BEREA, Ohio -- Goaded into participating in the long-drive competition at a charity golf tournament in the spring of 2005, Charlie Frye decided to muscle up for any of the good-natured hecklers who had questioned his strength. Paid to endorse Nike products, the then-rookie quarterback grabbed the company's new Ignite driver from his bag, ripped a monumental shot of nearly 340 yards, and took home the trophy.
The Cleveland Browns don't necessarily need the second-year quarterback to throw 'em all that long in 2006. But if the Browns are to improve on a 2005 performance in which their offense ranked 26th in the NFL overall and their passing game was 23rd, and are to close the gap on the AFC North's tag-team bullies, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, they definitely need Charlie Frye to throw 'em straight.
Because with the trade that sent Trent Dilfer to San Francisco after only one year with the Browns, and a dubious depth chart that features four other quarterbacks who have started a total of 10 games in the NFL, Frye might be the only guy capable of throwing 'em, period.
It has been noted in Cleveland, ad nauseam, in fact, that the Browns' football brain trust has leaped out of the fire and into the Frye-pan with its decision to hand the reins to the former University of Akron star, a local kid who grew up with a picture of former Browns star quarterback Bernie Kosar taped to his bedroom wall. There is, for sure, considerable heat, given that this storied franchise has posted one playoff season since its reincarnation in 1999 and has lacked stability at the game's highest profile position.
What is clear, however, is that Frye -- who has replaced the poster of Kosar with a list of personal and team goals that he taped to the bedroom wall of the suburban Cleveland home he recently purchased -- isn't exactly fazed by the crucible. When the anxious fans turn up the heat, Frye turns up the good ol' boy veneer, shrugs off the pressure, and keeps preparing for his first professional season as the full-time starter.
"I really can't let someone else's expectations affect what I do," said Frye, a third-round choice in the '05 draft who won two of five starts as a rookie. "I've got enough [expectations] of my own, and enough for this team, to worry about right now. I set goals every season, so this year is no different. Now it's up to me to go after them."
Those goals, at least for now, remain confidential, shared between Frye and his bedroom wall. But that's part of the mystery of Frye, a young player who somehow manages to exude confidence while at the same time exhibiting a kind of heartland homespun mien that is both engaging and disarming and seemingly devoid of sophistication.
"I knew yoga and stuff, but some of the things Kellen was doing hey, they were totally foreign to me," Frye said.
The lack of pretense from Frye, insist teammates, is not feigned. But neither is he a shrinking violet in the huddle, or if a receiver blows a route adjustment or hot-read, and he wants the people surrounding him to recognize who's in charge. He may be callow but there have been times, even as a rookie last year, when Frye was also callous.
Said one veteran offensive player: "If you don't know him, he may come off as a hayseed, OK, but trust me, he knows the score."
Whether he can play well enough in 2006 to put up some winning scores for a club that has averaged 5.1 victories since 1999, when the Browns were reborn after owner Art Modell defected to Baltimore with the original franchise, remains to be seen. In seven appearances as a rookie, Frye completed 98 of 164 passes for 1,002 yards, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions, and a 72.8 efficiency rating.
There were times when Frye was very good, and stretches in which he struggled mightily, but he was never completely overwhelmed. That might be because Frye is a gamer, an admirable trait sometimes difficult to discern, but evidenced even in Wednesday's practice.
Frye doesn't have great stopwatch speed, but is resourceful enough to have some "escapability" dimension. He isn't possessed of the strongest arm, and he'll throw some flutter balls, but the passes usually arrive on time. And there is a competitive bent, likely born of his background in the Mid-American Conference, that he seems to share with some of its other recently notable products.
The MAC in recent years has delivered Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger, among others, to the NFL. Not bad -- one passing champion and one Super Bowl champion -- from what was once considered to be a nettlesome but still stepsister conference. It has also delivered a subset of quarterbacks hungry to prove themselves to the world outside the MAC's still-limited sphere of influence.
"If you look, probably none of those guys was recruited by Big Ten schools, either," said Frye, who exited Willard (Ohio) High School holding 17 career records. "At Akron, we could upset some bigger team, and I knew that when I opened the Sunday newspaper, it was going to be Ohio State on the front, no matter what they had done, and we'd be buried on some inside page. So, definitely, you develop a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. And to tell you the truth, I always want that chip to be there, just as long as it doesn't get too big. That's a motivator for me. It's part of who I am."
What the Browns want Frye to be is a quarterback who doesn't feel he has to be too much, in fact, for them to be successful. The rationale of general manager Phil Savage when he selected Frye with the 67th pick in the 2005 draft was that he was taking a player around whom, not on whom, he might build a winning team.
"We are going down a path with Charlie, and we are trying to build a team around him, rather than through him. Now, obviously, there are going to be times in games when we are going to need him to make plays for us. We think he's capable of doing that."
Phil Savage, Browns general manager
Frye, who turns 25 on Aug. 28, is certainly central to the success of the offense, but that doesn't mean he has to be the epicenter of everything Cleveland is attempting to accomplish.
The Browns went with the big-name quarterback philosophy in the past, most notably when they selected Tim Couch with the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, and did not want to mortgage the future this time around in trying to identify a candidate to groom as their long-term starter. Savage conceded that Frye is not a "silver-platter quarterback" and acknowledges his somewhat modest physical talents, but liked the fact the youngster had "earned his way" and loved his competitiveness.
"We are going down a path with Charlie, and we are trying to build a team around him, rather than through him," Savage said. "Now, obviously, there are going to be times in games when we are going to need him to make plays for us. We think he's capable of doing that."
He'd better be, because the trade of Dilfer, who privately chafed after losing his starting job to Frye last season, has left the Browns with little else. There is no veteran mentor, no fallback guy Cleveland coaches can turn to, no grizzled veteran on the roster Frye can turn to for counsel in the rough times.
There is, though, the work ethic that Frye learned from Dilfer during their long tutorials last year. The two would sit for two or three hours watching tape and, when Frye's attention wandered at times ("I would be watching, you know, how Peyton Manning threw the ball instead of what the coverage was," he said), the veteran would refocus him. Those lessons on game preparation, on knowing every facet of the offense, on working harder than everyone else around you, Frye said, have stuck with him.
"This spring, I worked harder than ever at being a good quarterback, not just a good player," Frye said. "I mean, even had Trent been here, I would have considered this my team. I didn't want guys coming to me with questions about the offense, and me not being able to answer them. I'm still not sure I've got all of the answers yet, but I know that, from my own standpoint, I sure don't have as many questions now."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.