PHOENIX: The challenge has been issued to Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman.
The 15th overall pick in last year’s draft had a disappointing rookie season and said in December he felt as if he had let a lot of people down.
Now the Browns are relying on him to rebound and lead the receiving corps during his second NFL season, especially in the aftermath of Terrelle Pryor’s departure in free agency.
“He’s got to go do it now because he’s now seen as the guy,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel and resort. “So he needs to go play and play well.”
Coleman looked the part of a first-round selection Sept. 18 when he caught five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
But he suffered a broken hand in practice a few days later, missed six games and finished the season with 33 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson said the broken hand set Coleman back.
“His rookie year was OK, not great,” Jackson said. “We all have different expectations for a first-round draft pick. But we see the potential of what he can be and what he will be, and he’s doing the work right now that it takes to get there.”
The injury wasn’t the only obstacle Coleman faced, though. He didn’t run a full NFL route tree at Baylor University and had to learn a lot in Jackson’s offense.
“It’s time to make the next jump,” Jackson said. “He’s very talented as we all know. His background is different. He recognizes that. He knew there was going to be some work to it. He’s excited. He’s worked extremely hard thus far this offseason, and he wants to come in and prove that last year was just what it was — his first year in the league.
“He needed to understand what this league was all about, and I think he found out very quickly there’s more to it than what he knew. And he’s looking forward it. I think he’s going to take the next jump this year.”
The new guy
The Browns signed former Los Angeles Rams receiver Kenny Britt to a four-year, $32.5 million contract March 9 after it became clear to the organization Pryor would likely leave. Pryor signed a one-year deal with Washington worth $6 million, plus $2 million in incentives.
“We feel good about having Kenny added to our team,” head of football operations Sashi Brown said. “We did try to work with Terrelle to try to find common ground ... and we just didn’t. Terrelle decided he wanted to take a one-year deal and move forward with that. ... He’s not on our roster. In some ways, that’s unfortunate.”
Last year, in his first full season after switching from quarterback to receiver, Pryor, 27, led the Browns with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns.
In his eighth NFL season, Britt, 28, had a career-high 68 catches for a career-high 1,002 yards to go along with five touchdowns.
“We’re going to get a consistent player who knows how to play the game, has had success, who is a guy that I don’t think the elements matter at all,” Jackson said. “The guy knows how to process football, and he’s a tremendous get for us.”
Britt, though, has baggage. He’s been arrested several times since the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the first round in 2009, most recently on a DWI charge in 2012.
Jackson has said he won’t tolerate foolishness from his players, so the Browns have talked to Britt about his past.
“Oh, yes, we did,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to turn on that stance — how we do things as a Cleveland Brown. Our culture is something we’ve worked hard to establish and get right. The players in our locker room understand that, and he’ll understand that when he walks in. There’s just a certain way we do things, and we’re going to continue to do it that way.”
Until the Browns upgrade at quarterback, Cody Kessler is the favorite to start next season. Kessler went 0-8 as a starter last season when he was a rookie third-round pick and suffered two concussions. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. He posted a rating of 92.3.
There’s also this: At 6-foot-1, Kessler doesn’t meet Jackson’s threshold for ideal quarterback height — 6-2. His arm isn’t strong enough to satisfy Jackson’s desire for a formidable downfield passing attack. And Jackson pulled him from a Thursday night game against the Baltimore Ravens last year.
But Jackson said Kessler is absolutely worth developing and could succeed in the NFL despite lacking some important traits the coach desires.
“You guys ask me, ‘Hue, what do you want in a quarterback?’?” Jackson said. “But I think we know there are outliers to all of that. There could be other things that you see in a quarterback and why you have a guy on your team or not have a guy on your team. You asked me exactly what I was looking for. I kind of laid that out.
“It doesn’t mean that another guy couldn’t potentially be a fit for you as well if there’s something else very special about him. Cody is going to have an opportunity. We’ll see where he is when he [reports to Browns headquarters April 17 for the offseason workout program]. Hopefully, he’s improved a lot, and we’ll just kind of go from there.”
The Browns swung and missed with two free-agent safeties: Tony Jefferson and Bradley McDougald.
Jefferson told the Monday Morning Quarterback website he signed with the Ravens despite the Browns and New York Jets offering him $1.5 million more per season than the Ravens did. McDougald signed with the Seattle Seahawks, even though they have starters in place with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
The Browns still have a glaring need at safety.
“We’ll look at the safety position,” Brown said. “As all the positions, we feel like we have room to add and get better. [I] wouldn’t get into the back and forth between us and those players and those decisions. ... We want to get better across the defense, but in the defensive backfield is certainly a place.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.