"I haven't really had time to think about

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

"I haven't really had time to think about it," said Davis. "I'm sure it will be loud. That's part of the Browns' legend."

Davis hasn't had the time to think about the thrill he will experience tonight when he coaches his first NFL game in the preseason opener with the Green Bay Packers.

Instead, he's been spending his time trying to figure out how to turn a team that won just five games in two years into a winner in as short a time as possible.

While Davis has been preoccupied, some of his new players have taken the time to daydream of their first NFL experience.

"It's going to be like a dream come true the first time I get to walk out on that field," said rookie wide receiver Quincy Morgan. "I've heard so much about the Browns and the Dawg Pound. I can't wait to be a part of it."

Morgan will be in tonight's starting lineup, and the second-round pick from Kansas State hopes to make a quick first impression on Browns' fans.

"I can't wait to do something to get the crowd going," said Morgan. "I'd love to turn to the Dawg Pound and fire them up. I'll be that kind of guy. I just have to do something big so that I have a reason to do it."

First-round pick Gerard Warren has similar hopes. The big defensive tackle won't start against the Packers, but he does figure to get significant playing time with both the first and second teams.

"I'm going to go out there and play all out," said Warren. "I love to play in front of a big crowd. I've heard all about the Dawg Pound. When I was in college (at the University of Florida), I played in front of one of the best stadiums in college football. In Gainesville, we had the southeast end zone, which I guess is a lot like the Dawg Pound. If I do something big, I'll acknowledge the Dawg Pound."

Tonight's game is more than just the realization of a dream for young players getting their first taste of NFL action.

"It's an important game," said Davis. "Hopefully we will see some growth. Hopefully the fans will see that some of the guys who were around last year are playing a little bit better than they were last year. Hopefully they will see a team that is energetic, that is enthusiastic and plays hard."

More importantly, Davis hopes to see some players start to fill some key roles that are yet unanswered, most notably: Who will run the ball for the Browns in 2001?

Davis had not settled on a starter against the Packers as of Thursday night. At least, if he had decided on a starter, he wasn't telling.

"Probably one of the five guys (in camp) could start," said Davis.

Most likely, the starting nod will go to second-year back Travis Prentice, who has taken the majority of the reps with the first team over the last nine days, but was not particularly impressive in last week's scrimmage with Buffalo. Prentice is believed to be in a dead heat for the No. 1 spot in the depth chart with rookie third-round pick James Jackson, who could also be called on to start tonight.

Speedster Jamel White, who could win a job as a third-down specialist, and rookie free agents Ben Gay and Carl Fair will also see some action at running back.

Another position battle to watch is quarterback, where incumbent Ty Detmer and newcomer Kelly Holcomb are battling to be Tim Couch's backup.

Couch and the first-string offense will play the first two or three series. Who will call the signals after Couch is still up in the air.

"I don't know who will come in first," said Detmer, who missed last season with a Achilles injury suffered in the preseason. "Right now, Kelly and I are pretty much splitting time on the second string. I don't look at this as a competition (with Holcomb). I'm fighting to prove that I can still play and win some football games for this team.

"I'm just looking forward to playing. This is something I've really been looking forward to after missing all of last year."

As in any preseason game, the most intense action will come on special teams. Players on the bubble know they have to show something on special teams if they want to win a job in the NFL.

"There are some guys whose opportunity to make this team may not necessarily hinge on how well they play offense or defense," said Davis. "For 20 to 25 guys, special teams is really going to be critical."

NOTEBOOK

JOHNSON READY TO GO ... Kevin Johnson is expected to be in the lineup at wide receiver after being limited for two weeks with a slight hamstring pull. The veteran wide receiver is anxious to show what he can do in Cleveland's new offense.

"I think I can be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in this offense," said Johnson, who caught 66 passes for 986 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie in 1999, then fell off to 57 catches for 669 yards and no touchdowns last year.

Johnson said the offense's stress on receivers running after the catch fits his style to a tee.

"I've watched (friend and former Syracuse University teammate) Marvin Harrison put up big numbers in this same type of offense and wished I could have the chance to do those kinds of things," said Johnson. "Now I'm going to get that chance."

VERBA GETTING BETTER ... Ross Verba is going to miss playing against his old teammates tonight. The former Packers offensive lineman, who signed with the Browns as a free agent in March, has spent the last 13 weeks recovering from back surgery.

"I can feel it getting better," said Verba, who started 53-of-59 games in his first four seasons in Green Bay. "Obviously I'd love to be out there for this one. This will be the first game I've missed (due to injury) since I came into the league. At least I'll be out there when it really matters."

Verba expects to start practicing on Monday.

"I'll probably do some individual work for the first week," said Verba. "Hopefully in another week I'll be back hitting in full pads."

Verba is expected to start at right tackle.

SPRIGGS OUT ... Defensive tackle Marcus Spriggs fractured his forearm during Thursday's morning practice. He is expected to miss at least four weeks. Spriggs had been listed as the backup to Mark Smith at right defensive tackle.

OLD FRIENDS ... Former NFL Most Valuable Player Brett Favre will start at quarterback for the Packers. When he goes out, look for former Brown Doug Pederson to run the Green Bay offense.

Pederson started eight games for the Browns last year after Couch was injured. He competed 117-of-210 passes for 1,047 yards, tossing two touchdown passes and eight interceptions. The nine-year veteran signed a free-agent contract with the Packers in the offseason.

John Thierry, who led the Browns with seven sacks in 1999, is Green Bay's starting right defensive end.

Former Ohio State star Na'il Diggs starts at strong side linebacker for the Packers.

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