BEREA – If there’s a 2011 NFL season, defensive lineman Robaire Smith has been cleared to play in it.
Smith, 33, who’s a free agent after spending the last four seasons with the Browns, was recently given full medical clearance by renowned Los Angeles spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins, agent Michael Harrison said Monday.
“He’s ready to roll once the lockout gets resolved,” Harrison said.
Smith missed the final 11 games of 2010 with what was eventually diagnosed as a spinal bruise. Early speculation was that the injury was worse and his 11-year career might be over. Smith has been working out the last couple of months with the expectation he would get the final green light.
“Glad to be back!!” he said in a text message Monday. “Can’t wait.”
The Browns received the latest medical results last week. General manager Tom Heckert said at the scouting combine last month that the team would be interested in bringing back Smith, depending on the medical evaluation. Even with clearance by the doctor, the Browns could decide there’s too much risk involved.
All league transactions are on hold because of the lockout.
President Mike Holmgren and new coach Pat Shurmur are fans of Smith, and Heckert said he could make the move from end in a 3-4 scheme to tackle in new coordinator Dick Jauron’s 4-3 system. Smith played tackle earlier in his career.
“I think we have a good team in Cleveland,” Smith said recently. “It’s all a matter of time before things get to clicking and go the way we want to. It would be good to be a part of it.”
The Newton question
Holmgren reiterated his confidence in quarterback Colt McCoy, but wouldn’t rule out drafting Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with the No. 6 pick in the April draft.
“It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?” Holmgren said. “We’ll see. I would say, don’t discount anything.
“I’ve been honest with you about my feelings on Colt, but I’m not coaching the team. Pat Shurmur is the coach. We will have conversations, of course, but I’ll leave that up to the coach.
“I think in this year’s draft there are a number of really fine quarterbacks.”
Nfl.com reported last week the Browns would hold a private workout for Newton. Holmgren wouldn’t confirm the same for Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, saying only that the team will use its full allotment of 30 visits.
“I think with our due diligence as an organization and a personnel department, it’s our obligation to evaluate the best players coming out of college football. Cam Newton is one of those and so, yes, we are looking hard,” Holmgren said. “Even though I don’t have anything to do around here, it’s fun for me to grade the quarterbacks and watch the quarterbacks and try to get an idea of how they play.”
McCoy’s rookie season was up early and down late. He finished 2-6 as the starter with six touchdowns, nine interceptions, a .608 completion percentage and 74.5 rating. After winning his second and third starts against New Orleans and New England, he lost five straight, including throwing six interceptions in the final two games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
“I think he played like a rookie at times and then he far exceeded my expectations at other times,” Holmgren said. “It coincided with the games we won and a couple games that we lost. To do what he did with very little practice time was pretty remarkable for a first-time starter in the league.
“Did he exceed expectations from me? I would have to say yes, because I didn’t expect him to play. Is there a huge upside and much more to come? I would say yes to that, too, because he is a young man just learning to play the position in our league.”
Wants and needs
Coming off their second straight 5-11 season, the Browns have plenty of holes to fill in the draft. Holmgren said defensive line leads the way. Tackle Ahtyba Rubin is the only lineman on the roster assured of a starting spot.
“That’s a pretty easy one to call just from a numbers standpoint,” Holmgren said. “We are switching our defense from a 3-4 to a four-man line. You can never have too many corners.
“I would say in the draft, our philosophy won’t change. The best player up there.”
Heckert will lead the draft for the second straight year.
“What I’ve learned about the new fellas that I’ve worked with the last year is that Tom Heckert is the real deal,” Holmgren said.
The 2-H club
Running back Montario Hardesty is progressing in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him his rookie season. Holmgren envisions Hardesty and Peyton Hillis – the team MVP in 2010 – sharing the backfield.
“I could get real excited about that,” he said. “I think they both have excellent ball skills and running skills. So you don’t have to have one guy as the runner, one guy as the catcher, one guy as the blocker.
“They both have to be willing to do all those things for each other. If those are the two in the game at the same time, they have to block for each other and they have to do everything. I think they are capable of doing that. I hope I get a chance to see that.”
The Browns traded a third- and two fifth-round draft picks to move back into the second round and take Hardesty with the 59th pick last year. He had been hampered by injuries at the University of Tennessee, then tore the ACL in his only preseason action.
“He’ll be back from his surgery for sure,” Holmgren said. “Now, his contribution is up to him.
“We drafted him, we believed he’d be a great contributor to us last year, and now we’re probably in the same boat we were last year. Very optimistic, he feels good and we have our fingers crossed that he can stay healthy.”
Holmgren wouldn’t divulge which restricted free agents the Browns tendered, but it sounds as if fullback Lawrence Vickers wasn’t one of them. Holmgren said he didn’t know of any negotiations with Vickers, a sixth-round choice in 2006 that developed into a borderline Pro Bowler.
* Holmgren said kicker Phil Dawson gave no indication before the lockout that he would sign the franchise tag.
“We want him here. He is a fine football player,” he said. “I trust that all works out the way I want it to.”
* Holmgren said he expected the Browns to be less active in free agency this year than last year.
* Holmgren said it’s “absolutely” realistic that veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme could return for 2011. The Browns have McCoy as the starter and re-signed Seneca Wallace earlier this month.
Delhomme would have to take a steep pay cut from the $5.4 million he was scheduled to make in 2011 and agree to fill a backup/mentor role.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.