Browns facing rugged schedule

Earlier this week, Butch Davis, the new coach of the Cleveland Browns, talked about the start of training camp and had all the enthusiasm of, well, a new NFL coach.
If only it were that easy.
What Davis is hoping for, and the reality of what the Browns' 2001 season will eventually turn out to be, could be two divergently different things, for sure.
After all, this is a franchise that has won just five games since its return from Franchise-shift Purgatory, or, the House (of Cards) that Modell Built. Even five wins in one NFL regular season would be a putrid record.
Davis talked this week about "six, seven, eight, nine wins ..." a lofty goal, indeed. Can he hope for that many victories with the cast of players he inherited from Chris Palmer? That's doubtful.
Difficult schedule: There's also the small matter of the AFC Central Division, which features the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the team that the Ravens beat on the way to the AFC Championship Game, the Tennessee Titans.
The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly won't be a pushover, either, and even the Cincinnati Bengals have beaten the Browns of 1999 and 2000.
This isn't to say Davis can't guide the Browns to greater heights in 2001. He says all the right things, stands for all the right things (the folks in South Florida who believe he lied to them about staying with the Miami Hurricanes might beg to differ with us on those counts, but I digress).
He admitted this week that turning the Browns into a Super Bowl contender will take time, that it won't be an easy fix.
(As another aside, Coach, most Browns fans would probably be satisfied this season with simply being competitive. Worry about a winning record next year, then contend for the playoffs the season after that ... by 2005, though, there had better be some January games in the mix.)
Many questions: Many pro football "experts" believe the two most important individuals on an NFL roster are the quarterback and the coach, and not necessarily in that order.
For right now, there are more questions than answers.
Will Tim Couch become an All-Pro-caliber quarterback, as many people projected when he was drafted?
Or, will Couch be an injury-prone player who falls short of his potential?
Can Davis sell his college, rah-rah attitude to a professional football team?
And, can Davis develop a running game that he believes, as do so many others, is essential to the Browns ever becoming a legitimate championship team?
"I don't care if you're talking about CYO football or NFL football," said Davis this week. "You've got to be able to run the football."
A priority: That would seem rather obvious, but it's a virtual necessity for the Browns to be more efficient on the ground this season.
For one reason, Couch needs an effective rushing game to protect him. For another, the late-season weather patterns on the North Coast aren't usually conducive to teams that prefer to pass the ball.
For now, Davis is caught between a rock and a hard place. His smooth delivery and sense of humor -- homespun, I believe is the term -- sells the product to the Browns' long-suffering fans.
Whether it works on the 2001 Browns and potential free agents down the road is another story.
As he prepares for his first training camp as an NFL head coach, Davis will be judged by his players on two criteria -- what he says and how he treats them. If they find those traits acceptable, they'll do whatever is necessary to make the Browns winners.
If Davis comes across to them as a fake, no amount of smooth-talking will do the trick.
He'll be just the latest in a long line of Cleveland coaches that sold us a bill of goods.
XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at

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