The Leader the Browns Need?

Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson looks at what Jake Delhomme may mean to the Cleveland Browns. Read Zac every day as he writes about all Cleveland sports on FoxSportsOhio.com.

BEREA -- That he carries some scars from a miserable 2009 doesn't make Jake Delhomme unique in his new locker room.

But a lot of things he brings -- the resume, the twang, enough big-game experience to earn instant credibility in the huddle -- aren't just unique. Ask anyone around the Browns and you'll probably hear that they're needed. Very much so.

Into the game's most important leadership role, the one the Browns haven't been able to quite figure out for 11 years and counting, steps a guy who's not afraid to fling it -- and not afraid to talk about the times he's flung it to the other team. He's a guy who brings a little moxie and a lot of wisdom into what's likely his last NFL chance, and he's not going to allow himself to think about anything other than making the best of it.

"I just want to be a part of helping turn things around here," Delhomme said Wednesday, the Browns' third day of organized team activity (OTA) practices this spring. "I'm 35 years old, I'm going into my 14th NFL season. I play this game for one reason and one reason only -- to win."

He signed with the Browns in March, a time at which he acknowledged "it would have been very easy to walk away and go home or to go hold a clipboard some other place." That's because the guy who pushed the Carolina Panthers' franchise to new heights in seven seasons there was pushed out, and in Cleveland he sees an opportunity where he's not the only guy looking for redemption.

"For me it's a fresh start," Delhomme said. "I loved six of the seven years I had in Carolina. Last season just wasn't a lot of fun. Being here, it's very refreshing. I've been here since March 15, since our first day working out. I think we can all gather from my accent that I might have a little battle on my hands, but I feel like I've had some new life injected into me."

In 2008, Delhomme led the Panthers to a 12-4 record and the NFC's second seed. He melted down in the divisional playoffs, throwing 5 interceptions in an Arizona upset.

Starting with that playoff debacle he's 4-8 in 12 starts since, and his sub-60 quarterback rating last fall was by far the worst in any season of extended work in his career. He was released this winter, and he came back to Cleveland after initially visiting and leaving without a contract because he was convinced that he wasn't done playing.

"I played so poorly in that playoff game that I spent my whole offseason convincing myself that I wanted to win back everyone," he said. "That was a little too much. I have to play loose and free and I didn't do that. I wasn't myself."

Another offseason of change for the Browns led them to look past the 8 touchdowns and 18 interceptions Delhomme threw last season and take a chance on a guy who amassed a 58-40 record as a starter in Carolina and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl when the Browns' head coach, Eric Mangini, was coaching the defensive backs on the other side. The Browns saw a guy who'd entered the league undrafted, cut his teeth in his home state of Louisiana as a backup and then handled a variety of things -- even the fallout after his struggles -- remarkably well in Carolina.

"When you bring someone in, you look at the body of work," Mangini said. "Jake has an outstanding body of work."

He's had an outstanding work ethic, too, and he's gone out of his way to get familiar with his new teammates. That's no easy task considering his projected starting receivers, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, were playing Pop Warner ball when Delhomme was breaking into the NFL and playing with the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe in 1998. But Delhomme insists he's the one feeling like a kid again.

"We're all overgrown kids," he said. "We're lucky enough to be playing football a long time. I enjoy meeting all these guys...finding out what makes them tick."

Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said Delhomme has been "a consummate team player. He jumped right in, fit right in. He was leaving his family every week to be with the team and try to learn the system. He's a guy who has a great deal of experience in this league. People look up to him and respect him."

"He studies hard, and on the field he slings the ball like a rookie," Thomas said. "He comes in and takes things very seriously but at the same time he fits in really well with the guys."

The Browns believe they're a team entering 2010 with some momentum after winning four straight to cap a 5-11 2009 season. A reborn Delhomme figures to be one of the biggest factors in whether or not they're able to extend that.

"He's got great energy," Mangini said. "I don't like making comparisons, but I will. He reminds me a little bit of (Brett) Favre that way, in terms of he enjoys practice, he enjoys being around the guys. He is able to be serious and still keep things light, it is really important to him. He has a good rapport with offensive guys, defensive guys and you just see it in their interaction in the weight room and all the different areas. It's positive; it's really positive."

Delhomme joked that he's enjoyed his short time on the field this week after spending two months "inside lifting weights -- or watching guys lift weights."

"It's been lots of fun," he said. "I'm just excited to help whatever way I can."

Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson, and check out his reports on all of Cleveland's sports teams on http://www.foxsportsohio.com!

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