6 Cleveland Browns
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The Butch Davis era begins with short passes, werewolves and Edgerrin
By Peter King
Anyone entering the Browns' weight room at their suburban Cleveland training center is greeted by a message painted in block letters on a wall: THOSE WHO PREPARE THEMSELVES IN TIMES OF PEACE BLEED LESS IN TIMES OF WAR.
In the expansion franchise's first two years the bleeding was profuse, and now it's up to new coach Butch Davis, lured from the University of Miami at $3 million a year, to stop it. He cautions impassioned members of the Dawg Pound to be patient, though that's not something people in Cleveland want to hear after watching their team win only five of 32 games and lose by such embarrassing margins as 48, 43, 37, 34, 32 and 31 points.
"I'm going to steal something I heard David Duval say," Davis says of the British Open champ. "You lay it on the line; you give it everything you've got; and if you don't win, that shouldn't mean everything. The reality is there can be success without wins. That won't be the case in my second or third year maybe, but that's the reality of our situation now."
This year Davis is putting special emphasis on special teams. "When you're not very good," he says, "that's the way to balance the game." At the start of training camp Davis told his 80-man squad that every player in the room had an excellent chance to make the team, and he wasn't blowing smoke. "If a guy's an absolute werewolf on special teams," Davis says, "he will play for the Browns this year." Luckily for Davis, he already has one of the game's premier punters in Chris Gardocki.
In the long run, though, the Browns need quarterback Tim Couch (22 games, 22 touchdowns, 22 interceptions) to adapt quickly to an offense that relies more on short- and intermediate-range throws than former coach Chris Palmer's downfield scheme did. "This system fits me great," says Couch, who at Kentucky in 1998 threw three quarters of his passes 10 yards or less downfield, resulting in a completion percentage of 72.3.
In his first two seasons Couch had neither a top-flight receiver nor running back to work with, though Davis thinks he has an outstanding runner this year in rookie James Jackson, a third-round draft choice. Jackson backed up the Jaguars' Fred Taylor for a season at Belle Glade (Fla.) High School, then was the understudy to the Colts' Edgerrin James for two years at Miami, under Davis. "Except for the flak I took after resigning from Miami to come here," says Davis, "I got the most criticism for not playing James Jackson when Edgerrin was our starter."
Jackson, a 5'10", 209-pound slasher who ran for 1,006 yards for the Hurricanes last season, says he's ready for his coming-out party. "I would have benefited from more carries in high school and college," he says, "but what could I do? I was glued to the sidelines. I will not let this chance go by. I strongly believe I can do in the NFL what Edge has done."
James has won two rushing titles in two years, something that appears out of Jackson's reach because he'll be running behind a poor offensive line. But the rookie back is determined to make his mark. At a postdraft minicamp he set his pager to vibrate at 3 a.m. To keep from waking his roommate, Jackson then took his playbook into the hallway and spent three hours studying for that day's session. He maintained that work ethic when he went home to Miami between minicamps, training with Taylor and James at least two days a week from April through June. "We were serious, man," Jackson says. "Powerlifting, running, practicing on the field. Fred told me it's important to hit the hole in a hurry; otherwise it won't be there, because the linebackers in the NFL are so quick. Edge taught me how to run routes perfectly and catch the ball coming out of the backfield."
Even if Jackson plays well, the Browns still need help at receiver. Don't look for the savior to be second-round pick Quincy Morgan, the only wideout with any size (6'1", 209). In June receivers coach Terry Robiskie made three appointments for Morgan to go to Vikings wideout Cris Carter's prestigious camp for skill players, but the rookie missed all three. "I was taking care of business at home," says Morgan, who has had a good camp and is still projected as a starter. "I think he understands now that you have to work at another level to succeed in the NFL," Robiskie says. "I think he's finally listening to me."
These days the Browns' brass has more realistic expectations than it had at the outset. "I have no idea how many games we'll win," says team president Carmen Policy, "but I do know pieces are being put into place the way they should be."
This team appears to be staring at a four-win season. Unfortunately, for the Browns that would be considered progress.
Issue date: September 3, 2001