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Browns Leaning Toward Smith


Tim Couch has company atop the Cleveland Browns' list of players they might take with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. And it's not just Ricky Williams.

With a little more than a month left before they have to make a decision, and just two days before Couch will work out for them, the Browns have the Kentucky star and Oregon's Akili Smith rated as the top college quarterbacks available in the draft.

"We have (Couch) and Akili right next to each other," said Dwight Clark, Cleveland's director of football operations. "Then according to how we continue to investigate, we'll see where (Syracuse's Donovan) McNabb and (UCLA's Cade) McNown and (Central Florida's Daunte) Culpepper fit."

Following a news conference to introduce left tackle Lomas Brown, who he called "our leader on that side of the ball," Clark spent more than 20 minutes talking about what the Browns might do with their No. 1 pick.

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Couch, who has recently emerged as the frontrunner over Williams, is scheduled to hold a private workout for the Browns on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.

The big knock on Couch, who decided to skip his senior year with the Wildcats for a chance to play in the NFL, is that he can't throw the deep pass.

Clark will get a chance to see for himself when he attends Couch's practice session along with Browns coach Chris Palmer and quarterbacks coach John Hufnagel.

"Everyone's questioning his arm strength," Clark said. "I feel like his arm is plenty strong, but I can understand why people would have that concern because he does on occasion float a ball in. "

"But when he wants to throw it hard, he can. He can't throw it as hard as Akili Smith, I don't think. But he can throw it pretty well."

Without the Browns tipping their hand at whom they might take with the No. 1, there had been recent signs that Couch has inched ahead of Williams as Cleveland's preferred top choice.

Williams is still in the mix, said Clark, but the Browns are still leaning toward a taking a quarterback with the top pick.

"If you can get a quarterback that has the ability to be your leader and take you to the Super Bowl, you have to take that guy," Clark said. "I don't think anybody could argue with that philosophy."

Clark said although the Browns have Couch and Smith rated a notch above McNabb, McNown and Culpepper, he thinks four of those QBs could be taken in the first 10 picks of the draft.

"They're all bunched together," Clark said of this year's class. "They're really close to each other."

Palmer was in Oregon on Tuesday for Smith's workout. Last month, Smith blew scouts away at the combines with his strong arm. "

"He's a very unique thrower," Clark said. "The ball comes out with big-time velocity and it's a real tight spiralso it would cut right through the wind here."

McNown also impressed the Browns, but not with his physical tools. Labeled too small by some, Clark thinks McNown has a certain intangible that can't be measured or timed.

"Cade McNown has got something magical about him," Clark said. "He's a winner. He certainly has the demeanor. I think out of all the interviews he had the best. He's very confident in his ability."

A strong workout by Couch on Thursday could end months of speculation about the Browns' plans. If he is the franchise QB the Browns covet, will they make it known before the draft that they've begun negotiations?

"I think it's conceivable," Clark said. "I don't think we'll do that. But I think it's conceivable. I think you want to keep everyone guessing in case someone wants to offer you just an unbelievable blockbuster deal for that No. 1 pick."

Is there a chance Couch could fall off the Browns' board with a poor workout?

"He would have to really struggle with the 15- to 20-yard outs," Clark said. "Then just not be able to throw the ball down the field. But I've seen him do that on tape, so I don't anticipate that happening."

Quarterbacks were the talk of the day, but don't forget Williams. After arriving at the combines more than 20 pounds overweight, Williams recently announced he is giving up baseball to concentrate on football full-time.

"We may have him in for a visit," Clark said. "I guess when you're making this kind of investment it would be nice to work him out and see everything first hand. But really, the guy rushed for 2,000 yards and did it year after year. So there's not that many questions about him."

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