There are many things to like about the way Romeo Crennel runs his football team, and at the top of my list is the way every player is the same in Crennel's eye, save for the number on the player's back.
Call it the Braylon Factor.
The way Crennel handled Braylon Edwards last summer will pay dividends as long as he is the Browns' head coach. Edwards was the third player drafted in 2005, and according to Browns general manager Phil Savage the best player leaving college a year ago.
Any Browns fan knows what happened; Edwards held out briefly and was listed fifth on the depth chart when he did start practicing. It quickly became apparent Crennel was not just puffing out his chest like the big bad wolf.
One year earlier, Kellen Winslow Jr. was the hotshot rookie in Butch Davis' training camp. Winslow held out, so Davis 'punished' him by not making him a starter in the first preseason game. But Winslow was with the first team in the second quarter and remained a starter, albeit briefly, until he was injured in the second game of the season.
Winslow was good enough to start right away. So was Edwards, but by making him prove it Crennel showed he will not play favorites as a head coach.
This summer, top draft choices Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson should be locks to start because, unlike Edwards, they have almost zero competition. Chaun Thompson had Wimbley's position lat year, but he has been moved inside. It will be a surprise if he beats out Jackson, but, still, Jackson will have to earn it and Wimbley will have to beat out Matt Stewart.
Maybe Crennel's approach to the way he makes his players earn their stripes goes back to the way he worked so hard to become a head coach. Certainly, he deserved to be a head coach long before Randy Lerner hired him, given his success as an assistant with the Giants, Jets and Patriots, but for one reason or another he was always overlooked. If it was because owners couldn't get beyond his papa-bear smile, then those owners and general managers who rejected him were very short-sighted.
Yes, Crennel smiles contentedly, but players that have known him for a long time say there is a line they know they dare not cross. In some cases, if the line was crossed before Crennel was named head coach the player was gone before playing another down with the Browns. Jeff Garcia, Ross Verba, Gerard Warren and Earl Little are examples. They were all "me first' players - who could forget Little mouthing the words 'Pro Bowl' while the Browns were being pounded by the Rams? - and there is no room for 'me first' players on Crennel's team.
Edwards could have been a 'me first' if Crennel hadn't put him in his place from the beginning.
Just so there is no doubt, by the way, Courtney Brown definitely was not a 'me first' player. The Browns gave up on Brown just because he was injured so often the first five years of his career.
This approach of treating everybody equally is why Crennel is so respected in the locker room. We're not saying he is the first coach in NFL history to coach that way, but it is unique to Cleveland since the Browns were reborn. Chris Palmer, never sure of himself, ruined Tim Couch's career and ironically his own by making Couch the starter before he was ready. Davis never cut a draft choice until he finally admitted in 2004 that 2002 pick Darnell Sanders was not very good. The fifth pick in 2001, Jeremiah Pharms, does not count because Pharms was never on the team.
If ever the Browns make the playoffs in Crennel's tenure, they will be in good hands. His experience in big games is only part of the reason.