Passan: Time For Realism

Rich thinks the Cleveland Browns are kidding themselves with Frye and Anderson... Contrarian thinking from Rich Passan? No way!

He's the man in charge and can do whatever he pleases, so he will be pleased to see Brady Quinn as an observer when the Browns open the 2007 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week from Sunday.

General Manager Phil Savage not only picks the men who comprise the roster for the Browns, it now seems as though he's calling the shots as to who will and won't play. What other conclusion can one reach after Savage definitely ruled out Quinn as a candidate for the starting job?

"It's unrealistic for Brady to be in the mix for the opener," Savage said Saturday night in Denver.

Even so, there promises to be some interesting debating going on this week in Berea regarding the status of Quinn, whose exhibition performances have caused more than a few eyebrows to curiously slant upward.

Arguments will rage – well, maybe not rage, but it certainly should be lively – as to whether Quinn is ready for his professional football baptism against the Steelers.

After missing 11 days of training and 16 practices due to a protracted contract holdout, Quinn has done little to cause the coaches and front-office types to declare, "Hold on there. Let's not get carried away." In fact, he has done nothing to argue that point except to be a rookie who has never played a down in the regular season.

So why the reins-yanking thinking of Savage and coach Romeo Crennel? What in the world are they afraid of?

Are they afraid the Browns will go 3-13 like Peyton Manning did in his first season as the Indianapolis Colts quarterback? Are they afraid the Browns might go 1-15 as Troy Aikman did as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys? Terry Bradshaw was an unremarkable 5-9 and 6-8 in his first two seasons with the Steelers.

What are they fearful of?

The Colts went out and surrounded Manning with a terrific offensive line, a great running back and a superb corps of wide receivers after that first season. Ditto for Aikman after his disastrous rookie campaign and Bradshaw in Pittsburgh.

It took three seasons before the Cowboys became a winning team under Aikman. It took the Colts just two as Manning turned a 3-13 beginning into a 13-3 record in his second season. And we all know what Bradshaw did after those first two seasons.

Bradshaw and Aikman are in the Hall of Fame and Manning has a leg and a half in the Canton shrine with many more productive seasons awaiting.

Don't the Browns now have a solid offensive line that can offer Quinn better protection than most Cleveland quarterbacks have received since the return in 1999? Don't they now have a better ground game with Jamal Lewis? And one of the best tight ends in the National Football League?

What causes so much fear that they cringe when thoughts of allowing Quinn to start the season under center course through their minds?

Unrealistic? In what way? Because he's still a baby to the pro football wars? You've got to start somewhere.

To begin the season with Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson, neither of whom has distinguished himself during the exhibition season and don't deserve to start against the Steelers, would be a mistake.

The players notice the difference when Quinn is in the game. In the rookie's seven series thus far, the Browns have not turned the ball over, played penalty-free football and scored three touchdowns.

Granted, most of that came against third- and fourth-team defenses. But the fact the Browns' third- and fourth-teamers played clean football speaks loudly.

Running Rob Chudzinski's offense is not easy, no matter who's in there. There are many facets of the offense that a lot of players are still trying to grasp. Is it just a coincidence that Quinn hasn't experienced any of those problems? 

Ken Dorsey, who doesn't fit into the quarterback equation because of inadequate arm strength, is considered the smartest of the lot and best understands the cerebral aspect of Chudzinski's offense.

"You really have to utilize your mind in it," he said. "You have to make quick decisions, quick reactions on the field. I think that's a great thing about this offense. It's constantly evolving and you constantly have an opportunity to attack a defense."

Judging from their performances thus far, Anderson and Frye are still struggling with their decision-making. Is that the kind of player you want to see start the season against arguably the team's bitterest rival?

If the offensive coaches, especially Chudzinski, are honest, they can't help but notice how much more efficient and fluid the attack looks under Quinn. If he has made a mistake in his seven series, it must be so minuscule, only a coach would notice.

The Browns have scored three touchdowns through the air in their exhibition games. Quinn owns all three and would have had a fourth if Crennel had yanked the red challenge flag on Quinn's first series in Denver. Yes, replays conclusively showed Joe Jurevicius had both feet in bounds.

This team stutters and stammers under Frye and Anderson. Mistakes are waiting to happen. How many more games must the fans suffer through in order for the coaches to get this?

This is not to say mistakes won't occur with Quinn at quarterback. But at least we have seen he makes when none seem possible. He appears to see the field differently than Frye and Anderson. His decision-making seems sharper.

Granted, he played only one series against the Broncos' No. 1 defense Saturday night, but that 25-yard seam-route throw to Kellen Winslow Jr. on that first drive is the type of offensive weapon the Browns need if they are going to experience any kind of success this season. Anderson and Frye cannot make that throw. And the called-back touchdown throw to Jurevicius was even better.

It's understandable that fans are skittish about starting a raw rookie at quarterback so soon. They still remember how Tim Couch turned out and how Frye has struggled since becoming a starter midway through his rookie season.

They argue that Carson Palmer sat out a full season before taking over in Cincinnati and Philip Rivers waited two years before becoming San Diego's starting quarterback.

Carson, however, sat behind and learned from the respectable Jon Kitna and Rivers interned under the estimable Drew Brees. Quinn has only Anderson and Frye in front of him. Doesn't exactly conjure up thoughts of Kitna and Brees.

Couch and Frye weren't emotionally ready when the call came. Quinn, a four-year starter at Notre Dame, is.  If he isn't ready after four years with the Fighting Irish, he never will be. Shake his confidence? Somehow, I don't think that's possible. Not with his emotional makeup.

Unrealistic for Quinn to be in the mix? It is if Savage is calling the shots. The only thing that is unrealistic is his pertinacious refusal to even consider Quinn for the job.

For the time being, it looks as though Frye will be the main man against the Steelers. He was anointed No. 1 by Crennel entering the Broncos' game and did nothing to sully that status.

Gird yourselves, Browns fans. It's going to be a bumpy ride this season. At least the first part of the season. Until realism kicks in and Quinn becomes the starter.

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