BEREA — The Browns began the NFL Draft with heightened aggression. They ended it with loftier aspirations.
“We’d all like to see a big jump this year, that’s our hope. That’s reasonable,” president Mike Holmgren said Saturday night. “Our team foundation is better. Now, we have to be able to score points. That was a problem for us last year and we’ve addressed that a little bit.”
The Browns picked seven players Saturday, including their only receiver of the draft. Miami’s Travis Benjamin (5-foot-97⁄8, 172 pounds), a fourth-round pick, has elite speed, which was something the offense lacked. They also added two linebackers (Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson and Texas’ Emmanuel Acho) and their only cornerback (Arizona’s Trevin Wade).
Quarterback Colt McCoy remained on the team and there’s no expiration date on his life as a Brown. Holmgren called the situation an “ongoing process.” He didn’t rule out a trade, but said McCoy could coexist with first-round pick Brandon Weeden.
“Colt’s going to be at workouts this next week,” Holmgren said. “So I’m not going to speculate on anything. We’re going to see what happens here moving forward.”
The Browns finished the three-day draft marathon with 11 players — six on offense, five on defense — but it was the first two that made Holmgren believe the Browns could greatly improve on the 4-12 record in 2011. If this draft is going to be termed a success and turn the Browns into a contender, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Weeden will lead the charge.
Holmgren recognized that Thursday night and made sure the Browns got their men. General manager Tom Heckert surrendered three draft picks to move up one spot to guarantee they’d get Richardson, then took Weeden at No. 22 when he might have been available at No. 37.
“The No. 1 thing we needed was a player that we felt could establish the run in this league and in this city with the weather and all that good stuff,” Holmgren said, referring to the rugged AFC North. “The other thing was I think the gap was larger at running back than it was at some of the other positions.
“We didn’t want to lose him. Every team is better when you have that kind of running back.”
But it’s quarterback that moves the needle in Cleveland and the NFL. The Browns have been looking for “the guy” since they came back in 1999, and hope the 28-year-old former minor league pitcher stops the desperate search.
“I think we have high expectations for him,” Holmgren said of Weeden. “Is he being handed anything? No. We told him that. He knows that.”
Coach Pat Shurmur raved again about Weeden’s accuracy, decision-making and arm strength. The Browns wouldn’t have taken him if they didn’t feel he was a significant upgrade to McCoy, who went 6-15 as a starter in his first two seasons.
“I think an outstanding quarterback brings synergy to the whole team,” Shurmur said. “It’s hard on offense to talk about one (position) specifically not connected to the other, but I do know this: When you have outstanding quarterback play, all the players on offense and all the people in this room, we all look good.”
Weeden’s advanced age caused some teams to lower his value, but once Holmgren dug in, he viewed it as a positive. The maturity, coupled with his skill level, could allow him to make an impact quickly.
“So he became very attractive to us,” Holmgren said.
McCoy could be viewed as expendable, but the Browns aren’t in a rush to trade him. Holmgren reiterated how much he likes McCoy and added that his performance wasn’t helped by numerous dropped passes in 2011. The Browns could keep McCoy and release veteran backup Seneca Wallace, who will make almost $2 million more than McCoy in 2012.
“We’re nowhere ready at all to answer most of these questions,” Holmgren said. “It just isn’t there yet.”
“It’s a nonstory in my opinion,” said Shurmur, who talked to McCoy twice this weekend. “He’s looking forward to coming back here and getting himself ready to compete to be the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.”
Holmgren acknowledged demoting a quarterback and expecting him to be a good teammate can be a difficult situation.
“If it’s ever going to work, it will work — if that happens — because Colt McCoy is a special young man,” he said.
The third day of the draft started with the position fans had been clamoring for since the first round. Heckert selected Benjamin, the receiver who said he once ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash. He caught 131 passes in 49 games at Miami with a 16.4-yard average and 13 touchdowns. He can also return kicks, scoring on a 79-yard punt return against Ohio State in 2010.
“There’s reasons why we feel good about the receivers we have here,” Shurmur said. “But then as we were addressing needs through the draft, we felt good about picking Travis Benjamin and we felt like he can be an explosive guy.”
The Browns added depth at linebacker, offensive line and defensive line over the three days with two selections each. Their final pick was fullback/tight end/H-back Brad Smelley, who blocked for Richardson at Alabama.
The Cleveland offense ranked 30th in 2011 with 13.6 points per game, holding back a team that was in the top 10 in points allowed (19.2), total defense and pass defense. Richardson, Weeden, second-round right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Benjamin will be counted on to fix the problem.
“What you try to do is get as many pieces in place so that you can be an offense that is efficient and explosive,” Shurmur said. “The end result is scoring points and winning games.”
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