Couch, Holcomb not making decision easy for Davis

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2003

CLEVELAND - Somewhere along the line in the Cleveland Browns' seemingly endless quarterback drama, Butch Davis used boxing as an analogy to make a point.

The coach implied that Kelly Holcomb - career backup and challenger - would probably need to knock out Tim Couch - the incumbent starter - to win the Browns' starting job.

Holcomb didn't flatten Couch. But he may have outpointed him to win a split decision.

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In his last chance to sway Davis, Holcomb directed the Browns on touchdown drives in the first quarter while outplaying Couch and Green Bay's Brett Favre in Cleveland's 38-31 loss Friday night to the Packers.

Davis said he would spend Saturday reviewing and grading film before coming to a consensus on who he'll start at QB for the Sept. 7 opener against Indianapolis.

''We'll get everybody's feelings about how everything's gone in training camp,'' he said. ''We'll sit down as an organization, as a staff and make a decision.''

There's a lot riding on it.

If Holcomb gets the job, Couch, a four-year starter set to make $6.2 million in 2003, would become one of the most expensive bench warmers in league history.

Couch, who won eight games a year ago before being injured, has said all the right things about being the supportive backup to Holcomb. But that could change if Davis sits him down.

If Couch holds onto his job, Davis is going to have to persuade a sizable contingent of Browns fans - and maybe some of his players - that he made the right choice.

Holcomb has become a favorite with Cleveland fans, who sometimes boo Couch more loudly than they do the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.

Either way, Davis will be second guessed.

''It's going to be a tough situation for whoever is not the guy,'' Couch said. ''Because both guys deserve it.''

There's some truth to that.

But by the looks of things so far in the preseason, the Browns are going to have a rough year on defense and may need to score often if they plan to get back to the playoffs.

That being the case, Davis may decide Holcomb is his guy.

After all, Davis only decided to open the quarterback competition after Holcomb threw for 429 yards - third most in NFL playoff history - in a 36-33 shootout with Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox in January.

Cleveland's offense operates more efficiently with Holcomb under center than with Couch. That's partly because Holcomb, who followed Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians over from Indianapolis, has more experience in this system and is more willing to gamble by throwing the ball downfield.

In Friday's game, Holcomb went 7-for-10 for 166 yards and two TDs. His final attempt was an interception, on a ball he underthrew for wide receiver Quincy Morgan.

But it came on a down-and-out pattern that Couch rarely tries or even looks for.

''That's football,'' Holcomb said of his one blemish. ''I just decided to throw it.''

Holcomb has only been conservative when talking about his chances of unseating Couch. The 30-year-old has waited his entire pro career for a shot at being an NFL starter, and that day may have finally arrived.

''I don't know what the decision will be,'' he said. ''You have to prepare yourself to be the starter or to be the backup. But it's all about winning games.

''I am sure if Tim starts, I will support him. I'm sure that if I start, he will support me. That's just how it's going to be.''