Every afternoon at one o'clock Palmer has a meeting with 16 coaches and staffers. The topics are mostly mundane—organizing practice, for instance, and the game plan for a preseason game—but parts of the 40-minute session are the NFL's equivalent of the stock market. On this day the stock of rookie free-agent wideout Ronnie Powell is rising. The stock of veteran guard Alex Bernstein is under scrutiny.
"Kenny," Palmer says to special teams coach Ken Whisenhunt, "you had Bernstein in Baltimore. He's a strong son of a gun, but he's stiff, huh?"
Whisenhunt nods. "I don't know if he's flexible enough," says Palmer, looking around the conference table for Jorgensen, his strength coach. "Tim, let's get him working on some flexibility exercises, huh?"
Receiver depth, after starters Leslie Shepherd and rookie second-round pick Kevin Johnson, worries Palmer. But he's intrigued by Powell, a former running back at Division I-AA Northwestern (La.) State who was brought to camp for his speed (4.3 in the 40) and has shown that he can run disciplined routes and has good hands. "Jerry," Palmer says to wideout coach Jerry Butler, "who would be your top three receivers right now?"
"Shepherd, Johnson, and then I'd say either [Damon] Gibson, Powell or [Jermaine] Ross," says Butler.
"But," Palmer says, "Powell gives you something special. He runs by people. He's convinced the players, I'll tell you that. Jerry Ball and Corey Fuller are already telling me, 'Get it deep to Powell.' I say my top three are Shepherd, Johnson and Powell, and now we have to zero in on Powell and see what he can do. My question is: Can he get off the bump well enough?"
Can anyone in Cleveland's camp? Franchise players aside, there were no rushing or receiving prizes in this free-agent class, so the Browns are light at the skill positions. Palmer is an offensive-minded coach, and a very good one by all accounts. But just how will this team, starting such journeymen as Shepherd. Ty Detmer at quarterback and Terry Kirby at running back, score enough to win any games?
AUG. 21: CLEVELAND
The first game in the new stadium yields this tribute to the Browns' fans' love of their team—and to Lew Merletti and the art of security: Of the 71,398 fans in attendance for the Vikings' 24-17 win, no one was ejected or shipped to the stadium's holding cells. The 43 concession stands worked flawlessly, as did the 1,339 toilets.
AUG. 25: BALTIMORE
Talking on a crackly cell phone, Modell wonders why he is still "the devil," as he says. "The fans in Cleveland are better off today than they were three years ago, with the team, the stadium, the deep pockets. How can anyone possibly wish for the way it used to be?"