Derry: A Time for Optimism

Frank Derry has covered the Browns for decades, starting with Browns News/Illustrated, and moving on to Bernie's Insiders. He's seen off-season optimism that has been bordering on being absurd, but the veteran Browns observer thinks that some upbeat thinking may justified in 2007...

With the start of Training Camp looming, this is the time for great optimism.

Optimism from the fans who are stoked by the influx of blue-chip talent from the draft and the vows of improvement professed by the returning veterans.

Optimism from the owner, who believes the millions of dollar he is paying his coaches and players will translate into an abundance of victories.

And optimism from the coaches, who believe in themselves enough to be convinced they can take a boatload of average NFL talent, combine it with a few Pro Bowl-quality players and produce a Super Bowl quality team.

The media then stokes the fire by writing about how Joe Quarterback completed an 80-yard bomb to Jack Speedburner on the first play of Training Camp. And how Jim Halfback took a pitch around left end, broke four tackles and carried three defenders into the end zone.

By the time the first exhibition game is played, optimistic fans are standing in line to buy playoff tickets!

Far-fetched?

I seem to recall that in 1999, when the Browns beat the Cowboys 20-17 in overtime in the Hall of Fame Game, a lot of people … fans, players, coaches, front office personnel, including president Carmen Policy, and media … were convinced the first-year Browns would not play like an expansion team. The final 2-14 record said otherwise.

And head coach Chris Palmer was wrong the next year when, during the team's kickoff luncheon, predicted the Browns would be a playoff contender. A 2-1 start further fanned the flames, but 12 losses in the next 13 games doused those expectations and cost Palmer his job.

Next came the excitement created by the arrival of successful college coach Butch Davis, who was nothing if not confident. One local radio personality, known for his huge mouth, was so confident in Davis and Policy that he said flat out, "If Davis and Policy can't get it done, it can't get done."

Well, if he knows what he's talking about, which is very questionable, I guess it can't get done.

In the past, I have easily been able to stay off the bandwagon because the team has failed to do the most necessary thing in building a winner … develop a strong offensive line.

Now, with the Browns entering their ninth year, I see reason for optimism because the right moves have been made by general manager Phil Savage. He has signed talented offensive linemen like Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley and guard Eric Steinbach, along with drafting big Joe Thomas in the first round.

The Browns' line also should be bolstered by the return of Ryan Tucker, who was out a good portion of last year with a mental problem, Kevin Shaffer and Hank Fraley.

If Bentley, who recently passed his physical, is ready to play in the season opener, the Browns could be golden on the line this year.

A strong offensive line will make life a lot easier for Charlie Frye or Derrick Anderson or Brady Quinn, all of whom will be vying for the starting quarterback job. It will also dramatically improve the chances of Jamal Lewis returning to his Baltimore Ravens form.

There is also some optimism that Braylon Edwards has matured a little bit. His tardiness in reporting to one of the off-season mini-camps indicates he still has a ways to go, but at least he should have no excuses for not being 100 percent to begin the season. If you recall, in his rookie season in 2005 he was a late arrival due to his contract situation and last year he was coming off major knee surgery.

There's also optimism that Kellen Winslow, Jr., will be closer to 100 percent health-wise. Winslow has had to battle back from a broken leg suffered in the third week of his rookie season, also the serious injuries suffered in his motorcycle accident suffered after that first season. He gave it his best effort last year, but he clearly was still bothered by lingering knee problems.

Somewhat overshadowed by all of the offensive storylines has been the fact the Browns were able to retain defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, which is another reason for optimism.

Grantham, who reportedly was being courted for a couple of different college jobs, has done an excellent job of transitioning the Browns from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. A third straight year in this system, under the same coordinator, should make this unit even stronger.

And also overshadowed has been the fact Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson both have a year of experience under their belt. These two young linebackers, both of whom were high draft picks a year ago, played well even though they really didn't know what they were doing.

It takes at least a year just to get used to the speed at which the game is played in the NFL. I remember how it took Clay Matthews until his second year to begin to play well at linebacker. Once he knew what he was doing, he rapidly became one of the best outside linebackers ever to play for the Browns, if not the entire NFL.

It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Wimbley comes close to Matthews' performance level. In this day and age of free agency, it's hard to predict he will stay with the Browns for 16 years the way Matthews did, but I'm confident the Florida State product has the talent to be a Pro Bowl performer for many years.

Too optimistic?

Maybe, but that's what the off-season is all about, isn't it?


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