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THE BELIEF Second-year man Charlie Frye will prove to be the Browns' long-sought franchise quarterback, leading an invigorated offense with the help of two receivers back from injuries, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. On defense, veteran free-agent pickups Willie McGinest and Ted Washington will fit nicely into coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme.
THE REALITY Frye's first test in crisis management came in the initial 11-on-11 contact drill of training camp, when center LeCharles Bentley, the team's prize free-agent acquisition, went down with a season-ending knee injury. Shocked that the powerful Bentley could be felled so quickly, Frye kept his emotions to himself and moved the offense downfield. "You blow a tire, you change it and keep going," Frye says. "You can't let anyone see you moping."
It's his cool under fire as much as his athleticism that has impressed the coaches. Since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999, the club has had one winning season (2002) while rolling out quarterback after quarterback, including Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia and Trent Dilfer.
General manager Phil Savage first saw Frye during his junior year at Akron and was won over by the passer's resilience while getting clobbered by Penn State in the opener of his senior season. At the Senior Bowl four months later, Frye didn't look like anything special during the week of workouts; once the game started he ran off with the MVP award. Similarly, in his first training camp last summer Frye seemed to elevate his game during two-minute drills. While Frye doesn't throw the deep ball especially well, the Browns like his mobility and creativity. "I see a guy who is going to make a lot of big plays after plays break down," says Edwards.
Those breakdowns may occur often this season because the offensive line is shaky at best, and Frye, who started the last five games of the season, has barely played with any of his top receivers: Edwards, who tore his right ACL and sat out the last four games; Winslow, who missed all but two games of his first two seasons with injuries; and Joe Jurevicius, a free-agent signee.
The defense has a new look too-and with good reason. Last season the unit had the fewest sacks (23) in the league and lacked the right personnel for Crennel's 3-4. They addressed that issue through free agency ( McGinest and Washington) and the draft, selecting linebackers Kamerion Wimbley (first round, Florida State), D'Qwell Jackson (second, Maryland) and Leon Williams (fourth, Miami).
All these moves reflect a franchise in transition. At the opening of camp 70 of the 91 players had been brought in by Savage and Crennel in the last 18 months. Crennel has set a modest goal for his team in 2006: simply improve on last year's 6-10 performance. Playing in the tough AFC North and having so many new and inexperienced players in the lineup, the Browns may quickly discover that winning two more games than they did in 2005 is the best-case scenario.
10 NEW ORLEANS