Pre-draft team report: Cleveland Browns
Browns president Mike Holmgren was a head coach in Green Bay and Seattle a total of 17 years. He took teams to the Super Bowl three times as a head coach. This is Pat Shurmur’s first year in the big chair after 10 years as an NFL assistant.
Holmgren lets general manager Tom Heckert handle the draft plus other personnel decisions and he has taken a hands-off approach to coaching, but the Browns’ 62-year-old president is still a sounding board for everything Heckert and Shurmur do as the draft, and maybe training camp, get closer.
Heckert and Shurmur are perfectly capable of making their own decisions, but they figure with Holmgren in the building it would be foolish not to take advantage of his experience. Heckert, after all, was the Eagles’ general manager for four years before taking the same job with the Browns.
“It’s been great for me,” Shurmur said. “There have been times when I walk down and we talk about everything but football. There are times as I’m putting the schedules and calendar together, I’ll say, ‘This is the way we did it in Philadelphia. I know Andy (head coach Andy Reid) learned it from you in Green Bay.’ Every once in a while we’ll talk about football and players. For me it’s been very, very valuable.
“We have a collective vision. We know what we want this thing to look like. Tom and I worked together for a long time (in Philadelphia). We learned things that were taught to coach Reid by coach Holmgren. There’s a constant interaction. I feel good about the way we’re progressing.”
Heckert, with the first round of the draft quickly approaching, joked about Holmgren walking past Heckert’s office, ducking his head in and asking, “Who’re we taking?”
Holmgren hired Heckert as general manager soon after taking over as president in January of 2010. Heckert ran the 2010 draft, but Holmgren was influential in drafting Colt McCoy in the third round. McCoy has been knighted as the starting quarterback for 2011.
Heckert won’t offer specific names of which potential draftees have visited the Browns, but he said any player he is considering taking with his first pick, the sixth overall, has dropped by team headquarters in Berea. That group would include defensive ends Da’Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley, linebacker Von Miller, wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones, quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“(Holmgren) spent time with each player that was here,” Heckert said. “He comes in and we talk about the guys we’re especially thinking about taking at the top of the draft. He gives me his opinion. He lets me do my thing, and then we talk about it. We’re thinking as a group. We talk almost every day.”
Thinking as a group seems like it should be so natural for a front office and a coaching staff, but it has not always been that way in Browns headquarters.
–Nice fits: Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, wide receiver Jerrell Jernigan, tackle Orlando Franklin.
One doesn’t have to break into the Browns’ war room to learn what they need most out of this draft while picking sixth in the first round and 37th overall in the second round. They need at least one pass rusher and a game-changer at wide receiver.
“As we put our needs together, those are the two positions talked about the most,” head coach Pat Shurmur. “There are some terrific players at receiver and the defensive line. We’ll do our very best to upgrade the areas we feel are positions of need.”
General manager Tom Heckert did not reveal any secrets about his strategy for the three-day draft, but he said he is flexible to move up or down from the sixth pick. He said his draft board is pretty much set, but with the first round of the draft still a week away he has the right to change his mind.
“We’re not sure exactly who we’re going to take with the first pick,” Heckert said. “It all depends on what happens in front of us.
“Right now we’re going through the different scenarios. If we trade up, who do we trade up for? If we trade back, who can we still get?”
History shows spending a high pick on a wide receiver could be risky, but Heckert said he would not be hesitant at taking a receiver with the sixth pick.
Defensive end: The Browns have to get pressure on the quarterback and as they switch to a 4-3 defense, end has to be a priority. Picking sixth, they could have their choice between Da’Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn. Linebacker Von Miller would be a tempting choice if somehow he falls to the Browns. All three were in team headquarters for visits recently.
Wide receiver: If pass rusher is priority 1 for the Browns, then wide receiver is priority 1A. Last year, the Browns scored 13 passing touchdowns. Only the Panthers (nine) and Cardinals (10) scored fewer. It gets worse. Only six of the 13 were scored by wide receivers. General manager Tom Heckert will have a tough choice to make if A.J. Green and Bowers are still available when the Browns pick sixth in the first round.
Cornerback: Starting right corner Sheldon Brown (32) isn’t getting any younger. The Browns might pull a mild surprise and take cornerback Patrick Peterson with the first pick, but they could get corner help later in the draft. The bottom line is they gave up 26 touchdown passes last year after giving up 22 in 2009 despite drafting cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward in 2010. One difference is the pass rush was better in 2009.
–The last receiver the Browns took with their first pick was Braylon Edwards, the third overall pick in 2005. Before that you have to go all the way back to 1979 when they took Willis Adams 20th overall to find a wide receiver taken by the Browns in the first round.
–Two years ago, before Mike Holmgren took over as president and Tom Heckert as general manager, the Browns entered the draft with the fifth pick. They traded it to the Jets for the 17th pick plus the Jets second round pick and three veterans – safety Abe Elam, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and quarterback Brett Ratliff.
The Browns traded down twice more, acquiring two sixth-round picks, before drafting center Alex Mack.
Now all the Browns have to show for those trades is Mack. Ratliff and Coleman are gone. Elam is not under contract. Linebacker David Veikune, acquired with the second-round pick in 2009, was cut in training camp last year. The players acquired with the sixth-round picks, cornerback Coye Francies and James Davis, are not with the Browns.
The Jets used the pick acquired from the Browns on quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Buccaneers moved from 19 to 17, giving the Browns a sixth-rounder in the swap, and took quarterback Josh Freeman.
–Once again, the Browns – a result of going 4-12, 5-11 and 5-11 in consecutive seasons – were kept off Monday Night Football on the 2011 schedule. They do have one prime time game; they play the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Dec. 8, then three weeks later end the season against the Steelers.
–Five of the Browns’ last six games are against division opponents, so if the Browns can surprise and be 5-5 or better when they enter that portion of their schedule they can have a lot to say about what happens in the AFC North. They host the Ravens on Dec. 4 and play in Baltimore on Christmas Eve. Along with the two against the Steelers in the final month they play the Bengals in Cincinnati in their 11th game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s important for your team to play well down the home stretch, particularly this year with five of our last six games against divisional opponents.” – Coach Pat Shurmur on the Browns’ 2011 schedule.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Because of the lockout the Browns can have no direct communication with their players rehabbing from injuries, but coach Pat Shurmur said from his last report, Montario Hardesty is progressing well and should be ready to play in the fall. Hardesty suffered a torn left ACL in the final preseason game last year.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
–PK Phil Dawson.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
–LB D’Qwell Jackson: RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.
–LB Eric Barton (released).
–LB David Bowens (released).
–DE Kenyon Coleman (released).
–NT Shaun Rogers (released).
–TE Robert Royal (released).
–OT John St. Clair (released).