Around the League / Browns
The Browns are experiencing one of those pleasant problems that as recently as a year ago it seemed they might never have; they have to make sure they do not go into the season overconfident just because they are getting recognition nationally for the first time in more than 20 years.
It isn't just national writers and commentators that could be inflating their heads, either. Half an hour into the first practice of training camp, a group of hardy fans chanted "Super Bowl! Super Bowl!" while Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth tossed a football back and forth not 10 feet from them.
It's going to be that kind of summer for the Browns -- a summer of great expectations. How they handle those expectations from September through December could play a role in whether they're still playing in January.
In 2004, the Bengals were 8-8. They won the AFC North with an 11-5 record in 2005 and have fizzled since. The Jets were 4-12 in 2005 and then 10-6 in 2006. Coincidentally, it is the same leap the Browns made from 2006 to 2007. The Jets tumbled back to 4-12. Obviously, it is a turn in the path the Browns do not want to follow.
"Coach Crennel keeps us humbled," running back Jamal Lewis said. "With the experience we have, we tell the younger guys 'Don't feed into (the expectation hype). Do what we're capable of and know what happened to us last year.'"
Expectations for the Browns as a team are high. They are particularly high for quarterback Derek Anderson, a virtual unknown in 2007 despite it being his third year in the league. He did play three games in 2006 while Charlie Frye was injured, but the Browns lost them all.
"I'm excited about camp and excited about the opportunities we have in front of us this year," Anderson said. "I'm going to keep pushing through it in the month and a half into the season."
Anderson said he worked harder this offseason than ever before because of the opportunity the Browns have. His routine included running, lifting and throwing -- pretty normal for any quarterback.
Thai Massage from a woman well-known in Portland, Ore., near his hometown of Scappoose, was also on Anderson's agenda routinely. He wants to be more flexible.
A year ago, Anderson and Charlie Frye engaged in a quarterback battle no one benefited from. Anderson lost it more than Frye won it, which is why six minutes, 34 seconds into the second quarter of the first game, Frye was out and Anderson was in.
"We're able to move forward," said Braylon Edwards, who caught 16 of Anderson's 29 touchdown passes last season. "When you're trying to figure out who is going to be the guy, you don't know to put all your eggs in this guy or your eggs with this guy -- watch film with this guy or make adjustments with this other guy.
"Now (Anderson) has confidence in himself he's the guy. Now we can get better together as opposed to me getting better individually. Now we're getting better on the same page."
CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp ends on Aug. 16 with a morning and evening practice. The Browns do not scrimmage other teams. The only break in the routine is an evening practice in Cleveland Browns Stadium on Aug. 1.
--Coach Romeo Crennel found a unique way to reward the player he decided worked the hardest in the offseason conditioning program. This year that player is Mike Adams. Adams gets to park next to team owner Randy Lerner's reserved spot for the remainder of training camp.
--Safety Sean Jones will earn $2.145 million in the final year of his contract in 2008. He said he would like a contract extension that would enable him to finish his career with the Browns, but it would be an expensive investment for the team, somewhere in the $5 million a year range.
--Romeo Crennel is doing his best to make sure his aging players or players with a history of injuries are ready for the season. On the third day of training camp, he gave Kellen Winslow Jr. the morning off. That same day, he gave Willie McGinest, Jamal Lewis, Robaire Smith and Corey Williams the afternoon off.
--Nose tackle Shaun Rogers gets the award for the best defensive play in the first week of training camp. He tipped a pass thrown by Brady Quinn, made the interception and turned up the right sideline. He stiff-armed Lawrence Vickers before running out of bounds.
"I've seen defensive linemen intercept passes before, but to be a big guy like that and be able to get around the corner is something," coach Romeo Crennel said. "Usually, a big guy isn't able to get around the corner, so we're excited about what he brings to the table. He's not there yet and we're still working with him and he's working. Hopefully he'll continue to get better as we go along."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns are still looking long and hard for a cornerback in case anything happens to starters Eric Wright or Brandon McDonald or nickel back Terry Cousin. General manager Phil Savage does not expect to find help until the preseason starts.
"Nothing has really changed on it too much," Savage said. "We keep kind of trolling the waters, but it's so early, everyone is kind of getting settled back in to the routine of being in training camp. We made a few calls but there's nothing really imminent right now."
--While starting WR Donte Stallworth is on the sideline nursing a sore hamstring, Kevin Kasper is working with the first-team offense along with Braylon Edwards.
--S Gary Baxter, trying to make a comeback from tearing both patellar tendons in 2006, is participating in team drills. He made the 53-man roster at the start of 2007 but was put on injured reserve without playing a game.
--Rookie LB Alex Hall is trying to make a name for himself. He helped his cause by intercepting a pass thrown by Brady Quinn.
--One undrafted receiver always seems to catch the eye of coaches and fans. This year, that player is Lance Leggett. He has been outrunning cornerbacks and diving to come up with the catch. He ended practice Saturday with a one-handed grab of a ball thrown behind him.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Kasper vs. Travis Wilson for third WR -- Kasper and Wilson are locked in battle to become the third receiver while Joe Jurevicius recovers from knee surgery. Wilson showed improvement in minicamp and has carried that over into training camp. He is running routes better than he has in the past. Kasper is very quick and has sure hands. The Browns have the option of lining Kellen Winslow up as a third receiver and using Steve Heiden at tight end.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Jerome Harrison is gaining ground on Jason Wright to be the backup running back because Wright has been out with a lingering hamstring injury. ... Mike Adams has an edge on Nick Sorensen as the third safety. ... The Browns have to decide whether to keep three tight ends or four. Darnell Dinkins would be the fourth tight end, but he will have to prove himself on special teams to earn that spot behind Kellen Winslow, Steve Heiden and rookie Martin Rucker.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: TE Kellen Winslow Jr. -- Winslow is out to prove he won't let his desire for a new contract be a distraction. He always dresses in full uniform, even when the dress of the day is shorts and no pads. He has caught nearly every pass thrown to him, and when he did miss one, he dropped and did 10 pushups.
ROOKIE REPORT: All five draft picks signed four-year contracts the night before training camp opened July 23. LB Beau Bell is working with the second team and trying to get acclimated to the defense. ... TE Martin Rucker is catching the ball well. ... NT Ahtyba Rubin is learning how to play his position and watching starter Shaun Rogers. ... WR Paul Hubbard has been a little inconsistent catching the ball. ... LB Alex Hall has shown some quickness in coverage and in his pass rush.
INJURY REPORT: TE Steve Heiden has a twisted left knee but should be back before the preseason starts against the Jets Aug. 7.
WR Donte Stallworth has not practiced because of a pulled hamstring.
RB Jason Wright has been bothered by a hamstring injury. He is day-to-day.
G Seth McKinney is out with a sprained ankle. His return is indefinite.
RG Ryan Tucker is mending from a fractured hip. He hopes to be ready by the end of preseason.
WR Joe Jurevicius might be out until late October recovering from knee surgery July 1.
Tucker and Jurevicius began training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform/active list.