BEREA: The idea that the Browns could try to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III early in the first round — and even trade up to the No. 2 slot to do so — has caused Northeast Ohio to be enveloped in pre-draft buzz.
But before traveling Wednesday to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, coach Pat Shurmur indicated it’s premature to say the Browns will kick third-year quarterback Colt McCoy to the curb and target Griffin, as ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted last month.
“Folks are making predictions while we’re still gathering information,” Shurmur said. “That’s the important part. That’s the exciting thing about the combine. We have over 300 athletes in one place, and you have most of your organization there and we’re digging to try to find everything we can about a player.”
The combine will run through Tuesday, and the Browns have plenty of legwork ahead of them. Teams are allowed to interview as many as 60 prospects at the combine, and Griffin’s name will certainly be on the list the Browns submitted last week.
“First of all, I’ve never met the man,” Shurmur said of Griffin, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. “That’s why this combine is going to be so important for me. That’s the case with a lot of draftable players. I’ve watched them all on tape, all the guys that we’re going to interview and I have opinions on them. He’s obviously very accomplished as a college quarterback, and as we go through it all, we’ll determine whether he’s what everybody says he is.”
The Browns’ bigwigs have said they want to acquire a quarterback this offseason who can compete with McCoy and Seneca Wallace. If they don’t sign a quarterback such as Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn in free agency, which begins March 13, it would make sense to pursue one in the draft, which runs April 26-28.
The Browns have two first-round picks, the fourth and 22nd selections. Of course, they won’t reveal how they plan to use the picks or tackle free agency, and it’s important to remember that smokescreens are common this time of year.
Nevertheless, new Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress was able to watch more college football than usual this past season because he did not have a coaching job. He said he saw Griffin “making plays that are there and some that aren’t there.”
Griffin played in a spread offense at Baylor, but Childress doesn’t think the Browns should hesitate to draft a quarterback just because he’s not schooled in a West Coast system like the one Shurmur uses.
“I don’t think there’s a hesitation if you feel like the guy’s the quarterback you’re looking for,” Childress said. “Quarterbacks are like buying cars. If you don’t like it, you need to move on. You don’t like the way it feels or it moves or it handles, you need to move on if there’s something that bothers you.
“With that said, you don’t want to pass a franchise quarterback if there’s one there. But somebody’s going to have to deem that in the first year and not say that after Year Six. Last year, you can think about [Carolina Panthers quarterback] Cam Newton. There were a lot of, ‘can he be all that?’ Those decisions are going to get made down the road as we move forward.”
Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill is often projected as the third-best quarterback in the draft behind presumed No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of Stanford and Griffin. Tannehill learned the West Coast offense from former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, a protegé of Browns President Mike Holmgren.
“I would think that he’d understand some concepts from the get,” Childress said. “Just the same as Andrew Luck would if he went and played for a West Coast, Jim Harbaugh-orchestrated offense, almost chapter and verse.”
As for McCoy, Shurmur said he has recovered from the concussion that forced him to miss the final three games of the 2011 season. Shurmur is confident McCoy can improve.
“It’s fair to say there’s some things he needs to improve on and they’re quantifiable, whether it’s footwork, a better feel for the progressions, a better feel for the targets he’s throwing to,” Shurmur said. “All of that gets refined when you have an offseason.
“I’m expecting that he will [get better], absolutely. And the thing that’s encouraging to me is that he’s a guy you know is going to work at it. … Heck, I think he can be very good. If he plays at a high level like I think he can, when he makes these improvements, that means he can help us win football games.”
Browns’ free agents
Shurmur reiterated that the Browns want to re-sign starting middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Shurmur said the team hasn’t made a decision whether it will place a franchise tag on Jackson.
“We’re going to be willing to use [the franchise tag],” Shurmur said. “As you go through signing our free agents, then we’ll see what’s the best place to use that tag.”
Shurmur said he has talked to running back Peyton Hillis a few times since the end of the season, though he doesn’t know if Hillis will re-sign with the team.
“I really liked what I saw when he was in there playing healthy,” Shurmur said. “I can’t really say at this point what’s going to happen there.”
Shurmur suggested there’s work being done to retain cornerback Dimitri Patterson and free safety Mike Adams. He said kicker Phil Dawson performed well last season, but wouldn’t get into specifics about Dawson’s future with the team.
Shurmur said left guard Eric Steinbach is doing very well and working out as he tries to come back from a season-ending back injury and a subsequent surgery. Shurmur, however, did not commit to Steinbach as a starter.
Shurmur said he wants Jason Pinkston to continue to develop as a guard instead of moving to tackle. Pinkston started every game at left guard as a rookie because Steinbach was hurt in training camp.
When asked if the Browns need to upgrade at right tackle, Shurmur mentioned last year’s starter, Tony Pashos, but Shurmur also said, “We’ll have to see who’s going to play there at this point.”
Shurmur indicated the Browns will try to sign a wide receiver in free agency. “I think it’s important if you can add leadership and experience to the team, but he’s also got to be a guy who can play,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s the thing you’ve gotta look at, especially with guys that are free agents.” … Shurmur said the Browns will try to get better at right defensive end. … Shurmur said he thinks Kent State product Usama Young is still capable of starting at free safety, even though Young is better near the line of scrimmage and played strong safety last year after T.J. Ward suffered a season-ending foot injury. … Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, whom the Browns cut last season, has reportedly signed with the San Francisco 49ers. He’ll reunite with former Browns special teams coordinator Brad Seely.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.