Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tim Couch deserved better
Tim Couch was not supposed to be a savior for the Cleveland Browns’ franchise. Tim Couch was supposed to be the franchise.

For a football-starved city with outrageous expectations, the Kentucky quarterback was a symbol of resurrection for a team that had been gone for three years. Given all of that, maybe it’s not surprising that eight years later, he is seen as a bust. That’s got to be a hard thing for a player, particularly a No. 1 draft pick overall, to accept.

Couch had a chance (albeit a small one) at redemption earlier this summer, when he signed a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he was cut just a few weeks after signing.

Couch hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL regular season game since 2003. But he found himself in the news Tuesday when it was reported that he used a training regimen that involved human growth hormone and anabolic steroids. Couch, for his part, has admitted to taking HGH – under doctor’s supervision – to recover from a shoulder surgery. In one day, fair or not, Couch went from a draft bust to a drug-using draft bust.

Couch’s legacy could be forever tarnished by this information, and his legacy wasn’t all that positive (on the field, anyway) to begin with. I’ll hold off on his off-the-field issue for the moment, because I’m not a steroid expert or a drug-law expert. All I know is that no matter what happens from this point on, Couch will be seen by many as not just a draft bust, but as someone who cheated in an ill-fated attempt to get back in the show.

I’ll choose to remember Couch as a player who tried hard to live up to ridiculous expectations, but never had the chance to because the players around him weren’t good enough.

Couch actually wanted to come to Cleveland. (Why do players want to go to expansion teams? Oh, right, money.) He got his wish. But I wonder now how much better Couch’s career could have been had he been drafted by the Eagles, Bears, or Saints. Those teams weren’t great at the time, but at least they had complete organizations in place. He might not have been a Hall of Famer; he might not have had the career Donavan McNabb has. But he certainly would have had a better chance than with the Browns.

In his first season, Couch got smacked around in his 14 starts, finally being forced out due to injuries in Week 15. The Browns went 2-12 in those starts.

In his four seasons as the Browns primary starter, he only had one healthy season – 2001. It was not a great season, but Couch did throw for more than 3,000 yards. In 2002, Couch started all but two regular season games, and went 8-6. It was the only season the Browns have went to the playoffs since coming back.

But Couch missed the team’s playoff appearance, and thus was on the sidelines when Kelly Holcomb – his backup – threw for 429 yards in a 36-33 loss to Pittsburgh. With that game, the Couch era in Cleveland was essentially over. Browns’ coach Butch Davis decided to go with Holcomb as the starter. Couch started a few games for the team after that, but didn’t do well enough to convince Davis to keep him.

Couch signed with the Packers, and some optimistic folks saw him as a possible successor to Bret Favre. Instead, he was released before taking a regular season snap.

I have heard some analysts say Couch wasn’t tough enough for the NFL. I don’t see how anyone could play behind that Browns offensive line in 1999 and not be tough. What I do know is Couch was in a miserable situation. Since Couch was drafted in 1999, the Browns have had four head coaches, eight losing seasons, and 10 starting quarterbacks. A lot was expected of Couch, and he didn’t deliver. After almost a decade of general incompetence from the Browns’ organization, it’s hard to see how he could have.You just hope people remember that before they criticize him, at least for his play on the field.

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