Guys named Derrick Morse, Chase Ortiz and Efrem Hill are gone from the Browns locker room. Guys named Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and Marion Barber are headed to town.
After more than a month of two-a-day practices, lackluster preseason performances, a myriad of injuries and numerous roster cuts, the regular season is finally here. After a day off Sunday, the Browns were set to begin practice this afternoon for the season opener this Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium versus the Dallas Cowboys.
“Guys are ready. We’re excited about this season,” receiver Donte Stallworth said after the Browns ended the exhibition season 0-4. “It’s going to be a good year for us. We’ve got a hell of an opponent coming in here next Sunday.”
Fans have been anticipating the visit from “America’s Team” since the schedule was announced in the spring. The Cowboys went
13-3 last year, won the NFC East and are a popular pick to make it to the Super Bowl.
The Browns also entered training camp with great expectations following a 10-6 record in 2007. But the high hopes of the nervous Cleveland fans have been tempered by the winless preseason and dreadful outings by the starters in the middle two games.
General manager Phil Savage was unaffected by the last month. His only regret is not making the public aware of the franchise’s shift in priorities.
“As a team improves, the end result of the preseason becomes less and less of a priority,” Savage said Saturday. “This year we tried to emphasize it’s all about getting ready for the regular season.
“I’m still very enthusiastic about the year.”
The preseason took a turn for the worse in the second game versus the Giants. Facing the Super Bowls champs on “Monday Night Football,” the Browns had a series of mental and physical mistakes that led to a 30-3 deficit and changed the course of the preseason.
The Browns allowed two passing touchdowns, had a punt blocked for a safety, gave up a touchdown on a kick return and had a fumble returned 95 yards for a touchdown. If that weren’t enough, starting quarterback Derek Anderson suffered a concussion when the offensive line blew an assignment, running back Jamal Lewis strained a hamstring, safety Brodney Pool suffered a concussion making a tackle and kick returner Joshua Cribbs sprained an ankle.
“When we lost players and had a spell of 5-10 minutes where we lost our minds there, from that point on, the focus of our preseason changed,” Savage said. “Let’s shoot for Labor Day and get as many players as we can up and running.”
Savage said about 50 of the 53 players on the roster should be able to practice today. Guards Ryan Tucker (hip) and Rex Hadnot (knee) and tight end Martin Rucker are doubtful, while Pool and Cribbs are questionable.
Everyone else should be back as the first-team offense tries to regain its timing.
“You basically practice year-round,” Savage said. “This group of players has at least a full year under their belts. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
Savage took some solace in the performance of the starters in the first and final preseason games. The Browns led the Jets 7-0 and the Bears 10-0 when the first teams were pulled.
“It’s not reality to think we were going to go out there and win every game 20-0 and have no injuries,” Savage said. “It just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen across the NFL, and it certainly isn’t going to happen here, either.
“We have a good group of players, a good group of coaches. I think we will win.”
Savage trimmed the roster to 53 on Saturday. While he will try to add an interior offensive lineman while Hadnot and Tucker recover, he said he’s content with the rest of the roster, despite inexperience at cornerback and reserve receiver.
“This is our team. Everybody wants to take the magic pill and go get a big name,” Savage said, referring to free-agent cornerback Ty Law. “It’s not always the big name that’s the answer. This is what we have and this is what we’re going with.”
This group will get a stern test from the Cowboys, who had 13 Pro Bowlers last year and added dangerous cornerback/returner Adam “Pacman” Jones in the offseason. Romo threw 36 touchdowns and Owens caught 15 last year.
“It’s a good measuring stick to find out where we are right off the bat,” Savage said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.