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Legend likes what he sees in Browns

BEREA, Ohio Shaded by a canopy from the merciless sun, Jim Brown relaxes on a wooden park bench as his beloved Cleveland Browns prepare nearby for what could be another long, losing season.

As the players sweat through a two-hour practice in the sizzling heat, Brown is cool. Forever cool.

A few months shy of his 70th birthday, Brown has the physique of a man half his age. The greatest running back in NFL history remains as imposing as ever, casting a shadow over everyone in his midst. This year, the Hall of Famer’#39;s presence at training camp is an especially welcomed sight for hurting Cleveland fans who have a new regime led by coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage.

Brown has returned to the remodeled franchise, hired by owner Randy Lerner and given the title, ‘executive advisor.’ His main job: to keep players informed. In recent years, he was around for the occasional alumni charity event, halftime ceremony or autograph show. He was out of the loop.

‘If I’#39;m going to talk to a player and I don’#39;t know what’#39;s going on, how can I talk to that player?’ Brown said. ‘If I know what’#39;s going on, I can be very honest with them.’

Brown’#39;s thrilled to be back, and while observing a workout on a recent steamy morning, he smiled upon hearing one of the club’#39;s new assistant coaches scream, ‘You’#39;re soft,’ at a defensive tackle.

‘See,’ Brown said, pointing. ‘There’#39;s a lot of teaching going on out there. That’#39;s where it all begins.’

The Browns have gone back to basics. They had no choice.

Seven years, three head coaches, a league-high 67 losses, blown draft picks, bad luck and hundreds of players after their triumphant expansion return to the NFL, they’#39;re starting over. Again.

Once of the league’#39;s standard bearers for excellence, the current Browns are at the bottom of pro football’#39;s pyramid. Since earning a playoff berth with a 9-7 season in 2002, the club is 9-23 _ a dysfunctional football fraternity.

‘The last two years have been terrible,’ linebacker Andra

Davis said.

But as bleak as things have been in and around the Dawg Pound, better days are on the horizon.

Brown can see them. He respects the way Crennel is straightforward with his players. He admires the talent first-year general manager Savage has brought in, and, more importantly, the ones he has run out. He views quarterback Trent Dilfer as a natural born leader.

And from his seat outside the club’#39;s training headquarters, Brown marvels as thousands of ever-hopeful Cleveland fans ring the practice fields, unwilling to give up on the brown

and orange.

‘They still believe,’ he said.

Brown does again, too.

‘Why? That little guy, man,’ Brown says, referring to Lerner. ‘In one year, that little guy has brought about a miracle.’

On cue, a nearby door suddenly swings open and out bursts Lerner, the club’#39;s 43-year-old billionaire owner who as a kid wore Browns pajamas.

Before dashing off, Lerner nods his head in Brown’#39;s direction and returns some love.

‘The man is back,’ Lerner said. ‘That’#39;s the man.’

Not long ago, Butch Davis was ‘the man’ in Cleveland. After reviving the University of Miami’#39;s scandal-scarred program, Davis arrived in 2001, taking over a Browns team that went 5-27 under Chris Palmer.

Davis got the Browns to the playoffs in ‘#39;02, but things quickly fell apart, undone by Davis’#39; insistence he be given complete control of the team’#39;s football operations.

In charge, he compounded the problems of the Carmen Policy-Dwight Clark regime _ only two players from the ‘#39;99 squad remain _ with questionable drafts, knee-jerk decisions and dishonesty.

By the time he resigned with five games left last season, severe damage was done.

‘I hated coming to work,’ said right tackle Ryan Tucker, ‘and I wasn’#39;t the only one.’

Lerner’#39;s mission was to clean up the mess quickly. He decided one man couldn’#39;t do it alone, and returned the Browns to a traditional structure where the coach coached and personnel matters were left to the GM.

Savage, who helped select 10 Pro Bowlers while working under GM Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, was hired in January. One month later, Crennel, 58, got his first head coaching gig after 24 years as an NFL assistant.

Finally, Lerner thinks he has the Browns in the right hands.

‘You frame a house,’ Lerner said. ‘If you don’#39;t frame it right, it’#39;s never straight and the doors don’#39;t shut properly. It keeps showing up on the field if the critical parts of the organization are not built properly and honestly.’

Like a butcher handed a fresh side of beef, Savage has carved up Cleveland’#39;s roster, releasing or trading 21 players who started at least one game last season. Among the departed: quarterback Jeff Garcia and defensive tackle Gerard Warren, a Davis favorite whose preferential treatment by the former coach angered players.

The overhaul of the Browns is far from complete. It will take time to fix a team that went 4-12 a year ago and isn’#39;t expected to be much better this season. But it’#39;s a start.

‘We know there are going to be some bumps in the road,’ said Savage. ‘I’#39;d like us to be a hungry team, one that makes the other team earn whatever it gets. Hopefully, we can position ourselves to steal some games.’

One of Savage’#39;s first moves was acquiring Dilfer, who brings experience, strong character and leadership, three qualities in short supply during Davis’#39; tumultuous tenure.

During a team meeting in June, Crennel displayed the three Super Bowl rings he won with the Patriots. The hidden message: I know what I’#39;m doing.

‘That’#39;s all I needed to see,’ said Kenard Lang, who agreed to switch from defensive end to linebacker for Crennel. ‘I’#39;ll do whatever that man wants.’

The Browns speak with reverence of Crennel or ‘RAC’ (his initials) as they prefer to call him. A father of three daughters, Crennel commands respect. He also gives it back.

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