Savage's Overhaul Nearly Complete

Comparing the Browns of 2004 to the Browns of 2008 is... well... there is no comparison, really. Browns GM Phil Savage is looking to put his finishing touches on a team that has come from 4-12 to looking like a legitimate playoff contender...

The overhaul of the Browns started by Phil Savage when he was hired as general manager in January of 2005 is nearly complete. With the release of defensive end Orpheus Roye last month and the trade of cornerback Leigh Bodden to the Lions, the only starters left from the team Savage and coach Romeo Crennel inherited are inside linebacker Andra Davis and guard Ryan Tucker -- and in 2004 Tucker was a tackle.

The starting offensive line on the final depth chart in 2004 was: Left tackle -- Ross Verba; left guard -- Enoch Demar; center -- Melvin Fowler; right guard -- Damon Cook and right tackle -- Joaquin Gonzalez. Now that group has Joe Thomas at left tackle, Eric Steinbach at left guard, Hank Fraley at center, Tucker at right guard and Kevin Shaffer at right tackle.

The starting quarterback on that same depth chart was Luke McCown. He was backed up by Kelly Holcomb, who was backed up by Josh Harris. Jeff Garcia, who has done an incredible job reviving his career after struggling with the Browns and Lions, was on injured reserve with a knee injury. Crennel is much more content with his current trio of Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Ken Dorsey.

Lee Suggs was the starting running back and William Green his backup by the end of 2004. Neither player is still in the NFL. The Browns might be thin on the bench now, but they have Jamal Lewis as a starter, and that puts them far ahead of where they were when Savage and Crennel took over.

Including tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., the primary targets for Anderson are Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth and Joe Jurevicius. McCown was throwing to Antonio Bryant, Dennis Northcutt, Frisman Jackson and Steve Heiden.

Of the entire 2004 offensive roster, the only player still contributing to the Browns is Heiden. Heiden was the starting tight end at the end of 2004 because then-rookie Winslow was on injured reserve recovering from injuries sustained in the second game of the season.

Changes on defense have not been quite as dramatic, but that is mainly because Savage spent the second and third years on the job reconstructing the offense. Now it is the defense's turn with the additions of tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.

Still, the entire starting defensive line of Ebenezer Ekuban, Gerard Warren, Orpheus Roye and Kenard Lang has been turned over.

The Browns played a 4-3 defense in 2004. The starting linebackers were Chaun Thompson, Barry Gardner and Warrick Holdman. All three are history with the Browns. Davis was on injured reserve the final five games with a knee injury.

Daylon McCutcheon and Anthony Henry were the starting cornerbacks. Robert Griffith and Earl Little were the starting safeties.

Of the entire defensive group, the only starters still in the NFL, excluding Davis, are Henry, now with the Cowboys, and cornerback Michael Lehan, a backup with the Browns in 2004 who started 14 games with the Dolphins in 2007.

PLAYER NOTES

--The Browns' offseason strength and conditioning program began on March 17. Among the encouraging signs is Kellen Winslow Jr. is on schedule in his rehab following knee surgery last month.

--Two players who had recently visited the Browns, DB Benny Sapp and LB Clark Haggans, didn't get what they wanted from the Browns and have moved on to visit other teams. Browns GM Phil Savage is being careful how he spends the team's remaining room under the salary cap.

--Center/guard LeCharles Bentley is rehabbing in Arizona rather than with his teammates at the Browns' complex in Berea, Ohio. The workouts are not mandatory, so the Browns cannot insist on Bentley being at team headquarters. Bentley has missed the last two seasons from complications stemming from a torn patellar tendon in training camp in July, 2006.

--The Browns are in the market for linebackers and they know Takeo Spikes well from his days with the Bengals, but Spikes is not high on their wish list at this point. Spikes was released by the Eagles after failing their physical because of a shoulder problem.

--The Browns are hopeful of being rewarded with a home Monday night game after finishing 10-6 last season. They have played on Monday night only once since their rebirth in 1999 -- a 26-20 home loss to the Rams on Dec. 8, 2003.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Travis Wilson, Syndric Steptoe, (and) Steve Sanders -- I think those three will really be in a fight for that last (receiver) role and I think all three of them have been talked to about the competition that they're going to face in terms of trying to secure that final roster spot." -- General manager Phil Savage on the fate of 2006 third-round draft choice Travis Wilson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Very quietly yet very deliberately, Browns owner Randy Lerner is working on a contract extension for general manager Phil Savage. Savage, currently signed through 2009, is working on his original contract.

Lerner stuck with Savage (and coach Romeo Crennel) when the Browns were 4-12 in 2006 after a 6-10 season in 2005. Now that the Browns appear to have turned the corner, Lerner wants to bring Savage's contract duration in line with that of Crennel. Crennel signed a two-year extension through 2011 last month.

"(Savage's) extension is simply to keep continuity at the Browns," Lerner said. "Since his arrival we have improved. He and Romeo deserve the credit for the development of the team and the performance that was achieved this last season. In that light, I'm eager to secure these guys for the long term."

In three-plus years on the job, Savage has just about turned the roster over completely. Only seven players remain from the team he inherited -- tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., safety Sean Jones, long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, linebacker Andra Davis, tackle Ryan Tucker, tight end Steve Heiden and kicker Phil Dawson.


The OBR Top Stories