decent free-agent quarterbacks out there for the Browns' general manager to choose from when it became obvious Kelly Holcomb was not coming back. Drew Bledsoe, for example, whose track record as a pro far exceeds Dilfer, would have been a much better choice to come here.

The Browns, instead, bought themselves a microcosm of their recent history when they traded for Dilfer. He arrived with the fanfare of an All-Pro. He impressed fans with his smooth and confident presence. He said all the right things and snowed a lot of fans.

He hadn't thrown a pass for Cleveland, but a lot of the faithful pronounced themselves delighted the Browns had fleeced the Seattle Seahawks for his services. A fourth-round pick? A steal, they thought.

Then the Browns started playing games and the Dilfer factor surfaced. He continued to say all the right things, but the words were neutralized by the results on the field.

Reality set in. Play by play, series by series, game by game. And now it has come to this.

Dilfer's continued presence at the position angers and frustrates a lot of fans. They don't understand why Charlie Frye isn't being given a chance. Can't hurt, they reason.

Frye is not ready. Not nearly ready. He would be the No. 3 quarterback on this team had Savage made the correct move and brought in an experienced backup to Dilfer like Vinny Testaverde or Jeff Blake. He tried lamely with Doug Johnson, whose NFL resume was pockmarked with failure.

If Dilfer was brought in to shepherd Frye, then be prepared for what the kid will offer in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps as early as this Sunday at CBS against Jacksonville. It won't be pretty.

Frye needs to learn the game at the hip of an established pro. Someone who does not turn the ball over four times like Dilfer did against Minnesota in the Browns' latest loss. Someone who has a clue.

That established pro does not reside on the current roster.

Romeo Crennel exacerbated the situation by allowing Dilfer to totally screw up the final minute of the first half against the Vikings. With timeouts left and the clocking running out with the Browns on the Minnesota 5, he could have called a timeout from the sideline, but didn't. Wonder what he was thinking? Or even if he was thinking.

He compounded that by rushing Frye into the game early in the fourth quarter after Dilfer banged up his right knee, then went back to Dilfer for the rest of the game after Frye's only play resulted in an interception that led to the Vikings' third touchdown.

If Dilfer was hurt badly enough to miss a series, why not rest him and let Frye finish the game? What harm would that have done? The game was lost at that point, anyway. Sends a wrong message to the team and the fans.

Bottom line is that the team and coaching staff continue to make the same mistakes although the season is nearly three-quarters gone. This team does not play smart. Hard, yes. Smart, no.

Crennel said it perfectly following the Vikings loss. "If you have to go back and re-teach and make up ground that you thought you covered," he said, "you're not making progress."

That's a statement we hoped we wouldn't hear after the 11th game of the season.

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