By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDIANAPOLIS: The Browns are in the market for a tight end, and Ohio State’s Jake Stoneburner would welcome a chance to play for coach Rob Chudzinski, a former tight end at the University of Miami.
“It’d be nice to get some love and play for a coach who actually played your position,” Stoneburner said Thursday during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “If they play your position, they kind of know what you’re going through. So, yeah, that’d be pretty cool.”
Stoneburner said he was scheduled to meet with the Browns at the combine Thursday night. NFLDraftScout.com projects Stoneburner, a Dublin native who grew up a Cincinnati Bengals fan, as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick.
With Benjamin Watson and Alex Smith set to become free agents on March 12, the Browns have Jordan Cameron, Dan Gronkowski and Brad Smelley on the roster and could use reinforcements at tight end. Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner greatly value the position in their vertical, downfield passing game.
“They’re both tremendous offensive minds,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Chudzinski and Turner. “I had the fortune of [working] with both of them. I think Norv Turner’s one of the sharpest offensive football coaches I’ve ever been around. I know Chud’s a sharp mind as well. It’s going to be interesting to see exactly what they try to do and how they want to do it. I would be surprised if they don’t score a lot of points.”
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Stoneburner is accustomed to scoring, even though he didn’t catch many passes for the Buckeyes. Stoneburner, a senior, finished his collegiate career with 53 receptions, 13 of which were touchdowns. Playing tight end in 2011, he had 14 catches for 193 yards and seven touchdowns. Stoneburner switched to wide receiver last season and caught 16 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns.
“A lot of tight ends, they might have their hand down in a three-point but they’re running routes 60-75 percent of the game, and I think that’s going to play to my advantage because that’s something that I’m used to is running routes and being able to catch the ball with playing receiver,” Stoneburner said. “I feel that could play to my strengths with that being one of the predominant things in the NFL.”
Stoneburner said he had two surgeries to repair meniscus tears in his knee, but he feels fine now and hopes to run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or less Saturday, when tight ends, offensive linemen and specialists work out at the combine.
“My greatest strength is my speed and cat-like ability to run routes,” Stoneburner said.
If the Browns agree, they might pounce.
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, a former Browns offensive coordinator, believes Ray Horton’s stint in Cleveland as defensive coordinator could be short. Arians and Horton worked together for five seasons as assistants with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arians as offensive coordinator, Horton coaching defensive backs.
“Ray’s a bright guy, got a great passion for the game, can relate to his players extremely well,” Arians said. “He’s going to be a head coach soon.” Arians later called Horton “a head coach in waiting.”
Horton interviewed for the Cardinals’ head-coaching job, but the team picked Arians, who served as the Indianapolis Colts’ interim coach last season while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia.
“Ray was one of the guys we talked to and that was really because of the fact that Ray did a phenomenal job,” Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. “He’s a great person. He’s a great coach, and our defensive players really responded to his style. Once we determined Bruce was our guy, I think that you give him an opportunity to build his staff the way he wants to build it.”
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert also had high praise for Horton, who spent 2004-10 in Pittsburgh.
“Ray Horton is a very intelligent, organized, demanding coach,” Colbert said. “I know that the Browns will be prepared defensively very well because Ray is extremely thorough. He’s respected because he played the game and has coached the game and been successful at both.”
Asked what the Browns can expect from Horton’s unit, Keim said, “Their defense is going to play fast. It’s going to be aggressive. He has a great scheme. I think he would be the first to tell you he learned a lot from [Steelers defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau, but Ray’s ability to put players in position [is excellent]. A quality coach is able to cater to a player’s strengths, be able to hide some of their limitations, but at the same time be able to get some success out of a guy where maybe some others threw him to the side. Ray was able to do that with several of our players.”
Wide receivers watch
General Manager Rick Spielman said the Minnesota Vikings don’t intend to trade standout slot receiver Percy Harvin. NFL.com recently listed the Browns as a logical suitor.
“I think everybody understands what type of player Percy Harvin is,” said Spielman, who grew up in Canton. “He’s a dynamic playmaker not only on offense, the things that he can do at different positions, but also what he brings us as a kickoff returner.”
Colbert wouldn’t discuss how the Steelers felt about re-signing their own free agents, which include another possible Browns target, standout wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder after the combine, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. Milliner could be a candidate for the Browns with the sixth overall pick.
Hurt last season, Milliner plans to participate in every drill at the combine except for the bench press, according to the report.
“The doctors have informed us that he will be 100 percent and fully recovered in time for training camp in July,” Tony Fleming, one of Milliner’s agents told ESPN.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones decided to forgo working out at the combine, instead focusing on his pro day March 21, Schefter reported.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes the Browns should target Jones with the sixth overall pick, provided he checks out medically at the combine.
Jones was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, after injuring his neck while playing for Southern California in 2009. USC’s team doctors would not clear him to play again, but he transferred to Georgia after its doctors approved his comeback.
Attention to detail
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam wasn’t just observing during the 4½ years, starting in 2008, he spent as minority owner of the Steelers. Colbert said Haslam offered information on players at the University of Tennessee, where he’s a major booster, and the SEC.
“I always thought Jim was very knowledgeable about football, particularly the SEC and Tennessee, because he got to see those guys,” Colbert said. “He was always really inquisitive to what we were thinking. I was inquisitive to what he was thinking also, because of his success.
“We talked in general about players he may have seen that weekend, players I may have visited while I was out visiting colleges. What I noticed about Jim right away was his passion for the game of football and at that time the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m sure he’s taken that same mindset to Cleveland.”
Ohio State offensive tackle Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, said he talked to the Browns during his “speed-dating” interviews Wednesday. Tight ends Zach Ertz of Stanford and Joseph Fauria of UCLA had meetings set up with the Browns at the combine. Tight end Vance McDonald of Rice said he talked to the Browns at the Senior Bowl. Kickers Caleb Sturgis of Florida and Brett Maher of Nebraska talked to Browns special-teams coach Chris Tabor. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray said he has not talked to the Browns and wasn’t scheduled to do so as of Thursday afternoon. … Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained why he hired John Dorsey as the Chiefs’ general manager instead of former Browns GM Tom Heckert, whom he knows well from their days together with the Philadelphia Eagles. “Tom Heckert is phenomenal at what he does,” Reid said. “I just thought as it went, that John was the best fit for the Chiefs.” … In the wake of the Manti Te’o hoax, Spielman said the Vikings did “a lot of digging in social media,” including counting tweets. … The NFL is proposing to overhaul its offseason calendar, Schefter reported. The combine would be pushed back to early March, the start of free agency to early April and the draft to early May.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.