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November 30, 2023

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QB Frye impresses teammates during loss

BEREA, Ohio – Seconds before Cleveland’s first offensive snap, Terrelle Smith dipped his head, raised his eyes and knew Browns rookie quarterback Charlie Frye was ready for the Cincinnati Bengals.

“His hands weren’t shaking,” said Smith, Cleveland’s bruising fullback, who lines up on most plays directly behind the QB.

“I looked up under center a few weeks ago, and his hands were shaking a little bit. I didn’t see that this time.”

Frye passed his toughest test so far on Sunday in a 23-20 loss to the first-place Bengals. In his second career start, the third-round draft pick couldn’t pull out a comeback win, but he outplayed Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer while winning more respect from coach Romeo Crennel and his teammates.

“He definitely didn’t play like a rookie,” said tight end Aaron Shea. “Charlie played smart.”

In windy conditions, Frye finished 16-of-24 for 138 yards and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown and threw a TD pass. But Frye’s performance went far beyond his statistics.

He stayed calm under the pressure of his first road start. He deftly avoided Cincinnati’s pass rush with some well-timed rollouts. And Frye was able to operate Cleveland’s offense in front of a hostile Bengals crowd bent on rattling him anyway it could.

“It wasn’t like he was scared or he didn’t know what to do or he was herky-jerky or anything like that,” said Crennel. “He was a methodical quarterback. When trouble arose he was able to get out of it with his feet and make some plays down the field for the most part.”

Frye’s solid outing helped ease the pain of yet another tough loss for the Browns (4-9), who are showing signs of progress in Crennel’s first season but still don’t have enough talent to overcome mistakes.

Frye, though, may have eased concerns about Cleveland’s future at quarterback with two straight solid games since taking over for Trent Dilfer. Crennel said Frye would make his third start this weekend at Oakland, but wouldn’t commit to the former Akron star beyond that.

Crennel admitted the Browns have partially scaled back their offensive game plan to make things easier for Frye.

“You don’t want to give him everything all at once,” he said. “We’ll begin to add more as we go along.”

For now, Frye has plenty to absorb – and more to learn. And even if he could handle more, Frye’s not the type to second-guess his coaches.

“I think guys grow into being able to make calls at the line and make audibles and things like that,” Frye said. “That’s something that later on in my career I’ll get to grow to.”

Frye did add his own wrinkle to a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter when he drew the Bengals offsides. With Cleveland’s offensive line instructed not to move, Frye barked out signals and made hand gestures to his wide receivers, hoping the Bengals would bite and jump early.

When they didn’t, Frye improvised with a new cadence that finally got Bengals tackle John Thornton to move.

“I was out there like Peyton Manning,” Frye said with a laugh. “We weren’t going to run a play. I’ve never seen that work before.”

It wasn’t the first time Shea has been impressed with Frye’s savvy.

“Charlie’s a gamer,” said Shea. “I’m sure he says he’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s definitely got a head start on a lot of rookies who play that position.”

Frye’s only glaring mistake on Sunday came when the Browns were driving for a game-tying field goal in the final minutes. Forced out of the pocket, Frye rolled right and tried to force a pass into the end zone that should have been intercepted but was dropped by Bengals cornerback Deltha O’Neal.

It was a close escape for Frye, who has shown a knack for risking a pick if there’s a chance to make a big play. Frye also has displayed a toughness. On Sunday, he took a hard shot on his right knee during the second quarter and was limping badly.

But with Dilfer warming up on the sideline, Frye stayed in and didn’t miss a play.

Browns rookie receiver Braylon Edwards, who is out for the season while awaiting knee surgery, said Frye’s moxie, daring and ability remind him of a more famous QB.

“He has a Brett Favre-kind of aura,” Edwards said. “He’s a driven guy. He always tries to make plays happen. But the biggest thing about Charlie is that he doesn’t scramble to run, he scrambles to pass. He’s playing good football right now, and I can’t wait to get back out there with him.”

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