Crennel Points to Steelers

If you try to build up Browns head coach Romeo Crennel and his team, he'll tear it right back down. At the recent NFL owner's conference, the Cleveland Browns head coach showed that he refuses to accept the mantle of AFC North favorite.

Every other head coach in the division says the Browns are the favorite to win the AFC North, but Romeo Crennel says the Steelers are the team to beat.

The Steelers have beaten the Browns nine straight times. Last year in Pittsburgh the Browns led, 21-6, in the first half and lost, 31-28. Both teams finished 10-6, but since Pittsburgh swept the series, the Steelers advanced to the playoffs and the Browns stayed home.

"Until we can beat Pittsburgh," Crennel said, "we probably won't win the division."

Crennel has proven in three-plus years in Cleveland a talent for reducing every problem to a common denominator. When asked about how much his team has improved this offseason, he'll say it is better on paper, but he won't know until they get on the football field.

When Crennel says the Browns won't win the AFC North until they can beat Pittsburgh, he means it. He isn't trying to soften up Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

The Browns have lost six straight to the Steelers under Crennel, some in bizarre ways. The opener against the Steelers last year began with punter Paul Ernster allowing a snap deep in Cleveland territory to go right through his hands. It got worse after that. Two months later the Browns blew a 15-point lead in Pittsburgh.

Crennel disputes any suggestion the Browns are spooked by the Steelers. Asked whether a psychological barrier is preventing the Browns from beating Pittsburgh, Crennel shook his head.

"I don't think so," he said. "The second game against Pittsburgh the last two years, we've been ahead in those games with a good chance to win. We just didn't get it done.

"The quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) made plays and basically won the games for them. Hopefully we can neutralize him a little bit with some of the guys we added and be able to get over the hump."

Crennel was referring to defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. Rogers was acquired from the Lions for a third-round draft choice and cornerback Leigh Bodden. Williams was acquired from the Packers for a second-round choice.

Outside linebacker Willie McGinest took the blame for the 31-28 loss in Pittsburgh last year because he could not track down Roethlisberger. Neither Rogers nor Williams are likely to beat "Big Ben" in a foot race, either, but the hope would be Roethlisberger would not get by them. Each tackle had seven sacks with his former team last season.

PLAYER NOTES

--Coach Romeo Crennel said there are no plans to re-sign offensive tackle Nat Dorsey. On paper, the Browns appear thin at tackle after starters Joe Thomas and Kevin Shaffer, but guards Eric Steinbach and Ryan Tucker have started at left and right tackle respectively.

--Crennel said he or someone else from his coaching staff will visit LeCharles Bentley at the facility where Bentley is working out on his own in Arizona. Bentley has not played in two seasons while recovering from a torn patellar tendon. Crennel expects Bentley to participate in the offseason program beginning in mid-May.

--Gib Shanley, radio voice of the Browns from 1961-84, died at the age of 76. Shanley called the Browns last championship when they beat the Colts 27-0 on Dec. 27, 1964.

--With a glut of starters and former starters at guard -- Steinbach, Tucker, Rex Hadnot and Seth McKinney -- one might think Crennel is tempted to let Tucker and Shaffer compete at right tackle while Hadnot and McKinney compete at right guard. But that won't be the case. Tucker will head to training camp as the starting right guard, Crennel said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had as much excitement when this thing went down with Shaun Rogers -- and knowing we had Corey Williams on board -- than we did last year on draft day when we got Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn. I think everyone inside the building feels great about what we've done." -- Browns general manager Phil Savage on reshaping the defensive line.


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