BEREA - Cautious optimism was the theme for Browns coach Butch Davis when he addressed reporters during a kick-off press conference for training camp that starts when rookies report on Monday.
Davis knows that there is talk about making the playoffs this year, but he knows it's a goal that won't be easily achieved."A misnomer is that people think that it's a matter of playing a little harder and catching a fortunate break and you go from three wins to seven wins," Davis said. "The bad thing is you have to go back and win those first seven games. Some of those were hard to do. It took us beating the defending Super Bowl champion (Baltimore Ravens) twice and winning some games on the road. It's not the easy assumption that you automatically go from a seven-win team to an 11- or 10-win team.
"The other factor is that not many people are going to look by us. I'm sure early last season until we proved that we were an improved team, a lot of people said, 'That's the same, old Cleveland Browns.' We won't have that advantage this year."
Still, Davis thinks the Browns have a good chance of being in the playoff picture.
"Everyone else's expectations are never any higher than the players' (expectations)," Davis said. "You raise the bar very high. Certainly, they have to be reasonable. People have to understand the youth of the team and the process you go through in building a team.
"There are reasons for optimism. Our football team believes, and rightfully so, that we have a chance to win every game and be competitive. The thing you can't predict is whether we'll have zero injuries or 16 guys on injured-reserve."
Davis' list of areas that need to be improved include better execution on first-down, third-down and short-yardage plays on the defensive side and improving the running game on the offensive side. He pointed out that it was an all-or-nothing situation for the defense on first downs, which meant it either stopped the opposition for little or no gain or gave up 5-plus yards.
Another key to sustaining improvement this season to get better production from the punt and kick coverage units. Injuries and the loss of key special teams performer Mike Sellers because of a drug arrest depleted the talent level on special teams.
Davis isn't ready to name first-round draft choice William Green the starting running back, but it's clear that Green will be counted on to improve the ground game and take pressure off quarterback Tim Couch. Couch will also need improved play from an offensive line that could have two new starters in right tackle Ryan Tucker and left guard Barry Stokes, along with the expected return to good health of guard Tre Johnson.
"Every quarterback in this league benefits enormously when you can run the football," Davis said. "Then it's so much easier to throw the football and it's so much easier to protect because people aren't bringing a lot of blitzes and stuff because they may be vulnerable to the run."
NOT GOOD: Davis admittedly made a mistake when planning the first few days of training camp last season.On the second day of full-squad drills, Davis conducted a intrasquad scrimmage that included a significant amount of contact. Looking back on the experience, Davis thinks he should have waited a bit longer before putting players through the rigors of a scrimmage.
This year Davis will wait until the fourth day of practices before forcing the players to knock heads. The first full-squad workout will be Friday, July 26. The scrimmage is scheduled for the afternoon of Monday, July 29."In retrospect, we probably pushed the envelope a little too much," Davis said of last year's scrimmage. "I think in an attempt to appease the fans - knowing Saturday was a better day for fans that were anxious to get out and see the team - we would have been better served waiting three or four days and getting more installation and things accomplished than putting them in a controlled scrimmage situation."
JUST WAITING: Davis expects to see linebacker Jamir Miller and receiver Kevin Johnson on hand when camp opens. Johnson is in the final year of a contract, and Miller has two years remaining on his deal. Both would like new contracts. Miller hinted that he might hold out if he doesn't get a new contract before camp opens.
"They know that we'd like them to be on the team this year, but we'd like for them to be on the field in the future," Davis said. "Hopefully, both of them will be professional enough to know that they have significant roles on this team and that we want them here."