Saturday, October 16, 2004

Garcia adjusting to life as a Brown

QB has struggled, but team has faith

By Kevin Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

As an observer from afar, he identified the team foremost by its ample gridiron history. And, later, by the alluring opportunity.

Jeff Garcia's search for a new NFL beginning this spring led him from San Francisco to Cleveland and its Browns.

"Once I signed and was part of the organization and the team, it really opened my eyes as to how big football really is here, how much these fans live and die for this team, and the history of this team," Garcia said. "Those things weren't so much of a shock to me, but they definitely made me appreciate what I'm a part of."

Equally appreciative are the Browns.

Seeking to move beyond the Tim Couch era, they lunged at the chance to sign Garcia for the next four years after the 49ers released him in March.

Couch is presently out of the NFL, and Kelly Holcomb, who split time with Couch as the starter last season, is backing up Garcia.

"I think it's been a very good situation," Browns head coach Butch Davis said. "Jeff brings experience. He brings leadership. He brings charisma and passion. He's a fierce competitor."

But the union between the 34-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and a franchise striving to contend in the black-and-blue AFC North hasn't been without its obstacles.

The Browns, who went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC North last season after making the playoffs in 2002, enter Sunday's home game against the Bengals with a 2-3 record.

Garcia ranks 12th in the AFC with a 70.1 passer rating.

"It hasn't been an easy transition," said Garcia, who entered this season with a career 88.3 passer rating from his five seasons with the 49ers. "Obviously I'm still going through some growing pains as far as adapting, but I'm trying to make the best of it."

The Browns' offense, under new coordinator Terry Robiskie, has been slow to get moving.

Cleveland has converted a league-low 23.8 percent of third-down attempts and ranks 30th in passing. The Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first half of a game this season.

"I think there are opportunities that have been left out on the field ... because of the fact we're just not where we need to be as far as the confidence in each other," Garcia said. "I'm growing with that. I'm getting better at that."

Garcia is still working to develop a sixth sense with his talented corps of receivers, which lost rookie tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to a broken leg in Week 2.

"Jeff threw to Terrell Owens for five years," Davis said. "Probably, at some point during the first two or three years, it just clicks with a guy."

Some of Garcia's best aerial performances have come against the Bengals.

Last season he completed 26 of 33 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns in a three-point loss against Cincinnati. In 1999 he threw for a career-high 437 yards during a win against the Bengals.

"He's definitely a qualified player in this league," said Bengals defensive back Terrell Roberts, who had 13 tackles and forced a Garcia fumble against the 49ers last season. "He's somebody that you have to always account for and contain, because once he gets out of that pocket, he's dangerous."

Since a dreadful three-interception performance against the Dallas Cowboys Sept. 19 - he posted just the sixth 0.0 passer rating since 1970 - Garcia has completed 51 of 86 passes for 585 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

"I think I'm still learning in ways as to our route combinations, where players are going to be, where players are supposed to be and how a player adjusts to me when I'm moving outside of the pocket," Garcia said. "Those things are still not where I would like to see them be. But I think we're going in the right direction."



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