CLEVELAND (AP) -- They made for an unlikely couple during the offseason, the scrappy quarterback from rural Ohio and his more celebrated sidekick, the brazen tight end with Hall of Fame pedigree.
Charlie Frye and Kellen Winslow were inseparable, like brothers.
They played golf and video games, talking major trash the whole time. They lifted weights during the day and attended Cavaliers games at night. They broke down film and ate lunch together.
They connected, becoming best buddies off the field.
The Browns need Frye and Winslow to make a stronger connection on it.
Because if Cleveland, just 36-76 with one playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999, is to improve on its 6-10 record in the Browns' second year under coach Romeo Crennel, the Frye-to-Winslow hookup (and wide receiver Braylon Edwards' comeback from knee surgery) may hold the key.
Bottom of the league
This winter, Frye was handed the reins to an offense that scored an NFL-low 132 points in 2005. The former third-round pick from Akron went 2-3 in five late-season starts, but now the pressure is greater and so are the stakes.
"I'm ready," Frye said.
The Browns are banking on it. They've invested heavily in the 25-year-old from Willard, who as a youngster taped a poster of his idol, former Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar, to his bedroom wall.
Frye had moments of brilliance and blunder during his five-game audition. He showed a natural ability to duck the pass rush, though sometimes his scrambles led him to more trouble. However, Browns general manager Phil Savage liked the potential and positives he saw in Frye, and his strong belief in him as Cleveland's offensive leader prompted the Browns to trade veteran Trent Dilfer.
"We are going down a path with Charlie and we are trying to build a team around him rather than through him," said Savage, who has overhauled Cleveland's roster in two years. "Now, obviously there are going to be times in games where we are going to need him to make a play for us. We think he's capable of doing that."
Frye, with Winslow pushing him hard, spent the winter and spring getting stronger. One of the knocks has been his arm strength, and he added about 15 pounds of muscle.
Just as important, he's acting like its his team.
Outwardly, Frye's confidence has grown. He handles interviews like a seasoned veteran, and during practices he appears more relaxed as he interacts with teammates.
"He's got a year under his belt now, he's made a few starts. He has a better understanding of what's expected," said offensive guard Joe Andruzzi. "He's very calm, cool and collected. Charlie's coming along."
Brash with sass
Winslow's maturity has been even more dramatic.
Fifteen months ago, his promising career nearly ended before it began when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. During training camp, Winslow revealed that his injuries were more extensive than previously known, and that he knows he'll never be 100 percent.
"If I'm 90 percent, I hate to be brash," he said. "But I think my 90 percent is better than every tight end out there."
He may be right. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Winslow is capable of outrunning cornerbacks and safeties (most linebackers have no chance). He's also strong enough to break tackles and turn routine gains into long ones.
Frye plans to get him the ball whenever he can.
"He can play receiver, tight end, line him up in the backfield," Frye said. "He'll provide a lot of mismatches. Not just for him, but other guys. If you split him out wide, who's going to go out there? A corner? A safety or linebacker? So it's going to cause maybe some confusion on the defense, but he'll open up the playbook for us."
Edwards will, too. His speedy recovery from reconstructive knee surgery in January has helped offset the loss of free agent center LeCharles Bentley, who tore a knee tendon on the first 11-on-11 play of training camp.
Edwards wasn't expected to be game ready until mid-October, but he'll start Sunday's opener against New Orleans.
Frye clicked with Dennis Northcutt during camp and Joe Jurevicius is a sure-handed third-down option who caught 10 TDs last season for the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
Bentley's loss is a big blow to the running game, which ranked 25th overall in '05. Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,232 yards in his first season with Cleveland, but the Browns scored an AFC-low four TDs on the ground.
Rookie Jerome Harrison had an impressive exhibition season and will provide a nice change of pace.
Only two defenses were worse against the run than Cleveland's, but it has been bolstered by the addition of huge nose tackle Ted Washington and linebacker Willie McGinest. Cornerback Gary Baxter needs to shake the injury bug after missing 11 games last season and this preseason.
In their first year in a 3-4 alignment, the Browns failed to pressure quarterbacks last season, recording a league-low 23 sacks. Rookie linebacker Kamerion Wimbley emerged as the club's best pass rusher in the preseason.
Keeping the heat off Frye will be a bigger priority for the Browns. He seems up for the challenge of being a full-time starter, and he'd better be, because as of now, there is no veteran quarterback as a safety net.
Winslow is confident Frye's ready.
"Nothing can shake Charlie," he said. "No pressure can shake Charlie."