With the problems of the previous season well in the rear-view mirror and the sometimes numbing reality of the coming season still months away, spring is a great month for every NFL team to generate good news and build optimism.
The vast majority of free agency is over, and clubs can crow about their signees and how these new players will fill voids.
It's also the time for the NFL Draft -- the Christmas of the football season, when teams dip into the college ranks to find the stars of tomorrow. They are always thrilled with their picks, saying they never expected that this player or that player would still be on the board when it came time for them to select.
So even though the task of rebuilding the Browns was daunting because of the depleted state of the team when they arrived in town just a few months before in 2005, general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel were able to point to free agency and the draft and say the club had been made better, at least on paper.
As much of a hurdle as it was, Savage and Crennel weren't going to let it get them down. They knew there would be problems along the way, but they also were confident in their ability to get the club righted after having combined to win six Super Bowl rings in their careers.
So they focused on the positives -- all of the players they brought in, including No. 3 overall draft choice Braylon Edwards, a game-changing wide receiver from Michigan, and running back Reuben Droughns, a 1,000-yard rusher while playing for the Denver Broncos -- and got to work.
Their efforts were immediately evident. The club started 2-2 and then went to 3-5 and 4-6. Although those records may not be much to look at, at first glance, they become much better when it's remembered that the Browns were just 9-23 over the previous two seasons, and but 4-12 in 2004.
Almost as important was the fact the Browns were playing much better defensively, giving up 301 points on the year, or 89 less than in 2004, even though they were going through the growing pains of implementing the difficult-to-learn 3-4 scheme. As a result, they were in nearly every game, getting blown out just once -- a 41-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the next-to-last game.
When the Browns beat the Miami Dolphins 22-0 in the 10th game, they recorded their first shutout since 2001.
And it could have been better. They lost three games by just three points each and five contests by seven points or less.
The Browns were able to run the ball well for the first time in years. With 1,232 yards, Droughns became the first Browns back to run for 1,000 yards in a season in exactly two decades.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant, in his second year with the team, caught a club-best 69 passes for 1,009 yards. Steve Heiden had his best season as a pro with 43 receptions.
Rookie free agent Joshua Cribbs, who had been a quarterback at nearby Kent State, averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return and had a 90-yarder for a touchdown.
Another local product, quarterback Charlie Frye of the University of Akron by way of Willard (Ohio) High School, was starting by the end of the season, when the Browns won two of their final three games. Veteran Trent Dilfer, the quarterback in 2000 when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, had been the starter until that point.
Kicker Phil Dawson had the best season of his career with 27 field goals in 29 tries.
In the end, it amounted to just a 6-10 record. Still, that represented a two-win increase over 2004.
And in the bigger picture, the Browns were headed in the right direction. Crennel, in the first head coaching job of his long career, was providing the consistent, steady hand the young, growing team needed to find its way.
|9/11||L 13-27||Cincinnati Bengals||73,013|
|9/18||W 26-24||at Green Bay Packers||70,400|
|9/25||L 6-13||at Indianapolis Colts||57,127|
|10/9||W 20-10||Chicago Bears||73,079|
|10/16||L 3-16||at Baltimore Ravens||70,196|
|10/23||L 10-13||Detroit Lions||72,923|
|10/30||L 16-19||at Houston Texans||70,064|
|11/6||W 20-14||Tennessee Titans||72,594|
|11/13||L 21-34||at Pittsburgh Steelers||63,491|
|11/20||W 22-0||Miami Dolphins||72,773|
|11/27||L 12-24||at Minnesota Vikings||63,814|
|12/4||L 14-20||Jacksonville Jaguars||70,941|
|12/11||L 20-23||at Cincinnati Bengals||65,788|
|12/18||W 9-7||at Oakland Raiders||41,862|
|12/24||L 0-41||Pittsburgh Steelers||73,136|
|1/1||W 20-16||Baltimore Ravens||69,871|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||241||292|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||67/203||87/251|
|4th Down: Made/Att||7/18||8/18|
|Total Net Yards||4550||5069|
|Avg. Per Game||284.3||316.8|
|Avg. Per Play||4.9||5.0|
|Net Yards Rushing||1503||2202|
|Avg. Per Game||93.9||137.6|
|Net Yards Passing||3047||2867|
|Avg. Per Game||190.4||179.2|
|Net Punting Avg.||80/33.8||73/35.1|
Cleveland holds 11 draft picks
The combine starts Tuesday while free agency opens March 9
Packers G T.J. Lang, Bengals G Kevin Zeitler and former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel set to hit market
Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week