Browns focused on stopping Steelers
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis searched for some telltale signs of slippage following a better-than-anticipated 2007 season.
Finding none, he pronounced his team poised to push the Steelers for the AFC North title.
"Last year, you were more hungry, and you just want to go out and win some games. This year, you know you can win; you know what you're capable of," Lewis said of Cleveland's 10-6 record and second-place finish behind the Steelers.
Lewis, who helped revitalize the Browns' attack with 1,304 yards rushing and nine touchdowns in 2007, isn't reluctant to tout Cleveland as a legitimate playoff contender.
"Now, it's time to take it to another level, and that's where the challenge comes in: 'Can you take it to the next level?' " Lewis said. "I think the team's very confident. We have a young team, young guys that are motivated, that want to compete. We have older veterans that love this game, who have made great accomplishments in their careers.
"It's really just putting everything together with experience, with new guys and guys that have been in the league a little while."
For the Browns, the road to the playoffs leads through Pittsburgh.
The Steelers defeated Cleveland twice last season to win the tie-breaker and receive the automatic postseason berth.
"People have us picked to win the division; they have Pittsburgh picked to win the division. We look at it that Pittsburgh is the team to beat," Browns center Hank Fraley said. "If you're going to go 10-6, make sure they're the right 10. (The Steelers) won the right 10.
"You've got to win those (division) games, when all is said and done. If you win the division, you're in (the playoffs)."
Foremost among coach Romeo Crennel's chief tasks this season is to ensure that the Browns remain focused and their goals realistic. His message to his players at the start of training camp was one of unfinished business.
"I think the players feel better about themselves and their abilities," Crennel said. "The only difference that I can see is sometimes I have to rein these guys in because everybody tells them that they're going to the Super Bowl, and we haven't done anything yet."
Although Cleveland lacks the Steelers' playoff experience, the Browns aren't lacking confidence or leadership.
Young talents, led by Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Joe Thomas and Kellen Winslow,are following the examples set by veterans such as Lewis, Fraley, Willie McGinest and newcomer Corey Williams.
Edwards was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2007. What does he plan for an encore?
"I just want to go to the playoffs. I gave up personal goals a long time ago," said Edwards, who racked up 80 receptions, 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns -- all career highs -- last season. "I just want to go to the playoffs. I think we're close; I think we can do it."
Fraley said Edwards and other young players on the roster have developed a new mind-set in terms of putting the team first.
"These young guys -- with Braylon and Derek Anderson -- there's a lot of confidence they carry amongst themselves," Fraley said. "It's all right to carry a little swagger, but they're carrying it with a professional attitude now. I think what's changed around here is the swagger's a team thing. It's not individuals. It's what we do, win or lose, as a team."
Said Lewis: "When I left here last offseason, my whole thing was how would guys come back after a 10-6 record, which is a pretty good season, but not making it to the playoffs.
"Through offseason conditioning and (practices), everybody was pretty much here and working hard. Everybody was unhappy with last season and how things turned out. Nobody was happy with not going to the playoffs."
Starting guard Rex Hadnot joined the Browns as a free agent from Miami. He said the veterans are holding every player accountable for their individual performances.
"The veteran leadership on this team has demanded nothing but hard work," Hadnot said. "They set the tone that we're only as good as what we do on the field. You can't play paper football."
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