Catching up with the Cleveland Browns’ homegrown rookies

Greg M. Schwartz

Former Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs talks with wide receiver C. J. Jones during a practice with the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium Aug. 8. Cribbs made the Browns’ roster as an non-drafted free agent.

Credit: Jason Hall

From Bernie Kosar to LeBron James, there’s nothing Cleveland loves more than a homegrown hero. Now, quarterback Charlie Frye from the University of Akron, defensive end Simon Fraser from The Ohio State University, and wide receiver Josh Cribbs from Kent State all appear primed to help the Browns return to glory.

“I don’t think (we did it) conscientiously, we’re just looking for good football players,” said head coach Romeo Crennel in response to whether the team had decided to take a closer look at Ohio players. “We’re fortunate that all of those guys are good football players and we happen to have them. So we’ll try to build on that.”

Fraser and Cribbs are both un-drafted free agents who have won roster spots and are thrilled to be with the Browns.

“Oh yeah, I watched ’em, so it’s fun to be on the opposite side of the coin now,” Fraser said on growing up as a Browns fan.

Being one of the Browns also means that Fraser now finds himself a teammate of former college arch-rival Braylon Edwards, the Browns’ first-round pick out of the University of Michigan.

“Yeah, I brought it up here and there,” said a smiling Fraser of Ohio State’s 3-1 record versus Michigan while he and Edwards were part of what many fans consider the greatest rivalry in college football. “You know, he sort of walks away and doesn’t want to talk about it, but I think he understands that they belong down where they are right now.”

As opposing quarterbacks at Kent State and The University of Akron, Cribbs and Frye also are former arch-rivals. But becoming Browns has changed that.

“I didn’t think it would work out as well as it’s working out now, but everything is good,” Cribbs said of his relationship with Frye. “I mean me and Frye have become the best of friends – we’re buddies, we’ve been over to each other’s houses, we’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s a great kid, a great kid. I never thought I’d be this close with him now.”

Cribbs grew up in Washington, D.C., as a Redskins fan, but after four years at Kent State, he’s learned to call Northeast Ohio home.

“That’s a long time, and it’s going real well for me,” Cribbs said. “And I’m kind of waiting to beat the ‘Skins as well you know, just to show ’em they should have picked me. But Cleveland’s my home now, and I’m embracing it and love it.”

The enthusiastic Cribbs was very disappointed to suffer a knee injury in the Browns’ regular season opener, but has vowed to do all he can to get back as soon as possible.

Frye, a third-round draft pick who is already starring in a local McDonald’s commercial with Edwards, is theoretically being groomed as the team’s quarterback of the future. But if his inspiring play so far is any indication, the future may soon be here – Frye has already been named the team’s No. 2 quarterback behind Trent Dilfer, passing up veteran Doug Johnson during the preseason.

Fans have taken an instant liking to Frye’s play-making abilities and even started chanting his name during the preseason. Yet that hasn’t changed Frye’s work ethic – on the last day of training camp, Frye was the last player off the field as he stayed out to work on his passing with wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. Frye, who grew up in Willard, Ohio, idolizing the Browns is now living the dream of many Browns fans.

“I think everybody remembers the John Elway ‘Drive’ – that game sticks out in my head,” Frye said of his earliest memory as a Browns fan. Frye was 5 years old at the time of the team’s heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC championship game.

Some view the recent success of former Mid-American Conference quarterbacks Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and, most notably, Ben Roethlisberger as a sign of good fortune for Frye. But Frye isn’t looking to anyone else for confidence.

“I’m just in here doing my best and wherever the chips fall. You know, Ben was put in a great situation – if Tommy Maddox had never gotten hurt, Ben would have never seen the field,” Frye said of the Steelers’ starting quarterback’s injury last season that opened the door for Roethlisberger. “I think confidence comes from within, knowing what you can do, not what somebody else can do. You know, he’s a different person, a different guy, so my confidence comes from within me, and performing at practice.”

Frye’s confidence and NFL stock surely took a significant leap when he almost single-handedly led Akron back from a 28-7 fourth-quarter deficit to a 31-28 win against Marshall last season in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. He furthered his credentials by winning the MVP award in the Senior Bowl.

“You know, we didn’t have anything to lose – we were down by a couple touchdowns and I just said, ‘hey man let’s go win this game,'” Frye said of the memorable comeback against Marshall. “I like those situations when you’ve gotta throw the ball to win and things like that. I like those situations.”

When asked if there were any quarterbacks that influenced his will to win while growing up, Frye named four-time Super Bowl winner and renowned comeback-king Joe Montana. Browns fans may find it interesting to note that like Frye, Montana was also only a third-round NFL draft pick.

Contact Greg M. Schwartz at [email protected].