Phil Savage has been kinda busy with his own sport. The Browns general manager kept up with the Indians, but he was in the dark as to what they’d have been up against had they advanced to the World Series.
Phil Savage has been kinda busy with his own sport.
The Browns general manager kept up with the Indians, but he was in the dark as to what they’d have been up against had they advanced to the World Series.
He admits Todd Helton is the long and short of what he knows of the Rockies. Turn the tables. How many Cleveland Browns could a Denver baseball fan name?
Savage’s team, though, shows signs of making a name for itself.
Fan optimism has reached a four-year peak now that the team is 3-1 at home, 3-3 overall. Starting with a game Sunday at St. Louis, what will the rest of the climb look like?
“Our team has grown,” Savage said Wednesday. “If you look at the last 10 games of our schedule, I don’t think there’s a game on there that people are saying is an automatic loss.
“We’ve at least made this season interesting enough to say: Let’s see what’s going to happen. I think our players feel they can win every game.
“I think we have more of a team right now than we’ve had at any point since Romeo (Crennel) and I got here. There is no magic formula to trying to dial up team chemistry. It kind of just happens. I think it’s probably happening a little bit for us right now.”
In a sweeping interview coming off the bye week, Savage touched on key issues that shade the rest of the season. Some highlights:
Issue: Quarterback Derek Anderson was supposed to be keeping the job warm for rookie Brady Quinn. Instead, he ranks third in the league in touchdown passes and yards per completion, trailing Tom Brady and Tony Romo in both categories. He’s in a dead heat with former No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer in passer rating. Now what?
Savage: He’s been a very pleasant surprise, particularly under the circumstances of getting the job after the Charlie Frye trade. Certainly, it was less than ideal to be thrust into the starting lineup with a first-round pick behind you.
If we would have known (Anderson would play like this), we would have made a decision a lot earlier. For whatever reason, (in August), for about 2 1/2 weeks, he just couldn’t find the plate. It was like every count was 3-1 and he was missing the outside portion.
But then once he was named the starter, he seemed to be really throwing the ball pretty well.
Issue: Anderson has been sacked six times in six games. Charlie Frye got sacked 21 times in his first six games last year.
Savage: The offensive line has jelled pretty well for a group that really hasn’t had that much time together. I give a lot of credit to (line coaches) Steve Marshall and Mike Sullivan. When Steve was hired, a lot of people pointed to the number of sacks the Texans (his former team) had given up, and it was kind of like he had no credentials.
(Rookie left tackle) Joe Thomas has been a little more than what I expected. He’s been a real key in terms of solidifying the line ... he and (left guard) Eric Steinbach.
Issue: Savage lured running back Jamal Lewis from Baltimore on a one-year contract. Lewis had a monster game against Cincinnati but has missed all but one play of the last two games with a foot injury.
Savage: We’re hopeful to see the Jamal that we saw during the preseason and the first few games. (The foot) should respond quick enough that he could come back successfully for the rest of the year.
Our offensive line has done a terrific job, in particular the pass protection, but I wouldn’t call us a power, off-the-ball, point-of-attack offensive line. We’re more of a five-man unit that’s really good in pass protection.
Jamal brings us a physical presence. He’s a big back who can be somewhat of a hammer for us. That’s probably what we need the most from him.
We talk about (Lewis’ contract) internally some, but we really haven’t had any major discussions yet.
Issue: Crennel was on shaky ground after slipping from 6-10 to 4-12 during his first two seasons. How much has the 3-3 start helped him?
Savage: The team responded quite well after the first game against the Steelers, which was such a bad performance. It didn’t seem to keep us down. I give Romeo and the coaching staff a lot of credit for that. They’ve steered the ship in a way that has kept things on an even keel, win or lose.
The difference now from a couple years ago ... there seems like there is a purpose to our work. It seems like players really have a rhythm, a routine. They know what to expect on a day-to-day basis. I think they are enjoying playing football again. That hasn’t always been the case.
I think if we’ll just believe in what we’re doing and maintain some continuity, then our players will have a chance to grow, develop and we’ll have a chance to put some wins together.
Issue: The defense ranks 32nd in the NFL, allowing 413 yards a game. The team harped on run defense the last two offseasons but is allowing 149.5 yards a game, the team’s worst average since 2000.
Savage: Everybody here is disappointed in the rankings. I’m not disappointed in the effort we put out there or the schemes we’re playing. I think we just have to get a little bit more consistent and play more as a team.
Issue: The Browns gave up next year’s first-round draft pick to move into the No. 22 overall spot for Quinn. Grooming him for the future, though, is tricky with Anderson playing well.
Savage: This has actually turned out to be pretty ideal for us, because Brady has had a chance to get his feet on the ground, understand what life in the NFL is all about.
Issue: During the expansion era, the offense has averaged as little as 220.6 yards a game (2000) and as much as 314.2. Through seven games, the Browns are averaging 354.5 yards, seventh-best in the league under first-year coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Savage: Even though there’s been some highlight moments, I think they feel they can play even better as Chud gets more familiar with what he really has and who he’s working with.
Issue: What if Anderson improves to the point he looks like a long-term NFL winner, whereas the heavy investment in Quinn must be addressed?
Savage: When you start stacking up Derek’s numbers against Tom Brady and Tony Romo, it is pretty revealing what kind of season Derek has had thus far. He has a lot of potential in terms of arm strength and the ability to get rid of the football and not take sacks.
In due time all of this will shake itself out. Some people want to term it a problem. I see it as a real blessing right now. A number of teams don’t have one quarterback. We feel we have two, plus Ken Dorsey, who has been instrumental in both Derek and Brady’s progress.
Derek will be a restricted free agent after this season. If we did nothing, we could protect ourselves to a large extent with at least one more year (by extending a high tender).
Issue: Is it crucial for Quinn to play at least a little this year?
Savage: I don’t know if it is or isn’t. I don’t think Carson Palmer played a snap as a rookie. Daunte Culpepper didn’t play a snap. It worked out for those players. Brady is anxious to play and would like to get out there. Maybe there will be some opportunities that present themselves in the second half, but I think right now, with as well as we have played offensively and as well as Derek has played, I’m not sure we really want to mess with that apple cart right now.
It seems to be working, and there’s no real reason to change anything right now.
Issue: Savage would need to swing a trade to get a 2008 first-round pick, after getting Quinn in a deal with Dallas. That might mean offering Anderson or Quinn, a topic Savage won’t touch at the moment.
Savage: We’re just trying to gather all of our information on what this draft may look like. We might feel comfortable just sitting there in the second round. I’ve tried to encourage the scouting staff to approach it as if we’re picking anywhere in the first-round ... grade everybody.
I do see the Cowboys scouts out quite often. They don’t wish me luck.
Issue: It’s debatable how much Anderson’s current value is shaded by the fact he fell to the sixth round of the 2005 draft.
Savage: I don’t think we look at Derek now as a guy who was taken in the sixth round. We look at him as a football player.
One thing I think is lost in all this is he’s really had a chance to have a natural developmental path. In other words, he was the third-stringer in 2005. Then last year, he was the second stringer, and when Charlie got hurt, he ended up playing and getting his feet wet.
Now, even though he didn’t win the starting position for the opener, he still got a lot of reps and was treated as a co-starter because it was an open competition.
I think in some ways he might be a little bit of a late bloomer in terms of catching up to his body and getting it all together. He wasn’t redshirted at Oregon State. He had a size 17 shoe as a 14-year old. He is tall, a legit 6-6. When you’re that tall and gangly as a high school and college player, maybe you just don’t have all the coordination yet. It seems to be coming together.
Issue: Anderson ranks 12th in the NFL with an 88.9 passer rating, but his completion percentage is just 54.9. The worst completion percentage among QBs ahead of him in passer rating is Romo’s 62.8.
Savage: I think Derek may be leading the league in yards per attempt. He’s pushing the ball down the field. The completion percentage is as much of a concern as the third-down conversions. He’s hit some big passes, which matters most.
That’s what is hard now with grading college quarterbacks and transferring their abilities to the pros. Most of your colleges are playing these spread-type attacks where seven out of 10 throws are laterals, almost extended handoffs.
But when you grade the guy throwing the ball 10 or 15 yards down the field, their percentage is like 30 percent. In the NFL, you have to be able to play from in the pocket. Derek grew up in the pocket.
Issue: Wideout Braylon Edwards has broken through as a third-year pro, with 552 yards, a 19.0 per-catch average and seven TDs through six games.
Savage: What has happened here is a repeat of what happened in college. He was at Michigan, and they had some different things come up. Lloyd Carr brought him into his office and told him, ‘The program is bigger than you are. You can be a great player in this program if you do this and this.’
I think history has somewhat repeated itself to a degree. I give Braylon a lot of credit in that regard. I also give Romeo a lot of credit, too. Some coaches would have reacted that way, and some might have dismissed the spirit of the kid. Ultimately, it was the right way to go.
Issue: LeCharles Bentley has missed 22 games since signing with the Browns but is eligible to be activated between now and Nov. 6.
Savage: We realize that he has a great desire to play for the Browns. We have a desire for him to play for the Browns as well. We’re on the same page in that regard. There’s no big announcement.
Issue: Rookie Round 2 pick Eric Wright has started every game at cornerback.
Savage: Eric has grown a lot, particularly the last few games. It was a confidence boost for him to go against the Patriots. He played pretty well that game, and he played pretty well against the Dolphins.
Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail email@example.com