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Published: Monday, 8/19/2002

Couch comfortable NFL

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - It may have been intentionally symbolic or it may have been coincidence.

On the first play of Saturday night's exhibition game against Detroit, Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch completed a pass to Kevin Johnson for seven yards.

Earlier in the day, the Browns and Johnson agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $13.35 million - of which only the $3.5 million signing bonus is guaranteed - shortly after Couch was publicly critical that the deal had not been finalized.

Browns insiders suspect that Johnson, at 5-11 and 195 pounds, is not in the mold of wide receivers preferred by coach Butch Davis, who likes them big and physical.

That may be why Cleveland had balked at offering such a large contract.

As usual, however, what Couch wants, Couch gets.

And he has always wanted Johnson, his favorite target and security blanket.

“Yeah, I'm happy it got done,” Couch said after a 24-23 win over the Lions.

“Since day one, Kevin has been my go-to guy. You just hope the game will turn around with what we have been through the first couple of years. It would be horrible for him to leave now. It is just great to be together for the long haul.”

Couch and Johnson, in that order, were the first two players taken by the Browns in the 1999 draft, Cleveland's first since its return to the NFL as an expansion franchise.

Johnson, whose original contract would have expired after this season, has been Cleveland's leading receiver in each of his three seasons. The Syracuse University product, who had his first 1,000-yard season in 2001, has 207 catches for 2,752 yards and 17 touchdowns during regular-season play.

“I was able to secure myself financially and stay as part of a great organization,” Johnson said. “I think money is important, but it is really not as important as starting something and trying to finish it. I think this year there are a lot of key guys on this team who want to win. I want to be a part of that.

“I think, obviously, my relationship with Couch had a lot to do with it, just so we can be here a little bit longer with the team that we started with.”

Keeping Couch happy is important to the Browns, but no more important than seeing to it that the passing game remains explosive.

Amazingly, Cleveland has had just two 100-yard games from running backs in the last three years and William Green, the Browns' top pick in the 2002 draft who is expected to become the starting running back, has not been impressive thus far in the preseason.

In two games, Green has 39 yards on 14 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per rush.

“I don't think I did anything really well,” Green said after carrying eight times for 28 yards against the Lions. “Right now, I don't feel I am being myself. But that is all going to come in time.

“I am still trying to get to the point where I can just react. Right now, I am focusing too much on what to do on the plays, thinking too much.

“I don't think I am behind. I just have a lot of work to do to get ready to play at this level and with this team. I just need to get more reps.”

James Jackson, who got only three carries in the exhibition opener at Minnesota, led Cleveland's meager ground attack against Detroit with seven carries for 35 yards.

“I thought James ran the ball extremely hard tonight,” Davis said.

“He's healthy again and he's showing flashes of the things that he can do. You can't have enough good running backs. I think William Green will be fine and if it works out that we've got two very talented running backs it will just make us a better team. “



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