Abe Elam Goes Back to the Future

The new Cleveland Browns safety likely feels as if he never left New York. Steve King was among those in the local media who talked to Elam last week, and brings us up to speed on Sean Jones' likely replacement...

It's been nearly 25 years since they were made, so you have to wonder if Browns safety Abram Elam, just 27, has seen any of the "Back to the Future" movies, especially Part II.

And if he has, then what is going on with him now has to be reminiscent of it.

If you recall, Part II is where Doc Brown tells Marty of a parallel 1985 that has broken off from the regular 1985. It's the same in a few ways, yet drastically different in most others.

For Elam, this is like a parallel 2009. He has to feel as if he's still with his old team, the New York Jets.

After all:

*His head coach with the Browns, Eric Mangini, is the same one he had with the Jets for the last two of his three NFL seasons.

Some of the Browns assistant coaches, and a few front-office people, were there with the Jets as well.

Some of his "new" Browns teammates aren't really new at all. They are his old teammates from the Jets.

The 3-4 defense the Browns are installing looks to be pretty similar to the one Elam played in while with the Jets.

But that's where the similarities end.

The Browns are not the Jets. There are no green uniforms and chants of, "J-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets!"

Cleveland is not New York.

That body of water Elam will see on his way to home games now is not the Hudson River or the Atlantic Ocean, but rather Lake Erie.

And that's Public Square, not Times Square.

As for the division, it's now the AFC North, not the AFC East.

Nonetheless, with so much familiarity, Elam has felt at home since he arrived in Cleveland after being traded here on April 25 along with defensive end Kenyon Coleman, quarterback Brett Ratliff and New York's first- and second-round picks in this year's NFL Draft for the Browns' first-round choice. Being a restricted free agent, Elam had to sign off on the deal, which he did – gladly.

As Elam walked off the field Thursday after the Browns completed the first of two voluntary, three-day, full-squad mini camps in as many weeks, he was greeted by a horde of media people wanting to interview him. One of them began the interview by saying, "Welcome to Cleveland."

Elam immediately retorted, in a soft-spoken, friendly way, "Thanks for having me."

Everybody chuckled – including Elam – but it was obvious he meant it.

He said, "I'm very excited…" three different times, right off the bat:

*"I'm very excited to be coming here."

*"I'm very excited to get to play for the Browns because I've heard how much the fans love this team."

*And finally, "I'm very excited because there's a comfort level in seeing players and coaches you already know, and defensive schemes you already pretty much know, too ."

Yes, those defensive schemes. It's where Elam and his new-old teammates from the Jets, Coleman and inside linebacker Eric Barton, will really come in handy immediately. They will serve as on-field coaches to get the other players up to speed on where they're supposed to line up, their reads and what they're supposed to do as they learn the defense over the next 3½ months leading up to the regular-season opener on Sept. 13.

But Elam's value to the Browns is expected to go far beyond all that. He should be a significant producer for a defense that definitely needs to improve upon what it did a year ago when it surrendered 350 points, was ranked 26th overall in the 32-team league and finished at or near the bottom in a number of other statistical categories.

Elam will be paired with Brodney Pool at safety and will replace Sean Jones who, as expected, bolted the Browns in free agency in the offseason. He played his rookie season of 2006 with the Dallas Cowboys, who signed him as a free agent, and then went to the Jets the following year. He started 17 games with New York, including nine last season.

He is an adept tackler, something the Browns really need in the back of their defense. In 2007 in his first NFL start, against the Cincinnati Bengals, he led the Jets with 10 tackles and finished the year with 65.

Last season, Elam had 56 tackles, two sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.

"I'm very strong, very intense and very physical," the 6-foot, 207-pounder said when asked to describe himself as a player.

And very smart, too, apparently. He has a degree in marketing and attended Northwestern University in 2006 in the NFL Kellogg Business School Entrepreneur Program.

A native of West Palm Beach. Fla., where he was a quarterback and defensive back in high school and helped his basketball team to win two state titles, Elam began his collegiate career at Palm Beach Community College and then went to Notre Dame for a season. He was working at a dentist's office in West Palm Beach in 2004 when he was offered a scholarship by Kent State, where he finished up.

As a senior with the Golden Flashes in 2004, he started 11 games and made 64 tackles with three interceptions.

He's among the growing number of players from that school now playing professionally.

"They've done a good job of recruiting guys at Kent, and it's starting to show in the NFL," Elam said.

One of those NFL players is, of course, Browns star returner Josh Cribbs, with whom he was teammates at KSU.

"We've worked out together," Elam said.

Now to take the parallel 1985 – er, 2009 – thing one step further. Here's Elam back in his old stomping grounds of Northeast Ohio, where he spent the week practicing with the Browns.

But Cribbs wasn't with him. He's staying away in a contract dispute.

Let's try to understand all this. Elam is no longer with the Jets but with the Browns, where he's joined by a number of ex-Jets. Cribbs is beginning his fifth year with the Browns, the only team for which he's played, yet he isn't in Berea at this time.

How bizarre is all that? Where's Doc Brown to explain it all when you need him?


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