Derry: The Case for Help

Trent Dilfer's exodus from Cleveland leaves the Browns one play away from having their hopes and dreams resting on the back of Ken Dorsey. Frank Derry looks at the situation and offers an answer...

Charlie Frye insists he'll be just fine even if the Browns don't go out and acquire a veteran quarterback to serve as his backup.

I beg to differ.

Frye might think he is ready for everything that will come his way in his first year as the Browns' everyday quarterback. He might think that having someone like Bernie Kosar just a phone call away will be enough when the going gets tough.

He might think that playing a month of games last December has prepared him for two games against the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers; two battles with downstate rival Cincinnati; and two heated contests with Ray Lewis and the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense.

If he thinks any or all of the above, that just tells me he has a whole lot more to learn about playing quarterback in the NFL than he realizes.

Granted, I've never suited up. I've never taken a snap. I've never sat in a meeting room dissecting game film.

But I have talked at length with a lot of veteran quarterbacks who have done all of the above and to a man, they would say, "If only I knew then what I know now!" Not a one of them, in hindsight, would ever say he was truly ready to "fly solo" with just a handful of starts under his belt.

Frye, at this stage of his career, needs every asset available in order for his career to proceed at the pace that he and we hope for this coming season.

The Browns have done a lot of great things his off-season. The addition of two more excellent offensive linemen, including possibly the best free agent available in LeCharles Bentley, should help make this line one of the best in the NFL. Certainly the best for the Browns since the team returned in 1999.

Any of Frye's predecessors - Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia and Trent Dilfer - would have been much better off had they played behind an offensive line consisting of left tackle Kevin Shaffer, left guard Joe Andruzzi, center Bentley, right guard Cosey Coleman and right tackle Ryan Tucker.

Hopefully, long gone are the days of guys like Enoch DeMar, Damion Cook, Joaquin Gonzalez, Roger Chanoine and Brad Bedell in the starting lineup.

This year's starting five will definitely be an asset for Frye, just as outside linebacker Willie McGinest and nose tackle Ted Washington, despite being long of tooth football-wise, will be assets for first-round draft choice Kamerion Wimbley and sixth-rounder Babatunde Oshinowo, respectively.

Neither McGinest nor Washington has as much in the gas tank as they did a decade ago. But the experience they have gained over that time should make them ideal on-field mentors for the young players who are being projected to eventually fill their roles.

I think the Browns should consider a veteran even "longer of tooth" to serve as Frye's backup. Vinny Testaverde, with 19 years of experience, could be the ideal mentor for Frye.

Testaverde has pretty much seen and done everything that can be done. He has served in every role possible - full-time starter, part-time starter, emergency starter and full-time backup. And never once have I heard him complain about his situation, even when it meant standing on the sideline for long periods at a time.

Testaverde wouldn't come in as a threat to Frye. And I doubt very seriously whether Browns fans, who got a first-hand look at Vinny for three years (1993-95), would be chanting "Vinny … Vinny … Vinny" if Frye happened to throw an interception or two in the opener against New Orleans.

Certainly there are younger and, at this stage of their careers, physically superior to Testaverde, available on the free agent market. Guys like ex-Brown Jamie Martin, Tommy Maddox, Jeff Blake and Tony Banks are all options.

And probably none of them would be adverse to being the No. 1 backup for Frye, so that would definitely make them better options than a guy like Kerry Collins, whose desire to start would not make for a good situation.

One way or another, the Browns cannot afford to go into the 2006 season with Ken Dorsey as Frye's only backup with experience.

Dorsey, a fourth year pro who has had virtually no success in his limited playing time, was a throw-in as part of the deal that sent Dilfer to the 49ers.

I can only hope that Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was blowing smoke when he was asked about the backup quarterback situation soon after the trade.

Questioned as to whether the Browns needed a veteran quarterback, Crennel said, "Not necessarily. We just signed a guy and we're going to see what he can do. If he falls flat on his face, then I'll be looking for a backup. But if he comes in here and lights it up, then I have a backup."

The problem with that logic is that he can "light it up" during the preseason, but we won't know until the regular season starts as to whether he'll "fall flat on his face."

By that time, it could be too late.

The Browns must bring in a veteran to work with Frye throughout training camp and the preseason. And they must be prepared just in case something should happen to Frye early in the season.

As we found out first hand with Jeff Garcia a couple of years ago, not all former San Francisco 49er quarterbacks are Hall of Fame caliber. From what I've seen, the only way Ken Dorsey will ever get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or even the Pro Bowl for that matter, is with a ticket.

And the only way the Browns will have a chance to have a successful season in 2006 if indeed Frye misses extensive time is with a veteran quarterback capable of serving as a mentor for Frye and a reliable fill-in starter if necessary.


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