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NFL Browns mum about first pick



Published: Wed, April 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



General manager Phil Savage says every pick is an important one.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BEREA -- Over the past few months, Browns general manager Phil Savage and his staff have evaluated more than 500 college football players, analyzed thousands of hours of tape, traveled across the country to watch private workouts and sat in on dozens of interviews.

All that work, and the only thing anyone wants to know is: Who will the Browns take with the third pick?

"We're just trying to make every pick count," Savage said. "Certainly the first round pick is important because of the money involved, but we're trying to get value in every round."

Translation: We're not saying.

Has plan in place

Unlike his predecessor, Butch Davis, Savage actually has a plan in place for draft day. He's whittled the hundreds of players available to a list of 155, ranked in order. When the Browns are on the clock, Savage looks at the list and selects the highest player left on the list.

It's the same system Savage used as player personnel director in Baltimore under GM Ozzie Newsome, when the Ravens repeatedly selected Pro Bowl players.

Davis, on the other hand, often got together with his right-hand man, Pete Garcia, and selected players on a whim.

Davis' approach was, ahem, less successful than Baltimore's.

Prepared beforehand

"Generally, if you're prepared beforehand and stay with what you had in place and what you decided when you had cool heads in the room, you'll make a real solid choice," Savage said. "And that's true all through the draft, not just that top pick."

Much of the Browns' pre-draft speculation has centered around three players: quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (Cal) and Alex Smith (Utah) and wide receiver Braylon Edwards (Michigan).

Barring trades, Rodgers is expected to go to San Francisco with the first pick, but that could change. Savage stayed mum on his plans, but confirmed that he was interested in all three players.

"What's different about this system compared to other places is that we really concentrated on what type of player can win for the Cleveland Browns," said player personnel director Bill Rees, who spent the last four years in San Francisco. "There might be a player who fits in better in Tampa Bay, but might not fit in with what [head coach] Romeo [Crennel] looks for. We're very much player and position specific.

"If you look back at Phil's experience and success in Baltimore, they drafted players who fit what they were looking for."

Didn't rule out QB

Savage didn't rule out picking a quarterback, but he did acknowledge that it's a hit or miss proposition at the top of the draft. For every Peyton Manning, there's a Ryan Leaf -- or a Tim Couch.

Rodgers and Smith are considered the top quarterbacks in the draft, but Auburn's Jason Campbell and Akron's Charlie Frye are potential first rounders.

"When it comes to quarterbacks, the air is thin up there and sometimes we don't get enough oxygen," Savage said, drawing laughter. "If the Browns take a quarterback, the organization has to get behind the kid 1,000 percent.

"You cannot allow the guy to fail. The teams that stand behind the player are the ones who end up hitting on franchise quarterbacks. Because every one of them is going to go through growing pains."

Nine offseason additions

The Browns have added nine players this offseason, signing seven free agents (S Brian Russell, CB Gary Baxter, P Kyle Richardson, G Cosey Coleman, G Joe Andruzzi, DL Jason Fisk, DB Dyshod Carter) and acquiring two in trades (RB Reuben Droughns, QB Trent Dilfer).

Savage said he doesn't expect to make any more moves on the free agent front.

"We didn't expect to do as much as we did," said Savage. "But as I said throughout the process, we wanted to make sure that anything we did would impact what we wanted to do in the draft."

Translation: Just because the Browns added a player at a certain position doesn't mean they won't draft at that position.

Then again, it doesn't mean they will.

"We have a ways to go on both sides of the ball," said Crennel. "We're making progress in putting pieces in place, but there are spots on both sides of the ball where a good player can help us."

scalzo@vindy.com




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