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WR Northcut back to work

The Associated Press

BEREA – Dennis Northcutt finally stripped off the red jersey, wadded it into a ball and left it behind in the Cleveland Browns’ locker room.

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

BEREA – Dennis Northcutt finally stripped off the red jersey, wadded it into a ball and left it behind in the Cleveland Browns’ locker room.

”I gave it to (JaJuan) Dawson,” Northcutt said of the red pullover mesh top he was required to wear during practice while recuperating from a broken right collarbone. ”But I’m ready now. I’m good to go.”

The Browns have been eager to get the second-year wide receiver back on the practice field, and Northcutt had contact for the first time this summer during Monday afternoon’s practice.

Instead of running unimpeded pass routes through the secondary, Northcutt didn’t have it so easy as Cleveland’s defensive backs finally got to bump, jostle and bang No. 86 nearly every time he touched the ball.

”I thought he looked good,” said Browns coach Butch Davis.

Northcutt broke his collarbone in a freak accident in June. While visiting a friend’s house in Dayton, he tried to keep a 6-year-old boy from hitting his head on a large rock in a creek.

As he was saving the boy, Northcutt slipped on a rock and jammed his shoulder.

Until Monday, it was the hardest Northcutt had been hit in months.

”Looking back, I don’t have any regrets,” Northcutt said. ”If anything, the whole experience has taught me that nothing’s guaranteed. Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week.”

Northcutt said he was further reminded of how fragile life can be this past weekend when 22-year-old R&B singing star Aaliyah was killed with eight others in a plane crash in the Bahamas.

”That was tough to hear,” he said. ”It makes you think about things in a different way.”

For weeks during training camp Northcutt could only stand on the sideline and watch as his teammates learned a new offense that seems tailor-made for his big-play skills.

But instead of sulking, Northcutt spent the time studying.

”It was hard,” he said. ”But I think I learned a whole lot while sitting on the sideline. It was the first time in my life I had to watch. Sometimes sitting on the outside and looking in you get a different picture.”

Nortchutt focused on defensive backs, analyzing their footwork and tendencies. He looked for any flaws or nuances that might help him in the future.

”I saw a lot of things that I think will help me,” he said. ”I’m learning that as a player you need to do the little things that will make you better.”

The Browns think Northcutt can be a lot better than he was as a rookie in 2000.

He caught 39 passes for 422 yards, but had several drops and made numerous mental mistakes. He also averaged 10.7 yards on 27 punt returns.

”I wasn’t consistent,” he said.

But according to Davis, Northcutt emerged as the Browns’ top receiver following the club’s spring mini-camps.

”When all was said and done he was a guy who was extremely consistent,” Davis said. ”When I came in here the knock on Dennis was that he was inconsistent catching the ball. But he got better and better.

”And when he got hurt it was a major setback for us as a football team.”

Northcutt wants to make up for lost time and he’ll get his first real experience in Cleveland’s new uptempo passing game in Friday’s exhibition finale against Carolina.

”I’ve seen the things that this offense can do for you and how it can get you into position to make big plays,” he said. ”Making big plays is my game.”