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Delhomme is Browns' top QB, right? Mangini won't say so, though veteran is playing the part


BEREA - Minicamp ended Saturday, and with it the offseason portion of the schedule. The players dispersed, and training camp is next, in late July.

As coach Eric Mangini discussed the strides made by the passing game in the last month of practices, it seemed like the natural time for him to declare Jake Delhomme the No. 1 quarterback. Mangini was given three chances, but declined.

"We're heading in that direction, but we'll go into training camp and see what happens," Mangini said. "(Delhomme's) been working with the ones and we're going to work Seneca (Wallace) with the ones as well.

"It's no competitive advantage I'm trying to keep here. It's just both of those guys are going to work with them and I want to see what happens. It's not anything other than that."

Mangini may simply be doing his due diligence before he commits. But on the field - and within the organization - it's obvious Delhomme has established himself as the No. 1. And he's only been with the team for three months.

"I'm very happy with where I'm at," he said. "I spent a lot of time here before we even started OTAs trying to get in (the playbook) and learn it because you want to get respect from your teammates. You want to be a leader. The first way you do it is by knowing your stuff, knowing what you're doing.

"You want those guys to believe in you. When you get in the huddle, I want those 20 eyes just staring right at me believing every word I say."

Delhomme is coming off the worst season of his career with 18 interceptions, but says he's rejuvenated. He took the vast majority of the repetitions with the first-team offense, was quick to congratulate Wallace or rookie Colt McCoy after a nice pass and brought stability to a position that was in a state of flux throughout 2009.

"He's done a great job and I feel really good about the things he's done," Mangini said. "What I like about him is just the way that he runs the offense. There's no doubt who's in control, there's no doubt what we're doing.

"And I think he's thrown the ball well in terms of accuracy, where he can place the ball away from the defender."

Wallace has value as a runner/receiver/Wildcat complement to Joshua Cribbs and he had success when asked to fill in with Seattle. But he can't match Delhomme's resume, which includes three playoff trips and a Super Bowl appearance.

President Mike Holmgren committed to Delhomme with a two-year contract and $7 million salary in 2010. And Holmgren's on record with his hatred of quarterback competitions.

That's an interesting backdrop to the stance taken by Mangini on Saturday. So is the 2009 quarterback disaster that started with an excruciating training camp battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. Mangini didn't name a starter until Week 1, then flip-flopped between them during the season.

"Last season was last season. It's worked for these guys and I'm happy with them," Mangini said. "We have enough reps in training camp for everybody to get their fill. They may not be with the same group, but they'll get the same amount of work."

Wallace worked with the second team throughout OTAs and the minicamp, and Mangini liked what he saw. Wallace has the strongest arm of the Browns quarterbacks and, at 5-foot-11, is at his best making plays out of the pocket and on the move.

"Seneca's done a really nice job as well," Mangini said.

If Delhomme stays healthy and doesn't regress during the preseason, Wallace will have to make his impact in a specialty role designed to take advantage of his skill set.

"Having me and Josh Cribbs - and Jake at the quarterback spot - all of us on the field at the same time, it can be a deadly weapon," Wallace said. "I know I'm going to have a role. We'll see what it is when we come back here for training camp."

Delhomme said sharing time during a game during the season is fine with him.

"I'm better than good (with it). Seneca Wallace can play football," he said. "I don't think there's any way around it. And not just running. He can throw the football. Some packages we can do with him are outstanding. I think he's a heckuva quarterback.

"It's about winning in this game. I've said it many times. You walk into that locker room on a Sunday after a win - there's nothing better. My ego swells after a win. Whether I'm a big part or just a small part, after a win there's nothing like it."

Delhomme is 35 years old. He wasn't as unselfish when he broke into the lineup in 2003.

"I probably would've been a little ticked, I might not have liked it," he said. "But right now, you appreciate the wins, you appreciate the games more, you appreciate everything that's involved in it. The older players, you start to act like a coach. You're wearing your shorts higher."

Delhomme was exaggerating. He still dresses and talks like a player.

One that expects to be the starter in training camp and beyond. One that has moved on from the disappointment of last season and his difficult departure from Carolina.

"It's a blast, it's fun, it's fresh, exciting," he said. "I've always enjoyed football, I enjoy practicing and I enjoy games. But this has been very fun.

"I think (the practices) went outstanding. I felt very good."

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.

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