A Replay of 1996?

While with the Ravens, Phil Savage helped make a choice that changed that team's destiny - between a talented running back with some questions marks, and a potential franchise left tackle. Are we seeing a replay a little more than a decade later?

General Manager Phil Savage and his 17-man scouting staff have been locked down in meetings since April 9, and as the draft draws nearer, Savage might take a page from his days with the Ravens when deciding what the Browns should do with the third pick.

In 1996, as part of the front office in Baltimore, the Ravens were faced with the decision of choosing between troubled but talented Lawrence Phillips, the running back from Nebraska, or Jonathan Ogden, the huge left tackle from UCLA. They chose Ogden and never regretted it.

Savage is considering going down the same road this year to draft Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas.

"Our coach at the time was Ted Marchibroda," Savage recalled. "Ted wanted a running back and he just hung his head. He wasn't very excited at all. Ultimately, Jonathan became a Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame type player.

"Picking Joe Thomas might not be the most exciting pick, but it could be the wisest thing for us to do that this point. We'll see how it all plays out."

The others Savage is considering are Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson.

Savage was not implying any of the four have a shadowy past like Phillips had. He was making the point Thomas is easier to project as a pro ball player. The Browns already have had Peterson, Russell and Quinn in for a visit. Thomas will visit the Browns training facility April 16.

If the Browns do take Thomas they will have rebuilt the left side of their offensive line this offseason. They signed Eric Steinbach in free agency. Last year's left tackle, Kevin Shaffer, would move to right tackle. That would set up a battle between Ryan Tucker and free agent acquisition Seth McKinney at right guard.

T.J. McCreight, the assistant director of player personnel, also hinted Thomas might be in the Browns' plans when he talked about adding Eric Steinbach and McKinney in free agency along with re-signing Hank Fraley and Lennie Friedman.

"Along with the draft, the offensive line will be up to where it should be," said McCreight, suggesting at the very least the Browns won't wait until the sixth or seventh round to add an offensive lineman.

BROWNS NOTES

  • The Browns play the Patriots on Oct. 7 in Foxboro. It will be the first head-to-head meeting of Browns coach Romeo Crennel and his former boss, Bill Belichick.
  • A group of 250 Browns Backers, some from as far away as Texas, was in Cleveland Browns Stadium April 11 to hear General Manager Phil Savage and his scouts talk about the draft. Savage said he would be comfortable drafting as low as 15th in the first round as long as he acquired enough picks in compensation.
  • A portion of the presentation to the Browns Backers included a question and answer session. One fan got a rousing cheer when he said, "We have the third pick this year. I hope we're picking last in 2008." Savage tempered the enthusiasm, but only slightly, by saying, "How about 2009?"
  • The Browns hope that with Jamal Lewis in the backfield and an improved offensive line the longest running play in 2007 will be by a running back. Last year quarterback Derek Anderson had the longest run -- 33 yards against Kansas City on Dec. 6.


QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'd have to grit our teeth, but we're open to anything." -- Browns general manager Phil Savage on the prospect of trading draft choices to move up to first or second in the draft.


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