Mike Furrey is a pretty good football player, but when it comes to self-deprecating humor, he's even better. He's an All-Pro.
Probably without meaning to do so, Browns head coach Eric Mangini gave the seventh-year wide receiver an open door to do some stand-up on Tuesday, following the next-to-last practice of training camp. During his daily press conference three hours before, Mangini was discussing the team's depth issues at safety following the unspecified injury suffered by starter Brodney Pool in last Saturday night's 27-10 preseason victory over the Detroit Lions. In doing so, Mangini brought up the name of Furrey, a former Lion who actually did play safety in 2005 with the St. Louis Rams.
And Furrey played it very well, we might add. Indeed, if the Browns are planning to conduct a mini-open tryout at safety to see if there are any keepers, they would be well-advised to give Furrey a look. In fact, Mangini hinted at such when, without being prodded, he mentioned Furrey. Knowing Mangini, if it's on his lips, then rest assured he's thinking about it – seriously – especially after he saw wideout Troy Brown play well as a defensive back with the New England Patriots in 2004 when he was an assistant coach there.
The 6-foot Furrey, who was 205 pounds at the time, or about 10 heavier than he is now, started 11 games at safety four years ago and led the Rams in interceptions with four. He had twice as many interceptions as anyone else. In fact, the Rams had just 13 interceptions as a team, so he had almost one-third of them by himself.
And his first interception – of both the 2005 season and his career – was returned 67 yards for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
A pretty good year for you then, huh, Mike?
"We were 6-10," he said with a laugh.
No, we're talking about you, specifically, not the team. You played well individually.
"We were 6-10," he repeated with an even bigger laugh.
What he didn't say, but almost could have, was, "Thank you. Thank you. I'm here all week. Come back and see me and bring a friend with you."
But if we can be serious for a minute, just how does a wide receiver convert to safety – and be so successful? Furrey didn't play safety at Hilliard (Ohio) High School just outside of Columbus, nor did he do so at Northern Iowa. So it wasn't like merely brushing up on some old, long-forgotten skill set. Troy Brown, by comparison, had played some defensive back in college.
"I have no idea how I did it," Furrey said. "Someday after I'm retired, I'll probably sit back and think, ‘Did I really do that? How did I do that?', and maybe I'll figure it out. But right now, like I said, I've got no idea."
When you talk to Furrey a little longer, though, while he still insists he doesn't know how he did it, he certainly understands how it all came about.
"It was Mike's idea," he said, referring to then Rams head coach Mike Martz. "Mike realized we had six great receivers – well, five great receivers plus me – but he also realized we were a little short on depth in the defensive backfield because of injuries. Mike, being an offensive guy, wanted to get all six receivers up for the game, so he made me a safety.
"I started working at safety in the spring that year. I guess he figured I would be good for it since I was a special teamer and I was the guy running down there and trying to break up the wedge."
As a wide receiver, Furrey had played in eight games and caught just one pass for eight yards the previous year, 2004, with the Rams. Also with St. Louis In 2003, his first season in the NFL, he had 20 receptions for 189 yards.
Before that, he had spent two seasons in the Arena Football League, and one in the XFL. But he didn't really play much defense in either league.
So when he finally got to the NFL, Furrey was willing to do anything to stay there.
Anything. Even play safety.
Against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
In his home stadium.
On Monday Night Football.
After your team, a prohibitive underdog, had sucker-punched his team and gotten those guys' attention.
Ironically, Furrey's first start didn't come until the first game after Martz was fired. In Week 6, the 2-3 Rams of interim coach Joe Vitt, after giving up 37 and 44 points the previous two games that sent Martz packing, went to Indianapolis and played Peyton Manning and the 5-0 Colts, who had scored 28 and 31 points the previous two contests.
"We got up on them 17-0 (with 3:31 left in the first quarter), and then they cut loose on us," Furrey said of the fact the Colts, who would go on to win the Super Bowl that year, scored on seven of their next eight possessions en route to a 45-28 triumph. "That was the night Peyton and Marvin Harrison set the record for touchdown passes."
Harrison caught a six-yarder for a score from Manning in the fourth quarter, their 86th as a quarterback-wide receiver duo, breaking the NFL mark of Steve Young and Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers.
But maybe the most surprising – and interesting – thing about Furrey isn't that he played safety, but rather that he came back in 2006, after catching a combined total of just one pass the previous two years, and caught 98 – for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns – with the Lions. He led the NFC and finished second in the NFL in catches, and had the fifth-highest single-season total in Lions history.
From the team leader in picks with the Rams one season to the NFC leader in catches with the Lions the next season. Now, that has to be some kind of NFL record, doesn't it?
You would think.
Furrey said he was unaware of what Mangini had said in his presser.
"I don't know what Coach Mangini's plans are," he said. "We haven't practiced with me at safety, and I don't see it in the future, either."
But what would Furrey say if the Browns approached him with the idea?
"Whatever I can do to help the team," he said.
For a team that is still looking for someone – anyone – among their young players to step up as the No. 2 receiver behind Braylon Edwards so they can put Furrey in the slot and leave him there, maybe Furrey could play on both sides of the ball. After all, he has the best hands of any of the receivers, and in 2008, only one current Browns defender had more than four interceptions, Furrey's team-leading total in St. Louis in 2005.
And anyway, being on the field more would put Furrey in the limelight more, which would open up more opportunities for him to stand-up routines. So it could be a good thing all the way around.
COMING AND GOING: In a roster move that was announced late in the afternoon, the Browns signed free-agent defensive lineman Brian Schaefering and waived recently-signed wide receiver Paul Raymond. This is Schaefering's third stint with the Browns, and his second with Mangini. Cleveland originally signed him as an undrafted free agent in May 2008, released him Aug. 26 and then signed again to the practice squad on Dec. 12. The New York Jets, coached then by Mangini, signed him to their regular roster 18 days later and didn't release him until June 9. Schaefering, a native of St. Louis, started his college career at Illinois and then transferred to tiny Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Now, is this just Mangini bringing in one of "his" guys, or does the fact the 6-4, 295-pound Schaefering plays defensive line signal that maybe the unspecified injury that has kept nose tackle Shaun Rogers riding the exercise bike for a couple weeks, is more serious than believed, and the Browns need some depth along the line? Probably the latter isn't the case, but stay tuned anyway.