INDIANAPOLIS: Browns coach Rob Chudzinski sees potential in Brandon Weeden, but he’s also determined to create a quarterback competition.
Chudzinski met with a group of local reporters Friday morning and was careful not to reveal the team’s plans on important roster decisions during the 37-minute interview. However, Chudzinski did share some of his opinions about Weeden for the first time since owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner hired him Jan. 10.
Chudzinski wouldn’t rule out acquiring another quarterback to compete with Weeden, the Browns’ incumbent starter. He also wouldn’t rule out listening to trade offers for Weeden or backup Colt McCoy, both of whom Chudzinski said he’s excited about.
“The overall point is that we want competition,” Chudzinski said before reporting to Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL Scouting Combine. “Competition makes people better, so however that competition ends up coming about, I’m satisfied that we’ll be pushing and creating an environment for competition and that’s really ultimately what you want.”
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, McCoy and third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis are under contract. Still, the organization will likely add someone to the mix via trade, free agency or the draft.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith could be a trade target for the Browns. The 49ers plan to either keep Smith or trade him, but it’s unlikely they’ll release him, coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday at the combine.
Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, Chase Daniel of the New Orleans Saints, Brian Hoyer of the Arizona Cardinals and Derek Anderson of the Carolina Panthers could receive interest from the Browns in free agency, which begins March 12.
Most draft analysts consider this year’s quarterback class weak and believe the Browns should use the sixth overall pick on defense. Even if Chudzinski, Banner and Mike Lombardi, vice president of player personnel, use that strategy, they could still target a quarterback in later rounds.
“We have three guys here that provide competition, and we’ll leave it open to whatever happens in terms of any other possible scenarios,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to look at everything, every possibility to try to make the team better.”
Chudzinski was asked whether the Browns would listen to trade offers for Weeden or McCoy.
“We’re not going to get into any specifics on any of our guys and any of those type of things,” Chudzinski said. “We’re looking to improve our team in any areas, by any means of doing that.”
Weeden started all 15 games in which he appeared last season, throwing 14 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and finishing with the fourth-worst passer rating (72.6) in the league. But Chudzinski said he believes Weeden, who will turn 30 in October, can improve with the guidance of offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
“He’s got a skill set that you’re excited about, and I have all the confidence in the world that Norv will get Brandon to improve,” Chudzinski said, adding that he’s eager to see how Weeden performs during a veteran minicamp in mid-April. “And ultimately it’s going to be on Brandon or on any player what they put it into and how much they commit to it. That’s going to be the difference.
“He has a really good arm, he can throw the ball, he can make all the throws that you need to throw, he has a good, calm poise and demeanor in the pocket. He was up and down a little bit and during the season as any quarterback, especially a young quarterback is. You see some things that are there that get you excited about him.”
The Browns, though, could have their 19th starting quarterback since 1999 anyway.
“Some of those things are hard to say,” Chudzinski said. “We need to get out on the practice field. We need to get into the meetings, get into the installs and evaluate him. We’re going to put the best guy on the field that gives us the best chance to win.”
Would Chudzinski be comfortable with Weeden as the starter?
“Whoever our starter is, I’m going to be comfortable with,” Chudzinski said.
Top QB prospects
West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Southern California’s Matt Barkley, the top-rated quarterbacks in the draft, will take different approaches at the combine.
Barkley will not do any drills on Sunday, because he’s still rehabbing a separated right shoulder. He was hurt Nov. 17 against UCLA and missed the Trojans’ final two games, including the Sun Bowl. He said he’s on track to be “perfect to throw” by his March 27 pro day.
Smith will participate in all the drills after skipping the Senior Bowl on the advice of people in his corner.
“I love competition. I didn’t shy away from it,” Smith said. “There will be plenty of time for me to answer any questions about me. Being here now is one of those times.
“I don’t feel any pressure. I’m totally confident in my abilities. I’m not cocky or trying to say I’m this all-world player right now because I have many areas where I need to grow. But I do feel like I have a great, tremendous skill set and that I have an opportunity to showcase that. It’s something I look forward to.”
At one time in 2012, Barkley was projected as the No. 1 overall pick, but he elected not to enter the draft early. Some thought USC product Mike Holmgren, then the Browns’ president, might have selected him.
“No regrets that I came back,” Barkley said. “Haven’t looked back once. Wouldn’t change my USC career for anything.”
He believes he has plenty to offer an NFL team, but Barkley admitted it hasn’t been easy.
“What I’ve had to endure at USC has been unique,” he said. “It’s not a traditional quarterback experience in college with all the ups and downs, with coaches leaving, with the NCAA sanctions, what we’ve had to deal with keeping that team together. I think I possess leadership that’s pretty unique, and the arm strength and athleticism.”
Smith addressed criticism over the way his performance tailed off at the end of last season.
“We came out fired up and ready to prove ourselves,” Smith said. “I was the main one at the head of that. I think inconsistency set in. When we went through that tough stretch, I was the first one to stand up in front of the team and let them know that we’re going to work even harder, we’re not going to put our heads down. That’s the one thing I took from that experience, being a leader you’re not going to deal with fair situations at all times. Despite what goes on I’ve got to set the bar and lead by example.”
Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who is deemed the best player in the draft by the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, built his reputation blocking for running backs Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the Browns last April, and Eddie Lacy, considered the best at the position this year.
Asked what it was like to block for Richardson, Warmack said: “Not very hard, considering he’s a very explosive back himself. He’s been exceptional since his freshman year at Alabama and he just continues to get better. He’ll be in the hall of fame one day.”
Warmack said he had met “informally” with the Browns.
Chudzinski said the coaching staff believes Jabaal Sheard can play outside linebacker or end in defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 multi-front scheme. He thinks Sheard can drop into coverage as a linebacker.
“Obviously that will be something he’ll learn and keep working on,” Chudzinski said. “I know that a year ago there were a lot of 3-4 teams that were interested in him.”
Chudzinski believes defensive tackles Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn can move around on the line.
“Some can play defensive end,” he said. “Some can play nose.”
Chudzinski declined to say whether the organization will try to re-sign any of its free agents, including kicker Phil Dawson and returner Josh Cribbs. … Chudzinski said he doesn’t know whether linebacker Chris Gocong, who suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon last season, will be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program on April 1. … When asked whether left guard Jason Pinkston, who had a blood clot in his lung last season, has been cleared, Chudzinski said he didn’t know his status. … Tight ends Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) and Nick Kasa (Colorado) and quarterback Matt Scott (Arizona) said they talked to the Browns at the combine.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.