Browns go for high character picks

Published 9:44 pm Saturday, April 30, 2016

BEREA (AP) — Sitting at a crowded dais alongside four new teammates, each dressed smartly in suits with Browns lapel pins, linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah already feels a strong vibe about Cleveland’s football future.

“You can tell a change is coming,” he said.

It’s already under way.

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An embarrassment because of losing, constant turnover and ties to troublemakers Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon, the Browns on Saturday introduced their first five picks in this year’s NFL draft, a group the team’s new regime hopes can revive the browbeaten franchise.

“I truly believe that this class will start to put a stamp on what we’re truly about and what we’re becoming,” coach Hue Jackson said following his first draft with Cleveland. ‘We’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination. We have a long way to go. But you have to start some place, and I think this is where we’re starting.”

During a whirlwind three days in which Cleveland’s front office executed five trades, the Browns added a record-tying 14 players, some of whom they expect to make an immediate impact on a team that went 3-13 last year and will head into the upcoming season with low expectations.

With holes from top to bottom on their roster, the Browns addressed a major need for offensive playmakers — and touchdown makers — by taking four wide receivers, including Baylor’s Corey Coleman, taken with the No. 15 pick. They also hope to upgrade their feeble pass rush by selecting Oklahoma State’s Ogbah and Penn State’s Carl Nassib, who led the nation in sacks last season.

They shored up their secondary with two picks — TCU safety Derrick Kindred played last season with a broken collarbone — and by acquiring cornerback Jamar Taylor in a deal with Miami. The Browns added potential starting offensive tackles and a duo of linebackers, including Arizona’s Scooby Wright, who was an All-American as a sophomore but missed most of his junior year last season with injuries.

The Browns’ Harvard-educated brass even swallowed hard to take a tight end from rival Princeton.

And the Browns, who have spent more than a decade looking for a franchise quarterback, selected Southern California’s Cody Kessler in the third round.

Kessler probably won’t challenge Robert Griffin III for the starting job immediately, but he’s coming to Cleveland with the mindset that he will one day.

“That is the goal of everyone that comes into an organization — to compete at a starting spot,” said Kessler, whose accuracy appealed to Jackson. “If that is reality or not, that is the mindset you have to have to prepare as a starter. I am not going to change that now.”

When he was told that Kessler wants to compete with Griffin, Jackson’s smile lit up the room.

“I love it,” said Jackson. “I love that guy wants to walk in here and compete and be the best he can be, because that’s the only way you can get better.”

Beginning with their blockbuster trade of the No. 2 overall pick to Philadelphia on April 20, a move that prevented them from taking quarterback Carson Wentz, the Browns made it clear that they’re taking a steady, long view to rebuilding.

While Jackson refuses to acknowledge construction to contention will be slow, the Browns are confident their plan will work.

With the right people.

The Browns opened the final day of the draft by taking outside linebacker Joe Schobert, who walked on at Wisconsin before blossoming into a starter and captain.

Schobert and Nassib were both non-scholarship players who became highly successful and that drive is partially what made them attractive to the Browns. The team placed a premium on character and passion, looking to add trustworthy players they know are driven to achieve.

No player embodies that determination better than Cleveland’s third-round pick, Shon Coleman, an offensive tackle diagnosed with leukemia during his freshman year at Auburn. While undergoing chemotherapy for more than two years, Coleman managed to earn two degrees, developed into a team leader and became one of the best linemen in the SESC.

On Friday night, Coleman held his draft party at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, the place where his life was saved and where he was surrounded by children being treated for illnesses when the Browns called.

“When they look at me, I am like Superman to them,” he said. “It was awesome for them to just see that moment.”


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