Passan: It's Decision Time

Rich rants about Topic Number One for Browns fans this week: The Quarterbacks. How fast should the Browns push Quinn? What will it mean to Romeo Crennel's future? Here's Rich's take.

It's decision time for Romeo Crennel.

And this time, he needs to put away the coin, tarot cards and witches' brew. This time, the Browns' head coach must be decisive and finally make a choice.

Crennel has got to decide right now who his starting quarterback is going to be Sept. 9 when the Pittsburgh Steelers roll into Cleveland for their annual beat down of the Browns.

After the way Brady Quinn played Saturday night in the exhibition loss to the Detroit Lions, the fans will gladly help him with that choice. The only thing missing on Quinn's personage during his nearly flawless performance was the cape.

I can almost guarantee you that Crennel did not expect or want Quinn to perform as he did against the Lions. He didn't want to see the rookie slice through the Detroit defense with such ease, such poise, such self assurance. That's the last thing he wanted and expected.

Why? Because Quinn's performance muddied the waters. It gave teeth to the notion that Quinn, despite missing nearly two weeks of training camp, is ready to take over a job that Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson don't seem to want or seem capable of winning. It has given birth to a massive quarterback controversy among the fans.

You could tell by Crennel's body language that he was uneasy about Quinn's showing. He was grim and somewhat tight-lipped after the game when the subject of Quinn was broached.

"It doesn't make any difference what I say," he said regarding the fans' reaction to Quinn's two-touchdown performance. "They are still going to be encouraged by what they saw. And I think you've got to give the young man credit for being able to come in and do what he did.

"Even though when you look at the relative situation, their best guys weren't in there, but our best guys weren't in there, either. So, hey, let them (the fans) get excited, but we still will do what we feel like is the best for this team and every player on this team."

In other words, Crennel asked the fans to trust him because he knows what he's doing. Here's a head coach, who when asked why Anderson didn't just hand the ball off to Jamal Lewis when the Browns had a first and goal at the Detroit 1 late in the first quarter, said, "Because we didn't."

That's it. Because we didn't.

Trust a coach like that? Fat chance.

Sides have been clearly drawn for this latest quarterback controversy.

On one side, there is a rush to judgment. The kid's got to play now, howl those who want to see fresh blood under center. They argue that Frye and Anderson have shown nothing thus far (although Anderson outplayed Frye against the Lions) and it's about time the Browns got off dead center offensively. Ken Dorsey? Not in the equation.

On the other side, caution is the key word. Why rush the kid in there when he can sit and learn? Sure, he played well, almost unexpectedly, against the Lions, but calm down. Why ruin him by throwing him to the wolves right out of the chute?

He's a baby in the National Football League. Why hang him out to dry against the Steelers in game one, an improved Raiders defense in game three and the ravenous Ravens in game four?

Both sides have valid arguments. And don't for a moment think that Crennel, his coaching staff, General Manager Phil Savage and owner Randy Lerner won't think along the same lines when the ultimate decision is made.

They don't want another Tim Couch fiasco. They don't want to run a raw rookie out there before he's ready and ruin him. And who can blame them? After all, they're invested heavily in this kid and want to make certain he's ready.

But there is one huge and very telling difference between Quinn and Couch. Quinn has it from the neck up. Couch never did.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Frye is a latter-day Tim Couch, although Couch had a few moments in his career that gave you hope he would eventually become the quarterback the Browns envisioned when they drafted him. Remember that convincing Sunday night victory (33-13) in Pittsburgh as a national television audience witnessed? Frye has yet to experience games like that.

In 1999, Couch wasn't nearly ready to be a starter. He grew up running a sandlot-style offense in high school and college. He had no idea what a hitch pass was. Or a go route. Or a dig route. The word "checkdown" was not in his vocabulary. He was as raw as cabbage in cole slaw and supremely unprepared to be an NFL quarterback. And it showed.

Yes, he had virtually no running game, an offensive line that led the league in underachieving and a receivers corps that was inconsistent. But he also didn't have it upstairs.

Quinn, on the other hand, is the anti-Couch. He comes from a program that made him more ready for the NFL than any quarterback in this last draft.

He made throws Saturday night that took Couch nearly three years to learn. Sure, they were against players who, for the most part, will be looking for work in a couple of weeks. But he was also working with players who will be in the same unemployment line.

Sure, the Lions threw a prevent defense at him. But he took recognized it and took advantage of it. He made the correct throws to the right receivers. Not bad for someone who has been in training camp for less than two weeks and has relatively limited knowledge of the playbook. Must be a quick study. He still completed passes the Lions knew were coming and had time to prepare for.

"I think any of those guys could have done what I did in that situation," Quinn said after the game as reporters several times brought up the possibility of him starting. "It's not my decision. You guys are asking questions I think are better geared toward the coaching staff. It doesn't matter what my opinion is."

So Crennel has a decision to make. If Quinn is, indeed, the man, he needs to start in Denver this Saturday. He needs to see the difference in how fast the game is played NFL by facing the Broncos' starting defensive unit. He needs to experience some adversity. He needs to see that what happened against the Lions was somewhat of an aberration.

Somehow, I think he's got the emotional chops to handle the hardship. After all, he survived four years as the starter at one of the highest profile college programs in the country. And the two years he learned under Charlie Weis can't hurt.

But don't look for any of that to take place, not if you take Crennel literally in his post-game remarks. "I think we will go along with the same schedule that we have had and when (Quinn) is able to handle more, we will give him more," he said.

As odd as this sounds, Crennel's future as head coach of the Cleveland Browns hinges, in large part, on the right arm of a player he'd rather see with a clipboard, not a football, in his hand.

How ironic.

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