BEREA, Ohio (AP) - His name can't be found quickly in the team's statistics, and Cleveland's No. 92 hasn't been seen in the Browns' locker room lately, either.
Courtney Brown is missing.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick hasn't recorded a sack in his five games this season and, last Sunday, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound specimen nicknamed "The Quiet Storm" got a new label.
Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp described him as "soft".
Sapp's not alone.
As each game passes without Brown (pictured, above) tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, more Cleveland fans are wondering about the Browns' third-year defensive end.
Is he overrated, or underappreciated?
Brown may not be living up to fans' expectations, but he has the unwavering support of his coaches and teammates. They say that Brown gets double-teamed on nearly every play and that his unselfishness is making the Browns' defense better.
"We try to be objective and honest about Courtney's play," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "He's making some plays at times that he gets absolutely no credit.
"We made a little cut of film to study it. There was half a dozen times (against the Buccaneers) where he gets chipped by a back coming out of the backfield, the tight end hangs or the guard or center goes to his side."
On one play, Brown had to fight off three Tampa Bay blockers before turning the play inside so linebacker Earl Holmes could make the stop.
On another snap, Brown was blocked by two tight ends, but managed to rush Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson and apply enough pressure to force a hurried throw.
The public's perception is that Brown isn't making enough big plays.
The Browns feel otherwise.
"If Courtney was just going after sacks, believe me, he would have a bunch of them," cornerback Corey Fuller said. "He's just an all-around football player. He's getting a lot of pressure. The sacks are going to come."
Last season, Brown showed flashes of becoming a dominant force in the Bruce Smith or Reggie White mold.
After missing the first six regular season games, Brown had a dazzling debut against Chicago. He recorded seven tackles and three sacks, knocked down two passes and returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.
It was a tease of his awesome potential. Now, Browns fans want to see it all the time.
One of the problems is that the Browns, who had 43 sacks last season, are using a different defensive scheme this year. The emphasis is on stopping the run, not getting to the quarterback.
Cleveland also is without Pro Bowl linebacker Jamir Miller, the AFC's sacks leader in 2001, who is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.
Brown missed one game with a neck injury, but even when he's been healthy, the Browns have recorded just one sack. The lack of production may not be Brown's fault, but he's taking the blame.
"If he tried to pass rush on every down, there would be big gaps in the middle and teams would be running the ball," said Browns end Kenard Lang. "The next minute, people would be saying, 'Courtney can't stop the run.' So he stops the run and people say, 'Courtney can't get any sacks.'"
Brown hasn't worried about defending himself. He hasn't spoken to reporters during the regular season, perhaps because he doesn't want to address his sackless year so far.
Sapp did. After going in at tight end and blocking Brown on a play near the goal line, Sapp, the Bucs' trash-talking tackle screamed at Brown.
"I told him he was soft," Sapp said.
The remark didn't bring a response from Brown, but it angered many of his teammates.
"Anytime anybody attacks a member of your family, it upsets everybody," quarterback Tim Couch said. "I think Courtney feels the same way. I'm sure he can't wait to get out on the field and show everyone that Sapp wasn't right about what he said."
Browns fans sure hope not.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Criticized by frustrated fans following a loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday, Cleveland's head coach came up with an excuse or answer for nearly everything ailing his team. He even had a retort for Bucs star Warren Sapp, who made some negative remarks about a Browns player.More >>
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