Busy Browns retool with eyes on future

ON THE NFL

September 09, 2001|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

One team stood out amid the wheeling and dealing of final cuts last week. That team, the Cleveland Browns, reshaped its roster - if not its destiny - with a stunning 55 transactions in a 10-day period.

Whether the Browns significantly improved their AFC Central standing remains to be seen. But new coach/personnel czar Butch Davis clearly has an idea of where he wants to take the team. And it's definitely not sixth place again.

With an eye on future drafts, Davis dealt incumbent backup quarterback Ty Detmer to Detroit for a 2002 pick, and packaged third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn and running back Travis Prentice to Minnesota for future choices.

Feeding off the waiver wire, Davis also brought in a veteran safety (Devin Bush), a second-round bust at wide receiver (Tony Simmons) and a rookie quarterback (Josh Booty) off today's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks. The Booty move showed an appreciation for the subtleties of cutdown maneuvering.

Davis, however, appeared to be flirting with disaster by shipping out two of his training camp quarterbacks, leaving newcomer Kelly Holcomb as the backup to starter Tim Couch. Last year, five Browns quarterbacks were hurt, and coach Chris Palmer was reduced to using wide-outs Dennis Northcutt and Kevin Johnson behind center in a game against Philadelphia. Davis said he preferred not to assume impending disasters.

"You hope that the Titanic doesn't hit the iceberg again," he said. "You hope that Tim stays healthy for 16 ballgames, and if he does get nicked and misses a game, that certainly Kelly can come in and play.

"We can go the whole season with two quarterbacks and the third quarterback may never enter a game. You'd feel real bad next year in the draft if there's a great player out there and you said, `Gosh, we could have had that guy and just didn't take the chance.' "

It's doubtful the Browns will get a "great player" with the fourth-round pick they got for Detmer, but the notion is commendable.

Quarterback scramble

Detmer, one of more than a dozen quarterbacks on the move last week, made out the best. He moves into Detroit as the backup to Charlie Batch and rejoins Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg, who was his position coach in Green Bay and San Francisco. Detmer's familiarity with the West Coast offense was a key factor in the deal. Speculation is that Detmer, 33, who made $3.5 million for two regular-season starts the past two years, will supplant Batch in short order.

Two other quarterbacks also landed on their feet. Cut by Jacksonville after losing his backup job to Jonathan Quinn, Jamie Martin wound up with the St. Louis Rams as Kurt Warner's caddie. There, Martin renews ties with Rams coach Mike Martz, who had been his quarterback coach at two previous stops.

Martz was concerned when Joe Germaine played poorly in the preseason as the Rams' No. 2 QB. Once Martin was available, Martz traded Germaine to the Kansas City Chiefs and the man who drafted him in the first place, Dick Vermeil. The odd man out in Kansas City was Bubby Brister, a veteran of 75 starts and 37 wins in the NFL.

Left without jobs in the great quarterback purge, at least temporarily, are veterans Jim Harbaugh (140 starts), Rodney Peete (72), Rick Mirer (60) and Kent Graham (38), among others.

Look who made it

As usual, final cuts produced a batch of improbable success stories. These are but a few:

Undrafted free-agent running back Dominic Rhodes, who came out of Division II Midwestern Texas State, won a job with the Indianapolis Colts as backup to Edgerrin James, the NFL's rushing champion. Rhodes was a troubled teen-ager who as a high school freshman was adopted by a family in Abilene, Texas.

Michael Lewis, a 29-year-old former truck driver, made the New Orleans Saints as a return specialist. Lewis, who drove a delivery truck for a furniture store and a beer distributor in New Orleans, did not play high school or college football. Instead, he played for the Bayou Beast in the Indoor Professional Football League, the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League and the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe. After getting cut by the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Lewis joined the Saints' practice squad late last year.

Jay Feeley replaced veteran kicker Morten Andersen with the Atlanta Falcons. Feeley had been out of the game for two years and was working as a financial consultant in Tampa, Fla., when he was discovered by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis at a tryout camp last spring. Feeley beat out favored Jake Arians, who had been on the practice squad last season.

Linebacker Kole Ayi, a walk-on at Division I-AA University of Massachusetts, made the Rams as a special-teamer and backup to Mark Fields.

Bye-bye

With the advent of a balanced schedule and 32 teams next season, the bye format is in its final season. Too bad. Here's some dialogue the bye has produced already:

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