A number of Browns players will have to have break out years if the team is to fulfill its playoff promise in 2002. One to keep an eye on, if Butch Davis can overlook his not having played college ball in the state of Florida, is Jamel "Swole" White, a clone in size to Barry Sanders, only quicker. Swole showed me more in '01 than James (Miami) Jackson.
I hope Quincy Morgan will show us more than he did last season. Make me believe the Browns didn't goof up by not selecting RBs Lamont Jordan (Jets) or Anthony Thomas (Bears) in Draft Round 2. Let Dennis Northcutt return a few punts in the preseason. Maybe that way we can get a mid-round draft pick rather than cutting him outright. Look for KJ (even though he doesn't run a 4.3 40, Butch) to have another premier season, together with rookie Andre'(this year's annual Round 2 WR) Davis.
Whatever happened to the great versatility we were to reap from the H-back concept? Despite the coaching hype, I never saw Aaron Shea or Mike (gulp!) Sellers utilized as a fullback. Speaking of the promised '02 fullback, where is he? A puffed up J.J. Johnson? Chris Eitzmann? I hope you're right Butch.
The D-line should be a major factor in getting us to the playoffs this year. "Big Money" Warren, Courtney Brown, Kenard Lang and Orpheus Roye, together with super relievers like Tyrone Rogers, will terrorize opposing offenses, assuming the Browns offense can give them enough bench rest time. Still, I wonder whether Courtney Brown's added 15 lbs. (see: Jevon Kearse, 6-5, 265) put too much stress on those streaking, sharp-cutting legs. Will Orpheus Roye be able to maintain his trademark quickness with an added 25 lbs?
Look for Jamir (I want to finish my career here) Miller to be productive for at least another year - unless Coach Davis gets antsy and dumps him for a 3rd or 4th round draft pick. Dwayne Rudd should continue to hold up his end of the field, and Earl Holmes will bring some of that Steeler toughness to the middle. Andra (O.K., he's from Florida) Davis will make some headlines before the year is out. For Marquis Smith, it's put up or get out.
If we can't field a fearsome defensive backfield, it won't be for a lack of promising candidates. Corey Fuller and Daylon McCutcheon will continue to get the job done. Lewis Sanders will fulfill that promise he showed two years ago. Anthony Henry is versatile and tough enough to give the Browns some depth at safety. With Robert Griffith settling in, Devin Bush could be catching more bench time. Marty Schottenheimer once said: The players are out there. You just have to find them. Too bad he couldn't. (Can you say Clifford Charlton or Mike Junkin?) We'd better hope that Pete "Smoke" Garcia turns out to be the personnel guru he's cracked up to be.
Despite all the hoopla about how the O-line improved, I still need to be convinced. Ross Verba, if he stays healthy, should continue to be a force. Dave Wohlabaugh - until rookie Melvin Fowler is ready - is solid in the middle. Ryan Tucker will push the pile on the right side, while Barry Stokes adds versatility at guard or tackle.
Still, I'm queasy about this unit. What are the chances of Tre' Johnson lasting a full year? Where's the beef in reserve? Joaquin Gonzalez, though a fine late round pick up, is undersized in the mold of our recent reserves. Where are the pile-pushing monsters we find every year on the Raider line that make their running game so efficient and grease the skids for a more explosive passing game? I'm happy Shaun O'Hara added nearly 20 lbs. A free agent bull like Qasim Mitchell, if he has the quick feet, has intriguing potential. But say a prayer this year's O-line isn't hit with injuries.
If a few more big "ifs" are resolved, the '02 offense will finally do more to hold up its end. Can Rickey Dudley overcome the same foot injury that ended Errict Rhett's career? Can William Green stay healthy enough to fulfill his minicamp promise? If Tim Couch doesn't have a breakout year, forget the excuses and let's admit we should have picked Donovan McNabb.
As pleasing as Phil Dawson's kicking has been, the Browns were ready to let him seek greener pastures. The Bills weren't buying. With the game on the line, in the December wind and snow, I won't hold my breath for Phil's chances to nail that 50 yard field goal. Chris (where's his Polish army in the stands?) Gardocki, at 32, should still have a couple of stellar years left. I hope Butch was right in letting special team star Tarek Saleh go.
Finally, the intangibles. Loathesome as they are, the Steelers have developed a rep for toughness. Each year they lose players they can't afford to pay, yet still come up with no-name bruisers who manage to get the job done. I see Coach Davis instilling what appears to be a tough, determined attitude in these new Browns. You players: put those contract distractions aside. Coaching staff: devise the schemes that best utilize the strengths and talents of your players. Be creative enough to make those halftime adjustments that keep the opponent off balance. Browns fans: don't carp or put your team down. The most loyal fans in the NFL deserve a championship team. We will have it. If not in 2002, then in 2003. Go Browns!