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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 12/13/2003

Browns still looking for The Answer

There is an athlete out there somewhere who goes by the nickname “The Answer. Can t remember his name or his sport, but it doesn t matter. I know he doesn t play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Kelly Holcomb isn t The Answer.

Tim Couch isn t The Answer.

Is there an answer? Will Eli Manning still be available in the draft? Do you cast your lot with Ben Roethlisberger and start over? Can a team with so many needs afford to again dedicate the first round to a quarterback? If not, do the Browns go the free-agent route and cross their fingers for the next Jon Kitna?

Or does it even matter who s standing behind center as long as the running game is a jumble and the offensive line is Swiss cheese?

An awful lot of question marks, eh?

Couch apparently will be the Browns starter for the rest of the season or until his next injury, whichever comes first.

He celebrated his return to No. 1 by suggesting he might be willing to restructure a contract that would pay him $7 million next year if the Browns were to commit to him as the permanent starter.

But is that The Answer?

And, my goodness, why would he want the job?

Money aside, Cleveland has not been good to Tim Couch.

Remember The Plan, circa 1999? Couch, the new franchise s first draft pick, would be brought along slowly, getting plenty of time to learn the system, to watch and absorb behind veteran Ty Detmer. You might recognize it as the same plan being capably carried out this season by Cincinnati with rookie Carson Palmer as the understudy to Kitna.

The Cleveland version of The Plan lasted one week. Detmer went belly-up in a season-opening, 43-0 loss to Pittsburgh and someone, either ex-coach Chris Palmer or boss man Carmen Policy or both, pushed the panic button and vaulted Couch into the starting lineup.

Neither he nor his supporting cast was ready (is it yet?). He took more hits than a Vegas blackjack table, has been injury prone ever since, and lost all kinds of confidence along the way. It s anybody s guess how mentally tough Couch was coming out of the University of Kentucky, but he now possesses a fragile psyche. Holcomb gets booed after poor passes and interceptions. Couch is booed for stumbling out of the tunnel.

Holcomb s starting days are over. Whatever he accomplished last season was an illusion that fooled a lot of people, including yours truly, into thinking he was The Answer instead of the journeyman backup he always had been. Coach Butch Davis put the job up for bid and when a demoralized Couch experienced a dreadful preseason, Holcomb was the obvious choice regardless of whether it was a winning choice.

Holcomb lacks mobility and poise. Couch holds the ball too long. Both are mortal sins when operating behind such a pedestrian offensive line. For Couch it means sacks. For Holcomb it means locking on to one receiver - no secret to every defense in the NFL, give or take Arizona - and throwing amateur-hour passes that don t fool good cornerbacks.

Couch replaced Holcomb after two such interceptions last Monday night against St. Louis and did his best to rally the Browns in the second half. He was 6-of-9 for 98 yards and a touchdown and his reward is a return to the starting job. In Cleveland, it doesn t take much.

What does Couch need to do to keep the job? Will the same flashes of brilliance he has displayed off and on for five years, but never with any consistency, be enough? Does he need a win or two during a Denver-Baltimore-Cincinnati stretch run? Is Davis even interested in Couch beyond the next three weeks?

Couch dangles a restructured contract in return for an assurance that he ll be The Man.

The rest of us would like an assurance that he s The Answer.



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