Davis returns Couch to Browns starting quarterback job

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

BEREA - Tim Couch is back where he started, and he doesn't want to leave.

Cleveland's beleaguered quarterback was given back his starting job - for at least one week - and Couch now says he's willing to take a pay cut to keep it.

Couch, who has been jerked in and out of the starting lineup this season, will start Sunday's game at Denver and expects to be Cleveland's No. 1 QB for the final three games.

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As for next season, Couch said for the first time Wednesday that he would restructure his contract to remain with the Browns.

''I'm open to anything,'' Couch said. ''I want to be here. I've kind of started this thing and I want to be part of it when we make the transition to being an elite football team. I think I can help us get to that point.

''I'm sure at the end of the year we'll have to sit down and talk. If it takes restructuring and doing whatever it takes, I'll be willing to work with them. We'll see if they even want me here, and if they do, we'll see how we can make it happen.''

The Browns were expected to release Couch following the season. He is scheduled to make $7.6 million in 2004 and $8 million in 2005. Team president Carmen Policy has said Couch's future with the Browns would depend on him restructuring his deal.

Couch's strange season came full circle Wednesday when Browns coach Butch Davis, who benched the QB in favor of Kelly Holcomb before the season, said Couch would open against the Broncos.

''It was time to give Tim a second shot,'' Davis said.

Davis said the latest switch - his seventh at the quarterback since Week 1 - does not necessarily mean Couch would start the final three games.

Holcomb, though, isn't expecting to get another shot.

''This hasn't been what I dreamed about,'' said Holcomb, a backup for seven seasons. ''But it's reality. I haven't lost my confidence. I know I can play this game.''

Couch has relieved Holcomb the past two weeks. He came in late in the first half on Monday night against St. Louis after Holcomb threw two interceptions. Couch rallied the Browns with a pair of second-half scoring drives and threw a 28-yard TD pass to Quincy Morgan in Cleveland's 26-20 loss.

Davis was impressed by Couch's outing. He'd like to see another one just like it.

''We're trying to find someone who will deliver some consistency,'' said Davis. ''We need somebody to play well and somebody to emerge.''

The Browns (4-9) haven't had a quarterback controversy this season. The revolving door has been a fiasco for the team, which has lost six of seven and must face the Broncos, Baltimore and Cincinnati down the stretch.

Couch said Cleveland's endless quarterback derby has taken a toll on the team.

''I don't think it's been good for it,'' he said. ''At that position you've got to have a leader, you've got to have a guy that everyone believes in and rallies around. To shuffle guys in and out has been a tough situation for me, for Kelly and the rest of the team.''

A fresh start elsewhere could do wonders for Couch, who besides being bypassed by Davis, has endured the wrath of Browns fans during his time in Cleveland.

If released, the 26-year-old would likely be the top quarterback on the free-agent market. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was in a similar spot last winter and left Arizona to sign a seven-year, $40 million deal with Denver.

''For me, I knew I needed to get out of Arizona, and it was time for a new start,'' Plummer said in a conference call.

Couch understands the risks of starting over with a new team, which is why he wants to stay.

''Sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side,'' he said. ''Maybe it would be, maybe it wouldn't be. I know we have a good nucleus of guys here I like playing with, I like these receivers. I feel comfortable with the coaching staff. I'm just going to go with the flow. If they want me here, I want to be here. If not, I'll go elsewhere.''