Owl: Excitement Builds

Even with Browns fans enduring a rare slow time during the NFL year, there are a number of very good reasons to be excited about the team. The Owl offers his key reasons to be excited about the 2006 version of the Cleveland Browns...

Football has become such a year-round sport - really a 10-month sport, which is long enough for a 16-game season - that when a down time comes Browns junkies need a fix.

We're coming out of a down time now. The month or so between rookie minicamp and the mandatory minicamp is one of the slow periods. The other one lasts six weeks between the end of mandatory minicamp (June 16-18) and the start of training camp. Even coaches get a vacation. Players who have been toiling in the offseason program for nearly three months are told to get away so they could be fresh when training camp begins at the end of July.

Still, even though not much is going on, there is reason to be excited. Let's look at the reasons:

Kellen Winslow is finally healthy: He has been the weapon the Browns have been unable to use for two years. The media has not been permitted to see him in the on-field portion of quarterback school - now known league-wide as Organized Team Activities or OTA - but Phil Savage says Winslow looks as fit and quick as he did playing for the Miami Hurricanes.

We should take Savage at his word, and not just because he's an honest guy. If anything, you'd expect the Browns to say Winslow is making steady progress with a hint of caution so when the media does see him oohs and aahs would be the result.

LeCharles Bentley: The Browns' first free agent acquisition was the most important. The center with the tree-trunk arms is in a position no other Browns player has been in. So much is expected of him as the replacement for Jeff Faine that if he has another Pro Bowl season it will be "Yeah, so? That's why they're paying him so much."

The Browns scored four rushing touchdowns last season. With Bentley anchoring the line, they should eclipse that number before the bye Oct. 15.

The revamped linebacking group: Give Savage credit for recognizing a crater when he sees one. The Browns play a 3-4 defense, and when they open the season against the Saints it will be a surprise if there are not three new starters among the four linebackers - Willie McGinest for Matt Stewart, D'Qwell Jackson for Ben Taylor and Kamerion Wimbley for Chaun Thompson.

Coach Romeo Crennel is moving Thompson inside, knowing Thompson could back up Wimbley or even start outside if Wimbley is not ready. I like the pass rush possibilities of McGinest, Thompson, Wimbley and David McMillan on third down.

A stronger defensive line: The Browns had so many holes to fill they could not possibly do all the patching in one offseason. Hence, finding a right defensive end will have to wait until next winter.

In the meantime, Ethan Kelly will move to right end and, for the time being, back up Alvin McKinley. McKinley is not a flashy player, but he is a solid one. The problem is the Browns had no one experienced behind him. Kelly earned his stripes at nose tackle.

Ted Washington is an upgrade over Jason Fisk, J'Vonne Parker is a backup nose tackle behind him and rookie Babatunde Oshinowo will have time to develop. Don't compare him to Haloti Ngata in September. Wait a year or two to do that.

A crowd at cornerback: Playing for the Browns when they are losing does not earn a player national attention. Just ask Phil Dawson, one of the most reliable kickers in the league.

With Gary Baxter, Daylon McCutcheon and Leigh Bodden, the Browns have one of the best sets of cornerbacks in the NFL. Baxter has fully recovered from a pectoral tear, and Bodden played so well last year that it would not be a surprise if he beat out McCutcheon at right cornerback.

Drafting running back Jerome Harrison: I'm stubborn. I want to see Joshua Cribbs as that third down back. Crennel has other ideas, so Savage drafted a 1,900-yard rusher with good hands. So what if Harrison, from Washington State, is a little short? The Browns did not draft him to dunk a basketball.

Next week we'll get into the questions surrounding the team as they begin their mandatory minicamp June 16.

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