Derry: Where's the Silver Lining?

The veteran columnist looks at the hits the team has been taking since camp opened, and finds his silver lining in a surprising place.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the optimism that exists at this time of year. Players are optimistic. Coaches are optimistic. The owner is optimistic. And, most of all, the fans are optimistic, convinced this will be the year their team makes a serious run at the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for Browns fans, much of that optimism has quickly faded, the result of four setbacks that have taken place before the first preseason game is played.

Brady Quinn's 10-day contract holdout, Ryan Tucker's suspension for steroid use, Orpheus Roye's knee surgery and LeCharles Bentley's inability to pass the team physical have all contributed to tempering the enthusiasm that had been generated just prior to the start camp.

Thankfully, Quinn's ridiculous holdout finally ended on Aug. 7. It probably cost him any chance of being the Browns' No. 1 quarterback to start the year, but the reality is, he was a long-shot even if he had been on hand for every practice.

Quinn's importance to this team is down the road. It's probably best that he isn't forced to operate behind the makeshift line that the Browns will have for at least the first four weeks of the regular season.

Tucker's suspension is probably the biggest setback in that it will prevent the line from developing the all-important cohesion it has lacked ever since the team returned in 1999.

Tucker, who was expected to help anchor the line from his right tackle position, is coming off a season in which he missed considerable time due to mental problems. This latest setback may be a direct off-shoot of those problems.

Time will tell whether Tucker ever plays another game for the Browns, who say his situation will be reevaluated when his suspension ends in early October.

General manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel have to be asking themselves a couple of very important questions:

  • Can the Browns afford to keep a player who has been as unreliable as Tucker has become?

  • Can the Browns afford to let go of a player with Tucker's talent?

The answer might very well depend upon how well the offensive line plays in September.

If the Browns can somehow manage to go 2-2 over the first four weeks, and the offense shows some consistency, then Tucker's days with the Browns might be numbered.

For now, Kevin Shaffer has shifted from left tackle and is filling in for Tucker while rookie Joe Thomas has pretty much been handed the starting job at left tackle. It's a good thing the Browns didn't bow to Shaffer's request to be traded when the team drafted Thomas.

If the offense struggles and the starting quarterback, be it Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson or Quinn, finds himself running for his life, the Browns will no doubt welcome Tucker back with open arms although he'll undoubtedly have to earn a starting job.

More than likely joining Tucker on the sideline in September will be Bentley, whose optimistic belief that he might make a miraculous return to begin the year was dealt a dose of reality when the Browns pushed off his team physical.

Bentley's personal doctor had given him the green light to play, but the former Pro Bowl center now admits his surgically repaired knee is only about 70 percent at best. To think it can improve another 20 to 25 percent over the next four weeks is totally unrealistic.

Bentley hopes to play at 90-95 percent when he does return to active duty.

That means he'll be starting the season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he'll be forced to sit for at least six weeks.

The loss of defensive end Roye, who had arthroscopic knee surgery at the beginning of camp and is expected to miss at least the entire preseason, is critical because the defensive line is very short on depth.

Shaun Smith, the restricted free agent signed by the Browns this past off-season as a backup nose tackle, will get first shot at filling Roye's big shoes. Smith is certainly not the long-term answer.

Others who figure to benefit from Roye's absence are J'Vonne Parker, Simon Fraser and Orien Harris.

If Roye comes back in time for the regular-season opener against Pittsburgh, his injury will not be of any real significance. A player with his experience doesn't really need to play a whole lot of preseason games to be ready for the season.

But as Crennel admits, there is no guarantee he will be back for the lid-lifter and without Roye, Tucker and Bentley, the odds of the Browns being able to pull off an upset grow much longer. A 1-3 or 0-4 start is a possibility.

And who knows what is going to happen over the next four weeks. Very rarely does a team escape injury. A couple more setbacks could make for a very, very long season. And a much tighter noose around Crennel's neck.

The good news through all of this?

Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was constantly creating headlines both on and off the field a year ago, has managed to keep his name out of the headlines.

Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.

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