Upon leaving a recent press conference in Berea, a respected local member of the member said, "At least I don't feel the need to take a shower". That, of course, was a reference to way things have been handled by some previous Browns front office members and the previous head coach. At the end of previous press conferences, media members would stick around to point out inconsistencies that they just heard, along with an attempt to read between the lines.
It may change at a later date, but General Manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel have made a great impression on the media with their openness. I realize some fans couldn't care less how an organization deals with the press, but the vast majority understands that is a reflection of how the organizations chooses to relate to the fans.
More importantly, from a football point of view, it appears that every personnel move that has been made---what they lost and what they gained---has been a huge upgrade. The one that might be under the radar screen, as Savage told me, is the addition of punter Kyle Richardson, who is coming off of an arm injury. Richardson has been quite successful in putting the ball inside the 20, something Derrick Frost couldn't do. As long as Trent Dilfer is going to be the QB, field position will become more important than usual. That is not a shot at Dilfer---it's just an acknowledgement of his ability to control a game, as he did on the way to a Baltimore Raven Super Bowl win.
Not only did Savage and Crennel quickly realize the weaknesses of the Browns team, they were able to do something about it. The additions of Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman already make the offensive line better. And they may not be done yet, which means Jeff Faine, Ryan Tucker and Ross Verba might be in trouble. Gary Baxter is an upgrade from Anthony Henry. And the losses of Gerard Warren, Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb and probably, soon, William Green are great additions by subtraction.
Now, as the draft approaches, the needs are more defined. Linebacker, running back and wide receiver are positions that need to be addressed. And it is not a stretch to say that Butch Davis' last draft might yield his two best players, Kellen Winslow, Jr., who played in just two games, and Sean Jones, who missed the entire season.
If one position is overstocked, it is the tight end spot, with the return of Winslow, Heiden, Shea, and Heinrich. Some team might want one of the last three as the draft nears, although I think Shea is most valuable of that group.
It is not possible to speculate what these additions and subtractions will mean in the standings, and much more will happen before the regular season opens in September, but it is obvious that some of the fans who lost faith in the team are on their way back. It has been hard for a lot of people to warm up to this team since the 2003 season, as the head coach and many of its name players were not very fan-friendly. The changes in the front office and coaching staff have been a breath of fresh air.
GM Savage told the media that watching the Indianapolis NFL Combine on television gave him more information than he was able to get while sitting in the bleachers. With all due respect to NFL scouts and General Managers, who have better things to do, there are a bunch of draft ‘geeks' out there who might be better at draft trivia information. But that being said, why hasn't anyone offered Mel Kiper millions of dollars to head up an NFL staff? The answer is obvious---it's easy to sit back and critique teams as the draft takes place. It's another thing to make that decision while ‘on the clock', with the results over the years determining whether a franchise succeeds or not. Kiper, while enormously entertaining, has never had to pay for any mistakes he has made over the years.
Fans who are concerned about the Browns adding a logo to their helmets can rest easy, according to Savage. He likes the old-fashioned look and, while players change, the uniforms don't. He also is not in favor of the ‘Dawg' logo that has shown up on hats and, at times, in the end zone at Cleveland Browns Stadium. It's probably not his call, and the marketing people might think a logo addition would add to gear sales, but hopefully his attitude would prevail. I think Randy Lerner agrees. For those who would like to see the Dawg Pound phased out, they will have to wait. The Pound seems to be here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future.