The 2002 NFL season is painfully far away. What keeps the diehards alive during this dreadful news famine called the "off season"? The answer is, where some fans see no news, and frown; diehards see an opportunity to create news, and smile. Therein lies the genesis for Art's comment-off 2k2 articles. And here is my shot at creating news.
Much as the phoenix rises from it's ashes, so too will the Browns rise from the quagmire of two God-awful, and one awful season. They are a team on the brink. But to climb to that next level, they must play better than they have played since the resurrection. That means there must be more breakouts than busts, and the remaining players must hold their own.
First, this year's breakouts representing what I call The Sublime.
(1) Tim Couch – the franchise. He will have a phenomenal year. Why??? The answer is that he has already had 3 phenomenal years in disguise. They were phenomenal in the sense that he wasn't killed, didn't become gun-shy, and still thinks positively about the future. In your mind's eye, turn back the clock the 1970 NFL draft. The Browns take …… Mike Phipps, QB, Purdue with a draft pick acquired by the trade of Paul Warfield to Miami. Mike Phipps was "the franchise" of the 70's. And what did coach Nick Skorich do with the franchise? By his own admission, Coach Skorich gave Mike a "baptism of fire" by playing the kid before he was ready. As a result, people now say, "Mike Who???" They do not say that about Tim Couch, even though Chris Palmer did exactly the same thing. Mike Phipps replaced Bill Nelson, and Tim Couch replaced Ty Detmer. Tim has survived the baptism of fire and will be stronger for it; whereas Mike became a poster boy for "chuck and duck" well before the phrase was coined. This is Tim's year! . He has had three years to learn NFL caliber football, including one year to learn Davis' system. He ostensibly has an improved offensive line, receiving corps, and running game. Tim must step it up a notch and show why he was a first round pick, and he is keenly aware of that. He has demonstrated his toughness and in so doing won the respect of his teammates. He has worked in the weight room. He has watched film. And now he will produce. Butch Davis is a great evaluator of talent (just look at the draft picks coming out of Miami U.), and he evaluates Tim very highly. Tim has the intangibles (leadership, toughness, intelligence) as well as the physical tools. Everything will come together and make for an improved Tim Couch. Mike Phipps, in his 4th year, shared time with Brian Sipe while on his way to oblivion. Tim is entering his 4th year, and will share time with no one. He is the franchise.
(2) Courtney Brown – the quiet storm. He will have a phenomenal year. Why??? Because he has the talent, the desire, and the work-ethic to succeed. There may be no one in football with more God-given talent. He has speed, size, strength. His team mates know he is a beast. But he has only shown flashes of greatness. Both injury and inexperience have held him back. And I believe Palmer's "read and react" defense had something to do with it as well. Last season was a "lost season" for Courtney because of injury. Butch Davis knows that CB didn't grow as a football player, but he did show flashes of being able to totally take over a game on defense. That is the kind of potential he has. Those flashes will turn into consistency this year, and Butch Davis will have more to do with that than anyone other than Courtney himself. Butch creates an environment where fear of failure is not debilitating. You can't know your limits until you push them to the point of failure. In that environment, CB will discover his limits, and they will be far beyond what even he imagined they would be. This year, Courtney Brown will not only be the Browns' defensive player of the year, he will be their second player of the new generation Browns to go to the Pro Bowl.
(3) William Green – NFL offensive rookie of the year. Why?? Because, he will run for 1,200 yards, minimum. He will do it because he is a top 5 draft pick who got screwed by the combine. His "times" were slow, and his reputation was tarnished by team infractions while at Boston College. Besides, he has that colon problem ….. Well, the hemp is behind him, the colon is under control, and his times were in shorts – not pads. This kid plays like a big-time talent. Butch played against him more than once while coaching Miami. Butch watched hours of film. And he was not fooled by the combine. His gut told him that this kid can flat-out play. Drafting William Green on day one was not a fluke. Tim Couch was told before he left Berea that Green was the Browns pick in round one. Butch knew it, Tim knew it, and now we all know it. If William Green can get 1,200 yards this year with our offensive line, just think what he could do with a real offensive line. William Green will make Browns fans forget that we didn't trade for Ricky Williams.
Second, The Nefarious represented by the disappointments
(1) Kevin Johnson will lead the disappointments – not in the sense of a bust year, but in the sense that his numbers will be down from last year. Why?? Because Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis will combine to take many opportunities away from KJ. They both have more innate talent, speed, and size; and they will both demonstrate that on the field. What KJ has over them is experience and unbelievable hands, but the gap will diminish rapidly with the passage of time. The speed and size they have over KJ will never diminish. Hence, they have more raw potential. Quincy has his rookie year behind him, and has worked hard in the weight room. He is even bigger, stronger, and amazingly by accounts coming out of Berea, has learned how to hang on to the ball. Andre Davis makes brother Butch Davis go "wow" in every practice. He makes phenomenal catches. Some day, Andre Davis will be the #1 receiver in Cleveland. What I like most about him is his intelligence. You combine intelligence with his size and speed, and he will learn to dominate the pro game far faster than other receivers. This guy was a first round pick that fell to the Browns in the second round. He will play like a first round pick THIS YEAR. So while KJ's statistics will be disappointing from a personal standpoint, receiving as a whole will be light years ahead of last year.
(2) Jamir Miller will NOT make the pro bowl this year. Both his play and his statistics will be down. He will be sharing time with rookie, Ben Taylor. The reason is pride, and pride goeth before the fall. Jamir is proud that he made the pro bowl, and pride will drive him to want to be paid like a prennial all-pro. Since he is not actually a prennial all-pro, having been to the pro bowl only once; the Browns will refuse to pay him in a manner that Jamir feels is appropriate. This will lead to distraction. And distraction will lead to a fall off in performance. Butch Davis knows this. So he will prepare Ben Taylor. Ben has different skills than Jamir, and so different schemes and packages will be put into the defense. These schemes will not play to Jamir's strengths, and Jamir's play will therefore suffer because of it. The sad part is that if Jamir forgot about the raise, and prepared just as he did last year, there would be no distraction, no change of defensive schemes, and a second pro bowl appearance for Jamir. Then he might be worth the money he is asking. But he will not forget about the raise, there will be a bigger role for Ben Taylor, and there will be no pro bowl appearance for Jamir Miller.
Third, The Hideous, represented by the disaster.
(1) Players pick up nicknames. Sometimes they get them from family, sometimes from other players, sometimes from sports writers, and sometimes from fans. We have had the legend, big money, the quiet storm, and now I christen "the disaster". Dennis Northcutt, first pick of the second round in the 2,000 NFL draft, holds the distinction of having been picked in exactly the same slot as Kevin Johnson. And yet their performances could not be more diametrically opposite. KJ went on to be the #1 receiver, and the go-to man for Tim Couch. Northcutt has done nothing but disappoint, and in so doing has earned his nick – the disaster. He looks great on paper (and even in shorts) with his blazing speed and quick moves, but once you put on the pads he looks like Cinderella's carriage AFTER midnight. He is nothing more than a pumpkin being pulled by mice. I call it the fear factor. He has never overcome his fear of getting hit, and getting hit hard. He would rather fair catch a ball than get hit. He would rather break off a route than fight through a defender and get hit in the process. He would rather look for who might be coming, than look the ball into his hands. And because of the fear factor, he is toast. No higher draft pick in the era of the new Browns has been a bigger disappointment. Some say he will get another hard look. I say he has already been looked over and found wanting. When, not if, he will be released remains a mystery. The only bigger mystery is why he has not already been released.
So, what is the team like on balance? Tim Couch and William Green will be breakout players on offense that will elevate that phase of the game to non-embarrassing status. That is all the offense needs. The offensive line will be stronger, but not spectacular. And the wide-outs will distribute the ball far more evenly, thus taking receptions from Kevin Johnson while simultaneously making that unit stronger as a whole. The offense will take a huge step forward in terms of balance and effectiveness.
The defense, which was the strength of the team, will continue to be the strength. The young corners will be a more experienced. The additions of Griffith and Holmes were definite upgrades. The Lang for McKenzie trade sacrificed pass rush for run-stopping. But Courtney Brown will be a difference maker. He breakout season will elevate the entire defense. The defense will be Super Bowl caliber this year. They will need only for the offense to catch up in order to be perennial, legitimate Super Bowl threats.
I look for a great season from the Browns, and the breakouts will far outweigh the busts!