Frank Derry: The Downfield Game

As opposed to recent history, the quarterback position hasn't gotten a lot of discussion in 2006. While this is likely due to Charlie Frye's status as the undisputed starter,

The fiasco at center, first with the injury to All-Pro LeCharles Bentley followed by the sudden retirement of Bob Hallen, have kept most eyes riveted to that on-going soap opera.
 
Also catching some of the headlines have been the injuries to veteran cornerbacks Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutcheon, neither of whom is certain to be ready when the Browns open the regular season against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 10. That resulted in the team sending backup running back Lee Suggs to the Jets for one-time high-ceiling prospect Derrick Strait, who had yet to live up to expectations in New York.
 
Meanwhile, the area of the team that has the potential to have the greatest negative impact on the team this year remains pretty much off the radar screen. At least for the time being.
 
All that could change starting Friday night when the Browns begin the home portion of their exhibition schedule with a game against the Detroit Lions.
 
Starting quarterback Charlie Frye must begin to assert himself and prove he is capable of being the No. 1 guy. To do so, offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon must open up the game plan and allow Frye to throw down field. In the exhibition opener, about the only thing Frye was allowed to do was throw how flat passes to Kellen Winslow.
 
A downfield game will allow Winslow the opportunity to take advantage of the mismatches he is expected to create. It will also give Dennis Northcutt the opportunity to use his speed and quickness. And we might even get to see whether third-round draft choice Travis Wilson was indeed the best wide receiver available in this year's draft, as the former Oklahoma standout claims.
 
Let's assume Frye gets adequate protections, and believe me that is a HUGE assumption, we have to see him move this club up and down the field the way old friend Jeff Garcia did for the Eagles against the Browns last week.          
 
A performance like that, even if it comes against the "vanilla" defense the Lions are expected to play Friday night, would undoubtedly give Frye and his receiving corps some much-needed confidence.
 
It also would ease the fears of the fans, who probably have some doubts after the overall pitiful performance of the offense in the opener.
 
A year ago, when starter Trent Dilfer struggled at times, the fans quickly took up the "We want Charlie" chant. Part of that was based on his being a homegrown talent, having grown up in Willard, Ohio before playing his college ball at Akron University.
 
I doubt very seriously whether this year we'll hear any "We want Ken" or "We want Derek" chants if Frye struggles. That in itself tells the story.
 
Ken Dorsey has done nothing either in his past with the 49ers, nor in his present with the Browns, to show he is ready to take over if indeed Frye is ineffective or injured.
 
And quarterback Derek Anderson, who has had some solid training camp performances, was certainly no sharp in his limited playing time against the Eagles.
 
The question that begs to be answered is whether the lack of productivity is due to the beat-up offensive line; the inability of the wide receiving corps to get open deep, or whether the real problems lies within the quarterbacks themselves.
 
Over the off-season, a survey ranked the Browns' quarterback situation dead last. At this point, there is absolutely nothing to prove that survey wrong.
 
A strong showing against the Lions could help to ease some of those concerns. But if the quarterbacks do indeed struggle against Detroit and continue to perform poorly in the subsequent preseason games against the Bills and Bears, the center and cornerback problems will be long forgotten by the time the Browns line up for real against the Saints.
 
As Browns fans know very well, the entire universe seems to revolve around the quarterback situation. From the arrival of No. 1 overall draft choice Tim Couch in 1999, to the "gut feeling" former head coach Butch Davis had when he named Kelly Holcomb the starter ahead of Couch in 2003; to the disastrous performances of veterans Jeff Garcia and Dilfer the past two years, little else seems to matter when the quarterback is not playing well.
 
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have major concerns not only with Frye, but also his unproven backups.
 
Given the ideal situation, with an offensive line that has played together for a half-dozen years, I think Frye would be successful.
 
But as it now stands, with Ryan Tucker and Bentley both out with injuries and Hallen retired due to what has been perceived as fear of having to be the starter, this year's offensive line might not be much better than the one that failed to protect Couch in 1999 and 2000. 
 
And we all know what happened to the former Kentucky standout. He never had the opportunity to prove himself before injuries took their toll.
 
Frye could very well be headed down the same path. And if that indeed is the case, the strides head coach Romeo Crennel and his staff hoped to make this year will be difficult to achieve.


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