The Browns head into their bye this week with a two-fold purpose: Get the ailing secondary healthy and give the offensive line another week of getting to know each other better.
Starting cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Gary Baxter were both inactive against Carolina. Baxter stayed home with his nagging pectoral injury. Bodden made the trip and was scratched a couple hours before the game because his sprained right ankle hadn't improved enough.
"I was (at the Browns training complex) until 7:30 one night," Bodden said, disappointed he could not play. "I used everything they have in there - laser, ice, getting on my toes to do calf raises - everything."
Coach Romeo Crennel was forced to use safety Brodney Pool as the left cornerback and Daven Holly as the right cornerback against the Panthers. They played well. The only offensive touchdown the Panthers scored was on a 17-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to Keyshawn Johnson over Pool. Carolina's other touchdown, in a 20-12 victory, was scored on a 31-yard interception return by Richard Marshall. John Kasay kicked two field goals. Phil Dawson kicked four field goals for the Browns.
Baxter's injury has been particularly perplexing. He was the big-ticket free agent signing in 2005, but he missed 11 games - one with a concussion and 10 with a torn right pectoral. This pectoral injury is on his left side and not as serious as the one from 2005, but the result is the same; he isn't playing. Baxter wants to be 100 percent before returning.
Bodden was confident he would play against the Panthers because he has bounced back quickly from ankle injuries before. He is even more positive he will be ready to play when the Browns get back into action October 22 in a home game against Denver.
As far as the offensive line goes, the group that has been maligned since the start of the season improved steadily until it faced Carolina. Problems began on the first play of the season when a blatant holding penalty on Kevin Shaffer negated a touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards. Charlie Frye was sacked five times in that game and two weeks later was sacked five times by the Ravens.
The line seemed to turn a corner in Oakland in Week 4. Reuben Droughns rushed for 100 yards on 25 carries. Frye was sacked twice.
"Being together for five weeks now has helped our continuity," right tackle Ryan Tucker said. "We were only together for a few days before we played our first game."
The Panthers provided a sterner test, but the Browns still rushed for 91 yards on 23 carries - a 4.0 average. Frye was sacked twice and hurried seven times. He said it was the strongest pass rush he faced.
No changes on the line are expected before the season resumes. Though the Browns are not preparing specifically for the Broncos this week they are practicing.
Specifically, Crennel would like to see improvement in the interior of his line. Running inside has been more difficult than running off tackle for Droughns. Opponents that have run stunts on the Browns find success when they rush inside.
"We have a long way to go and there is room for improvement," Crennel said. "If we will improve, it might help the team."