Davis Gives Browns Receivers Rave Review

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - After reviewing the film of Saturday night's exhibition win over the Detroit Lions, Browns coach Butch Davis came away with some very pointed opinions.

The defense? "I was a little bit disappointed," he said.

The rookie linebackers? "They were OK."

Quarterback Tim Couch? "He played well."

Rookie running back William Green? "He needs somebody to blitz and hit him in the teeth."

Tough guy, Davis. His reviews typically are candid. One thing, though, pleased him.

"The thing I'm most happiest about was the play of our wide receivers in every aspect of the game," Davis said Sunday. "They caught the ball well. But the thing I liked was that they played well without the ball."

Cleveland's wide receivers did have a big night Saturday, and the fun started when Kevin Johnson agreed to a four-year, $13.35-million contract extension just before kickoff.

Johnson's new deal came just days after the Browns gave his agent, Tom Condon, permission to talk to other teams. But Johnson, the only player who has started every game for the Browns since they returned to the league in 1999, decided Cleveland was the best place for him.

"Everyone is happy," said Johnson, who caught a 7-yard pass from Couch on the game's first play. "I'll go to bed at night knowing I'm in a great place."

If Johnson had been traded, Couch would have lost his favorite target and the Browns would have lost their best big-play threat.

However, in Saturday's win, some of the Browns' other wideouts showed signs that they might be far more productive this season than anyone expected.

Dennis Northcutt and JaJuan Dawson, who have both battled injuries during their pro careers, each caught a touchdown pass and Northcutt had a key 18-yard punt return.

In addition, undrafted free agent Frisman Jackson caught four passes for 53 yards. Quincy Morgan, whose rookie season was highlighted by some key drops, had two receptions -- one on a ball he scooped off his shoe tips -- and rookie Andre Davis made one catch and opened things up for others with his blazing speed.

The Browns will likely keep at least five receivers on their 53-man roster, and with just two preseason games left and an Aug. 27 cutdown date looming, competition is heating up.

"It's the way I like it," Davis said. "You just watch the performances at practice and in the games, those guys are fighting for more than just starting spots, their fighting to make the team."

Davis has nine wideouts left on the roster after releasing eight-year veteran Chris Sanders on Sunday.

Sanders was signed by the club in March when the Browns were desperate for an experienced speed receiver. But the 30-year became expendable with the emergence of Jackson and solid training camps for Northcutt and Dawson.

"As nice a guy as he is," Davis said of Sanders, "other guys were outperforming him."

Northcutt had 39 catches as a rookie, but had just 18 last year when he twice injured his collarbone.

He worked hard this off-season, and may have a slight advantage over most of the other wideouts because of his versatility as a kick returner.

"He's healthy. He's making plays out there," Davis said. "He's doing outstanding as a punt return. Same thing for JaJuan. I think both of those guys are taking advantage of the opportunity. They also recognize that there's a good group of people and they have to pick it up to make the team."

Notes: Center Dave Wohlabaugh sustained a strained muscle in the game. Davis said RG Shaun O'Hara will move to center in practice this week and the Browns will look at rookie Melvin Fowler at guard. ... Davis praised LB Darren Hambrick, who was signed last week after Jamir Miller suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury. "A lot of times if he didn't know what he was supposed to do, you saw him flying around and making tackles. I thought it was a good performance." ... Davis said the Browns are fortunate to have QB Kelly Holcomb as their backup. Holcomb went 14-of-18 for 149 yards and two TDs vs. the Lions. "He's talented enough that there are probably some teams in the league that would like to have Kelly Holcomb as their quarterback. This kid can play."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)