July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Browns bullish on Colt, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take a QB in the draft

INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL is split into distinct groups, and the separation seems as wide as the Grand Canyon. Those who have their quarterback and those looking for their quarterback.

The Browns consider themselves a member of the privileged class.

General manager Tom Heckert and new coach Pat Shurmur met with Cleveland-area reporters Friday at the NFL scouting combine and were the strongest they’ve been in their support for Colt McCoy, who will be entering his second season. They echoed president Mike Holmgren’s previous commitment to McCoy.

“I’m extremely excited about working with Colt and him being our guy,” Shurmur said during the hour-long interview session.

“I think there are some teams that are saying, ‘We need to get a quarterback in free agency or the draft, we need one,’” Heckert said. “And we’re definitely not at that point.

“We have all the confidence in the world that Colt’s going to be good.”

Heckert said the faith in McCoy makes it easier to draft. He’s not searching for a franchise quarterback, which allows him to address the team’s multitude of needs.

His job may be simpler, but the decisions aren’t automatic. With the No. 6 pick, the Browns could be in prime position to select one of the top quarterbacks – Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Washington’s Jake Locker.

All are bigger and stronger than McCoy, and will likely be drafted well ahead of McCoy’s third-round slot at No. 85 last year. And it’s hard to pass up the potential for greatness at the game’s most important position.

Heckert said having McCoy diminishes the chances of drafting a quarterback at No. 6, but added he wouldn’t hesitate to take someone he considered elite.

“We think Colt’s going to be a good quarterback, I really do,” he said. “If there’s a quarterback we think is a great football player, you’re crazy not to take him.”

Heckert was GM with the Eagles when they took Kevin Kolb in the second round despite having Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb. Heckert said they would’ve drafted Kolb in the first round if they hadn’t been able to trade back.

“If you have two great quarterbacks, it’s not a bad thing. It’s really not,” he said, mentioning the injury woes at quarterback in 2010 that forced the Browns to use three starters. “You can always use one to trade, so if you think a quarterback’s going to be a great one, you can’t pass.

“But there’s going to be six really good players (at the top of the draft). So if there’s guys that are close, then you’re probably not going to do that, unless something crazy happened. But if there was a guy that was completely separated, then you’d do it in a heartbeat.”

A high ankle sprain cost McCoy three games in the latter part of last season, and he returned to lose the final three, dropping him to 2-6 as a starter. He threw three interceptions in each of the final home losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the wind, and questions resurfaced about a perceived lack of arm strength.

NFL Network analyst and former Browns executive Mike Lombardi said Thursday McCoy needs to improve his arm strength and overall physique.

“I don’t have any questions about Colt’s arm,” Shurmur said.

McCoy mentioned in a national interview during Super Bowl week that his right (throwing) shoulder bothered him at times after suffering nerve damage that forced him from the BCS national championship game in January 2010.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know why he was talking about it, he’s fine,” Heckert said. “I think he meant that he was a little banged up during the season, but he’s fine.”

Shurmur said he’s talked to McCoy informally since taking the job in January. Shurmur researched him before last year’s draft when the Rams held the No. 1 pick, which they used on Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.

“I thoroughly evaluated Colt last year and I had a strong feeling for the guy,” Shurmur said. “He’s very talented, he works extremely hard, football’s important to him, he’s an accurate passer, he understands timing, he’s a good decision-maker and I think he’s got all the things you’re looking for in a guy that can be your guy.

“And so from that standpoint, I think it’s an exciting time.”

McCoy wasn’t expected to play as a rookie, but veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace suffered high ankle sprains and missed significant time. Delhomme is due a $5.5 million salary in 2011 and Wallace is an unrestricted free agent.

“We want Seneca back. He knows that,” Heckert said. “I think he’s at least open to it. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

“I’m a Seneca fan,” Shurmur said. “He’s a West Coast quarterback. He’s done it for a lot of years in this system.”

Delhomme, who was hurt in the opener, returned for three starts before being replaced by McCoy. Heckert said he’ll approach him about taking a pay cut and said it wouldn’t be farfetched to imagine Wallace and Delhomme back.

“I think Jake really likes Cleveland,” Heckert said.

If he returned, Delhomme would continue to be a sage sounding board for McCoy.

“I think that’s an important piece to have an experienced quarterback in a mentoring role,” Shurmur said. “I saw it in St. Louis. A.J. Feeley was outstanding for Sam Bradford. When I had the chance to meet Jake, I sensed that. What I know about Jake, he’s an outstanding person.”

If both veterans return, the position room could get crowded. Holmgren said earlier in the week he intends to draft a quarterback at some point, probably in the later rounds. He and Shurmur believe it’s a positive to add young talent at the position just about every year.

It just doesn’t look like that talent will come at No. 6, or unseat McCoy as the starter.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.