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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

New Browns brain trust has draft options

BEREA, Ohio - We're 10 days away from the NFL draft, and according to published reports the Cleveland Browns could take any number of players with their first-round pick, No. 3 overall.

Quite some time has passed since fans and the media could believe in the Browns, an organization that is working on its third coach since rejoining the league in 1999.

In their first few months on the job, general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel have, at least on the surface, restored the credibility of the franchise. They have made it chic to believe in the Browns again.

You could feel and see the difference at the Browns' training facility yesterday. Savage and Crennel addressed the media with an air of quiet confidence.

Savage said the Browns' immediate goal is to draft so well "that people will say, 'Hey, these guys know what they're doing.'‚óŹ"

We'll soon find out. For starters, they're going to use the team's first-round pick to acquire a player who can be a significant contributor - either by drafting a player outright, or trading for multiple picks.

"Everybody expects that guy to come in and play right away," Crennel said. "We hope that we make the right choice and that pick will be a good player for a long time."

If the Browns don't address their quarterback situation with the No. 3 pick, it will be because they don't believe that Utah's Alex Smith is a franchise player.

The big pluses for Smith are that he's young (20) and extremely intelligent. He had a wonderful private workout for NFL teams that increased his pro stock. On the minus side, Smith played in a system where he took most of his snaps out of the shotgun. He's going to need time to familiarize himself with running an NFL offense.

If Smith doesn't go to the Browns, or to Arizona with the No. 8 pick, he could fall into the middle of the first round.

Rather than select Smith with the third pick, which could be a reach, don't be surprised if the Browns consider drafting Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, addressing another team need, while allowing veteran QB Trent Dilfer to run the show.

The Browns need another wide receiver, and Edwards, who some teams have listed as the top player in the draft, is the top-rated wideout. But as much as the Browns need another wide receiver, they need more help on defense.

Maybe the Browns will select Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson, the top-rated linebacker.

However, it could be difficult for the Browns to draft Johnson at No. 3 when he isn't the third-best player in the draft.

Maybe, as some suspect the Browns have wanted to do all along, Savage and Crennel will engineer a draft-day trade to move down in the first round, acquire an extra pick or two, and still select the player they want.

If the Browns trade their No. 3 pick, they would do it so they could move down in the draft, but not so far that they couldn't get one of the players on their wish-list.

Crennel is a defensive-minded coach whose 3-4 alignment requires that his outside linebackers play defensive end in passing situations. Potential draft picks for the Browns fitting that description include Shawne Merriman of Maryland, Marcus Spears of LSU, David Pollack of Georgia and Demarcus Ware of Troy.

"It just depends on what we would get," Savage said of trading down. "I think we're prepared to go pretty far down if it's a good thing to do."



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