By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Quarterback talk: At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, the Browns tried to create doubt about needing to take a quarterback with their top pick in the draft, No. 4 overall.
“We have a lot of priorities,” coach Mike Pettine said. “Quarterback is the obvious one. We’re going to be very meticulous there, but it’s not going to end there. With the number of picks that we have (10) and things don’t work out that we get the quarterback early ... like I said all options are on the table. We’re not locked into saying we have to take a quarterback early in the draft.”
GM Ray Farmer was almost too coy in trying to deflect attention away from the position.
Asked if it’s safe to say the team will take a quarterback, Farmer said, “It could be safe, but we may not go that direction. It may not be what everybody thinks it will be, so there’s an opportunity for some curveballs.”
There are only three quarterbacks, of course, to consider in the top five of the draft. And since the Browns draft fourth behind Houston, St. Louis and Jacksonville, there is a chance, mathematically, they could be shut out of the top three passers and have to circle back to their second pick at No. 26 overall, or later, to draft a quarterback.
Still, 2 ½ months away from the May 8 draft, odds are strong they will use their top pick on a quarterback. He will be either Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Blake Bortles of Central Florida or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.
At the Combine, Manziel drew the most attention. Below are edited observations about the Big Three from NFL coaches and executives, and the players themselves, from interviews in Indianapolis.
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley: “He's very talented. How can you argue with what he's done and the plays he makes? An exciting player. I'm looking forward to watching everything and I know our staff has and we're in that process. We've been watching him for quite a while and seeing his traits, but he did some great things for his team.
Oakland coach Dennis Allen: “Obviously, he’s accomplished a lot at the collegiate level, being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. That speaks in and of itself how good a football player he is. I think he’s a very talented football player and is a multi-dimensional player in that he’s able to throw the ball from the pocket and he can create things with his feet. As we get more into the evaluation process, he’ll be a fun guy to be able to evaluate.”
Arizona coach Bruce Arians: “He's natural at what he does and you don't want to take guys’ instincts away. That's what got him here. The guys like Russell (Wilson) and Colin (Kaepernick) hurt you more when they drop back to pass. When you design runs for them, you are putting them in harm's way. The guys chasing them are a lot bigger and faster than the guys chasing him in college. To take their natural instinct from them of dropping back and scrambling and going, you never want to do that.”
Jacksonville General Manager David Caldwell: "His competitiveness is intriguing. Just his ability to win and compete and move the team is something that's really intriguing."
Denver Vice President John Elway: “I think he’s a great little player. I shouldn’t say ‘little,’ I’m sorry. He’s a guy that’s fun to watch on film. He’s a great competitor and I think that’s what his strength is. He is a great, great competitor. That position, you have to have that. That’s what makes him tick. Obviously he has tremendous talent. He can move around and he can still make all the throws, which is all in addition, but I think his No. 1 quality is his competitive nature and wanting to win.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh: “Yes, I think he will (be successful). He's very competitive, he's a winner. I think those qualities translate very well to the NFL.
Houston General Manager Rick Smith: “He’s a colorful, confident guy. You’ve got to appreciate that about him. I don’t have any problem with that.”
Manziel: “I’m probably one of the most competitive people on the face of this earth, whether it’s sitting here playing tic-tac-toe or rock, paper, scissors or whatever it may be, I want to win. It’s something that, really dating back all the way to being a kid, I don’t like the taste of losing. (It) leaves a really sour taste in my mouth. I’m an extremely competitive person, at the same time I want to be a great leader as well.”
Jacksonville coach Bradley: "Our GM and scouting staff are into that process more. To give you a complete evaluation at this point, I don't think I'm ready to do that, but I can tell you, we've watched enough that we're very intrigued by him, the traits he has -- big, tall, timing, accuracy, decision-making. Those are the things we take a close look at it. The evaluation process is never over. The Combine is important but it's just another piece of the puzzle. I'm looking forward to seeing him really compete. There's a chance to compete here and we'll keep an eye on him.”
Houston coach Bill O’Brien: “We played against him at Central Florida in the Penn State game. He played well. They beat us and I thought he threw the ball well that night. Obviously, I have a connection with (coach) George O'Leary and their coaching staff thinks very highly of him there. He's a big guy. He's athletic. He's a competitive guy. So it's been fun to watch him play on tape and it'll be good to watch him work out here.”
Bortles: “I think kind of the skill set I possess is being able to extend plays, being able to handle a lot of offense. Having played at UCF, dealing with a lot of things as far as handling offense, making all the throws, being trustworthy. I think making the right decisions on and off the field, not embarrassing the franchise or your last name, I think, is huge, especially when you’re playing quarterback in the National Football League. I think those things, the competitiveness, I think are all traits that are great to have as a quarterback, and hopefully there’s other teams that believe that.”
Jacksonville coach Bradley: “He's got really good poise and very good decision-making and very accurate. That's what jumps out.”
Bridgewater: “I eat, sleep and breathe football. There’s not a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking about football whether it’s I’m playing a game, practicing, watching film, even on the video game. A lot of people ask me what do I do on the video game. I call it taking virtual reps. Each day, I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to outwork my opponent, outsmart my opponent and just try to be the best quarterback that I can be.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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