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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Crennel Is Front-Runner in Cleveland

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; 10:56 AM

Jim Bates conceded to Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.

When the Green Bay Packers announced late Monday that they'd hired Bates, the interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins for the final seven games of this season, as their defensive coordinator, it was yet another sign that Crennel, the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator, will become the Browns' coach after the Super Bowl.

_____More NFL Insider_____
Reid Had Faith in His Decisions (washingtonpost.com, Jan 24, 2005)
Philly Fans Fail to Faze Atlanta's Mora (washingtonpost.com, Jan 21, 2005)
Offensive Coordinators Take the Blame (washingtonpost.com, Jan 20, 2005)

That's not startling, of course. Crennel has been regarded as the front-runner in Cleveland virtually from the moment that he had what was, by all accounts, an impressive interview with the Browns' three key decision-makers -- owner Randy Lerner, club president John Collins and newly hired general manager Phil Savage -- 18 days ago. He looked like an even more certain choice when the Patriots shut down the high-powered offense of the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC semifinal nine days ago, and his credentials were bolstered further when New England won at Pittsburgh on Sunday in the AFC title game to advance to its third Super Bowl in four years.

Now it's all but official. Bates was thought by people around the league to be the Browns' No. 2 choice, and he had declined to be considered for defensive-coordinator positions around the league as long as he was in the running for Cleveland's head-coaching job. He told new Dolphins coach Nick Saban that he did not want to return to Miami as defensive coordinator, even though the two are friends. It's doubtful that he would have taken the job in Green Bay if he hadn't received some sort of signal from the Browns that he wasn't their choice as coach.

Another Browns candidate, Mike Nolan, was hired last week as the San Francisco 49ers' coach. The Browns also interviewed their own interim coach, Terry Robiskie, as well as Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Robiskie might remain on Crennel's coaching staff as the offensive coordinator, and Crennel might bring along a few assistants from the Patriots, perhaps including defensive line coach Pepper Johnson as his defensive coordinator.

Under NFL rules, the Browns are prohibited from interviewing Crennel again or making him an offer until after the Patriots' season is completed. Crennel probably was denied an NFL head-coaching job last winter by the Patriots' run to a second Super Bowl title in three years. But the Browns apparently will keep their word that they would wait until after the Super Bowl, if necessary, to hire the coach they wanted.

Patriots defensive backs coach Eric Mangini would be the favorite to succeed Crennel in New England. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is facing the likelihood of having to replace both of his top coaching lieutenants, with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis having accepted the head-coaching job at Notre Dame. Two of the three new head coaches in the NFL next season apparently will have Belichick ties. Saban once was Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland when Belichick coached the Browns.

Packers Coach Mike Sherman ousted Bob Slowik as his defensive coordinator after only one season to bring in Bates. Sherman fired Ed Donatell after last season's playoff loss in Philadelphia, in which the Packers defense yielded a crucial fourth-and-26 conversion by the Eagles. Philadelphia completed that drive with a game-tying field goal in regulation and won in overtime.

After Slowik's defense had an eye-catching, blitz-happy debut at Carolina this season in an impressive win over the Panthers in the NFL's opening Monday night game, the unit regressed from there. The Packers finished 25th in the league in total defense this season, down from 17th last season under Donatell. Meanwhile, Donatell was hired in Atlanta and the Falcons finished 14th in the NFL in total defense this season, up from 32nd last season.

Sherman and Bates offered Slowik a chance to remain on the Packers' defensive staff, probably as the club's secondary coach. The Packers made the firing of Kurt Schottenheimer as their defensive backs coach official by announcing it Monday. The move already had been made and widely reported last week. Schottenheimer was hired Monday as the St. Louis Rams' defensive backs coach.

Seymour Likely to Play in Super Bowl

The Eagles aren't the only team in this Super Bowl expecting to get back a Pro Bowl player. Philadelphia could have wide receiver Terrell Owens back from a severe ankle sprain. But the Patriots probably will have Richard Seymour, their three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, back from a knee injury, apparently a sprained medial collateral ligament.

Seymour was hurt in the second-to-last game of the regular season and has missed three games--the regular season finale and the Patriots' two playoff contests. The Super Bowl comes six weeks after he got hurt, so Seymour should be at close to full speed for the game. Most MCL injuries heal fully within six weeks. Belichick had left open the possibility of Seymour getting some limited playing time in the AFC championship game, but he was on the Patriots' inactive list. . .

New England waived defensive back Antwan Harris. . .

Belichick gave the Patriots players today and Wednesday off. But he hasn't exactly gone soft. The Patriots held a team meeting at 2:30 a.m. Monday after flying back to Providence from Pittsburgh.

Owens Says He Hopes to Play

Owens said Monday night while attending the 76ers-Miami Heat NBA game in Philadelphia that his rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and he hopes to play against the Patriots.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that I've been doing a lot of rehab on my own, a lot of healing on my own, but spiritually God is healing me and I'm way ahead of where a lot of people expect me to be, even the doctor," Owens said, according to the Associated Press. "He's even shocked at what he's seen. Spiritually I've been healed and I believe that I'll be out there on that field [a week from] Sunday, regardless of what anyone says."

But Owens stopped short of saying he was certain that he'd be able to play.

"That's the question of the day," he said. "It remains to be answered -- in due time. I've got two weeks to prepare and get myself healthy enough to get out there on that field. When the time comes, we'll make that decision and we'll see."

Eagles Coach Andy Reid said during his news conference earlier Monday that Owens's status was "still up in the air" but Owens was confident of playing. Owens is to test the ankle by running on it this week, Reid said. So far, all of the running that Owens has done has come underwater in a pool, according to Reid.

"He hasn't run on it yet," Reid said. "Even though he was jumping around on it [Sunday, when Owens led cheers from the Eagles' sideline during the NFC title game], he hasn't run on it yet. We'll see how he does once that starts. . . . He's going to continue his rehab. Sometime in the next few days here, he's going to try to run on that thing, jog on it, see what he can do. Then he'll progress from there. . . . He was going to play this game, if he had his choice. He's very confident. He's making great progress. He really is. He's champing at the bit to play."

Owens suffered a syndesmotic, or "high," ankle sprain and a fractured fibula when he was dragged down by Dallas safety Roy Williams during the Eagles' win over the Cowboys on Dec. 19 at Lincoln Financial Field. Orthopedist Mark Myerson performed surgery on Owens's ankle three days later at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, stabilizing the joint by inserting two screws and a plate during the one-hour procedure. Myerson and Eagles officials said at the time it was possible that Owens could play in the Super Bowl, depending upon how the rehabilitation of his ankle went. The fracture in Owens's fibula, they said, would heal on its own before Owens's ankle healed.

Owens is scheduled to be re-examined by Myerson today.

Reid said Monday: "He'll be in touch with the doctor. We'll see what happens there, and then it comes down to: Can he do it? Can he cut on the thing? He's got a couple things in there. He's got the pain from the broken part of the leg. He really doesn't have much [pain in] the ankle. But, again, he hasn't run on it. So you've got to see how that holds up when he runs. . . . He's got to physically be able to play." . . .

Myerson is to perform Wednesday's surgery on Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, who will miss the Super Bowl after suffering what Reid said was a Lisfranc sprain -- a serious injury to the bones and ligaments connecting the mid-foot to the fore-foot -- on the second of his two touchdown catches Sunday against the Falcons.

"He twisted it," Reid said. "I called a timeout right there. He was struggling to get off the field. He told me. He says, 'Hey, I think I broke my foot.' . . . He said, 'I felt something pop.' "

Lewis's role in the Eagles' offense has been diminished the past two seasons, as he has been sharing playing time with L.J. Smith. Lewis, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring, so it's possible that the Super Bowl he will watch from the sideline will be his final game as a member of the Eagles. The seven-year veteran spoke Sunday about his familiarity with the struggles of the Eagles, who last reached a Super Bowl 24 years ago, and Reid said Monday that Lewis was "crushed" when he found out for certain about the extent of his injury.

"But he'll survive through it, and he'll be down there supporting us and doing everything he can from the sideline," Reid said.

Smith is a capable player, and the Eagles spent Monday looking for a tight end to add. They likely will sign Jeff Thomason. They already have Mike Bartrum to potentially back up Smith, but Reid said he'd prefer not to use Bartrum at tight end and risk him getting hurt because he's the club's long snapper. Lewis had been the backup long snapper.

"I have confidence in Michael," Reid said. "The only hesitation I have there is that he's also our long snapper, and we just lost our second long snapper. Michael, I know, can play the position. I'm not worried about that part. I just have to keep him healthy{lcub}hellip{rcub}. We'll find somebody." . . .

Right tackle Jon Runyan was sore Monday after playing Sunday with a sprained MCL in his knee but should be fine for the game, Reid said.

Reid Consults Notebooks

Reid said he spent Monday morning consulting the notebooks that he kept chronicling the goings-on of the Super Bowl weeks he experienced as a Packers assistant coach in the 1996 and '97 seasons. "That came in handy," Reid said.

Reid said he had resisted the temptation to peek ahead into those Super Bowl notebooks the previous three seasons, each of which ended with the Eagles losing the NFC championship game. "I stayed away from that till now," he said.

The difference for Reid is that he is in charge, not merely helping his former Packers boss, Mike Holmgren.

"It's probably a little different sitting here as a head coach," Reid said. "It's still a great feeling. There's a part of you that's very excited. There's another part of you that understands that it's not over. You've got a big game ahead of you against a great football team, and you want to make sure you get yourself right in preparation for that. It wasn't one of those things where you stayed up late [Sunday night] and woke up late [Monday]. You were up early and in the office like a normal Monday to make sure you get yourself right and get yourself ready for this next game."

Reid said he was happy to hear his players talking in the postgame locker room Sunday like they were not satisfied with merely reaching the Super Bowl.

"The players were talking about, 'Hey, it's not over. We're going to get ourselves back to work, and we're going to get this thing right,' " Reid said. "They were very matter-of-fact with it. . . . There was a sense this wasn't finished yet. They were happy, don't get me wrong. But there was a sense that there was more to do. . . . That was good to see."

The Eagles will keep to a normal practice schedule this week, Reid said, expressing relief that there is a bye week before the Super Bowl this season.

"You get a little bit of the chaos taken care of, all the things you have to do to move the whole football team down to Jacksonville--and the families," Reid said.

Fowler Talking to McCombs About Vikings

Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler continues to talk to Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs about possibly purchasing the franchise. Fowler was in Minneapolis on Monday and told KMSP-TV that he spent part of the day house-hunting. Fowler would be the league's first African-American team owner. . . .

Tailback Jerome Bettis told his Steelers teammates during Monday's season-ending team meeting that he hasn't decided whether he'll play next season or retire. . . . Jacksonville Coach Jack Del Rio continues to look to the college ranks to fill his coaching staff. The Jaguars' new offensive coordinator reportedly could be USC quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. . . . Charles Bailey, the Jaguars' director of pro personnel, is scheduled to interview today for the front-office job in San Francisco left vacant by the dismissal of Terry Donahue as general manager. Bailey interviewed for Cleveland's GM job but was passed over in favor of Savage. The 49ers also have received permission from Denver to interview Rick Smith, the Broncos' director of pro personnel. . . . Tennessee began signing its assistant coaches to contract extensions, although a near-deal with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was not completed yet. . . . Kansas City signed safety Eric Crouch, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Nebraska.

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