Browns go after brains and brawn to fill draft picks
BEREA — Whether they’re any better remains to be seen. The Cleveland Browns definitely got brighter in the NFL draft.
In their first foray together at picking college talent, general manager George Kokinis and coach Eric Mangini factored in brains along with brawn while selecting well-rounded players for the first phase of their rebuilding project with the Browns.
Beginning with California center — and graduate — Alex Mack with the No. 21 overall pick, the Browns added players who didn’t just run, tackle and block during their stellar college careers. These guys hit opponents, and the books.
Dumb jocks need not apply. In Cleveland, a slow time in the 40-yard dash can be compensated by a 4.0 grade-point average.
The Browns might not be ready to unseat the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers just yet, but they could probably take them in a crossword puzzle challenge.
‘‘I’m not saying I’m a genius,’’ said Mack, who recently received the Draddy Trophy, given to college football’s top scholar athlete. ‘‘I think I work hard. I think that’s reflected in the school work.’’
After being the league’s busiest team in the draft on Saturday with three trades, the Browns didn’t make a move while adding two defensive backs, a linebacker and running back on Sunday.
The expected trade of wide receiver Braylon Edwards did not happen.
And the Browns still have two quarterbacks: Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, who will begin their competition for the starting job in June.
Mangini said he doesn’t expect to have a starter named by the time training camp opens in July.
Mack, a California kid with Ohio roots, wasn’t the only Browns’ draft selection with impressive academic credentials.
Wide receiver Brian Robiskie was a finalist for the Draddy, a two-time Academic All-American and graduated in the top 2 percent of Ohio State’s business school class.
Mohamed Massaquoi, another wide receiver, already has a psychology degree from Georgia. Hawaii linebacker David Veikune earned academic honors.
Cornerback Don Carey went to Norfolk State but only after turning down a scholarship offer from Yale, where he was accepted but couldn’t afford the tuition. He’s four credits shy of a degree in building construction technology.
For Mangini to get the Browns turned around, he needs players who can grasp his system quickly. The learning curve needs to be minimal.
Mack said the Browns put him through a unique interview during a recent pre-draft visit to their headquarters.
While meeting with Cleveland line coach George Warhop and others, Mack was tested on his ability to remember play calls and blocking formations. Mangini described the sometimes intense session as a ‘‘full-day job interview.’’
‘‘We’re not giving them a tour of the facility and letting them watch the highlight video,’’ he said.
Mack was given a series of questions to answer.
‘‘A lot of other teams will fly you out and just kind of meet and greet and see your personality,’’ Mack said. ‘‘Here, they explained plays to me, distracted me with another interview and then had me come back and see how much I remembered. They wanted to see if I was actually a smart guy.’’
So how did he do?
‘‘He did well,’’ Mangini said. ‘‘He did really well.’’
Mack’s father, Steve, played basketball at Baldwin Wallace College, a long TD run from the Browns’ facility. Mack said his dad predicted he would be drafted by Cleveland.
‘‘He was like, ’You’re going to be a Brown,’’’ Mack said. ‘‘He was just guessing. He either got lucky or he’s pretty smart.’’
Like father, like son, who earned his degree from Berkeley in legal studies.
Asked what he can do with it, Mack quipped, ‘‘play football.’’
After passing on USC’s hyped trio of linebackers in the first two rounds, the Browns used their fourth-round pick (No. 104 overall) on a lesser known Trojans linebacker: Kaluka Maiava.
The nephew of actor/wrestler Dwayne ‘‘The Rock’’ Johnson, Maiava recorded 66 tackles last season, but the 6-foot, 228-pounder was overshadowed by teammates Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews.
‘‘They definitely have the spotlight, but they made me a better player and upped my game,’’ Maiava said.
With the first of three sixth-round picks, the Browns nabbed Carey, who was so excited about receiving a letter from Kokinis before the draft that he framed it.
Cleveland closed the first draft of the Kokinis-Mangini regime by taking San Jose State cornerback Coye Francies and Clemson running back James Davis. Francies was dismissed from Oregon State in 2007 after an arrest for possession of a loaded firearm. Those charges were dropped.
Davis went to the same Atlanta high school as Browns running back Jamal Lewis.
Mangini understands his first draft as Cleveland’s coach will be slapped with a grade in the days ahead. But it will be some time before the group can be truly judged.
‘‘You can’t really evaluate it for two or three years down the road,’’ he said.
However, this groups seems to be off to a nice start.
When asked what he knew about Cleveland’s secondary, Carey wasn’t sure but planned to find out.
‘‘Before tonight is over with, I will have my homework done,’’ he said.