Notes From The AFCN

<p><b>CLEVELAND BROWNS</b></p> <p>The most important decision Butch Davis will make this preseason waits yet another week. Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb settled little in the first preseason game against Tennessee, as both got little help from their teammates. Browns receivers dropped at least three passes and fumbled another completion away at the one-yard line. As a result, the stats were pretty blasé.</p>

Couch finished 4-of-8 for 17 yards against and at times looked bad. On one play he tripped over William Green, got up, ran out of the pocket to the sideline and threw a poorly-advised pass across the field that easily could have been intercepted. He also had some good passes right in the hands of wide receivers that were dropped. The Browns felt that one drop by Andre King at the five-yard line could have been a touchdown. Holcomb threw for 71 yards and came within an eyelash of a touchdown, but Kevin Johnson had the ball knocked loose as he tried to reach into the end zone at the one. Holcomb also completed two passes just before halftime to set up Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal.

Who looked better? Probably Holcomb -- by one length. But he faced backups and Couch faced starters -- and the rest of the team was such a mess it probably made judging the quarterbacks impossible. If the week of practice leading up to the game was significant, though, Holcomb would have the edge. He was very sharp, and Couch was intercepted on consecutive days to end practice. The bottom line? Nothing has been decided.

Couch said he wasn't worried about his numbers because the Browns were trying to work on the running game -- a curious approach given the team's most important decision is the quarterback. He shrugged off the night and promised everyone would get better. Holcomb seemed more assured about his performance, but added he had no idea if it settled anything about the job. The Browns will give Holcomb a start in the second game at home against Green Bay. Davis has vowed that he would name a starter before the third preseason game and he does not intend to veer from that plan.

This week of practice and the next game will be very important to the two passers.


Pittsburgh's offensive line, which performed well after a slow start last year, is off to a horrendous start through the first two weeks of training camp. In fact, it's a mess, although one Coach Bill Cowher believes will be cleaned up before the season begins.

The left tackle, Marvel Smith, is new to the position after starting at right tackle the past 2 1/2 seasons. Veteran center Jeff Hartings missed the past week with a sore knee. Right guard Kendall Simmons missed the first two weeks because he has diabetes, and the new right tackle is still to be determined. The makeshift line went out and laid an egg in Detroit in their first preseason game on Saturday. The Lions harassed quarterback Tommy Maddox in the first quarter, sacking him twice, once for a safety, and chasing him out of the pocket. "Tommy was under a lot of duress, he was throttled," Coach Bill Cowher said. "We didn't really get much from running the football, so I thought they beat us at the line of scrimmage."

Pittsburgh quarterbacks were sacked five times by the Lions. Also, backup center Chukky Okobi, who filled in nicely for Hartings in five starts last season, sprained his left ankle and will miss another week. Todd Fordham, competing with Oliver Ross at right tackle, missed some time last week when loose cartilage was discovered in his elbow. "I don't concern myself with that at this point," Cowher said. "I don't think there has been a big setback with that group, assuming that I can get that group settled as soon as possible."

There was some good news coming out of Latrobe this week. Hartings returned to start against Detroit, and Simmons was scheduled to begin practicing, although no one expects him to be in tip-top form right away. After losing 30 pounds the week before camp, he was back to 306, five under his target playing weight. "Certainly, the right tackle and the right guard haven't worked together yet -- whoever the tackle is -- because of Kendall's situation," Cowher said. " I think time will tell."

But how much time? The offensive line takes longer to click than any part of the team. The Steelers had fewer changes in their line entering last season and it played poorly through the first three games. With a healthy backfield, the Steelers rushing totals in those games were 63 yards, 72 yards and 93 yards. "Yeah, it does take awhile, maybe," Cowher said, "but I feel good about the group we work with because they know the system, they've been in this system, they know each other. It's obviously just getting them back playing."

Ross was terrible against the Lions, and the first-team line did not play well at all. Halfback Jerome Bettis found nowhere to run; he gained 19 yards on eight carries.
"It was difficult, it was tough," Bettis said. "But when you don't have the same five guys there daily in practice, it makes it kind of tough. The guys who are feeling their way out, still finding their matchups and coaches are working with that. In the preseason, the last thing that comes together is the offensive line. It just takes time."


Piece by piece as the offseason has moved into the preseason, the coaching philosophies of Marvin Lewis come out. The piece to emerge this past week, as the Bengals prepared for their preseason opener Aug. 10 at the Jets, was how Lewis views preseason games. Lewis said he sees the preseason opener as another step in the developmental process for his team."There is some significance," Lewis said of the Jets game, "but it is one game. It's the one before next week's game, and we have to build and do things better and better as we go. We don't need to be slapping backs after this game."

To Lewis, the process of improving is more important than winning preseason games. "We are going in with a plan, and we will stick to the plan," he said. "You don't want to alter the plan in order to change the outcome of the game. "This is what you want to do, because if you don't, you will kick yourself in the behind afterwards if you get an injury that should not have happened.

Lewis has a lot to work with after the 28-13 loss to the Jets on Aug. 10. Lewis' Bengals of 2003 looked a lot like Dick LeBeau's 2-14 Bengals of 2002. They outgained the Jets by 305-155 yards but lost by two touchdowns. The Bengals committed four turnovers and lost the turnover battle 4-2. The Bengals net punting average was 29 yards on seven attempts, which led to a field-position disadvantage. "The thing I enjoyed today was the fact, some of the things we've been talking about occurred, and now we get to go fix it," Lewis said. "They thought I was crazy. It was raining (during the game), but there was a rainbow. Now we know where the end is. We're going, and we're going to fix it with the right guys. We are preparing for our season, and this was question a step in our preparation that we had to go through."

Lewis has said he is concerned only with getting the Bengals ready for the regular season opener, Sept. 7 against Denver. The Bengals were 2-2 in the preseason last year, their seventh .500 preseason since last having a winning preseason record, 4-1 heading into the Super Bowl season of 1988. "I think that learning how to win is important," Lewis said, "but we don't need to overemphasize it in the preseason. I don't think that if we go undefeated in the preseason that we have arrived. "I have been around teams who have done very well in the preseason and it hasn't helped them one lick in the regular season. "We have to go play. It will work out fine. It will be great lessons. We'll learn from it, and we'll roll it all into Sept. 7."

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