Derry: Despite Loss, Anderson Merits a Chance

The Browns back-up quarterback should get a chance to compete for the starting job in 2007

Derek Anderson might very well be back on the bench when the Browns next take the field on Dec. 17 against the Baltimore Ravens in what could be a history-making game for Cleveland.

And that's okay.

A player should never lose his starting job due to injury. Thus, if healthy, starting quarterback Charlie Frye deserves to return to his No. 1 status when his bruised right wrist permits.

But come this off-season, the Browns had better not automatically declare Frye as their starter in 2007. Not after the way Anderson has played, first in a backup role against the Chiefs on Dec. 3 and then as a starter Thursday night against the Steelers.

No. The Browns didn't upset the defending Super Bowl champs. Far from it. Head coach Romeo Crennel's troops couldn't repeat the comeback magic they performed in their 31-28 overtime victory over the Chiefs four days earlier.

But despite the fact the Browns came out on the short end of the 27-7 verdict, Anderson played reasonably well most of the night, completing 21-of-37 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown.

The Steelers obviously wanted to try and rattle Anderson by constantly blitzing on the Browns' first two drives, but it was a tactic that didn't work. Not only did the Browns do an excellent job of picking up the blitzes, but Anderson did an even better job of quickly finding his open receivers and releasing the ball before the defense could get to him.

Anderson completed four straight passes on the Browns' first drive that ended due in part to an ill-advised run up the middle on third-and-2.

Anderson then was ambushed by his own receivers on the team's second drive, one in which Braylon Edwards and Dennis Northcutt dropped passes and Edwards had another ball knocked out of his grasp.

Several more drops, including at least three or four by Northcutt, made Anderson's night look a lot less impressive than it should have been.

Crennel was so upset by Northcutt's lack of productivity that he appeared to give him a verbal lashing on the sideline midway through the third quarter. Northcutt has a history of dropping passes in Pittsburgh and he continued that unwanted tradition Thursday night.

The more I watched Anderson, the more I began to think that maybe, just maybe, the offensive line has been getting a bum rap this season. Frye was sacked 43 times in his 11 ½ games, plus he was belted to the ground several dozen more times just as he released the ball.

I don't think that it's just a coincidence that in Anderson's six-plus quarters at quarterback, the second-year pro from Oregon State has kept his uniform clean enough even for Edwards's standards. (If you recall, Edwards made a point to show how dirty Frye's uniform was during a sideline tantrum against the Bengals.)

The Steelers really never laid a hand on him until late in the third quarter when they were up 24-0 and could pin their ears back and come at him with no regard for the run.

Unlike Frye, Anderson doesn't start scrambling around the minute he sees a rush. Instead, he keeps his eyes focused downfield and then quickly releases the ball once he spots an open receiver, almost always before the defense can get to him.

I'm not saying Anderson is the second coming of Tony Romo. I'm not even sure he'll be able to beat out Frye if both go into the 2007 Training Camp on equal footing.

But I do know that Frye has done nothing in his first full year as a starter to have a lock on the position for next year and beyond.

I also know that the Browns cannot afford to repeat their '06 mistake and not bring in a veteran quarterback to offer guidance for their young quarterbacks.

People have raved about how much first and second-round draft picks Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson have progressed this year. Both linebackers make no secret of how much their veteran teammates, Willie McGinest and Andra Davis, have aided in their adjustment to the NFL.

The Browns don't necessarily need someone who will challenge for the starting job. Instead, they just need a mentor who Frye and Anderson can talk to on the sideline and in team meetings; someone who has been in the heat of the battle.

Nothing against quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer, but he never played in an NFL game in his life. And third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey, the most experienced of this year's group with 11 games under his belt is not the grizzled veteran this team needs.

The experience Anderson gained by getting to start in Pittsburgh will undoubtedly help him down the road. But I'm not sure Thursday night's game, which was scheduled for NFL Network, was really typical of a Browns-Steelers match-up.

The near-zero wind chill; horrible road conditions that resulted in a late-arriving crowd; lack of preparation time for both teams; and the fact the Browns and Steelers are out of playoff contention seemed to reduce this to little more than an average NFL game.

The Browns, in particular the defense, appeared to be emotionally drained following their big win over the Chiefs. The Steelers ran at will all night.

The good news for the Browns is that they will now have 10 days to prepare for the Ravens, who look to be on their way to the AFC North title. It will be the last time this season the Browns, who finish the year with games against Tampa Bay and Houston, will have an opportunity to prove something against a playoff-quality team.

It'll also be important because it'll be Cleveland's last chance to win a division game. As bad as the Browns have been since they returned in 1999, the team has never gone an entire season without at least one division victory.

In fact, since division play first began in 1967, no team in Browns history has ever gone an entire season without at least one division victory.

History could be made on Dec. 17 no matter who gets the call at quarterback.

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