August 27, 2014

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Browns’ preseason stirs feelings of optimism

CHICAGO — Bring on the Steelers.
The sentiment Thursday night inside the Browns’ locker room would’ve been the same regardless of what happened in the preseason. But a 19-9 win over the Bears, a 3-1 record and general competitiveness left the Browns feeling good about themselves with a regular-season visit from Pittsburgh next up on Sept. 9.
“The biggest thing is being able to go back-to-back wins,” coach Romeo Crennel said of the Denver and Chicago games. “That’s something the Browns haven’t done in awhile. So back-to-back wins on the road vs. two good teams, two hard places to play. Even though it was preseason, we feel good about that.
“Hopefully it’ll carry over into the regular season and we’ll get some back-to-back victories there.”
The Browns haven’t won consecutive games in the regular season since October 2003. This was the fourth straight year they’ve done it in the preseason. So it’s a little early to purchase playoff tickets.
But coming off a 4-12 season, the Browns have reason to look back at the preseason and smile.
Rookie Brady Quinn displayed no nervousness and led the team on four of its five touchdown drives. If not for an 11-day holdout, he’d be a serious contender to begin the season as the starting quarterback.
“That’s our job, right?” Quinn said when asked about the touchdowns. “Field goals are nice, but they don’t end up winning games in the long run.”
Charlie Frye was resilient and stubborn in holding onto his starting job. He shook off two big mistakes vs. the Chiefs and a lackluster night vs. the Lions to lead a job-clinching touchdown drive vs. the Broncos. His game management is superior to Derek Anderson’s and he will get the chance to start his second straight opener.
“I think the competition has brought the best out of me — on and off the field,” Frye said. “It’s made me a stronger person, being able to handle different situations.
“It’s pushed me, made me a better player and also made me a better person.”
The quarterbacks weren’t the only bright spots.
Running back Jamal Lewis looked ready to be the workhorse, showing good feet and toughness. Joshua Cribbs made a strong bid to not only return kickoffs and punts but increase his role in the offense. He had a receiving touchdown, a return touchdown and also carried the ball on an end-around. The offensive line was solid, despite missing $49.5 million guard Eric Steinbach for the entire preseason.
On defense, linebackers Kamerion Wimbley, D’Qwell Jackson and Antwan Peek were active and the cornerback spot much improved. Leigh Bodden is healthy, rookie Eric Wright jumped right into the starting spot, nickelback Daven Holly got his hands on a lot of balls and rookie reserve Brandon McDonald showed athleticism and had two interceptions vs. Chicago.
“It shows the ball comes to him a little bit,” Crennel said. “He probably helped himself a little.”
The Browns aren’t without issues as the opener approaches.
They must cut 22 players by 4 p.m. today. Cornerback Gary Baxter, returning from two torn patellar tendons, appears to have a spot saved for him. Others won’t be as lucky.
“There are 6-8 guys you’d like to have on your team, they can do something for your team,” Crennel said. “But you might not be able to keep ’em because of numbers, because of injuries.”
The Browns must also decide if they can afford to keep all four quarterbacks. If the answer’s no, they must choose between Anderson and Ken Dorsey, whose value lies in his experience and knowledge.
“Dorsey hasn’t gotten as many opportunities but has still been a good soldier, done his job, has been a tutor to those other guys and he deserves some consideration,” Crennel said.
But he disagreed with the theory a mentor has more value than a third quarterback with more talent.
“If you can’t put anybody in there to win the game, then you’re going to lose the game and then having a tutor and losing a game doesn’t help you any,” Crennel said. “You need somebody to put in who can win the game for us.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.