The football fields at the Browns Berea training complex are dormant in late January, the goalposts standing like vigilant sentinels ever watchful and ready for minicamps that are not that far away. Think first weekend in May.
But to say this is the offseason is as far from the truth as Pluto is from the sun. It is just the part of the calendar year when the Orange and Brown are not crashing helmets in practice.
It is between now and the conclusion of the draft April 30 that will make or break the Browns for 2006 as they chase the Steelers and Bengals. What Phil Savage does in the next three months is at least as important as what Romeo Crennel does in practice and in the meeting rooms, because it is up to Savage to produce the best players he can find for Crennel, whether in free agency or the draft.
Of course, subscribers of the Orange and Brown Report know full well what has been going on the last 10 days or so. This week Savage has been mining for gold in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl workouts. Last week it was the East-West Shrine game workouts.
The Browns use this time to not only scout players as they practice, but also to get a jump on player interviews. Time is so limited at the scouting combine in Indianapolis next month that the more interviews that can be done in these All-Star games the better. There is more to it than expediency, however. By the time these players get to Indianapolis they have been so programmed by their agents they do not always give sincere answers. That is not to say they lie, but at the All-Star games players are more themselves. Plus, some players, again on the advice of their agents, do not work out at the combine. That is not the case in Mobile.
This is better than any political debate, because the only agenda Savage has is to make the Browns better. Likewise, fans are always free with their advice and suggestions. Baseball has its hot stove league in November, December and January as fans look forward to the start of spring training. What football has is better because there are so many ways to go in the draft. Free agency has more limitations, but the excitement is still there.
Savage won't tip his hand about his draft plans, and with 11 teams drafting ahead of him he is going to need several options. It won't be as simple as last year when everybody knew Alex Smith would go to the 49ers with the first pick and Ronnie Brown to Miami with the second. Braylon Edwards was a slam-dunk pick.
Pass rushers are cool, pass rushers get to dance after making a sack, and Savage could make a big splash if he finds one. But Savage is smart enough to know that until the Browns stop the run consistently they won't get opponents in third and long situations consistently enough to take advantage of a great pass rusher.
I was happy to learn from reading Denis Savage's draft report Wednesday that the Browns spent a good chunk of the day looking at Tennessee defensive lineman Jesse Mahelona and Florida State defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. I'd be lying if I said I'd recognize either of them if they sat next to me at The Waffle House one morning next week, but I trust Denis Savage and I trust the more important Savage as far as the Browns are concerned (no offense, Denis) even more.
I cannot wait to dive into my draft preparation. During the NFL season it is nearly impossible to get a good read on college players that don't get to perform on national television. Saturday highlights on ESPN don't do those players justice. Case in point - Charlie Frye from the University of Akron, or for that matter the one that got away, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
Frye made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl last year. He was already recognized as a good player by the scouts, but being named MVP of the Senior Bowl just lifted him higher.
Like I said, there is no offseason in the NFL. Devout Browns fans wouldn't have it any other way.