If Browns coach Butch Davis is looking for Gerard Warren to take on more of a leadership role on defense, the second-year defensive tackle is willing to accept the challenge.
"Coach Davis told me, `We invested a lot in you by making you the third pick and my first selection. I want you to be more than just a football player,' " Warren said. "He wants me to be a role model and a leader. I have to hold up to that."
Warren made his presence known early last season when he leveled Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell with a helmet-to-helmet hit after an interception. Brunell tried playing one more series, but he couldn't continue.
Warren was warned about his aggressive actions during a visit to the office of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, but no matter what is said about the hit, the criticism slides off him.
"That's just guys on the outside watching the game and don't really understand what's going on," he said.
With Warren on the inside and Courtney Brown at right end, the Browns have the potential to field a dominating line. Kenard Lang, like Warren and Brown a first-round draft choice, was signed in the offseason to replace Keith McKenzie at left end. Orpheus Roye agreed to restructure his contract and is expected to start opposite Warren.
Warren can't wait to get at it next season. He talks like he's part of a team that could go far in the near future. Forget about having the best defensive line in football.
"The best team in football," Warren said. "That's the goal; that's the plan."
Among the plans for the line is for Brown to pick up the pace. Brown missed 10 games last season (the first six with a sprained knee and the final four with a high ankle sprain). Healthy once again, the issue now seems to be to put 2001 behind him and concentrate on unleashing his immense physical skills.
Davis downplayed talk about Brown playing too cautious because of the injuries.
"Courtney Brown wants to have a monster year," Davis said. "The performance he had in the Chicago game. If we had gone on and won that game … you talk about an impact. At one point he had three sacks, forced a fumble and picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. From a defensive standpoint, there's not a whole heck of a lot more you can ask from a player.
"Does that become the standard? Does that become what you expect out of him every single game? It showed you what he's capable of when he's healthy and hitting on all cylinders. I think he could have a breakout year."
Brown played his rookie year at left end but was moved to the right side last year with the idea of harassing the quarterback's blind side. Because of Brown's running back-type speed, Davis is convinced he can be a force in many ways.
"I would like to think from a statistical standpoint - and there are going to be games when people will run away from him and games when people are going to three-step drop - he could have anywhere from 10 to 12 participations in every game in the nature of sacks, pressures, quarterback hits and forced fumbles," Davis said.