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Delhomme ready to start over with Browns, leave Panthers in past

BEREA, Ohio -- Before leaving the practice field, Cleveland's new starting quarterback looked up and noticed the sky was Carolina blue.

Jake Delhomme felt at home.

Eager to erase the memories of a miserable final season with the Panthers, Delhomme is relishing a fresh start with the Browns, who signed the 35-year-old veteran to a two-year free-agent contract in March.

Delhomme's boyish exuberance, strong work ethic and professionalism already have made a strong impression on his new coaches and teammates.

"I don't like making comparisons, but I will," Browns coach Eric Mangini said Wednesday. "He reminds me a little bit of (Brett) Favre that way. He enjoys practice. He enjoys being around the guys. He's able to be serious and still keep things light. He has a good rapport with the offensive guys, defensive guys, and you just see it in their interaction in the weight room and all the different areas.

"It's positive, really positive."

And positive has been in short supply around the Browns in recent years -- especially at quarterback. The franchise has gone through eight opening-week starters since 1999, a carousel of confusion at a position that demands continuity.

Delhomme isn't making any guarantees on what he'll deliver for Cleveland, which is coming off a turbulent 5-11 season. Any talk of Super Bowls is for down the road. But Delhomme, who won 53 games as the Panthers' starter, promises to do all he can to make the Browns better.

"I play this game for one reason and one reason only: to win," said Delhomme, who's entering his 14th NFL season. "That's what this game's about. There's something about walking into the locker room after a game, those 10 minutes when it's just the coaches and the players, there's nothing greater. There's nothing greater than seeing a mission accomplished from the work you've put in. That's why I play this game.

"I just want to help this team win."

Delhomme is still pained by his final season with the Panthers.

"For me, it's like a fresh start," he said. "I loved every minute I had in Carolina. Well, I shouldn't say that; I loved six of the seven years I had in Carolina. I'll be perfectly honest with you, everything was great. Last season just wasn't a lot of fun."

Far from it.

One year after he returned from elbow surgery and led the Panthers to five come-from-behind wins, a 12-4 record and an NFC South title, Delhomme's career began to nose-dive when he threw five interceptions during a 38-13 home playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Still, the Panthers believed he was their guy and gave Delhomme a contract extension. He then threw four picks in Carolina's 2009 season opener, and his confidence quickly disappeared like the air escaping a punctured football. He finished with a career-high 18 interceptions in 11 games before a broken finger landed him on injured reserve.

With young Matt Moore ready to take over, the Panthers cut Delhomme in March. At his farewell news conference, Delhomme broke down in tears, saying one word.

"I put so much on myself," said Delhomme, who led Carolina to the Super Bowl in 2003. "I came back after an arm injury and we went 12-4 and was so excited for the playoffs. I played so poorly in that playoff game. Then that whole offseason, my whole focus was just to win back -- to win back everyone. That was probably a little too much. I don't think there's any doubt, I have to play loose and free, and I didn't do that."

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Watching Delhomme for the first time with the Browns, it appears his fire hasn't waned.

During practice Wednesday, Delhomme zipped the ball with ease, throwing two touchdown passes to tight end Benjamin Wallace. Delhomme also was heard yelling encouragement to his teammates, and he delivered a high-five to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace after a strong throw.

Later, Delhomme was told that Mangini compared him to Favre, whom the quarterback has always admired.

"I take it as a compliment," Delhomme said. "I'm just ... I'm me. What you saw today is what you're going to see tomorrow and the next day and forever. I am who I am. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm not ashamed of that. I just like to have fun. If we're not out here having fun, what good is it?

"All that work you do inside, all the hours you spend inside lifting weights -- or watching guys lift weights. It's a lot of fun to come out here."

Delhomme's arrival comes on the heels of two clumsy seasons at quarterback for the Browns, who couldn't decide between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, then got rid of both. If nothing else, Delhomme brings Cleveland an experienced presence on and off the field.

The Browns needed a leader. Delhomme gives them one.

"He's like a consummate team player," Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He fit right in. He jumped right into the workouts. He was flying in here from Louisiana every week, getting away from his family just to be with the team and blending in and trying to learn the system.

"He's done everything. He's done great so far."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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