Browns counting on change of identity to bring new intensity to their offense

Garcia, Winslow add game-breaking ability

Pro Football

August 25, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In the fourth year of coach Butch Davis' stewardship, the Cleveland Browns are working through an identity crisis.

They want to go from finesse passing team to smash-mouth running team, from an H-back attack to the fullback lead, from sullen Tim Couch to fiery Jeff Garcia.

This is a team in transition, a team that likely will rise or fall on the performance of two players - Garcia, the oldest player on the roster, and Kellen Winslow Jr., the youngest.

Garcia, 34, is the new face of the offense, a six-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Winslow, 21, is a budding Pro Bowl tight end with stunning speed, Hall of Fame bloodlines and first-round draft pedigree.

Together, they bring the Browns two elements the team hasn't had since returning to the NFL in 1999 - raw intensity and the ability to change a game quickly.

"I think it can only open things up for us," running back William Green said of the addition of both players. "You know you can pass the ball at any given time, and Jeff can take off and run with it.

"And you've got a tight end who's going to open things up just because of his speed."

Winslow reported to camp 12 days late in a contract holdout. But the son of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr. and the sixth pick in this year's draft didn't need long to leave his imprint. Already he's traded punches with an opponent in an exhibition game, barreled over a Browns defensive back in a non-contact drill and called out his teammates for not going all out every play.

"I think we want [to make] a name for ourselves," he said. "We just need change around here ... Just going 100 percent every play and making an identity for ourselves."

A day after Winslow leveled teammate Roosevelt Williams in a non-contact drill, he was asked if he had addressed the hit with Williams, who called it "unprofessional."

"No," Winslow said, "that's just the way I play. They should all do the same, I think. You should go 100 percent every play. Wrap-up, tackle; that's how you get better."

Garcia has been more subtle since signing a four-year, $25 million contract in March, but no less effective in the transition. After five years in the Canadian Football League, he joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1999 as an undrafted free agent, the same year the Browns chose Couch with the first pick in the draft.

Couch never developed the way the Browns hoped and was released in the offseason. Garcia exceeded expectations with the 49ers.

"Right now it's a quicker release," wide receiver Andre Davis said of the difference in quarterbacks. "The ball's going to be there on time.

"With Tim last year, he was in the system for a while, so I think he just got into a comfort level. Whereas with Jeff, he's coming into a new program, he just knows what the coach tells him. He doesn't have a favorite receiver or anything like that. So he's giving everybody an opportunity to get the ball."

In an attempt to bounce back from 5-11 a year ago, Davis restructured the offense, adding a legitimate fullback, Terrelle Smith, and installing a run-first philosophy.

Whether the Browns have solved lingering problems in the offensive line won't be known until opening day against the Ravens. But Garcia's ability to make plays outside the pocket looms as a key issue.

"I bring a sense of being able to move the pocket, being able to create time and take some of the pressure off the offensive line," Garcia said.

When he isn't defending himself against criticism by his former teammate Terrell Owens, who recently questioned Garcia's sexuality, or by skeptics over his arm strength, Garcia has shown a knack for protecting the ball. He's second in league history behind Steve Young in touchdown-to-interception ratio (113 to 56). As a starter for the 49ers, he had a five-year record of 35-36.

"I really look at myself as a Jekyll and Hyde [personality] because off the field I am very laid-back and don't say a whole lot," Garcia said. "But on the field, I am very intense and I expect a lot out of myself. I wouldn't be who I am today without expecting those things. ... I want to bring a positive outlook and a positive motivation to the team."

In Cleveland, it may be enough.

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