The Plain Dealer
Browns coach Mike Pettine and other key members of the staff will soon begin their Tour De Quarterback to determine which — if any — of the top college prospects is worthy of their No. 4 overall pick.
The cross-country journey will include private workouts with all of the big-name quarterbacks in the draft such as Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr. It will also feature a host of second-tier quarterbacks, which is likely to include Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
General manager Ray Farmer, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will also attend the workouts, but owner Jimmy Haslam will not.
“We’re getting ready to embark on a little bit of a tour to go out and work out a lot of these quarterbacks,’’ coach Mike Pettine said Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting AFC coaches breakfast. “Having a guy like Brian Hoyer, who’s proven himself as a starter even though the sample size is small, we feel good about where we are. That way, if the right quarterback for the Browns is there at No. 4, we’ll turn the card in. If that’s later in the draft, it’s later in the draft.’’
Whether they find their man in the first round or third, where Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson was unearthed, the Browns are likely to draft a player they hope will become their quarterback of the future. Not landing a veteran quarterback in free agency such as Matt Schaub underscored the importance of finding one in the draft.
“We’re doing our homework on all these guys and we’re going to log a lot of miles here in the next couple weeks and hopefully we can find that quarterback that’s going best serve the Cleveland Browns,’’ said Pettine. “It’s a position that’s important for us and we’re putting a lot of work into it. The fourth pick, there’s going to be some outstanding players available. But. …if that best player is a quarterback, we’re in a position to take him. And if it’s not, it’s a deep enough class that we could pursue that option later in the draft.’’
Pettine revealed that list of private workouts currently includes only quarterbacks and that “it’s a big list. This is a deep and varied quarterback class. That’s the interesting thing. You have pro-style offenses in college, like what Bridgewater did. You have Manziel at Texas A&M, which is pro style, but there’s a different element to him. All the skillsets. Then you have guys a little bit more (from the) spread type. But there’s more than just the first three. There are some other guys down the line that are impressive on their college teams.’’
He said it’s conceivable that the Browns starting quarterback could come from the second tier of prospects and not drafted high. The Browns also have the No. 26 pick in the first round and the No. 35 pick at the top of the second round.
“You saw a guy like Russell Wilson that was taken where he was taken and very quickly found his way in the lineup,’’ said Pettine. “Once guys are in, where they were taken and how we acquired them, that disappears. If we get an undrafted free agent quarterback and he comes in and wows everybody and ends up being the starter, then he’ll be the starter.’’
He acknowledged that “it’s a possibility’’ that he’ll start a rookie quarterback this season and that he wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
“I was part of Mark Sanchez starting and taking us to the AFC Championship Game with the Jets,’’ said Pettine. “I was part of Joe Flacco actually coming out of training camp as the third (quarterback) in Baltimore. The original plan was not to start him. He ended up basically on very short starter’s reps. He ended up being the starter and took us to an AFC Championship Game, so I think when you build the team around them and you minimize the importance of that position, you can be successful with a rookie.’’
He noted that it’s also possible that the Browns would draft two quarterbacks to stockpile their quarterback room, which currently includes Hoyer and inexperienced Alex Tanney.
“I don’t think we’d hesitate to add that player, whether it’s a second quarterback if we’ve already taken one,’’ said Pettine. “I don’t think Ray (Farmer) would be against that at all.’’
He emphasized that he’s looking for intangibles more than anything when he crisscrosses the country.
“The nice thing about the system Kyle runs is he’s gotten it done with some different types, so we’re not as locked in to a specific type,’’ said Pettine. “I’m looking for a guy that’s got that ‘it’ factor – not necessarily starting with the physical talent first. (We’ll) do a lot of homework from a background standpoint, talking to guys, people they’ve played with, coaches, just trying to see who has that ‘it’ factor. You see a lot of guys that have the physical talent to play and there’s just something missing. I think you’ve seen a lot of guys that have overcome not having a huge arm, not being the fastest. They’ve overcome it with the intangibles.’’
With that in mind, Pettine provided a mini-scouting report on the top four quarterbacks:
“He has all the measurables. If you look at him, if you said draw me an NFL quarterback, that’s probably who you’d draw. I think the thing that’s impressive about him is his ability in crunch time in a lot of tight games, a lot of come-from-behind wins, you can see he’s confident, can make all the throws, I think he’s a better athlete than some people give him credit for.’’
“I think he’s extremely accurate. You can tell he’s a very cerebral quarterback. He understands the game very well. Understands coverages, that kind of jumps off the tape at you. To me, he seems very unfazed by things. He plays very well under pressure. He’s a guy that’s NFL-ready. It doesn’t seem to be to big for him. He kind of has that calming presence out there. Some quarterbacks get real emotional, get real fired up and he’s not that. He kind of has that quiet confidence about him.’’
“Gifted playmaker. The play starts when he makes the first guy miss. That’s exciting to watch, but to transition to the NFL, he’ll have to be able to play in structure, his fifth-step, his foot hits the ground that he can execute a throw. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that wouldn’t happen and I think he’s capable of doing it, but when you have that ability to improvise like that, that’s what makes him special and maybe separates him from other guys.The questions that people have are if you try to force him to be that classic pocket quarterback, will that affect his ability to make those plays that he’s made? I think the kid understands that.’’
“I think he’s the best natural thrower as far as arm strength in the draft. Very physically-gifted. And a lot of times it’s hard to bet against the family history as well (he’s the younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr). You’re talking about like a Jake Matthews that it’s the old ‘don’t bet against the genetics.’ I think he certainly falls into that category as well.’’
As for bringing in a veteran quarterback such as a Rex Grossman to compete with Hoyer, Pettine said, “That’s a fluid situation. You just kind of monitor who’s available. We don’t have a game until September, so I don’t think we’re in a huge rush. But if there’s one we think will help us, we’ll explore that option. Quarterback is just a hot topic.’’
For Cleveland, that’s an understatement.