Reading Between The Lines: Cleveland Browns – By Neal Coolong
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|The best part of reading sports writing for me has always been imagining what the writer is really thinking. No one can be truthfully optimistic when covering a bad team for a long time. At the same time, public relations writers are not being paid for their honest-to-God opinions. They need to make their subject look as good as possible.
So they should be slammed for it.
This is an entry in a running series where PR writers (or Flaks, as they’re called) for opposing teams in the AFC North are exposed for the dull, dramatic BS artists they truly are. Hey, yeah, I know they are making more money than me, but you have to know they don’t mean much of what they say.
Title: Depth, Talent In Backfield
The following is the first in a series of pre-training camp position previews.
If there’s one position to be excited about on the revamped Cleveland Browns, it’s probably the offensive backfield.
(Because with their quarterbacking problems that have plagued the team since it came back into the league in 1999, no defensive line and a WR corps that looks more like Pop Warner than NFL, fans are equally excited about the 2005 Browns as they are about the release of “The Bad News Bears”.)
While the other side of the ball tackles the trials of adjusting to a totally new scheme, the offense can rely on a stable of running backs – probably the deepest position group on the team.
(It’s the deepest largely because they have drafted and traded for so many high-priced bust rushers, to get rid of them all at once is a salary cap nightmare.)
“There might not be enough carries available for three guys to share,” Lee Suggs said.
(Criminal charges are pending for two of the three, so the remaining back in Cleveland will get his 13 carries a game, or how many the Browns anemic offense can muster.)
Third-year back Suggs, who ended the ’04 season with 744 yards and three-consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, joins Reuben Droughns and William Green as the three backs to which Suggs alludes.
(In fact, Browns coaches were so impressed with Suggs at the end of the year, they traded for Droughns, beginning a three-way battle for carries.)
Droughns, acquired in a trade with Denver on March 30, rushed for 1,240 yards last season, including six 100-yard performances in his first year as a running back. The six-year veteran spent the first five years of his career as a fullback itching to get the ball.
“When I signed a contract to play fullback, (I sometimes thought), ‘Was I ever going to get a chance to (be a tailback),’ Droughns said. “When the opportunity came up, I was like a kid in a candy store again.
(That candy store quickly turned into the Neverland Ranch when he realized he had been traded to Cleveland.)
“You never think you’re going to get an opportunity after you’ve been in the league so many years playing a certain position. You don’t think later in your career, you’re going to change positions all the sudden.”
With big years in ’04 from Suggs and Droughns, Green has turned into the forgotten man on the unit. But the player that helped lead the Browns to the 2002 playoffs has not waned in his desire to help the franchise that has stuck with him through the rough moments in his career.
“William Green has been here every day. I mean, every day,” head coach Romeo Crennel said. (He means every day his PO allowed him off his property) “He’s worked extremely hard. He has improved himself physically. He’s stronger and in better condition. I think he’ll be competitive when we get to training camp. He’ll be in the mix.”
(Now, as soon as he can keep his girlfriend from stabbing him, he might have a shot in the CFL, a la Lawrence Phillips.)
Topping off the allure of the group is one of the league’s top blocking fullbacks in Terrelle Smith. A ’04 free agent pickup, Smith was underutilized last season and could be relied upon more heavily in 2005 if the team indeed intends to capitalize on its running back corps.
(Crennel, however, is planning on his team being down at least 20 points going into halftime, so Smith has prepared himself to be a pass receiver out of the backfield.)
“If opportunity knocks, I’m going to open the door and say, ‘Hello,'” Smith said. “If they give me an inch, I’m going to take a mile. As long as they give me the opportunity to be on the field, I’m going to be the best player I can possibly be. This is a show-me business.”
(Smith also said, “We have to take it one game at a time, our offensive line is really great, I want to give credit to God and I just have to do what I can,” breaking the record for cliches used in one interview.)
In a group which will surely resemble a pack of dogs fighting for dinner scraps, (as has been the team’s motto since 2000) or in this case carries, Smith isn’t the only one hungry to make an impression.
“I have something to prove,” Droughns said. “I feel like I haven’t done anything until I left the Denver system and do it for the Browns now. I want something to come out of this.”
Suggs added, “There’s going to be a lot of competition in camp. Every time you go out there – every practice – you’re going to have to play well or you’ll fall back.”
(A lesson the Browns have been teaching the NFL over the last two seasons.)
Even if the balance of carries ends up greatly favoring one back, the Browns will have the luxury of insurance from injury – something many positions on the team have lacked during recent seasons.
Behind each proven back is another with the ability to garner yardage when given sufficient carries. The only questions will be if Suggs can stay healthy for an entire season, if Droughns can prove his performance in ’04 wasn’t a fluke and if Green can provide the consistency necessary to be successful in the NFL.
(i.e. Can Green stay off drugs, out of rehab and clear of domestic problems?)
“I told Lee, ‘We want [all] of you guys to contribute,'” Browns general manager Phil Savage said. “That is the beauty of what Romeo and our organization are trying to put together – a team-first mentality.”
Also on the unit is second-year running back Sultan McCullough, who spent part of last season on the Browns practice squad, and undrafted rookie Chad Scott – a small, shifty back from North Carolina.
At fullback, Corey McIntyre and Columbia Station native Ben Miller once again add depth to the unit. Noticed early in ’04 camp as a talented lead blocker, McIntyre spent last season on the Browns practice squad. Miller, meanwhile, injured his ankle during ’04 camp and spent the year on injured-reserve. He spent the spring in NFL Europe.
(Word inside the team said McIntyre will be there on business as Cleveland is negotiating to become a full-time NFL Europe squad.)