Browns coach Romeo Crennel is dealing with an unusual kind of quarterback controversy as he prepares rookie Charlie Frye for the future. Crennel inserted Frye in the second quarter last week against the Dolphins and used him again in the fourth quarter. Trent Dilfer does not like the idea of being pulled, albeit temporarily, in the middle of the game.
No one is disputing Dilfer should be the starting quarterback when the Browns play the Vikings in Minnesota on Sunday, least of all Frye. Crennel will use a "gut feeling" about when to give Frye spot duty again. It might or might not be this week, Crennel said.
"I'll support whatever decisions are made wholeheartedly, but I'm not going to stand up here and say I agree with it," Dilfer said. "If you've ever played quarterback in this league, rhythm is one of the biggest parts of it, and when you take a guy's rhythm away, it makes it that much tougher."
Dilfer has had an up-and-down season for the Browns, who are 4-6 with six games to play. Had he played better against Baltimore and Detroit, the record could be reversed. He comes across as insecure. He didn't like it in preseason when reporters asked him about Frye, and he obviously still doesn't. When a reporter asked him last week why he and Braylon Edwards were having timing problems, he answered: "I've been talking about this for months. Obviously you haven't paid attention. It takes time to develop chemistry."
Crennel understands Dilfer's frustration, but he said he will use Frye the same way the next time if he believes it is the right thing to do. The Browns were leading the Dolphins 9-0 when he used Frye for the first time this season. Frye engineered a 14-play drive that chewed up nearly six minutes and ended with a field goal.
"Trent is a competitor, and if I take the ball out of his hands, he isn't satisfied," Crennel said. "I don't blame him. That's the way competitors are. Everybody wants to play. They understand the head coach makes some choices they have no control over."
The Dilfer-Frye situation goes beyond what happened in the game against the Dolphins or what spot duty the rookie third-round choice from Akron might see the remainder of the season. In a little more than eight months, the Browns will be back in training camp.
When camp began this summer, Dilfer was the undisputed starting quarterback. That won't be the case when camp opens next July, Crennel said.
"In training camp, everybody starts over," Crennel said. "There's a battle in training camp for jobs. That's the way it is in the NFL. The guy who does the best gets the job."
Dilfer has been short with the media and he made it clear he doesn't like Crennel's plan for indoctrinating Frye, but he has been very unselfish when it comes to the rookie, who was 6-for-11 for 58 yards with an interception in the Dolphins game. He gave Frye the game ball immediately after the game ended. Frye seemed almost embarrassed to take it into the tunnel as he waved to fans.
Last month, talk of playing clearly made Frye uncomfortable. He knew it put Dilfer in an awkward position. Now Dilfer claims being pulled in the middle of the game damages his status as starting quarterback, even though Crennel has made it clear Dilfer is the starter for now. Crennel did not shut the door on starting Frye sometime this season.
"Trent and Charlie are good friends," Crennel said. "Trent has been helping Charlie tremendously since training camp started, and Charlie will tell you that. These guys are professional football players. I don't think their professional relationship will be hurt one iota by a couple series here and there."
In fact, Frye is spending Thanksgiving at the Dilfers when he could just as easily be spending it with his own family in Willard, Ohio, a small town about two hours southwest of Cleveland.