Passan: From "Hope" to "Know"

Rich Passan spent the past weekend in Berea with the Cleveland Browns, and offers his first thoughts on what he was. The Browns 2008 training camp is different from any since the team's return in 1999. The difference is confidence. Rich's observations from four days of full camp immersion...

The mood is clearly different. The change is undeniably palpable. This most definitely is a different training camp for the Cleveland Browns.

Players move with a quiet, almost resolute, confidence. They comport themselves with an assurance that is the residue of a 10-6 record in 2007.

It's more than a hope-we-can approach to the journey ahead. It's a know-we-can attitude the 2008 Browns carry into the early stages of training camp in Berea. And why shouldn't they?

They feel good about themselves. They feel good about what they accomplished last season when they emerged as the surprise team in the National Football League.

They are determined to prove 2007 was not a fluke, an aberration, a blip on the screen. And it shows in their body language.

A year ago at this time, the Browns entered the training-camp phase of the 2007 season coming off a 4-12 record. The head coach's job security hung by a sliver and the general manager's reputation had taken some hits.

Uncertainty, as one might expect, prevailed even though Phil Savage had improved the club's roster dramatically through free agency and the college draft.

A new offensive system, pockmarked by the expected mistakes, was in its embryonic stages. Nothing, it seemed, worked.

What a difference a year makes.

The current camp is livelier. Efficiency in performance is most noticeable. The Browns do not practice like a team struggling to find itself.

And the fans are into it.

Occasionally, a fan feels compelled to rise and shout, "Here we go Brownies, here we go!" and the crowd responds, "Woof, woof." As it's repeated, more fans join in on the response. A few players turn and silently acknowledge with a nod.

Every big play drew a response.

In one sequence, Kellen Winslow Jr. leaped high between two defenders, wrapped his big hands around a Derek Anderson pass and fell hard to the ground. The crowd erupted.

The two defenders got up immediately and returned to the defensive huddle. Winslow remained motionless on the ground for at least 20 seconds. A hush fell over the crowd. Dead silence. Breaths were held. This is one guy the club can't afford to lose.

Then Winslow began to move and rose slowly. He's not hurt. The crowd resumed breathing and politely applauded.

Winslow most likely fell on the ball as he landed and knocked the wind out of himself. Scared the hell out of the crowd, though.

Other observations . . .

* Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is a man beast. We all know he is big, fast and strong. But he also owns the quickness of a man 100 pounds lighter. He devours offense linemen. Just ask center Hank Fraley and left guard Eric Steinbach. He literally lifted Fraley off the ground on one play and completely overpowered Steinbach in 1-on-1 drills.

* Rogers showed that quickness when he tipped a Brady Quinn pass in an 11-on-11, pulled it down, stiff-armed Lawrence Vickers and bulled his way about 20 yards. Safety Sean Jones side-bumped Rogers after the play, bounced off him and fell to the ground. Then Rogers and fellow lineman Robaire Smith exchanged one-arm over-the-shoulder back slaps to celebrate. Rogers also looks funny in shorts so long they scrape his ankles.

* Fraley is listed at 6-2, 310 pounds. Right guard Rex Hadnot is listed at 6-2, 320 pounds. Walking side by side, Fraley is at least two inches taller. Hadnot, it seems, is as wide as he is tall. He looks stumpy. He's a mauler in the ground game, but needs work on his pass blocking.

* Inside linebacker Andra Davis need not worry about losing his job. Fourth-round draft pick Beau Bell, the man a lot of people hope supplants Davis, is slow afoot and slow reacting. The game appears too fast for him now. That, of course, could change. Bell was always the last man downfield on kickoff coverage. Based on early returns, he's got a long way to go.

* Receivers coach Wes Chandler had a couple of neat drills for his guys. He placed two tall targets roughly a yard apart. Receivers run behind the targets and look for the ball thrown between them. It's a great hand-eye coordination exercise that could come up in a game. Chandler also has his men learning how to catch sideline passes by cradling the ball and then rolling the front shoulder under the body to avoid injury. Both drills proved difficult.

* Offensive Joe Thomas should be the poster boy for pass blocking. He is an extraordinary technician. He's got outstanding footwork and marvelous balance. He always stays in front of his man. What an outstanding draft pick. The guy's a Pro Bowler for the next 10 years at least.

* Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley has added a few moves to his repertoire, including a nice spin job to the inside.

* Coach Romeo Crennel starts every session by standing in front of his lined-up team and clapping his hands rhythmically. The players join in. So do the fans.

* Jerome Harrison is a nice little runner. He's quick to the hole and his great vision enables him to see the holes quickly and scoot through them. Even the teensiest of holes. He's a solid change-of-direction back and tough to tackle because he doesn't stay in one place more than a millisecond. He's going to make a terrific change-of-pace back for Jamal Lewis.

* Rookie tight end Martin Rucker has nice hands. Catches everything thrown his way. It's not certain yet what kind of route-running discipline he has. It probably won't happen, but he'd make a nice replacement for Joe Jurevicius if the veteran can't go. He's got Joe J.'s size and better speed.

* Special teams coach Ted Dashier is a no-nonsense guy. As long as you do your job, you're fine. But get on his bad side and you're on the wrong end of a profane-laced tongue lashing.

* Crennel says the defense is ahead of the offense in the early stages of camp, which is as it should be. But the defense is doing things to disrupt the offense that it wasn't capable of doing last season. Clearly a byproduct of an improved defensive line.

* Rookie nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin looks lost. He's built like a nose tackle, looks like a nose tackle, but can be pushed around. You'd think someone who is 6-2 and weighs 330 pounds would be at least a little productive.

* Rookie free agent wide receiver Lance Leggett from Miami of Florida is long, lean and makes tough catches. Keep an eye on him.

* Derek Anderson throws a prettier pass than Brady Quinn. Almost always a spiral. Very few floaters.

* Free agent cornerback A.J. Davis knows how to play press coverage. If he's going to make this team, however, he has to improve his run support.

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