Top choice Brown may freak out foes

Cleveland Browns

September 01, 2000

Could Courtney Brown become this year's Jevon Kearse? Or could the rookie defensive end develop into the game's next Bruce Smith?

Brown, though, has more pressing matters to address, namely boosting the Cleveland Browns' defense.

The Browns ranked 31st overall defensively in the NFL. The unit had an NFL-low 25 sacks.

That's why they drafted Brown with the first pick in the draft. The former Penn State standout is the first defensive end drafted No. 1 overall since Smith in 1985.

"He's everything he's advertised to be," Browns coach Chris Palmer said. "If we had 53 guys like him, coaching would be very easy."

The Browns aren't wasting any time with Brown either after investing a six-year, $45 million contract. They promoted Brown to starting left end just two weeks into camp.

"I haven't proven anything yet," Brown said.

The defense may be as erratic as its new cornerstone.

He displayed veteran moves in preseason, breaking through the line with a 360-degree spin. Then there were rookie mistakes, such as when he failed to read a play-action fake by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb.

"He's a good young player and a good student, but he's got a lot to learn," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. "The light is coming on, but it's not all the way bright yet. The biggest thing he has going for him is that he has good talent. ... Once he learns how to use it and when to use it, that will help him in his development."

His Cleveland teammates have become Brown's biggest fans after battling him in practice. He has impressed with his athletic pass rushes along with his ability to swat down passes.

"He's got a good blend of speed and power," offensive tackle Roman Oben said. "He changes direction on the rush without really breaking his stride, which is probably what makes him a good pass rusher."

Said tight end Mark Campbell: "There are some guys that players will talk about being dominant players, and then there's like real freaks. Courtney's a freak. He's killing people. Whatever he wants to do. Jevon Kearse-like."

Wire services contributed to this article.

Browns vs. Ravens

Key for Ravens: Put the game away early. The Ravens removed any emotion involved in the rivalry quickly by outscoring the Browns, 27-3, in the first half of two games last year.

Biggest headache: Browns running back Errict Rhett. The Ravens' leading rusher last year, Rhett presents a more reliable ground game and will be trash-talking his former teammates before, after and during plays.

Stat to watch: The Ravens, who allowed 56 sacks last season, will have to contend with defensive end Courtney Brown, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.

Billick's impression: "Cleveland's going to be better. Cleveland looks to be more athletic defensively than they were last year. Regardless of what happened in the preseason, you've got to assume there's going to be some major improvement in [quarterback Tim] Couch. With Errict Rhett, they'll have a better running game."

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