NFL Football Odds: The 2006 Cleveland Browns

The NFL Football Cleveland Browns are coming off a 6-10 season. As we preview their second year under coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage, the team seems to be moving in the right direction. However, it will be difficult for Cleveland to reach .500 this year, because the competition in the AFC Central Division (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore) is just too strong.

Quarterback: Second-year man Charlie Frye has the job. While Frye doesn’t have the look of a superstar, the Browns hope he can develop into a team-oriented winner like the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. Frye is at his best when he scrambles out of the pocket to avoid the pass rush. Frye needs to stay healthy, because the team won’t go anywhere if it is forced to rely on Ken Dorsey or Derek Anderson.

Running back: Reuben Droughns gave the Browns their first 1,000-yard back in 20 years last year. If he stays healthy, the Browns should be able to mix the run and pass nicely all year. William Green and Lee Suggs have a lot of talent, but they are stuck in backup roles because they haven’t delivered on their promise. Rookie Jerome Harrison will push them for playing time. The fullback spot is strong with Terrelle Smith and Corey McIntyre.

Wide receiver: Braylon Edwards is the star of this group. He is returning sooner than expected from knee surgery, and he should be ready to go for the Sept. 10 opener against New Orleans. If Edwards is not ready, Dennis Northcutt will start, although he better suited to be a slot receiver and punt returner. Sure-handed Joe Jurevicius is an upgrade from Antonio Bryant last year. If Edwards can stay healthy, this group should be solid.

Tight end: Kellen Winslow is finally back from last year’s motorcycle accident. He has limitless potential, and he will draw the attention of opposing secondaries. That will help the wide receivers to get open. Steve Heiden was a solid starter in Winslow’s absence, so he will be valuable when the Browns go to a two-tight-end set.

Offensive line: This has been the Browns’ biggest weakness since they returned as an expansion team in 1999. Savage has tried to rebuild this unit, but his work was scuttled when new center LeCharles Bentley blew out his knee on the first play of practice. The Browns’ next two choices at center also failed when Bob Hallen retired with a back injury and Alonzo Ephraim got suspended. So Savage traded for journeyman Ross Tucker. The rest of the line includes.tackles Ryan Tucker and Kevin Shaffer; and guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman.

Defensive line: Just as Savage brought in Bentley for the middle of the offensive line, he signed Ted Washington to clog up the defensive line. Weighing nearly four bills, Washington will allow defensive ends Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley to find easier routes to the quarterback.

Linebackers: This is the biggest area of improvement in the offseason. Free-agent signee Willie McGinest will lead the group after winning three Super Bowls with the Patriots. The top Browns’ top draft pick, Kamerion Wimbley, could crack the starting lineup by the start of the season. Andra Davis, Matt Stewart and Chaun Thompson round out the group.

Secondary: Beset by injuries in the preseason, this group could be strong if they can get on the field at the same time. The Browns are hoping cornerbacks Daylon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter will be ready to go in the opener. Leigh Bodden, another cornerback, is starting to emerge as a standout. Safety is not such as strong spot with Brodney Pool, Brian Russell and Sean Jones.

Special teams: Kicker Phil Dawson is one of two original Browns from 1999 (McCutcheon is the other). He’s almost automatic. Dave Zastodil has a shot at the punter’s job after Kyle Richardson faltered last year. Northcutt and Joshua Cribbs are very good return men.

Outlook: With the defending division champions (Cincinnati) and Super Bowl champions (Pittsburgh) in the way, Browns fans need to be realistic about the team’s chances. If the Browns can start getting in the habit of beating the league’s lesser lights, Crennel and Savage should be able to guide the team toward the playoffs in a couple of years.

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