SI Vault
Peter King
October 22, 1990
Assaulted and battered by enemy pass rushers, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar still gets up throwing
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October 22, 1990

Survival Test

Assaulted and battered by enemy pass rushers, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar still gets up throwing

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Left tackle Paul Farren is the only interior lineman starting at the same position he played a year ago. The season opener was the first NFL start for guards Kevin Robbins and Ben Jefferson, both of whom spent all or most of 1989 on the developmental squad, and the first game that former guard Tony Jones started at tackle. Veterans Ralph Tamm and Gregg Rakoczy moved into the starting lineup at guard against Denver. However, these are stopgap measures. The long-term solution has to come through the draft. Until then? "If we can keep Bernie clean, we'll win the game," says center Mike Baab, whom Cleveland traded two years ago but reacquired through Plan B.

•His offensive scheme. Whatever happens to Carson, the second-year coach whose job status is the hottest topic in town since the Cuyahoga River caught fire, the Browns must stay the course under the system installed by new offensive coordinator Jim Shofner. Kosar is working with his fifth coordinator—and that doesn't include Marty Schottenheimer's involvement in the play-calling when he was the head coach. "People can't grasp how tough this is on a quarterback," Rutigliano says. "But it's like going to college and changing your major every six months."

Kosar's tutors and their play-calling systems: In 1985, Greg Landry used compass directions to name plays, and he told Kosar to look first at his outside receivers, and then inside. The next two seasons, Lindy Infante denoted his plays with numbers and had Kosar looking at the inside receivers before looking outside. Schottenheimer and Joe Pendry used names and numbers in '88, but last season Marc Trestman had a numbering system and urged Kosar to go for the big play. Now Shofner tells Kosar to go with his gut feeling and play the situation. "Nobody knows how great a quarterback Bernie is," says Carson, "because he hasn't had great protection since he's been here."

The offensive line is not the sole protector of the quarterback. Kosar needs a potent ground game to keep the defense from keying on him, and he needs blocking from his backs and tight end. After six games this season, the Browns ranked 27th in the league in rushing. They haven't had a back run for as much as 750 yards in a season since 1985, when Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack gained more than 1,000 yards apiece. Kosar was at his best when he had Byner and Mack in the same backfield, but Byner was traded after the '88 season, and Mack has missed parts of the last two seasons and this year because of injuries and drug abuse.

Bernie knows. Bernie shrugs. "It's hardest when your friends say things about you that you know are wrong," he says. "But what are you going to say? You just have to take it. Sometimes you have to say nothing, for the good of the team. But about being gun-shy, I honestly don't think I am."

"Here's the best story I have about getting hit," says Manning, now a broadcaster on the Saints' radio network. "When I was with the Vikings in my last year, 1984, my first start was against the Bears at Soldier Field. Our line was awful, and I got sacked 11 times. On the last one, I think [Chicago tackle] Dan Hampton kind of felt sorry for me. He just kind of stood me up and held me. But their linebackers were ferocious, and here comes Otis Wilson—wham!—helmet right to my chin strap. He splits my chin, rattles my teeth and throws me to the ground. There's blood everywhere, and Otis is lying there on top of me and he says, 'Arch, these guys ain't blocking for you. You ought to just lie here and play like you're hurt.' I say to him, 'I'm thinking about it.' "

Manning watches Kosar on TV when he can. "Bernie's got to have protection for Cleveland to win," he says. "It's not really the sacks that get you; it's the hits after the throw and the knockdowns. I had Deacon Jones, Bob Lilly and Mean Joe Greene in my time. Alan Page broke my nose; he put it on the other side of my face. Wally Chambers tore up my knee. The Falcons broke my jaw. But today, you can get hit like that on every play. All the linebackers and ends are so quick and strong."

Bernie knows. Bernie shrugs. "Right now," he says, "I feel good. And that's about as far as I ever look down the road."

One other thing. "You can't play an NFL game scared," he says.

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