Passan: History is About to Change

Even the notoriously difficult-to-please columnist was impressed by the Browns first day. The second day, well, "not so much", but what Savage did on Saturday gives even Rich Passan hope that the team may turn the corner...

For the last nine years, the Cleveland Browns have slogged along as the stepchildren of the National Football League.

After the city was hosed by the league over the original incarnation of the Browns, the reincarnated version represented the worst the NFL had to offer.

If there was bad football to be played, it could usually be found by the shores of Lake Erie. The once-proud name of the Cleveland Browns became sullied and associated with losing.

The harder the ownership tried, the worse it got. Draft mistakes, injuries and bad luck in general pockmarked the return of the new Browns. Just when everyone believed it would get better, it got worse.

It got so bad, loyal fans began to doubt whether the Browns would ever show signs – actually, any sign would have sufficed – that there was a corner to be turned, that the pervasive losing would reach a conclusion.

After the events of this past Saturday, however, history is about to change. To call it momentous would be grandly understating it.

What Phil Savage accomplished in the first round of the NFL's college draft goes well beyond miracle status and has given the Browns an excellent chance of restoring the good name of the Cleveland Browns.

Taking offensive tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick of the draft and then purloining quarterback Brady Quinn for a second-rounder this year and first-rounder next year will eventually rank as the best day of Savage's career.

Not since they selected Ozzie Newsome and Clay Matthews in the first round of the 1978 draft have the Browns had such an exciting opening round.

In a matter of a few hours, Savage solidified an offense to the point where Romeo Crennel will have no excuse if the Browns' exit from the starting gate begins as slowly as his first two seasons.

Savage got him two starters. Thomas will open as the left tackle and become a bulwark at the most important position on the offensive line. Quinn, whose quarterback savvy was gleaned under the watchful eye of Charlie Weis, is smart enough and decidedly prepared enough to step right in and run the offense.

He'll make his mistakes, of course. That's to be expected. But at the same time, there is no question he'll better much better than the Tim Couches and Charlie Fryes of the world. As a product of a system designed for immediate success in the NFL, Quinn has a better pedigree already than Frye and Derek Anderson.

And if the Browns don't get rid of him, it'll be interesting to see how Frye handles being the third quarterback. Quinn will show him how it's done.

Despite plugging in two of the most vital holes in the offense, don't expect to see the Browns in the playoffs this season. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially on defense.

However, there is great reason to believe the team will finally be representative of what Browns fans have come to expect from them since the return in 1999.

Savage and owner Randy Lerner wanted to put a face on this team. The general manager put two faces on the team in Thomas and Quinn.

Still, one has to wonder what Quinn was doing at #22 in the first round. Wasn't he supposed to go in the first 10 picks? The lower he dropped, the higher the eyebrows rose as to why.

Why did such a supposedly talented young man slide nearly out of the first round after being so highly touted? At least two other teams that needed a quarterback passed on him. What caused the slip to 22?

All good questions and it sort of makes one wonder. Is there something we don't know about the kid? Several experts pointed out his lack of passing accuracy and inability to win big games. Never mind that 21 other starters were just as responsible for losing those big games.

Dan Marino fell all the way to the Miami Dolphins at the tail end of the first round of the quarterback-rich 1983 NFL draft. Luminaries such as Ken O'Brien, Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge were chosen ahead of him. If the Browns get anywhere near the production from Quinn that Miami got from Marino, watch out.

Quinn is most comfortable running what amounts to a West Coast offense. He's more Jeff Garcia than JaMarcus Russell in that regard. And we've been led to believe that new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski favors a power-running attack with a vertical passing game.

It'll be interesting to see if Chudzinski pulls back a little, adjusts and incorporates a scheme that better fits Quinn's strengths.

Savage, perhaps flush with the excitement of getting two starters, appears to have paid too dear a price when he moved back into the second round to grab cornerback Eric Wright.

Playing footsie twice with the Dallas Cowboys resulted in a significant gap between Wright and fifth-round choice Brandon McDonald. A lot of pretty good players fell off the board in those 87 picks. Not having a selection in the third and fourth rounds could have a serious effect on the quality of the Browns' roster in the next few years.

In the process, Savage did nothing to change the perception that he becomes clueless on the second day of the draft.

The true test of a good general manager or personnel chief is how many second-day picks wind up as starters. First-day selections, in a lot of instances, are far easier to click on than second-day choices.

In two seasons, Savage's record in this department is questionable at best (although linebacker Leon Williams could change that this season). The GM's performance Sunday did nothing to reverse that notion.

After McDonald, another cornerback who most likely will wind up as a special teamer, Savage might as well have drafted Larry, Curly and Moe. Instead, he reached back and tapped Milila, Chase and Syndric.

It's a safe best that more than a few draftniks had no idea who Milila Purcell, Chase Pittman and Syndric Steptoe were before Sunday.

Purcell and Pittman might have been decent college players, but they'll be nothing more than lightweight defensive ends in the Browns' 3-4 scheme. And Steptoe's only chance of making the club is as a return specialist, something that has eluded former Savage fourth-round pick Antonio Perkins.

Also on the downside, Savage gambled heavily on the selection of Wright, a talented player with a questionable past. He is on record as wanting high character players on his team. If so, then why did he draft a young man who carries a red flag into the NFL after rape and drug charges as a freshman at USC several years ago?

With the NFL cracking down hard on personal conduct, you can bet Wright will be watched closely.

And despite all of Savage's machinations, the running game was not addressed. It looks as though Jamal Lewis will have to be the infantry standard bearer. That could turn out to be a big mistake.

Bottom line: Savage gets a solid A for his first three picks, but spoiled it with a disappointing second day, lowering his grade to a B. And that's being very kind.

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