|Top receiver Edwards will strut his stuff with six national TV dates.|
21 at Baltimore
28 at Cincinnati
13 N.Y. GIANTS (M)
19 at Washington
26 at Jacksonville
6 DENVER (T)
17 at Buffalo (M)
7 at Tennessee
15 at Philadelphia (M)
28 at Pittsburgh
Joe Thomas, Left Tackle: Last year the Browns kept waiting for their first-rounder to show a weakness. Didn't happen. He wasn't intimidated by a road game at Foxborough or two matchups with Ray Lewis's yappy Ravens. In 16 games Thomas surrendered one solo sack. Says G.M. Phil Savage, "How many rookie left tackles start from opening day and play like Pro Bowl players?"
What's all the fuss about? A franchise on the rise has playoff potential, but a rebuilt defensive front has to deliver first.
Nowhere was the release of the 2008 NFL schedule as newsy as it was in
Cleveland. Quarterback Derek Anderson was on the golf course when he got a call
from his dad. "You see how many times you're on national TV?" Glenn Anderson
said. Fans bombarded wideout Braylon Edwards with the news. "Three Monday night
games!" one of them told Edwards, who went to a computer to see for himself.
There it was: A Fox national game at home against the Cowboys in Week 1,
a Sunday night NBC game with the Steelers in Week 2, Monday-night ESPN
games in Weeks 6 (Giants), 11 (Bills) and 15 (Eagles), and a
Thursday-nighter on NFL Network against the Broncos in Week 10. The Browns
hadn't played on Monday night in five years or on Sunday night in three; now
they were going to play five night games in one season -- one more than the Super
"Prime time," Edwards says. "Now that's what I'm talking about."
And Cleveland didn't even make the playoffs last year.
So, the theory goes, the Browns must be a team about to break out. Or they're
being set up for a big tumble. "When I saw the schedule I said, 'That's what
happens when you play exciting football,' " says sixth-year guard Eric
Steinbach. "The flip side, of course, is being a younger team, and after having
your first winning season in a while, you worry about how all the exposure is
going to affect your young players. The true test will be surviving that
exposure and playing your best instead of playing like a deer in the
The Browns were a bunch of sluggers without a pitching staff last year,
winning 51-45, 41-31 and 33-30 (twice). And when Anderson struggled in
December -- he threw seven TD passes and eight interceptions in five games -- the
defense wasn't able to cover for the offense's drop-off and Cleveland suffered
crushing losses to Arizona and Cincinnati. The Browns wound up 30th in the
league in yards allowed per game (359.6) and in yards allowed per rushing
That's why general manager Phil Savage, already without a first-round pick in
2008 because he traded it to move up and draft quarterback Brady Quinn last
year, dealt his second- and third-round choices plus starting cornerback Leigh
Bodden for two monstrous defensive linemen: former Packer Corey Williams, who'll
play left end in coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme, and Shaun Rogers, late of the
Lions, who'll be the nosetackle.
Strange but true: The 340-pound Rogers has never played the position. But the
Browns believe he's well-suited to occupy more than one blocker and plug the
middle of the line, creating the kind of congestion that makes for a great
"Our model is the Patriots," says Rogers. New England is a 3-4 team with a
history of playing good run defense, and Rogers has studied the Pats' scheme.
"[The Browns] got me because they were looking for beef in the middle, and
that's so important to a 3-4 team," he says. "I don't want to be the whole
solution, just part of the solution."
Cleveland needs some other defensive players to be part of the solution too.
Pass-rush specialist Kamerion Wimbley has to play hungrier. "How can I put
this?" says Savage. "He played a little safe last year." It's not often that a
rookie gets 11 sacks and follows with a five-sack season, but that's what a
healthy Wimbley did. The Browns have told him to take more chances, become more
reckless. Also, second-year cornerbacks Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright will be
picked on by opposing quarterbacks from Week 1, and by midseason fans may
be wondering why their team invested so heavily in the defensive line when it's
the secondary that's killing the Browns.
"We couldn't fix everything in one off-season," Savage says. The question is,
have they done enough to help the Browns win their first division title since
1982 -- and make them a featured team on the 2009 schedule? -- Peter King