Three Keys for 2007

Browns GM Phil Savage talked to the media on Saturday and denied that Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was on thin ice, saying that there's no thought of replacing him in Berea, Still, the team's success, and Romeo Crennel's future, may depend on these three things going right for the Browns.

The one subject no one in the front office wants to talk about on the eve of the 2007 season is the status of Romeo Crennel. Crennel is 10-22 as a head coach, a lowly 1-11 in the AFC North, and instead of posting a better record in 2006, the Browns went from 6-10 in 2005 to 4-12 a year later.

Team owner Randy Lerner doesn't make ultimatums, such as the Browns have to be at least 8-8 or Crennel will be fired. The truth is the Browns are getting better, but they might still be a year away from competing for a playoff spot. They are better on the offensive line than they have ever been since returning to the NFL in 1999 and they have their quarterback for the future in Brady Quinn. To fire Crennel if 2007 is rocky would be to give the next coach a much better starting point than the one Crennel had when he was hired in February 2005.

Players are just starting to grasp the scheme of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. The light might not go on fully until a month or so into the season, which means the Browns should be better the second half of the year than in the first half. Depth at receiver will be an issue; beyond starters Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards, none has proven to be reliable.

The secondary will be the strength of the defense, but it won't matter if the Browns don't improve against the run. They will find out soon enough if the run defense is any better. The Browns open with Pittsburgh. The Steelers thumped the Browns 27-7 on Dec. 7 last year when they rushed for 303 yards on 52 carries.

Three keys for the season

1. Running back Jamal Lewis has to stay healthy and carry the load for the offense. He is lighter than he was in his glory days with the Ravens, yet he hits the hole as decisively as ever and still has the leg strength to break tackles. 'Still' might be an unfair word. Lewis is only 28.

2. The topic gets old when talking about the Browns, but if this team can be successful in run defense, it will surprise a lot of people. It doesn't have to be among the top five or top 10, but being in the top half of the league isn't asking for too much.

3. Eliminating mental penalties such as delay of game and false starts is a goal of this offense. Nothing kills a drive like going from third-and-one to third-and-six because of substitution confusion or because the right guard jumped a fraction of a second early.


The hobbled among the Browns are starting to work their way back into playing form, giving coach Romeo Crennel reason to hope Eric Steinbach, Andra Davis and Orpheus Roye might be ready to play against the Steelers in the season opener Sept. 9.

Davis (ankle) and Roye (knee) are running on the sideline with the hope of returning to practice Sept. 3. Both started running again on the sideline during practice Aug. 27. It was the first time Roye was outside running since undergoing arthroscopic surgery Aug. 2. Davis has been sidelined since spraining his ankle in the preseason opener Aug. 11.

Steinbach has been out since falling on his right knee in the field house Aug. 7, four days before the first preseason game. Originally he was expected to miss the first two preseason games. He missed the first three and will not play against the Bears in the final preseason game. Davis and Roye were all declared out for the game against the Bears.

PK Phil Dawson made 21 of 29 field goals last season, an uncharacteristically low percentage for him. If the Browns are going to be in close games, they'll need Dawson at his best. Dawson was four of six in the first three preseason games.

LB Kamerion Wimbley had 11 sacks as a rookie last year. Duplicating that number will not be easy, but he worked on various moves in training camp to increase his total. His goal is a sack a game.

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