Loss of Stewart Increases Challenge

The Browns are will have to continue to learn the 3-4 defense without the experienced Matt Stewart. Despite losing the linebacker to an MCL, the team is focused on continuing to make progress with the

After allowing the Bengals 420 total yards and Rudi Johnson 126 yards rushing, the Browns are preparing to face the Packers and their best running back, Ahman Green, with a depleted linebacking corps.

Matt Stewart, versatile enough to play either outside linebacking spot or inside with Andra Davis, will miss the game Sunday in Lambeau Field and most likely a few more games because of sprained right MCL suffered in the first quarter of the season opener.

"Matt is very smart and he plays fundamentally sound," said rookie Nick Speegle, who is getting more reps because of Stewart's injury. "He's not as big as the other linebackers but he can take on a block and force it back in the hole or he can drop back in pass coverage.

"I think he's a great linebacker. He's one guy I look up to because he can play both sides. It's going to be hard to replace him, but we have to move on."

This is an obstacle Coach Romeo Crennel did not expect to be in his way as he tries to reshape the Browns. He said in preseason, when he called his relationship with players "a honeymoon," that the test would come when the losses started adding up. The Browns are 0-1 and facing a Packers team that lost 17-3 in Detroit last week. Never in Brett Favre's previous 225 consecutive starts did the Packers score as few as three points.

Crennel has no plans to alter the course he set out on when he was named Browns head coach Feb. 8. He is convinced the 3-4 defense will work, even though the Stewart injury is a critical loss; he was the most experienced Browns player in the 3-4 because he played it in Atlanta before signing with the Browns as a free agent.

"After one game, if I go in there and say, 'OK, guys, this 3-4 sucks, so I'm throwing it out,' and after another game, 'Hey, this new defense I put in last week sucks, so I'm throwing that out,' then they don't have a system, they don't have a defense and they don't know what to hang their hat on," Crennel said. "We're going to try to hang our hat on the things that we know work and we're going to work to get it done. I think these players will work with us to do that.

"Staying the course, to a degree, can solidify the locker room. You don't want to be helter-skelter."

Crennel said it is up to him as head coach to deliver the message about staying the course, but it helps that guard Joe Andruzzi and cornerback Ray Mickens have been on teams on which Crennel was an assistant coach. And even though Andruzzi plays offense, he is championing Crennel's cause.

From the beginning, Andra Davis has followed Crennel. None of this is to imply there is grumbling in the locker room, but Davis and his teammates are happy to know Crennel is not panicking after one bad game. This is a team with 28 players on the roster that were not on the team at the end of the 2004 season.

Davis is convinced the defense is good enough to win, as long as the players do what they're coached to do.

"We have to go back to the drawing board," Davis said. "We know the system works. They've used it in Pittsburgh for years and Romeo made it work in New England. When you look at that team you don't see a lot of superstars.

"We gave up too many easy plays against Cincinnati. We can't do that this week or the same thing will happen."

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