Flying Towards 2006

The Owl hovers over the 2005 season, and looks to the future...

Like everyone else, I am glad Phil Savage was the one left standing in his stare-down with the man we can now refer to as former Browns president John Collins.

Now it is incumbent upon Savage to produce in free agency and the draft. He has had a full year with his scouting system in place, so the Browns should be better next season.

The Savage-Collins story has been beaten to death, so we will use this column space today to take a quick look back at 2005 and a longer look ahead to 2006.

Romeo Crennel believes the Browns should have beaten Detroit and Houston, but he also says, "You are what you are," meaning the 6-10 record is what the Browns deserve. They did not win any cheapies, meaning they were not totally outplayed yet somehow found ways to win. Teams that do that usually have a worse record the next year and the coach gets fired. Buffalo was one of those teams in 2004, but it looks like Mike Mularkey is going to survive a very disappointing 2005.

Crennel talked about the lack of run defense and he talked about the lack of a pass rush. Those are deficiencies that can be fixed with the right choices in free agency and the draft.

Savage has to upgrade nose tackle. Jason Fisk was not one of his better acquisitions a year ago. Likewise, it is time to cut ties with nice-guy Kenard Lang. The Browns can do better at outside linebacker.

Already, a training camp battle is shaping up between Leigh Bodden and Daylon McCutcheon. The Browns cannot lose, because the DB that comes in second will be an excellent nickel back.

L.J. Shelton? I say keep him. The Browns are not going to find a better left tackle in free agency and they have too many other needs, particularly defensively, to use a first-round pick on a left tackle.

My biggest concern heading into next season is at quarterback. I am glad Crennel started Frye the last five games. I wanted Crennel to start the rookie late in the season to learn whether Frye could be the quarterback of the future. The results were inconclusive.

Certainly, Frye showed that leadership we kept hearing about when he shook off two turnovers to lead a rally to beat the Ravens, 20-16 on Sunday. He reminds a lot of people about Brian Sipe.

Sipe had charisma, just as Frye does, and like Frye, Sipe did not let anything bother him.

But let us also remember the Browns were 2-3 under Frye because special teams were outstanding in both victories. The Browns beat the Raiders 9-7 on three field goals by Phil Dawson.

One touchdown in the game Sunday was set up by a 54-yard kick return by Joshua Cribbs. On top of that, Cribbs fumbled and Sean Jones picked it up. By the time the offense got on the field the ball was already on the Baltimore 24. The winning touchdown, of course, was scored on a 62-yard punt return by Dennis Northcutt.

It is impossible to not like Charlie Frye. He is apple pie humble, he grew up a Browns fan in Willard and he still has a poster of Bernie Kosar.

My question is this: Would fans be as enamored with Frye if he were from the University of Wyoming instead of the University of Akron?

Just asking. I by no means am writing Frye off. I think he will make it and I think he will be a good quarterback. Crennel and Savage have to decide whether "good" is good enough to compete with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati and Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

Playing Frye as a rookie was the right thing to do. He'll be better for it next year, plus he'll have Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. as weapons.

"The game experience will definitely help him," Crennel said. "I anticipate that, especially against these teams he's played against once, he's going to be a lot better. Then, there are going to be some teams that he hasn't played against yet. He'll have to try to figure those guys out and see if he can find his rhythm against those teams.

"The playing time helps. It's experience. I've said that all along. Experience makes a difference."

Crennel says the quarterback job will be open in training camp. How the Browns conduct the draft will reflect their true feelings about Charlie Frye.

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