Sunday, April 27, 2003

Surprise: Browns take center

Notre Dame's Faine too dominating to pass up, Davis says

By Joe Milicia
The Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio - The Browns struggled to run the ball last season. They expect their top draft pick to help change that.

The Browns took Notre Dame center Jeff Faine with the 21st overall pick in the NFL draft Saturday.
(AP photo)
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Cleveland chose Notre Dame center Jeff Faine with the 21st pick in the NFL draft Saturday, looking for him to anchor the offensive line and open holes for last year's top pick, William Green.

Browns coach Butch Davis said the 6-foot-2, 303-pound Faine is a nasty, aggressive player with a passion for the game.

"He brings a Jeremy Shockey type of attitude to his position," said Davis, referring to the fiery New York Giants tight end.

The Browns' choice of a center was somewhat a surprise. They released center Dave Wohlabaugh in February as part of a salary cap dump, but have a second-year center in Melvin Fowler, who was selected in the third round last year.

Faine was selected before several top offensive linemen, including guard Eric Steinbach of Iowa and tackle Kwame Harris of Stanford.

"You can't pass on a guy who's just a total dominating player at his particular position," Davis said.

In the second round, the Browns, who have parted with Earl Holmes, Jamir Miller and Dwayne Rudd, addressed their need at linebacker by taking the speedy, but raw Chaun Thompson of West Texas A&M.

"He can run. He can fly all over the field," Davis said. "Some of the things we saw on game tapes were just unbelievable."

Defensive coordinator Dave Campo went all the way to rural west Texas for an individual workout with Thompson, who has 4.5 speed (in the 40-yard dash) that will put him at outside linebacker.

Coming from a Division II program, Thompson said he knows he's in for an adjustment in the pros.

"When I figure out that speed, I might be too fast for the NFL," Thompson said.

In the third round, the Browns took Marshall defensive back Chris Crocker, who has played both cornerback and safety.

"You can't have enough guys that have that kind of versatility," Davis said.

Davis described Faine as a football junkie who fits the mold of a throwback player.

"They're competitive. They're tough. They're nasty. They love getting bloody and muddy and stuff. How can you not love a guy like that for the Cleveland Browns?" Davis said.

Faine will help out a line that struggled to open rushing lanes until late in the 2002 season. Cleveland ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards and had just eight touchdowns on the ground.

Faine, 22, of Sanford, Fla., said he believes he can start for the Browns immediately.

During his first visit to Cleveland late Saturday, Faine said he thinks the center position is the best one on the field.

"There's really no better feeling I think in this world then driving a guy five yards down the field and putting him on his back and then getting up and doing it again," he said.

As a three-year starter at Notre Dame, Faine gained a reputation for quickness off the snap, good lateral agility and hands that control defensive linemen. Last season, he started every game and did not allow a sack.

Faine, who was recruited by Davis when he coached at Miami, leaves the Fighting Irish with a year of eligibility left.

Asked why he didn't attend Miami, Faine said, "It had nothing to do with the coaches."

Selecting a center in the first round is a draft rarity.

Faine is the first center to be taken that high since Detroit took Jeff Hartings of Penn State in 1996 with the 23rd overall pick. Hartings now starts for the Steelers.

"In a way, I'm a little excited and caught off by them picking me this high," Faine said, "but really I think I was a quality player coming out and I think proved myself through the workouts and throughout my whole career."

He is the first offensive lineman taken by the Browns in the first round since 1993 when they picked Michigan center Steve Everitt with the 14th pick.

In a first round filled with trades, the Browns sat back and waited for Faine, who Davis said "was clearly in a class by himself."

"Jeff Faine was one of the guys that we had as one of the top players from a value standpoint," Davis said. "He's been highly competitive and productive in the Notre Dame program for several years."

His selection means Fowler likely will play guard.

The rumored trade of quarterback Tim Couch turned out to be just that. The Browns also didn't deal running back Jamel White, who recently signed a one-year tender offer of $1.3 million that made it easier for the Browns to trade him.

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