In the Frye-ing pan

Jason Cole
Yahoo! SportsAugust 9, 2006

More Browns: Observations from Cleveland

CLEVELAND – Joe Montana had Steve DeBerg. Dan Marino had Don Strock. Tom Brady had Drew Bledsoe.

Some might call DeBerg, Strock and Bledsoe caddies in the development of those three stars. To those franchise quarterbacks, the wily veterans they had backing them up were more like Sherpas in the journey to becoming an NFL quarterback. Marino and Strock got so close that Strock became a godfather to one of Marino's sons.

For second-year Cleveland Browns quarterback Charlie Frye, his guide this season is the sage and wily …

Ken Dorsey?

This is no shot at Dorsey, who, at 25, is still trying to live his dream. But in committing to Frye as their quarterback, the Browns have invested great faith in the hope that they can get him through the learning process while keeping him from getting buried under the inevitable criticism and/or failure.

There is no veteran like Kerry Collins or Vinny Testaverde around to help. Heck, there isn't even a former NFL quarterback on the coaching staff.

"I think that's the one thing we realize is that one of the goals this season is to make this a positive from a total picture for Charlie," general manager Phil Savage said.

Savage dealt Trent Dilfer after the veteran QB requested a trade so he could compete for a job with another team. Savage then tried to convince Joey Harrington to come to Cleveland in a trade, but Harrington had committed to Miami.

"We know there are going to be rough spots, but we're going to ride it out with him just like [people from Florida] have to ride out hurricanes," Savage said of Frye. "He's going to make some mistakes and learn from them. I think our coaching staff is aware. Where some people have doubts about the lack of a veteran presence, our coaches are going to have to step in that way and pick up the slack … the fans are going to have to be understanding when he throws one of those flutter balls that he tends to throw."

As if on cue, Frye tested Savage's patience only minutes later with one of those wounded-duck throws during a practice at Browns Stadium in front of approximately 20,000 fans.

Frye went to one of his pet moves, rolling right and then jumping ever so slightly as he threw across his body. It's the same move Montana made famous on the throw to Dwight Clark that ignited a dynasty. In this case, Frye tried to squeeze the ball between two defenders in the front part of the end zone. Instead, the ball floated out of his smallish right hand and ended up being cradled by one of the defenders for an interception.

Savage, who sees Frye as a more athletic version of Drew Brees, bowed his head for a second and then regained his usually positive composure. The question is what happens when Frye does that in front of a full house of more than 70,000 fans.

The fact is, the development of Frye this year is critical for a Browns team that is clearly not ready for a playoff push. There are, however, some nice young defensive players, some veterans such as linebacker Willie McGinest and defensive tackle Ted Washington and even some potential stars on the mend in tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Still, Frye is central.

Or as a Browns executive put it: "If you told me we were going to be 7-9 and [Frye] played every game and improved, I'd take it right now."

A third-round pick out of nearby Akron who has become a hometown favorite in the mold of Bernie Kosar, Frye sells the notion well that he has a tough, underdog mentality that will keep him going. He talks with a direct, look-you-in-the-eye confidence accentuated by his country twang.

"I'm going to have to go to my coaches," Frye said. "That's the thing. We don't really have an older veteran guy like that."

On the field, Frye is forceful.

"He's great under pressure," Winslow said. "He takes command of this offense. He is the leader. It's everything. If we're not aligned right in the huddle correctly, he'll say, 'Get your butt in the right spot.' "

Said Frye, who calls himself a perfectionist: "When I'm in the huddle, nobody talks in the huddle but me. I feel, being in the huddle, I have to be the leader. That's why I spend a lot of time around here. In training camp, guys have questions and you want to be able to answer those questions and establish yourself as a leader. So I spent a lot of time up here and I just feel that's my nature. I want to be the leader of the team."

Coach Romeo Crennel believes the Browns have an ample support network for Frye. "Even though Charlie doesn't have a veteran quarterback he can go to, he has other resources," Crennel said. "He knows other NFL quarterbacks who play and other guys who have played."

Such as?

"I don't know, you'd have to talk to Charlie about that," Crennel said.

Frye has made friends with Kosar, who is stunningly bright about the nuances of the position and loves to be around the team. Kosar stood along the sideline during practice, alternately signing autographs while keeping a watchful eye on all the quarterbacks.

Kosar said owner Randy Lerner has asked him to be at all the games this season to help look over one QB in particular.

"He's been through this before," Frye said of Kosar. "He grew up in this area and played and I'm obviously in the same situation. So he has helped me deal with some issues, like simple stuff, like tickets. How [to] handle that stuff, handle the media."

Can Frye handle being a franchise quarterback? That question begins to get answered this season.