PITTSFORD, N.Y. - The Cleveland Browns hoped to learn more about their football team during Saturday morning's scrimmage with the Buffalo Bills at St. John Fisher College.
Unfortunately, the Browns learned many of the same problems that plagued the team in 2001 remain areas of concern one week before the first preseason game of 2002.
While the Browns' defense proved it is still capable of looking brilliant at times, the offense showed it is still in search of an identity.
With Tim Couch at the helm, the Browns No. 1 offense picked up just four first downs, surrendered three sacks and turned the ball over twice in 24 plays. In six total series starting at their own 35-yard line, the Browns starters crossed midfield just once.
"It wasn't very good," Couch admitted. "We made too many negative plays, put ourselves in third-and-long too many times, and you are not going to move the football when you do that."
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took some of the blame for the struggles of Couch and the first-team offense. The coaching staff took away Couch's favorite target, calling plays they hoped would encourage the quarterback to rely on some of his other weapons.
"In two scrimmages (including Monday's intra-squad scrimmage in Berea), I don't think Kevin had a single catch," said Arians. "We know what Kevin can do."
If the hope was to have Couch develop some timing with players other than Johnson, that did not happen. Some of Couch's difficulties were the result of pressure from a Buffalo defense that blitzed more than you would expect in a scrimmage. Some of the problems were do to the poor play of his supporting cast.
Here are some of the lowlights:
On the first play of the first series, Bills defensive linemen Aaron Schobel and Bryce Fisher combined on a 4-yard touch sack of Couch.
Two plays later, pressure up the middle from Fisher kept Couch from following through on a third-down pass over the middle to JaJuan Dawson. The throw was intercepted by former Ohio State cornerback Antoine Winfield.
Quincy Morgan rekindled disturbing memories of his inconsistent rookie season, dropping a pass on the second play of the offense's second series.
With William Green held out to rest a sore shoulder, James Jackson started at running back. Arians said the Browns wanted to work on running the ball with the first team, but Jackson rarely found running room behind the No. 1 line. Jackson also had trouble holding onto the ball, fumbling one handoff exchange with Couch and later losing the ball when he was stood up by linebacker London Fletcher on a goal-line simulation.
"The one thing we have is we have some playmakers," said Arians. "It's just a matter of finding the right spots for them. I didn't give Tim a very good chance today. We were trying to establish some runs and we didn't hit a very good rhythm with (Couch). I thought our first unit sputtered a little bit."
The one bright spot among the offensive starters was tight end Rickey Dudley, who made two difficult catches for first downs, and had a spectacular one-handed grab called back because a touch sack was called before Couch could throw the ball.
The most consistent of all the Browns playmakers was once forgotten wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, who had a great day working with the second-team offense. Northcutt caught four passes during the second unit's first set of 12 plays, including a 65-yard touchdown bomb from Kelly Holcomb.
The Browns' only other touchdown came on an 8-yard fade from Holcomb to Frisman Jackson.
Cleveland's first-team defense offered some early reason for encouragement, shutting down the Drew Bledsoe-led Bills on their opening series. Defensive end Kenard Lang and safety Robret Griffith showed why the Browns signed them as free agents during the offseason, teaming up to drop running back Travis Henry for a 3-yard loss on the Bills second play of the day. One play later, Lang combined with Courtney Brown for a touch-sack of Bledsoe on 3rd-and-13.
Bledsoe did engineer one long drive that ended at the Browns' 5-yard line with the Bills running out of plays.
The Browns first-team defense forced one turnover - Daylon McCutcheon's interception of a pass by backup quarterback Alex Van Pelt on the Bills' second offensive series. With Van Pelt leading the No. 1 offense, the Bills managed just one first down against the Browns starting defense.
Buffalo's second and third units each reached the end zone. Shawn Bryson scored on a 1-yard run with the second team, and rookie Rodney Wright made a diving catch on an 8-yard fade from Travis Brown for the third-team's score.
"We'll go home and evaluate the successes and the failures, but the immediate reaction is the defense played very, very well," said coach Butch Davis. "We got consistent pressure. We played the run pretty well."
Overall, Davis said the scrimmage capped two productive days of practice with the Bills.
"I thought this was a great two days for our football
team," said Davis. "We really needed the opportunity
to work against someone else. We got a ton of work
done and found out a lot about some players ... their
competitive level and who can make plays."
GREEN SITS ... First-round pick William Green said his shoulder was already hurt before the Browns arrived in suburban Rochester on Friday. The rookie running back aggravated the shoulder injury when he was hit by Bills linebacker London Fletcher after catching a pass during a Friday afternoon 5-on-7 drill.
The injury forced Green to sit out Saturday's scrimmage.
"The silver lining is that all of the X-rays were negative," said Davis. "(Holding Green out) was more of a precautionary thing. If it had been a true game, probably he would have been able to go. Hopefully he'll be ready to go by practice Monday or Tuesday and we'll be able to get him ready for the Minnesota game (Saturday night)."
INJURY REPORT ... Rookie linebacker Ben Taylor sat out the scrimmage with a sore calf. Taylor suffered the injury when he was kicked during Friday afternoon's practice.
"We missed not having him," said Davis. "We would have loved to see him be able to go. He has an awful lot of swelling. The swelling is down 50-percent from a day ago."
Tight End-H-back Rod Monroe caught a 26-yard pass on third down to give the Browns' second-team offense a first-and-goal at the Bills 7. Unfortunately, Monroe suffered an injury when he was leg-whipped at the end of the play. The Browns did not have results of X-Rays on the leg immediately after the scrimmage.
FULLER, NORTHCUTT IMPRESS - Butch Davis said the play of Corey Fuller and Dennis Northcutt stood out during the Browns' two-days of work with the Bills.
"I came here wanting to see guys compete, step up and make plays," said Davis. "There are two guys I couldn't be prouder of in these two guys, one of them being Corey Fuller. Corey Fuller had an phenomenal day (Friday). He was absolutely outstanding from a fundamental and technique standpoint. He jammed and re-routed and really worked their receivers over. During the two-minute drill (Friday) he had two interceptions.
"Then Dennis Northcutt in the two practices and the scrimmage, he made plays. That's what we've wanted to see. We've wanted him to step up, and when guys do that on a consistent basis, then they become a major part of the long-term plan."