Rich's Rant: Sitting by the Stream...

... of consciousness on a Labor Day weekend. Rich Passan offers his thoughts on nearly everything Browns.

Stream of consciousness as we stand on the precipice of the 2008 National Football League season . . .

There is no one sitting on a hotter seat in Cleveland than Romeo Crennel. After what the Browns accomplished last season, a vast majority of fans expect them to at least match, if not better, the 10-6 put up in 2007.

Although he won't admit it, included in that large group is Phil Savage, whose off-season moves on defense were designed with only one thing in mind: Football in January in Cleveland.

Anything less than a playoff appearance will not be satisfactory. It's up to Crennel to pound into his men on a weekly basis the notion that they are now a target team based on last season's success. In the past, the Browns were considered a breather on a team's schedules. No longer.

And with the tougher schedule, at least on paper, it is incumbent for Crennel to have his men ready to play from the opening kickoff. In every game. No more first-quarter blahs. No more coming from behind.

He must sharpen his skills as a motivator. That, of course, assumes he owns them. It would be nice to see the Browns become much more assertive from the first snap.

As a head coach with Cleveland, Crennel has lost three season openers, all at home. That's got to stop. It probably won't because the first-team offense will be rusty for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. Injuries to key offensive personnel will cause all kinds of timing problems and the club will have a built-in excuse for a loss.

Derek Anderson has taken snaps in just six series and part of a seventh thus far; Braylon Edwards has not played the last three games; Jamal Lewis' playing time has been curtailed by a hamstring injury; and Steve Heiden isn't fully recovered from his knee problems.

The most important ingredient of an offense is timing. Without it, an offense sputters and seems disjointed. Anderson and his No. 1 unit have been on the field for just one series – the first of the exhibition season against the New York Jets. . . .

Was extending Crennel's contract a mistake? I think so. The Browns got to 10-6 last season with minimal help from Crennel. Why was he extended? He rode the coattails of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. His best coaching move was staying out of Chudzinski's way. . . .

The Browns are in trouble at inside linebacker if what we saw in the exhibition season continues. Andra Davis isn't quick enough to fill holes. D'Qwell Jackson has the quicks and instincts, but has yet to take advantage of them.

On the outside, Kamerion Wimbley has played his way into underachiever status. Either that or he's still having problems making the switch from college defensive end to linebacker.

I want to see more – a lot more – of Alex Hall on the outside, but I'm afraid we won't because Crennel is reluctant to start a rookie in the front seven. I know, Wimbley and Jackson started as rookies, but they were high draft choices. Hall is a lowly seventh-rounder, but already has shown he can play. . . .

Antwan Peek is not the answer at outside linebacker. He's an injury waiting to happen. Originally, I thought Shantee Orr would be a better fit as a rush linebacker. But Savage and Crennel blew up that thinking by cutting Orr. If no one picks him up, Orr should be back by the time Peek pulls up lame again. Like week two. . . .

The Browns are going to miss Joe Jurevicius more than they admit. The wide receiver's absence for at least the first six weeks of the season is a significant loss. When clutch plays were required last season, Jurevicius was the man who made them. It remains to be seen who will step into that role this season.

Donte' Stallworth cannot be counted on in that capacity. Edwards will not get the dirty yards for the Browns. He's more of a glider. Only Kellen Winslow Jr. fits the mold. . . .

In order for the Browns to be successful on offense, Heiden has to play. He is a key figure in Chudzinski's offense. First off, he's the club's best blocking tight end. Second, he frees up Winslow to play wide receiver, which creates mismatches. Winslow is much more dangerous as a wideout than a tight end. . . .

Is Travis Wilson still on the team? No? Good. How about Isaac Sowells? He is?! Why? . . .

We're about to find out whether the offensive line's success last season was an aberration or the real thing. It was ambushed in exhibitions by the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, a couple of NFC teams playing as though it was the regular season.

Perhaps the impending return of Ryan Tucker at right guard will provide the glue necessary to replicate last season. It's no coincidence that the line became significantly stronger last season when Tucker moved into the starting lineup. . . .

Mel Tucker must be more aggressive than his predecessor. This team's secondary does not play zone defense very well. To counter that, it would be nice to see the new defensive coordinator turn some of his new guys on the defensive line loose and still try to control the running game. When you've got the likes of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, established pass rushers, you don't tie a rope around them.

At the same time, Tucker must keep Rogers relatively fresh. To play him on virtually every down diminishes his effectiveness. He shouldn't line up for more than 40-45 plays a game. . . .

The Browns cut cornerback A.J. Davis and keep Travis Daniels, whose game has nosedived the last two seasons in Miami. A head scratcher. . . .

Another head scratcher. By keeping wide receiver Paul Hubbard, Savage is making the same mistake he made with Wilson. Free agents Steve Sanders and Lance Leggett proved they belong on the final roster more than Hubbard. Why? They can catch the ball. Imagine that.

The only reason Sanders and Leggett were cashiered is they weren't drafted. It appears as though Savage is trying to justify selecting Hubbard and blowing next year's fifth-round draft pick in the process. He called Hubbard a player with "some upside potential." He should be a whole lot betterthan that to be rewarded with a roster spot.

Hubbard is nothing more than a poor man's Travis Wilson. At least Wilson is a football player. Hubbard is a track guy hoping to become a football player. . . .

Burning question at the beginning of training camp: Will the Browns keep four tight ends or two fullbacks? Answer: Both.

It looks as though Jerome Harrison has earned the right to start in the event Lewis can't play in the opener. It's about time. I love the way he runs. . . .

Hope Gerard Lawson enjoys his stay on the active roster. Once Syndric Steptoe returns from injury, he's gone. And when Joshua Cribbs pronounces himself ready to roll, Steptoe probably will be tiptoeing out the door. . . .

Sure, I'd take a flyer and go after offensive tackle Willie Anderson, who was let go by the Bengals Saturday. Yes, he's 33 and yes, he's on the downside of his career. But he's far better than Sowells as Kevin Shaffer's backup. . . .

If Derek Anderson can't go at quarterback Sunday against Dallas, you can bet the Cowboys will include the kitchen sink among what they throw at Brady Quinn. . . .

Last season, I picked the Browns to finish 6-10. A dyslexic pick as it turned out. Which brings us to this season.

The Browns are fortunate they're in a relatively weak division. The Pittsburgh Steelers play the toughest schedule in the National Football League. Their offensive line is suspect at best. And their defense isn't nearly as intimidating as it was under Bill Cowher.

The Cincinnati Bengals are hurting big time at wide receiver with injuries and along the offensive line, which has seen its best days. The Baltimore Ravens are getting older on defense and have a huge problem at quarterback and with the offensive line.

It's very possible the AFC North winner won't be determined until the final weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns and Steelers are tied atop the AFC North at 8-7 entering their game on Dec. 28 at Heinz Field. And NBC will choose this game as part of its flexible schedule agreement with the National Football League and put it on national television on Sunday night.

The Steelers, who will lose to the Browns in week 2 at CBS, will gain revenge and render the Browns runners-up once again. Home-field advantage.

Hope I'm wrong.



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