Changes in the Offing?

Mike McLain continues our Insiders look at the make-up of the Cleveland Browns going into the 2003 draft and free agency period. The receiver position gets examined today, with emphasis on the fate of Kevin Johnson and the demands which may be placed on Andre Davis.

The Browns' receiving corps made significant strides last season, but it's far from being a position that's set in stone for next season.

That doesn't mean a receiver will be selected in the second round of the draft for a fifth consecutive season. It does mean that Butch Davis could be considering changes to what was considered a strength last season.

Following is a breakdown of the receivers and what might happen in coming months:

Kevin Johnson's name is popular in trade conjecture, and there could be good reason for the speculation. Although Johnson put up steady numbers in his first four seasons, he doesn't fit the role of the complete receiver that Davis covets.

Davis places a premium on a receiver's blocking ability, which isn't one of Johnson's strong points. Johnson also lacks in another area that plays big in Davis' book - speed.

Don't be surprised if the Browns try to trade Johnson. With Andre Davis ready to take on a more prominent role in his second season, Johnson could be phased out of the starting lineup.

Andre is the key. He has the speed variable that Johnson lacks, and he has tons of upside. Andre will undoubtedly be given a lot of work in training camp - as was the case with Quincy Morgan last year - with the intention of moving him into a starting role.

Morgan was the most pleasant surprise last season. He had some inconsistent moments, but he made a huge leap from a rookie season in 2001 that fell below expectations.

Dennis Northcutt can't be overlooked simply because of his big-play skills. Butch and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians enjoy devising ways to utilize Northcutt's speed in as many ways as possible.

Even if Johnson stays, the above mix of receivers still lacks something.... Something like a veteran that can be depended upon to assist younger players and make an occasional clutch reception.

The Browns don't need to go out and spend a lot of money on a free agent. However, they might be willing to look for a mid-level veteran that can add depth to help when injuries start to mount.

And there will be injuries. In addition to showing that he can make big plays, Northcutt's three-year career has shown that he is injury-prone. Adding depth with a veteran would be a great insurance policy.

Frisman Jackson will be given an opportunity to make a statement in training camp. Jackson is a large target with decent speed. He stood out early in camp last year, but he wasn't ready for extended playing time once the season began.

It would be a surprise if the Browns select a receiver high in the draft. There are so many other areas of need, and with improving young talents like Morgan and Andre on board, there isn't a need to use a high pick on a receiver.

Again, Johnson could be a key to the mix. Butch has rarely singled out Johnson for praise. When he did after the win over Atlanta, it was because of a block that helped spring William Green on a first-half touchdown run.

If the Browns make an attempt to trade for Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, Johnson could be a part of the plan. The Vikings need depth to ease the work load on Randy Moss. As more of a possession receiver than a big-play threat, Johnson might fit in nicely with the Vikings.

This isn't to say that the Browns will make an offer for McKinnie or that the Vikings will entertain trade talks. Even if talks do occur, Minnesota would ask a lot more in return for McKinnie than Johnson.

The Browns have to be careful about the receiver positions. There's no guarantee that Andre will become an impact player, and, despite making strides in his second year, Morgan still is rough around the edges.

Johnson might not strike fear into defensive backs, but he is consistent. No one has better hands among the receivers, and he has a way of getting open.

Johnson is one of those players that could come back to haunt the Browns if they trade him. He has a lot of the same qualities that attracted former Browns coach Bill Belichick to Keenan McCardell in 1991.

In summation, the receiving corps mirrors a lot of what the organization has or hasn't done since 1999. A lot of emphasis has been placed and money spent on the area, but it's still not at the championship level it needs to be.

That has to concern fans as Butch tries to fill other holes on the roster.

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