BEREA -- Thanks to recent foot surgery, Mike Holmgren is riding around on a scooter.
That's pretty good symbolism for his team: Currently wobbly, hoping to improve quickly.
Everything that's new about the Browns – including Holmgren as president, Tom Heckert as general manager, a quarterback searching for redemption – is about to be on public display as training camp opens to the public Saturday. Holmgren held a state-of-the-union address of sorts Wednesday morning.
Internally there's new energy and hope that there will be at least some momentum carried over from the four-game win streak that ended last season and might have saved head coach Eric Mangini's job. Externally there's some optimism – guarded, certainly, but it's there. And it will be there in the Berea bleachers Saturday morning.
But realistically? We'll find out. From Holmgren to the last fan through the gates over the next three-plus weeks, no one really knows what to expect. There have been upgrades but there are still glaring holes; there's some young talent with upside but probably not enough; looming are three division rivals with somewhat-legit Super Bowl hopes.
"As long as I've been in this game, every year at this time of year you're excited about the possibilities of what your team can accomplish and looking forward to the competition," Holmgren said. "We have improved the football team.
"I believe we'll be improved."
Holmgren, who earned a reputation as a quarterback guru during his time leading the Packers to two Super Bowls (one win) and the Seahawks to another as a head coach, now oversees a team that's going to have its eighth different opening-day starting quarterback in 12 years when the Browns play at Tampa Bay on Sept. 12th.
The plan is for that starter to be Jake Delhomme, who signed with the Browns in March after being released by Carolina. But even that situation – Holmgren, Heckert and Mangini have all stopped short of offering Delhomme the player a ringing endorsement at various times this offseason – is clouded by uncertainty. Waiting in the wings are Seneca Wallace, a Holmgren guy and career backup, and rookie Colt McCoy, whom the Browns drafted in the third round. The Browns are better as an organization for having moved past the Derek Anderson-Brady Quinn saga, but will this quarterback group produce?
"I think the team should be better," Holmgren said. "I think that our quarterback play should be more consistent, so start there. Just start there. If you did nothing else, if you had more consistent play at quarterback and everyone else played the same, you should be better.
"I expect us to pass the ball better for the reasons I stated earlier, more experience at wide receiver, one more year under their belt, more consistent play at quarterback. I think we have a pretty solid running game. We finished the season strong last year. We have added some pieces to that. (Ben) Watson, is a nice addition at tight end. We should be better."
Holmgren said Delhomme's presence and experience count as one sign of improvement, and he hopes there are more to come.
"His last year was documented; it was crummy and we've talked about that," he said. "He shows great leadership, that's a real positive. It's not a contrived thing. I think he is a natural leader. I think he includes people, he extends himself to people and that's what you want at that position. I think he had a really good offseason throwing the ball."
Among the other topics Holmgren discussed…
-He said the Browns haven't heard from the league office regarding possible suspensions for Shaun Rogers and Robaire Smith stemming from their arrests in separate incidents for having loaded firearms in an airport. He confirmed an earlier report that Rogers, C.J. Mosley and Coye Francies would start camp on the active-PUP list but said he was hopeful all three would be healthy enough to pass their physicals soon.
-He said he believes there's a chance first-round pick Joe Haden will be signed in time for Saturday's first full-squad practice. Holmgren said he believes it's important for a player in Haden's position to miss as little time as possible. The Browns already have their other seven draft picks signed an in this week's rookie orientation and camp.
-He predictably deflected a question on the 2010 season win total but said he wants the Browns to be a factor in the always-tough AFC North Division.
"As an outsider looking in for years, it's a great division," he said. "I've played all those teams. I want to be a player in the division. I want to be considered a factor in what happens. The scheduling the NFL is doing now where you play your division opponents at the end, a lot of them, I want those games to be for the marbles, for everything top create that type of buzz.
"Now, do we have some work to do? Yes. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati hopping in there lately, they've kind of been the guys. So now, that's what we want to be. We keep improving, taking steps and we'll see what happens, but we know what kind of division it is, but it makes us work that much harder, I think."
-Holmgren said the team has reached "93 or 94 percent of our goals" in season-ticket sales and is hoping for another push during camp when fans are on the grounds and excited.
-He listed the secondary and linebackers as two groups to watch during camp that should create good competition for jobs and playing time. He said he's anxious to see Brian Robiskie in his second year as a professional and cautioned against evaluating Robiskie's rookie year on numbers alone.
"You'll see a lot of fine college receivers drafted high, come in their first year, kind of putz it around a little bit, then the second year – bang -- because now (they) get it, the speed of this thing, the physical part of it, going against good guys all the time. (They) get it and they take off their second year. It happens all the time. I think Brian has a chance to be someone like that. It was a combination of things last year that didn't allow any of the receivers put up any numbers. There were no numbers there."
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