INDIANAPOLIS: Tyrann Mathieu, who no longer wants to be known as the “Honey Badger,” is not going to be selected by the Browns.
As they prepare for the draft, they will not waste their time on the former Louisiana State University cornerback. They will not give themselves the chance to be turned off by his multiple third-person references, which set an unofficial NFL Combine interview record Sunday, or his multiple failed drug tests and a marijuana arrest that got him kicked out of school and landed him in rehab.
Asked if there was an integral person in his life who convinced him to seek treatment or whether he was ready, Mathieu said, “That was Tyrann. Tyrann needed to go.”
Little seems the same in Berea under new owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner, vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski. But this regime does have one thing in common with the previous two — they value character.
Players with baggage need not apply.
That will be strongly emphasized when free agency begins on March 12 and in the April 25-27 draft. Banner made that clear during a 55-minute session with local reporters Saturday in Indianapolis.
Banner also put players like quarterback Brandon Weeden on notice that a questionable work ethic will not be tolerated. Chudzinski went down the same road when talking about Weeden the day before.
“Somebody that’s a little bit flamboyant, but is a really hard worker and really badly wants to be the best he can be and really wants to play on a winning team doesn’t scare me,” Banner said. “Players who have off-the-field problems or aren’t driven to be great we will stay away from.
“It’s more of an attitudinal thing. But we will have a culture, the team will be filled with high-character, really hard-working people.”
That sounds like it came right off the wall of Haslam’s Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn. But core values have been a priority with the Browns since former coach Eric Mangini spray-painted his big four on the practice field.
The culture Banner wants to create could quash their interest in free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wallace has been labeled as selfish, especially after a training camp holdout over a contract dispute last year.
The atmosphere Banner hopes to foster could also color the Browns’ feelings on players like cornerback Joe Haden, suspended for the first four games last season after testing positive for the banned stimulant Adderall. Haden loves the night life and flashy cars, which surely won’t go over well with the new brain trust.
When asked about Haden, Banner wouldn’t get into specific players, but sounded ready to literally lay down the law.
“A player who is not going to get in off-field trouble and who comes to work on time every day, works really hard, is determined to be the best he can be will generally be able to fit into the team we’re going to have and the culture we’re going to have,” Banner said. “The player that isn’t working his hardest or we’re worried about what’s going to happen when he’s not at the office — we could make a mistake and not know everything — we will not intentionally be putting on this team.”
Some might wonder if Banner’s lukewarm endorsement of receiver Josh Gordon had anything to do with his past marijuana issues, not a problem in his rookie season.
The Browns aren’t taking a novel approach. Most NFL teams are placing an increasing emphasis on character. That doesn’t mean someone won’t take a chance like the St. Louis Rams did last year, using the 39th overall pick on cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Haden’s former college teammate was kicked out of Florida after three arrests and ended up playing for Terry Bowden at North Alabama.
It doesn’t sound like the Browns would take such a risk. That means they won’t listen to the rehabilitation tale of Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 who knows his marijuana and alcohol problems cost him “millions.”
“A lot of things that I put before football really aren’t fun anymore without football,” Mathieu said. Along with rehab, Mathieu said he’s been to counseling and has a sponsor. He said the last time he used an illegal substance was Oct. 26.
“My best friend right now is honesty,” he said. “I want to be as open as possible because I’m trying to rebuild people’s trust.”
That’s also the mission of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the victim of a hoax. Other players the Browns could leave off their draft board for character issues might include Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo. Ogletree was arrested for DUI this year, failed a drug test in 2012 and was arrested for theft as a freshman. Richardson’s maturity and coachability have been questioned. Rambo was suspended twice for breaking team rules.
That list could also include Texas A&M defensive end/outside linebacker Damontre Moore, arrested for marijuana possession in June, 2011. An unidentified scout told Pro Football Weekly for its “2013 Draft Guide” that Moore is “a mess off the field.”
A candidate for the Browns’ sixth overall pick, Moore is eager to prove he’s grown up in the past year.
“You tend to think you’re grown because you’re moving out of the house,” Moore said Sunday. “You’ve got to bump your head a little bit before you get the hang of it. Unfortunately I bumped my head, but it motivated me and helped me realize the potential I had and the blessing and the good situation I was in. It helped show me it could all be taken in the blink of an eye. I would like to think I’ve matured a lot.”
A player like Moore might have too many character questions for the Browns. If his work ethic isn’t off the charts, he’ll surely be scratched.
In the Browns’ new world order, there seems to be little wiggle room. Slackers and lawbreakers will not be tolerated.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.