The Browns held their first practice of organized team activities today. Here are some highlights from the session and subsequent interviews:
Quarterback competition underway
General Manager Tom Heckert said Monday night the Browns “fully expect” rookie Brandon Weeden to win the starting quarterback job, but the team showed respect to incumbent starter Colt McCoy today by allowing him to take the snaps with the first-team offense throughout practice. Weeden was next in line, followed by Seneca Wallace.
“It’s easy to look out there and say, ‘This guy’s doing this. He must be the starter. He must be the backup,’” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “There were a lot of combinations out there today, and I think what’s important is in some of the areas we’ve touched on all winter, we’re watching guys compete. I wouldn’t say we’re deferring to anybody at this point.”
McCoy met with reporters following practice and expressed his feelings about the Browns drafting Weeden 22nd overall last month.
“It is what it is,” McCoy said. “It happened, and [I’ve] just gotta go out and play, just go compete.
“I’m a competitor, and I’m coming out here every day working as hard as I can. … I just try to come in here consistently positive every day just like I always do. And the rest of the stuff, I just need to focus on what needs to be done, focus on being the best I can be for the Cleveland Browns. If I have that attitude every day, then the right thing will happen.”
McCoy said he has not asked for a trade because the Browns told him he’d have a chance to compete after they drafted Weeden.
“I got a phone call and [they said], ‘Hey, just come in here and compete,’” McCoy said. “As a competitor, that’s all you need to hear, really. You just come in here with your head on right and give it all you have every day.”
McCoy declined to say whether he would ask for a trade if he becomes Weeden’s backup.
“I don’t really deal with hypotheticals,” McCoy said. “I mean right now the only thing that they’ve told me is you can compete for the job. That’s the only thing I think about it. I kind of regard this as a day-by-day thing.”
McCoy said competition is nothing new to him.
“I had to earn my job at [the University of Texas] every year, basically except my senior year,” McCoy said. “I had to earn my job in high school. My dad didn’t start me when I was a freshman. I had to play when I was a sophomore, so I understand the idea. And if it’s a fair competition, then that’s all you can ask for. And regarding what everyone has said, I don’t want this to be a situation where it’s me versus him or him versus me. I want it to be a situation of … what’s gonna help our team the most. Let’s make it about the Cleveland Browns being a great football team next year. And if that’s the case, I’m all in.”
Last month, ESPN reported the Browns told McCoy they wouldn’t draft another quarterback in the first round. The Browns have adamantly denied the report.
“I don’t want to get into the he said, she said stuff,” McCoy said when asked about the report. “All I know is that I’m here. I’m excited to be here.”
When asked if he’s been given a fair shake, McCoy said, “You can’t make any excuses. This is what’s been dealt. This is the card that’s been dealt. I can just say I’m working as hard as I can.”
Weeden was asked about Heckert saying the Browns “fully expect” him to become their starting quarterback.
“I think they came and got me in the first round for a reason, but [Heckert] said it best,” Weeden said. “I have to earn that job. They’re not just gonna hand it to me just because of where they took me. I think I’ve gotta go out and compete and show that I belong on the field.
“That’s the mentality I’m taking. It’s not my job. It’s my job to win. I’ve gotta go out and I’ve gotta take it. I’ve gotta be competitive and keep continuing to get better.
“I want to compete. I want to continue to get better. I know I’ve been through this before. I want to go out and win the job. I want to compete and do everything I can.”
Weeden said competing with McCoy and trying to take his job is just a part of the business.
“I don’t think anybody looks at it [as being] awkward,” McCoy said. “This is just part of the business. That’s just the way professional sports work. When I was in baseball, you’re coming in to take somebody’s job. That’s just the way this business works. We’re all in this as one, as a team. We’re worried about each other and us winning games, not who’s gonna be the [starter at] whatever position.”
Scott Fujita speaks
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita spoke to local media for the first time since the NFL suspended him three games for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Fujita continued to deny the league’s allegations that he contributed money to a pool that paid players for intentionally hurting opponents.
“I can stand by my previous statements,” Fujita said. “That’s not true.”
Fujita has reserved the right to appeal his suspension pending the outcome of the NFL Players Association’s grievances against the league. The union argues that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not have the authority to discipline players for the alleged conduct or rule on appeals.
Fujita acknowledged his name could be tarnished if his suspension is upheld.
“My reputation is a lot more valuable to me than three game checks,” Fujita said. “And my track record speaks for itself.
“I’ve done nothing but try to do the right thing throughout my career, try to do positive, impactful things in the communities I’ve worked and played in. And I’ve tried to do right by players in my service to them, especially when it comes to player health and safety. So, yeah, for this to happen, it’s disappointing.”
Fujita sidestepped when asked whether he plans to file a lawsuit against the league. He also paused before answering whether he has evidence to clear his name.
“Right now it’s just my word against theirs, and it’s a tough situation to be in,” Fujita said. “Can I go to bed at night, look myself in the mirror and know what actually happened? Yes. But it’s an uphill battle. Can I go toe-to-toe with the media and all that kind of stuff? It’s a challenging prospect.”
Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said the defense will suffer a blow if Fujita misses the first three games of the season.
“A lot of the guys in the linebacker room can play multiple positions,” Jackson said. “Obviously it will affect us. Losing him last year [because of a broken hand] was a big hit to the defense. But we know we’ll get him at some point. We don’t know the outcome of it right now, but Chris Gocong, myself and Kaluka [Maiava], all the other young guys, we all play multiple positions, so we’ll be able to fill the void for a short time.”
Jackson, who missed 26 consecutive games from 2009-10 with two torn pectoral muscles, said he spoke to defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who had surgery last Wednesday to repair his torn left pectoral muscle. Taylor’s 2012 season could be in jeopardy, though Heckert said he expects Taylor to be able to play again by late October or early November.
“[I told Taylor to] just stay positive,” Jackson said. “That’s the most important thing. An injury is an injury. You have to go through surgery. But it starts up top. You have to think positively in order to get positive results.”
Kicker Phil Dawson did not attend the voluntary practice, but he’ll participate in the mandatory full-squad minicamp June 5-7, Shurmur said. Dawson has already signed his tender as the Browns’ franchise player.
Undrafted rookies Johnson Bademosi, a defensive back from Stanford, and Jeff Shugarts, an offensive lineman from Ohio State, did not attend practice because they’re still in school.
Taylor was not at practice because he’s recovering from his recent surgery.
Jackson practiced, but he didn’t participate in team drills because he has a stiff back. The injury prevented him from attending the Akron Browns Backers banquet Monday night, a team spokesman said.
“Just a little stiffness,” Jackson said. “Not anything major, just a little stiffness. They decided to keep me out today. It’s Day 1, so we’ve got a long road ahead. I’ve been through that before. [I’m] smarter about it these days.”
McCoy said he hasn’t experienced any symptoms from the concussion he suffered last December, when Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison used the crown of his helmet to blast McCoy in the face mask.
“I haven’t experienced anything,” McCoy said. “I feel really good.”
Defensive tackle Brian Schaefering watched practice from the sidelines today while sitting out with an undisclosed injury.
Weeden said he wants to sign his rookie contract “as soon as possible.” He and running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick, are the Browns’ only two drafted rookies who have yet to sign.
“I think we know where we stand and what we want,” Weeden said. “I would have signed two weeks ago if I could have. I’m not gonna hold out. We just want what’s fair for me. My agent’s doing that. I haven’t even talked to them about it. Whenever the day comes, I’ll sign the paper and go on about it.”
First-team offense and defense
Here is the first-team offense the Browns used during 11-on-11 drills: McCoy (quarterback); Trent Richardson rotated with Montario Hardesty (running back); Owen Marecic (fullback); Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi (wide receivers); Benjamin Watson (tight end); Joe Thomas (left tackle); Jason Pinkston (left guard); Alex Mack (center); Shawn Lauvao (right guard); and Oniel Cousins (right tackle).
Here is the first-team defense the Browns used during 11-on-11 drills: Jabaal Sheard (left end); Ahtyba Rubin and Scott Paxson (tackles); Frostee Rucker (right end); Chris Gocong (weakside linebacker); Benjamin Jacobs (middle linebacker); Fujita (strongside linebacker); Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown (cornerbacks); T.J. Ward (strong safety); and Eric Hagg (free safety).
Perhaps the most surprising development was that Hagg worked at free safety with the first-team defense throughout practice, and Usama Young worked in the same spot with the second unit.
“[Hagg] did a nice job last year prior to being injured in camp,” Shurmur said. “And then when he came back [from his knee injury], we felt like he continued to develop. He’s had a nice offseason. We’ll have to go back and watch the tape, but I think he did a nice job today.”
Like Weeden, rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz practiced with the second unit even though he’s favored to win the starting job at his position.
Shurmur said other receivers will compete for spots in the rotation, but Little and Massaquoi are penciled in atop the depth chart.
“I would say it’s safe to say those are our first two right now,” Shurmur said.
The following players ended last season on injured reserve but practiced today: punter Reggie Hodges (Achilles tendon), defensive end Emmanuel Stephens (strained pectoral), tight end Alex Smith (shoulder), running back Brandon Jackson (toe), Watson (three concussions) and Ward (foot). ... Defensive end Marcus Benard practiced today for the first time since his motorcycle accident last October. He spent most of season on the reserve non-football injury list. He suffered a broken hand and other undisclosed injuries. ... Hardesty wore No. 20 after wearing No. 31 in his previous two seasons. Cornerback James Dockery switched to No. 31 after wearing No. 34 last season.