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5 CLEVELAND Browns
Jeffri Chadiha
August 28, 2000
The youth movement continues in Year 2—and so do the struggles that are part of being an expansion franchise
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August 28, 2000

5 Cleveland Browns

The youth movement continues in Year 2—and so do the struggles that are part of being an expansion franchise

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PROJECTED LINEUP
WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Chris Palmer
Second season with Browns (2-14 in NFL)

Offensive Backs

QB

Tim Couch

76*

399 att.

223 comp.

55.9%

2,447 yds.

15 TDs

13 int.

73.2 rtg.

RB

Errict Rhett#

65*

236 att.

852 yds.

3.6 avg.

24 rec.

169 yds.

7.0 avg.

7 TDs

RB

Terry Kirby

146*

130 att.

452 yds.

3.5 avg.

58 rec.

528 yds.

9.1 avg.

9 TDs

FB

Marc Edwards

290*

6 att.

35 yds.

5.8 avg.

27 rec.

212 yds.

7.9 avg.

2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR

Kevin Johnson

67*

66 rec.

986 yds.

8 TDs

WR

JaJuan Dawson (R)#

153*

96 rec.

1,051 yds.

8 TDs

WR

Dennis Northcurt (R)#

133*

88 rec.

1,422 yds.

8 TDs

TE

Aaron Shea (R)#

264*

38 rec.

289 yds.

3 TDs

K

Phil Dawson

277*

23/24 XPs

8/12 FGs

53 pts.?

PR

Dennis Northcutt (R)#

133*

23 ret.

19.0 avg.

2 TDs

KR

Ronnie Powell

299*

44 ret.

22.4 avg.

0 TDs

LT

Roman Oben

6'4"

305 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

LG

Jim Pyne

6'2"

297 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

C

Dave Wohlabaugh

6'3"

292 lbs.

15 games

15 starts

RG

Everett Lindsay#

6'4"

302 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RT

Steve Zahursky

6'6"

305 lbs.

9 games

7 starts

Defense

LE

Courtney Brown (R)#

55 tackles

13� sacks

LT

Stalin Colinet

14 tackles

0 sacks

RT

Orpheus Roye#

58 tackles

4� sacks

RE

Keith McKenzie#

30 tackles

8 sacks

OLB

Rahim Abdullah

72 tackles

1 int.

MLB

Wali Rainer

136 tackles

1 sack

OLB

Jamir Miller

117 tackles

4� sacks

CB

Corey Fuller

75 tackles

0 int.

SS

Marquis Smith

34 tackles

0 int.

FS

Percy Ellsworth#

75 tackles

6 int.

CB

Daylon McCutcheon

79 tackles

1 int.

P

Chris Gardocki

106 punts

43.8 avg.

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
? Includes one rushing touchdown

Cornerback Corey Fuller likes to compare the Browns' 1999 inaugural season to The Perfect Storm. In that film a group of resolute men head out to sea with big dreams, only to run smack into an unimaginable disaster. That's what happened to Cleveland, which faced overpowering elements, took a pounding and wound up with a 2-14 record. Heading into the 2000 season, the waters probably won't be much calmer.

The second time around the Browns will go with a younger team. Gone are veterans such as tackle Lomas Brown, linebacker John Thierry, cornerback Ryan McNeil and strong safety Marquez Pope, some of whom left for more money and others because they couldn't adapt to coach Chris Palmer's intense program. Now Cleveland has a starting lineup that is one of the youngest in the league and is three years younger, on average, than last year's starters.

"By the end of last season we had seven rookies starting," says Palmer, who expects that the valuable experience will start to pay dividends. "Hopefully, they'll continue their growth, along with the others. What I've tried to tell everyone is that there's no substitute for learning on the field." The organization still believes it can contend for a playoff spot in three to four years, when its nucleus of young players will be reaching its prime. That sounds good and well, but it will be a test of patience for some of the NFL's most loyal fans.

Palmer and Dwight Clark, the club's vice president of football operations, are more comfortable with the chemistry of this year's team than they were with last season's. The Browns had only 10 months to put together a coaching staff and roster before the start of training camp last summer, and too many veterans found it difficult to adjust to life on an expansion team. This year there seems to be less confusion, more commitment.

"With a lot of young guys around, you don't have to worry as much about them buying into a system," says outside linebacker Jamir Miller, a seven-year veteran who signed a four-year, $18.3 million extension last October. "They just assume this is the way things are supposed to be and go with it."

"There's a totally different atmosphere and attitude among the players," Clark says. "Last year I'm not sure we knew what was happening to us. There was so much to get done, and we spent all our time taking care of those things. I don't think any of us stepped back to look at the big picture."

The Browns' present and future depend greatly on the two players they chose with the No. 1 selections in the last two drafts: second-year quarterback Tim Couch and rookie defensive end Courtney Brown. Last season Couch set franchise rookie records for completions (223), attempts (399), yards (2,447) and touchdown passes (15) while throwing only 13 interceptions. His most glaring weakness, though it's something you love to see in a leader, was a penchant for trying to prove his toughness. He was sacked 56 times, and many of those takedowns were the result of his holding on to the ball too long. This season Couch says he is wiser and far more confident. "When you come in as a rookie, you don't feel like it's your team," he says. "You feel like you're just trying to win a starting job. Last year I didn't feel like the guy in charge, but I do now."

One way in which Couch's new attitude has manifested itself is in his willingness to challenge his teammates when they make mistakes. Considering the lack of experience at receiver—the top four wideouts and two best tight ends are all rookies or second-year players—Couch might get hoarse from yelling. The running game, which accounted for a league-low 71.9 yards a game, is also suspect. Former Raven Errict Rhett is expected to be the featured back behind a line with three new starters.

Defensively, Courtney Brown seems to be exactly what Cleveland had hoped: Blessed with speed, agility and an 86-inch wingspan, he impressed the coaching staff by reporting to camp at 279 pounds, 10 pounds more than he weighed at Penn State. Brown looked so impressive early on that Palmer moved defensive end Orpheus Roye, a free-agent pickup from the Steelers, to tackle. "I think he's going to be everything we expected, and more," Palmer says of Brown.

Brown, Roye and end Keith McKenzie, a free-agent signee from the Packers, were brought in to bolster a defense that gave up a league-high 171 yards rushing per game and totaled only 25 sacks. Having experienced players such as McKenzie and Miller helps, but Palmer needs his youngsters to grow up fast. "I think we have more talent than a year ago," Palmer says. "We just have to work through the tough times."

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