Posted: Tuesday November 27, 2007 9:19AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 4:52PM
"Every year the roster was getting blown up," says Dawson, the only player who has been with the Browns since their rebirth. "Phil Savage has come in with a plan. We have a head coach who makes it clear what he wants to accomplish with a simple, straightforward approach. You can see the building blocks. We have a group of guys who are starting to jell, and it's exciting."
Savage, who while on the Ravens' staff had a hand in constructing Baltimore's 2000 Super Bowl team, and Crennel, the defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick's three championship teams in New England, have put together an interesting brew of youth and veterans, many of whom play football as if they have a score to settle. Kellen Winslow, who caught 10 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against Houston, has returned from a broken right fibula in '04 and a motorcycle crash in '05 to become one of the league's top tight ends. Braylon Edwards, two years after sustaining a season-ending right knee injury as a rookie, has 55 receptions for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns. Rookie left tackle Joe Thomas has been a starter from the outset, helping solidify the offensive line. The roster even has room for past Super Bowl champions such as running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Willie McGinest, players buying into the franchise with all of its history, including the heartbreak.
"These fans give us a lot," says McGinest, who signed with Cleveland last year after winning three rings with the Patriots. "They've been bleeding brown a long time before any of us got here."
If Grady Sizemore represents Cleveland's heart and LeBron James the town's soul, Derek Anderson is just finding his place in the city's sports psyche. He entered the season as a backup quarterback but was on the field by the second quarter of the opener, after Charlie Frye had performed disastrously. Frye was traded to Seattle for a sixth-round pick two days later, and Anderson became the No. 1. His recollection of the days leading to his Week 2 start against Cincinnati reflect the straightforward way such momentous business is transacted in the NFL.
"The coaches came up to me and said, 'Hey, it's going to be your deal, go take it, don't look back,' " Anderson says.
A sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2005, Anderson spent last summer in Salem, Ore., preparing for the competition with Frye and Brady Quinn, whom the team drafted 22nd overall in April. He spent mornings doing sprints and lifting weights with his best friend and former teammate at Oregon State, Bill Swancutt. Afternoons included long study sessions with the Browns playbook.
In his first start of the season Anderson threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-45 win over the Bengals, and he has unfurled additional magic since. The more he wins, and the more his rapport with the offense grows, the more his value rises, not only in Cleveland but also around the league. The 24-year-old Anderson, whom Savage picked up on waivers from Baltimore in September 2005, will be a restricted free agent after this season, and the Browns have several choices regarding his future.