Owl: A Mammoth Task

Phil Savage has to fill a gaping hole in the middle of the Browns defensive line, and Oregon's Haloti Ngata (pictured) is a 338-lb plug. The Owl has some ideas, however, if the Browns can't draft the Oregon standout...

Phil Savage said it best when he emerged from days of silence last month to explain his reaction to holding onto his job when John Collins was unable to do the same.

"In no way do I expect to get a free pass," Savage said. "I can assure you that I will do everything in my power and you can count on me to give my absolute best in trying to put a winning team together for the Cleveland Browns."

Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel did get a free pass in 2005, though no one would come out and say it, they took over a team in shambles, and in Crennel's case took it over relatively late. Each had an idea what the 2004 Browns were like, but they got the true picture when they saw the players on the field. In the words of Crennel, the Browns were below average.

Savage and Crennel got rid of half of what Butch Davis left behind, and you can expect more spring cleaning in the coming months, though another two dozen players won't be swept out the door.

The scouting combine is in Indianapolis next week and free agency is just around the corner with a March 3 start. Savage has to find a way to stop opponents from running the ball, even if it means re-signing Gerard Warren. Savage missed on Jason Fisk last year. He cannot miss again.

Getting a pass rusher is important, but not as important as finding a nose tackle that can gobble blocks and make the running back stay away from running between the tackles.

Help could be available in the draft, but choosing 12th as the Browns do there is no guarantee the player that could help them the most, Haloti Ngata of Oregon, will be available. Many mock drafts have Ngata going to the Buffalo Bills with the eighth pick.

The Browns could work a deal to move up in the draft for Ngata, but as history proved when Davis wanted Kellen Winslow Jr., moving up in the first round is costly, The Browns had to give the Lions their second round pick and swap positions in the first round just to move up one notch in the second round.

Fortunately for the Browns, the Bills need a left offensive tackle. The Browns could use an upgrade there, too, but not as badly as they need a nose tackle. Conveniently, Eric Winston, a tackle from Miami of Florida, is rated 12th in some rankings of this year's college crop.

This is getting ahead of the game, but if the Browns do end up with the 338-pound Ngata he should get the opportunity to start immediately - none of this waiting around to mid-season like Crennel did last year with Braylon Edwards. On that not, the 12th pick in the draft should not be holding out two weeks after training camp starts.

Still, the safest route is free agency, and the Browns have the salary cap room to win most bidding wars. The problem is nose tackle/defensive tackle is not deep in this year's free agent -to be crop.

One name to remember is Ryan Pickett from the St. Louis Rams. He is not as big as Ngata, but he is strong at 310 pounds and difficult to move out of the way. The former Ohio State Buckeye will be in his sixth season in 2006, which means he is in the prime of his career, unlike Grady Jackson, the free agent in waiting from Green Bay. Jackson, 6-2, 345 pounds, is 33. He will have many suitors. The question for the Browns is not whether they can afford him, but whether they believe Jackson can still move in two years when the Browns have a chance to contend.

One other player the Browns could focus on his Ron Edwards of the Buffalo Bills. He has an injury history, but he weighs 320 pounds, will be in his sixth year and feels comfortable at nose tackle.

Whatever selection he makes, Phil Savage knows his mission. Now is the time to deliver.


The Owl is a big freaking bird who lives in a nest overlooking the Cleveland Browns Berea practice facilities. When not chasing around small rodents, the Owl likes to fly through open windows, find an available computer, and type out weekly OBR commentaries with his beak. The Owl's hobbies include trying new vole recipes and dodging anti-aircraft fire.

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