Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Don’t forget about him: The Browns’ offense this year should be left mostly in the hands of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Possibly three-fifths of the starting offensive line also was laid in place by former GM Tom Heckert.
But don’t forget about that other Heckert draft pick from 2011 – Jordan Cameron. Perhaps more than any returning player, the basketball player-turned-tight end stands to benefit from the change in coaches and offensive systems.
Head coach Rob Chudzinski, a former college tight end and Browns tight ends coach, and coordinator Norv Turner, intend to develop Cameron into the next tight end to make plays, not just catches.
Chudzinski’s tight end prodigies in nine NFL seasons as a position coach and coordinator include Kellen Winslow Jr. (Cleveland), Antonio Gates (San Diego) and Greg Olsen (Carolina).
Turner’s in 28 NFL years include Jay Novacek (Dallas), Vernon Davis in his rookie year (San Francisco) and Gates (San Diego).
“This is an offense that has featured tight ends and tight ends have always been a big part of it,” Chudzinski said of Cameron. “He has the skill set that fits.”
It’s time: Cameron attended Brigham Young on a basketball scholarship, then transferred to USC to try football as a wide receiver. That didn’t go well for two seasons. Finally moved to tight end his last college year, Cameron caught all of 16 passes.
Heckert took a flier in the fourth round on the 6-4, 245-pound Cameron after he excelled at the NFL combine. Cameron placed in the top three of all the major drills among a not-so-great tight end class in 2011. Based on college production, Heckert probably overdrafted Cameron, but he felt justified because of the presence of Ben Watson and Alex Smith.
With the Browns, Cameron sat behind the savvy veterans for two years and learned. “On and off the field they were great examples for me,” Cameron said.
After CEO Joe Banner let Watson and Smith leave in free agency, Cameron assumed the No. 1 tight end spot by default.
Banner liked that Cameron had a moderate cap number of $674,350 – only the 27th-highest on the roster. Even after the Browns added two more tight ends in free agency – Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis – Cameron entered the camp season as the clear favorite to be the next in the Chudzinski-Turner lineage. Add the name of Jon Embree here, too. The Browns’ new tight ends coach tutored Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City and Chris Cooley and Fred Davis in Washington.
All of which makes this year a huge career opportunity for Cameron.
“Yeah,” he affirmed at the veteran minicamp last month. “This year, with this opportunity, with these tight ends, and the way they use us in the offense, it’s going to be a big year. It’s a pretty exciting time. I’m ready for the opportunity.”
Typically, for him, Chudzinski is understating his hopes for Cameron.
“Well he’s not ready right now,” he said. “It’s a learning process right now and he has to keep progressing, but we feel good about him and where he is at right now.”
The Browns reinforced their faith in Cameron by ignoring the tight end position in the draft. Actions always speak louder than words.
Thoughts on Heckert: Shut out from a spate of vacant GM jobs filled by young up-and-comers, the former Browns GM reportedly will be named director of pro personnel for the Denver Broncos.
That’s a great landing spot for Heckert – just like San Francisco was for Phil Dawson and Colt McCoy. Like San Francisco in the NFC, Denver will be a preseason favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC.
Heckert’s Browns contract, which has two years to go, will be offset by what the Broncos pay him for a position two notches below that of general manager. It’s a great way for Heckert to keep in the mix for the next round of GM jobs in 2014 and beyond.
Heckert left the current Browns’ management team a young roster unencumbered by tangled, exorbitant contracts. Besides the integral offensive players mentioned at the top of this column – which should also include right tackle Mitchell Schwartz -- Heckert brought in defensive players Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn and John Hughes.
If the Browns make any headway in the next three years, remember that the foundation was laid by Heckert.
|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 email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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