After watching rookie Charlie Frye and second-year player Josh Harris in passing camp and minicamp, Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Phil Savage became convinced the Browns needed an experienced quarterback behind Trent Dilfer. They settled on Doug Johnson, a former backup with the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans.
Crennel talked about waiting to see how Frye and Harris performed in training camp, but the more he and Savage thought about it, the better it seemed to sign Johnson early before some other team decided it needed another quarterback.
"The bottom line is they don't feel real comfortable having rookies as their backup," Johnson said. "All rookies struggle, except the guy in Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger). Peyton Manning struggled as a rookie. John Elway did. Everybody does."
The chances of Johnson playing at some time during the season are strong. Dilfer is fit and ready to go, but he has not played a full season since 1998. This is his first season with the Browns after spending the last four in Seattle and leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in the 2000 season.
The Browns took a look at Johnson during an invitation-only tryout in May, anticipating Frye and Harris would not be ready. They decided he has the right temperament to play behind Dilfer without rocking the boat. Originally an undrafted rookie (University of Florida) with the Falcons in 2000, he started eight games in 2003 and played in two others while Michael Vick mended from a broken ankle. He completed 136-of-243 passes for 1,655 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also threw 12 interceptions and had a 67.5 passer rating.
Johnson, 6-2, 225 pounds, spent the 2004 training camp and preseason with Jacksonville. He was released Aug. 30 and claimed by Tennessee eight days later. He played in the final two in the final two games because of injuries to Steve McNair and Billy Volek and was six-of 12 passing for 68 yards and a passer rating of 68.4. In all Johnson has played in 25 games, with 11 starts and has completed 218 of 384 passes for 2,600 yards with 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
"I have experience as a starter and I'm ready to step in if they need me," Johnson said. "In Atlanta, I had a great relationship with Michael Vick and I can see that's how it's going to be here."
Johnson is behind because he was not signed until after minicamp. By then the veterans were on a six-week vacation leading up to the start of training camp July 29. He is spending his time in cram sessions with the offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon so he can learn the offense.