Thursday, March 31, 2005

Browns West

When Browns version 2.0 rolled off the conveyor belts in 1999, the connections of Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark gave the team's roster a striking resemblance to the bench of the San Francisco 49ers.
It was the beta version, unfortunately. Terry Kirby and Ty Detmer were far from Garrison Hearst and Steve Young. Heck, they weren't even Steve Bono and J.J. Stokes.
In the defense of Policy and Clark, the Browns had a mere nine months to put together an NFL roster, whereas teams like the Houston Texans had over two years. Understandably, past connections and familiarity are easy routes to take when a front office needs to spackle holes in a hurry.
Unfortunately, however, Clark seemed to view his cache of 49er retreads as a long-term plan, not a first-year stopgap. Horrible drafts did nothing to help weed out the placeholders.
The Browns relied heavily on presumed talent and connections over actual research and legwork for much of the past six years. After the roster was flooded with San Francisco castoffs, Butch Davis came in with his University of Miami connections. A Hurricane pipeline was built between South Florida and Cleveland. If Butch's college recruits were as good at playing as they were at getting into the police blotter, "Hurricane" might pertain more to the Browns' style of play than the state of their roster.
Now the decks are being cleared once more, this time by new general manager Phil Savage and new coach Romeo Crennel. New philosophy, new playbook, new players.
And for the first time, the Browns are on the giving end of a coach's roster stocking.
All those branded as underachievers on the Browns' defensive line are following position coach Andre Patterson to Denver. Patterson was hired as the Broncos' defensive line coach in February.
Gerard Warren was the first to go, traded for a fourth-round pick that was soon after dealt to Seattle for quarterback Trent Dilfer. Last week, Courtney Brown, he of the good heart and awful knees, signed as a free agent.
Tuesday, the Browns and Broncos signed off on a trade that sent Ebenezer Ekuban and Mike Myers westward for running back Reuben Droughns. The Browns didn't want to give up Myers, who was a solid sub for the past several years, but they had to include Myers as an insurance policy on Ekuban, who is coming off knee surgery.
The moves mean the Broncos could realistically field a starting four-man defensive line consisting of all ex-Browns this fall.
Before you start pointing and laughing at Denver, take the moves in context.
The quartet of Browns are going from an organization that was a mind-blowing disaster the last time they set foot on the field to a relatively stable organization run by Mike Shanahan, a coach who has been in his place almost a decade, with two Super Bowl rings (albeit with John Elway) to his credit.
Warren showed what he was capable of when he was disciplined, constructively encouraged and challenged by interim coach Terry Robiskie at the end of last season, putting together arguably his best month as a pro in December. Davis was too busy coddling Warren and bristling whenever anyone questioned his draft picks to mold Warren into a real player.
Ekuban, signed as a reserve, came off the bench and into a starting role when Brown went down with yet another injury during the season. He ended up leading the team in sacks.
Myers probably wont start, but like in Cleveland, he gives the defensive line great depth in Denver. Brown can never be counted on to stay healthy, but nobody knows how many, if any, of his injuries were brought about by lousy conditioning practices put in place by the previous Browns regimes.
None of the four might become Pro Bowlers in Denver, but playing for an organization with a stronger foundation can only help them become better players.
Warren, Brown, Ekuban and Myers might be shocked at how much easier it is to play for a team that is led by people who can actually lead. We in Cleveland can only hope Savage and Crennel build a similar strong foundation for the Browns.

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