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Browns in reconstruction


It only took the Cleveland Browns two years into their new existence to begin their first reconstruction. Clearly, that's what new head coach Butch Davis is doing in Cleveland.

The Browns had 13 new starters in the lineup on opening day this season; 23 new players on the roster from the team Chris Palmer left behind following last season's 3-13 disaster.

This Sunday, the Jaguars (2-0) will host these reconstructed Browns (1-1) at Alltel Stadium.

"In the three years I've been here, I've seen a lot of people come through," quarterback Tim Couch said. "It seems like every time I watch another team play on TV, I'm like, 'Hey, I played with that guy. I know him.'"

Couch began the rebirth of the Browns in 1999 when he was made the first player selected in that draft. He would be the cornerstone of the Browns' future, but neither Couch nor the Browns improved much under Palmer.

Davis burst onto the scene last winter with a big-money contract and the power to make changes. He's made plenty.

The offensive line is rebuilt, and Couch is only one of four players on offense who are hold-overs from the Palmer era. Davis identified the Browns' problems moving the ball and he immediately began making changes, though moving the ball remains the Browns' greatest difficulty.

Davis has rookies Quincy Morgan at wide receiver and James Jackson at running back in the starting lineup. He brought tight end Rickey Dudley back to Ohio from a failed try with the Oakland Raiders. Davis added guards Ross Verba from the Packers and Tre Johnson from the Redskins.

Couch remains the team's most important player. His development is key to whatever success Davis might achieve.

"Everybody's kind of grandfathered him in as if this is his third year, but he missed half of last season," Davis said of Couch. "He's got one-and-a-half years of NFL experience. He's learning like everyone else. He's going to make a few mistakes and he's got to learn from that."

Though Couch and the offense continues to be a work in progress, the Browns defense has the look of a strong unit that can match up with the best of offenses.

Davis made Florida defensive tackle Gerard Warren his first draft choice last April, and Warren immediately claimed a starting job and has disappointed no one. When defensive end Courtney Brown, the first overall pick of the 2000 draft, recovers from his preseason knee injury, the Browns will have two big-time fixtures on their defensive line for the long-term future.

"I was really pleased with the defense," Davis said following the Browns' 9-6 loss to the Seahawks in week one. "That performance was indicative of the way our defense has played throughout the preseason and in practice. Our guys did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone. We did give up some plays and penalties, but those things are going to happen if you're on the field for a while."

The Browns registered five sacks and two interceptions in that loss to the Seahawks. "We're going to go out and make a statement and show teams that they're going to have to come and play against this defense," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said.

"It has to get better. How much worse can it get, right?" wide receiver Kevin Johnson said. "I look for this thing to definitely turn around quick. A young team has to build confidence, and the only way is to win football games. Winning is contagious and confidence is contagious."

The defense may be capable of making this an improved season. Couch and the offense are at question.

"I think I've come a long way," Couch said. "Coach Palmer was a good guy. I just think this was a little overwhelming for him. I think Butch has been in this situation for so many years. He worked his way from the bottom to the top. I think his credibility put him into this situation."

"It's the energy," Fuller said of the difference between the Davis regime and that of Palmer. "It comes from the head coach on down to the player. And the belief. There's pressure on everybody to perform, but it's not the type of pressure that, if you mess up, (the coach) is going to go crazy. It's the type of pressure where, if you make a mistake, you're told to make it at full speed."

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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