Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi offered his most positive public comment about quarterback Brandon Weeden since owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner named him their personnel chief Jan. 18.
Addressing reporters today for the first time since his May 13 appearance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Lombardi was asked what he’s seen from Weeden this offseason. Lombardi didn’t heap praise upon Weeden, the team’s projected starter who has taken all of the first-team snaps throughout spring practices and the early stages of training camp, but he did offer a compliment.
“I think everybody that practices football has really good days and they have some bad days, and I think everything's a learning experience,” Lombardi said of Weeden. “And I think he clearly has proven in the offseason that he's gotten better at everything they've asked him to do. So every day is about getting better, and I think that's what a lot of players are doing.”
In his previous role as an analyst for NFL Network, Lombardi criticized former General Manager Tom Heckert and former President Mike Holmgren for drafting Weeden 22nd overall. Lombardi termed the selection a “panicked disaster.”
Even in May, just a couple of weeks after the Browns passed on all of the quarterbacks in the draft, Lombardi avoided praising Weeden when asked about him.
“Everything’s an evaluation,” Lombardi said at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club. “We just have to keep going. Quarterback’s very important. I think Brandon’s a young player. It’s only his second year in the league. He’s got a great opportunity to demonstrate his talent. [Offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] has been around some really good quarterbacks. Norv and [coach Rob Chudzinski] have been able to modify their system to utilize the talent level of the player.”
Lombardi’s speech in Canton also took place four days before the Browns signed quarterback Brian Hoyer to a two-year deal reportedly worth $1.965 million. Hoyer, a St. Ignatius High School graduate and former backup to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, has shared second-team reps with Jason Campbell throughout training camp. The Browns signed Campbell to a two-year deal reportedly worth reportedly worth $3.75 million on March 26.
“Brian’s a guy who’s been in the league,” Lombardi said. “He hasn’t played a lot, but is experienced in terms of being around it. He works hard, and he’s a competitive kid. So it was an opportunity to add somebody to keep improving in that area and give him an opportunity.
“Jason’s an experienced player and we felt like before when we signed him, coach Chud, Joe [Banner] and everybody in the organization felt like that experience could certainly help an organization. I think he’s proven, he’s come in here, worked hard, he knows the system, he’s getting better with every single rep. So it’s a long way to go for everybody as they learn it.”
Lombardi also addressed several other topics.
No. 1 wide receiver
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is another player Lombardi criticized while he had his TV gig. Heckert selected Gordon in the second round of last summer’s supplemental draft, and Lombardi labeled the decision a “waste” of a pick.
But Lombardi said today he’s eager to see Gordon, the team’s No. 1 receiver, evolve as a player. The NFL suspended Gordon for the first two regular-season games because he violated its substance-abuse policy. Gordon said prescription cough medicine that contained codeine, a banned substance by the NFL, caused a failed drug test.
“I’m excited to see Josh’s development as a player,” Lombardi said. “I think he’s shown this offseason with a great attitude, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that. I think he’s got to demonstrate that what he’s done is continue on. I think that’s what he wants to do. He wants to be a good player.”
Gordon has often been criticized for loafing during practice, but Lombardi refused to pile on.
“I think Josh, like a lot of players, has come out here to try to get better every single day,” Lombardi said. “And I think that’s been really important.”
Lombardi deferred to Chudzinski for updates about Gordon’s patellar tendonitis, which forced him to sit out practice today.
Lombardi said center Alex Mack fits the profile of a player the Browns want to sign to a contract extension. Mack, who played in the Pro Bowl in 2010, is one the verge of entering the final season of his rookie contract.
“I think Alex certainly has proven that he’s a good player on and off the field,” Lombardi said. “I think he stands for that, and I think he has the ability to continue to play well. So he certainly fits the profile.”
Top draft pick
Lombardi is pleased with what he’s seen thus far from rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.
“I think Mingo is a lot like he was at LSU,” Lombardi said. “He plays hard. He's kind of symbolic of what we're trying to acquire here, players in terms of plays hard, plays with passion, athletic, can run and obviously he has a long way to go to learn his craft as a player. And he's out here working every day to get better, and that's the only way you can do it.”
Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard are penciled in as starters at outside linebacker, so Mingo will likely be used as a situational pass rusher during his rookie season. And cornerback Leon McFadden, a third-round in this year’s draft, has been practicing with the second-team defense all offseason.
So would Lombardi be disappointed if none of this year’s draft picks start as rookies?
“That’s an interesting question because starting doesn’t necessarily mean, I mean their play time is more important to me than who gets introduced,” Lombardi said. “Even though introductions are an important part of football, I think who gets introduced isn’t as important. But I think as we build this team, I think you’ll see players play, and the younger players will play and grow, and I think that’s really more important.”