Dilfer, Browns predict good fit

Quarterback: A retooling team gives the former Raven a chance to prove himself again.

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August 10, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - What Trent Dilfer wanted was one more chance.

One more chance to take control of an NFL team and make it his own.

One more chance to push his 33-year-old body to see if he could reinvent a career better known for its failures than for its successes.

Dilfer has come full circle in Cleveland with a Browns team that more closely resembles the bedraggled Tam- pa Bay Buccaneers outfit he joined in 1994 than the Ravens team he quarterbacked in the Super Bowl of January 2001.

This time, though, Dilfer may be better prepared and more motivated to find a happy ending.

"I think his real wish was to take everything he's learned over his last 11 years and be able to apply it one more time," Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "I think that's really what he's trying to do."

Dilfer and the Browns are either the perfect football match or two strangers passing in the twilight. Acquired in a March trade with the Seattle Seahawks, Dilfer represents the team's latest attempt to find a quarterback it can win with.

He inherits a team that went 4-12 in 2004, that has lost 66 regular-season games the past six years and is on its third management regime since returning to the NFL in 1999.

Dilfer was headed for the San Francisco 49ers last spring when the Browns offered a more attractive opportunity.

"I was real close to going to San Francisco," he said. "Cleveland made a real strong push and let me know that if I earned it, this wasn't just a temporary thing, that I have the opportunity to come in and turn this thing around and win a bunch of games."

Dilfer's football odyssey spans four franchises and one of the most humbling comedowns in NFL history. In 2001, he became the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl and lose his job the next season.

After the Ravens dumped him, Dilfer wound up in Seattle, where he made 12 starts in four years, serving primarily as Matt Hasselbeck's backup. Now he gets a chance twice a year to face the team that fired him, and he's admittedly giddy over the opportunity.

"It was a difficult thing to feel like you did exactly what you were asked to do and then obviously be rejected by the team that you gave so much to," Dilfer said.

"But I've been waiting ever since that happened to get the chance to have the ball in my hand again, and I'm going to have the opportunity this year. I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't going to be a little extra special."

The dates to remember are Oct. 16, when the Browns visit Baltimore, and Jan. 1, when the two teams close the regular season in Cleveland.

Dilfer would like to show he's a better quarterback than Ravens coach Brian Billick believed.

"He taught me a lot," Dilfer said of Billick. "I never shied away from saying I learned a great deal from him and [former assistant coach] Matt Cavanaugh. ... Now, Brian and I see the world in two totally different ways. I'm not saying I'm right and he's wrong, but we're very different how we perceive things. I aim to prove my point."

Dilfer said he was injured his entire time with the Ravens, suffering from an inflammation in his pelvis, groin and hip.

"I wasn't nearly as athletic and functional throwing the football as I wanted to be," he said. "There were days in practice I couldn't hit a guy 12 yards away.

"I'm a much better football player than I was in Baltimore."

Two years ago, Dilfer endured the loss of his 5-year-old son Trevin, who died of a rare virus that attacked his heart.

"There was certainly a situation with his son that was far greater hurt than being fired by the Ravens," said Savage, a personnel executive with the Ravens at the time.

"When you're 33 years old and you're still willing to take criticism and learn from your mistakes, there's some qualities there that not everyone has. I think he's certainly won the respect and admiration of the people on the team. I think, in time, the people in this city will appreciate what he does just like the people in Baltimore."

New Browns coach Romeo Crennel said Dilfer comes as advertised.

"He's good with his approach to the game, he's good with the locker room, he's good with his teammates," Crennel said. "And that's what we wanted. He's energized ... and hopefully that will correlate to a successful team."

For Dilfer, the biggest motivation is what he wants to prove to himself.

"I feel like I've never reached my potential as a player in this league," he said. "And I've been incredibly focused on reaching that potential as a player and seeing where it takes me in my career.

"I'm going to give this city, this organization, the best Trent Dilfer's ever given."

Division foes

Yesterday Cincinnati Bengals

Today Cleveland Browns

Tomorrow Pittsburgh Steelers


Most encouraging sign: The Browns addressed specific weaknesses by bringing in capable veterans from winning teams. Among them were CB Gary Baxter of the Ravens, G Joe Andruzzi of the Patriots and RB Reuben Droughns of the Broncos.

Boldest move: Romeo Crennel is a first-time head coach, working for a first-time general manager (Phil Savage), with a first-time defensive coordinator (Todd Grantham) and a first-time play-caller as offensive coordinator (Maurice Carthon).

Biggest issue: The Savage-Crennel power structure represents the third regime for the Browns since they rejoined the NFL in 1999. The first two bombed. It will be interesting to see how much time the Browns fans give Crennel.

- Ken Murray

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