Browns expect big jump after draft

Published 2:21 pm Sunday, April 29, 2012

BEREA (AP) — From the outset, the Cleveland Browns were decisive and daring in this year’s NFL draft.

They had to get this one right — a must-win.

Convinced they couldn’t risk waiting for the players they wanted, the Browns wasted little time in selecting Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, two potential franchise-changing players, in the first round and then spent the next two days addressing other needs.

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They got deeper. The got faster. They got tougher.

And, the Browns, who went 4-12 last season in the NFL’s toughest division, believe they got better, significantly better.

“We’d all like to see a big jump this year, that’s our hope,” president Mike Holmgren said. “We think that’s possible. That’s reasonable.”

Cleveland concluded three days of selections on Saturday by taking seven more players, including Travis Benjamin, a speed-burning wide receiver from Miami who will stretch defenses and allow Weeden to air out that high-powered arm that made the Browns fall in love with him. In all, the Browns selected six offensive players and five on defense.

None of them, though, are as important as Weeden, the 28-year-old QB and former minor league baseball pitcher the Browns hope can end years of failure at the game’s most vital position.

“The quarterback play is so important to any team,” Holmgren said. “And really in this business, your team is probably as good as how your quarterback plays and the play of that position.”

The Browns were desperate to fix their quarterback conundrum, so much so that Holmgren revealed that he spoke to the Indianapolis Colts at the scouting combine about a trade for Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Cleveland also pursued a trade to move up and get Robert Griffin III, but was outbid by Washington, which selected the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor behind Luck.

Cleveland’s next target was Weeden, and the Browns made sure they didn’t miss him.

Holmgren said Weeden will not be handed the starter’s job, but conceded the team probably wouldn’t have taken him with the No. 22 pick if it didn’t intend to play him immediately. Holmgren, who coached Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, has been searching for a franchise quarterback since arriving in Cleveland three years ago.

Is his mission complete?

“Well, I won’t feel real good about it until it happens,” he said. “We’ll keep looking. We really like our quarterbacks, I like ‘em all. And this young man is an impressive guy.”

Weeden’s arrival signals the start of a new era in Cleveland and, in all likelihood, Colt McCoy’s exit after two inconsistent seasons as the Browns’ starter.

Holmgren praised McCoy, whom he selected in the third round of the 2010 draft, and refused to say if the team intended to trade him. Holmgren called McCoy’s situation “an ongoing thing” and said it’s possible McCoy could remain with the Browns in a backup role.

“Colt McCoy is a special young man,” Holmgren said. “Of course he wants to play, they all want to play. Again, nothing’s been done yet. We don’t know how it’s going to sort itself out. But if that (McCoy as a backup) were to be the case at some point, we have the best chance of making that work because of who the people are, who the players are. It’s never easy, everyone wants to play, but you’ve only got one ball and only one guy can play at a time.”

Shurmur has spoken to McCoy “a couple of times” and said he expects him to be at the team’s offseason conditioning program next week.

“He’s looking forward to coming back here and getting himself ready to compete to be the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns,” Shurmur said.

But the selection of Weeden would seem to end any discussion about McCoy ever lining up behind center for the Browns again. Shurmur believes Weeden’s addition will improve everything about Cleveland’s offense.

“I think an outstanding quarterback brings synergy to the whole team,” Shurmur said. “Just like the addition of a running back helps the quarterback. A quarterback that throws the ball accurately on time makes the receivers look good. Receivers that make circus catches or make the hard catches make the quarterback look good. When the quarterback has a little bit more time to throw it because the line is doing their job, it makes everything look good.

“It’s all connected. It’s hard on offense to talk about one specifically not connected to the other. But I do know this, when you have outstanding quarterback play, all the players on offense and all the people in this room, we all look good.”

Holmgren said the decision to trade three late picks to Minnesota and move up to pick Richardson was an easy one. Although he liked Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon “a lot” and was impressed with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Richardson was the complete package.

“He’ll make everybody look better,” Holmgren said. “Every team is better when you have that kind of running back.”

The Browns were criticized for overlooking wide receivers in the first three rounds, but they snatched the speedy Benjamin with the first of their two fourth-round picks.

“He’s extremely fast,” Shurmur said. “We got him clocked down around 4.3 (in the 40). He’d beat anybody in here. He can really go.”

With their next pick, the Browns took Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson and then used their first of two picks in the fifth round on 6-foot-7 Colorado offensive lineman Ryan Miller, who can play guard and tackle and has a nasty streak.

“I try to play vicious,” he said. “I’ll give you my all and I’ll bleed, bite, crawl and scratch to get the job done.”

The Browns took Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho and Boise State defensive tackle Billy Winn in the sixth round, and grabbed Arizona defensive back Trevin Wade in the seventh before closing their draft by taking Alabama fullback Brad Smelley, who can’t wait to be reunited with Richardson.

“He’s the best back I’ve ever seen,” Smelley said. “I’m excited to play with him again.”

Holmgren came away enthused about what the Browns accomplished.

With general manager Tom Heckert making the calls, Cleveland added some pieces. Now, he just has to hope they fit together.

“Our team foundation is better,” Holmgren said. “Now, we have to be able to score points. That was a problem for us last year and so I think we’ve addressed that a little bit. Are we ready to jump into elite status? I don’t know what that means necessarily. But I am anticipating a good jump in our level of play.”