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Confidence high in Berea

May 15, 2008
By MIKE McLAIN Tribune Chronicle
BEREA — There was a football practice in the Browns’ indoor facility Wednesday, but were players other than the Browns wearing the orange helmets?

These players actually formed cohesive units and executed plays with precision. There was an overall sense of confidence about what next season might produce in terms of wins.

The scene was unlike previous seasons when the Browns were coming off another losing season and prospects for a change of fortunes weren’t promising. The 2008 Browns are a team with high expectations, which showed on the second of 12 organized team activity practices (OTAs).

‘‘You want to be on a team that people are interested in seeing and want to see on TV,’’ receiver Braylon Edwards said.

‘‘Now that the pressure is there, people want to see us. We’re excited. We just have to deliver.’’

It’s amazing what a 10-6 record can do for the image of a NFL team. The Browns were rewarded for their 10-6 record of last season with five primetime games next season. They’re scheduled for three Monday Night Football appearances, one Sunday Night Football game and one Thursday night game on ‘‘The NFL Network.’’

For the first time since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns are considered a legitimate playoff contender. No one around the team is mentioning Super Bowl, but there’s an unspoken belief the goal is attainable.

The mission as offseason practices begin is to maintain cautious optimism. Plays often work well in May when contact isn’t permitted. It changes once the games begin in September.

‘‘We’ve asked for it, so now it’s here,’’ linebacker Willie McGinest said of the lofty expectations. ‘‘Now what we have to do is go out and perform so we can get more of that. It’s not something that was just handed to us.

‘‘As guys know around here, there was a lot of hard work. Even though it was disappointing that we didn’t get into the playoffs (last season), we still turned it around from a year before. That was the reward of being 10-6 to get these types of games and to have the networks want us to be on their channels.’’

Browns general manager Phil Savage’s approach to the offseason helped fuel playoff talk. Entering the offseason without a first-round draft pick, Savage addressed the biggest weakness by trading away second- and third-round picks and cornerback Leigh Bodden to get defensive linemen Corey Williams from Green Bay and Shaun Rogers from Detroit.

On the offensive side, Savage signed speedy receiver Donte Stallworth to team with Edwards. The move will allow 33-year-old Joe Jurevicius to get more rest.

Another key on offense is that for the first time in several seasons the team will go to training camp knowing the identity of the starting quarterback. Derek Anderson secured the job with a strong showing last season, and, despite the presence of backup Brady Quinn, will be the starter when the season opens at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

‘‘Things are good,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘We had a good quarterback school, and guys have been working here through the offseason. We’re going to keep building on what we’ve been doing and breeding that success.’’

When the Browns opened OTAs last year, there were plenty of errant passes as Anderson, Quinn and Charlie Frye began open competition. The offense made big strides during the season and is looking to add to the product.

‘‘Last year we put a lot of things into place,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘Our heads were swimming for the first half of the season. We eventually got things going and looked decent.

‘‘Last year as a rough and raw beginning for it. This year is when we start to fine-tune things and become masters at what it is we do.’’

McGinest believes it will pay off in the long run.

‘‘You see teams that load up the year before to try to get championships,’’ McGinest said. ‘‘I like our chances that we’re going to play well, but I’m not going to predict Super Bowls.’’



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