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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

2008 shows Browns' true colors

Cleveland Browns fans are a blend of eternal optimists and downright pessimists, oftentimes in the same body, which is understandable when dealing with a seemingly cursed NFL franchise.

Joshua Cribbs, the return specialist who is probably the most valuable player on the roster, recently called it the best worst team in the league, a combination of words which vaults optimistic pessimism into an art form.

That 10-6 mark last season was a mirage, a rippling blue pond in the middle of the desert that turns into dust at the touch.

Injuries were at a minimum. Average players had career years. Veterans had last hurrahs. The schedule was friendly. The Browns played four games against playoff teams and went1-3. They played 12 against non-playoff teams and went 9-3. In a sense that made Cleveland, a non-playoff team itself, the best of the worst then, too.

This team s current 4-9 record is reality. The Browns have lost five of six. The offense hasn t scored a touchdown in three games. Yet there are optimists among Browns fans who insist this is a talent-laden team just a new coach away from a playoff run in 2009.

Well, there will be a new coach next season. There should be a new general manager, too, although that s less certain. No small concern is that the owner who will be hiring one or both seems well out of his element.

Instead of talent-laden, though, this is a team whose talent has been terribly overrated.

There are about a dozen players that the new coach can build around and three of them are the long-snapper and two kickers. Two others, receiver BraylonEdwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, are having dismal seasons but straying from so good to so bad can t be permanent.

Who else deserves to stay? Cribbs, offensive linemen Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas, promising young running back Jerome Harrison, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, linebacker D Qwell Jackson, defensive back Eric Wright, and one of two quarterbacks, both currently sidelined for the season with injuries.

You might suggest, or scream, that it can t be Derek Anderson, but a lot has been invested and he has no trade value whatsoever. And Brady Quinn, once he got his chance, didn t exactly wow anybody with his inability to stretch the field.

Current coach Romeo Crennel already crowned Quinn as the 09 starter, which is rich considering Quinn showed little and Crennel has zero chance of coaching the Browns next year.

Who will be? Bill Cowher s name comes up in any and every such conversation, but it s hard to believe he d want anything to do with this mess, regardless of the millions owner Randy Lerner might be willing to throw his way. The now-hot rumor has former coach Marty Schottenheimer returning to Cleveland, but even he sees an on-field, band-aid role as unlikely.

The Browns will probably go the normal route and hire a hot NFL coordinator like the Giants Steve Spagnuolo, or no-nonsense Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm. But unlike quick studies such as Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh or John Harbaugh in Baltimore or Tony Sparano in Miami, the Browns new coach will not be inheriting a team with a plan in place that is ready to win.

He ll be taking over a franchise that barely has a pulse. Sopatience must be a virtue at a place where both optimists and pessimists ran out of it long ago.



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