November 23, 2014

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NFL Draft 2012: Browns go on the offensive, expect to be better thanks to new weapons

BEREA — The Browns began the NFL Draft with heightened aggression. They ended it with loftier aspirations.

“We’d all like to see a big jump this year, that’s our hope. That’s reasonable,” president Mike Holmgren said Saturday night. “Our team foundation is better. Now, we have to be able to score points. That was a problem for us last year and we’ve addressed that a little bit.”

The Browns picked seven players Saturday, including their only receiver of the draft. Miami’s Travis Benjamin (5-foot-97⁄8, 172 pounds), a fourth-round pick, has elite speed, which was something the offense lacked. They also added two linebackers (Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson and Texas’ Emmanuel Acho) and their only cornerback (Arizona’s Trevin Wade).

Quarterback Colt McCoy remained on the team and there’s no expiration date on his life as a Brown. Holmgren called the situation an “ongoing process.” He didn’t rule out a trade, but said McCoy could coexist with first-round pick Brandon Weeden.

“Colt’s going to be at workouts this next week,” Holmgren said. “So I’m not going to speculate on anything. We’re going to see what happens here moving forward.”

The Browns finished the three-day draft marathon with 11 players — six on offense, five on defense — but it was the first two that made Holmgren believe the Browns could greatly improve on the 4-12 record in 2011. If this draft is going to be termed a success and turn the Browns into a contender, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Weeden will lead the charge.

Holmgren recognized that Thursday night and made sure the Browns got their men. General manager Tom Heckert surrendered three draft picks to move up one spot to guarantee they’d get Richardson, then took Weeden at No. 22 when he might have been available at No. 37.

“The No. 1 thing we needed was a player that we felt could establish the run in this league and in this city with the weather and all that good stuff,” Holmgren said, referring to the rugged AFC North. “The other thing was I think the gap was larger at running back than it was at some of the other positions.

“We didn’t want to lose him. Every team is better when you have that kind of running back.”

But it’s quarterback that moves the needle in Cleveland and the NFL. The Browns have been looking for “the guy” since they came back in 1999, and hope the 28-year-old former minor league pitcher stops the desperate search.

“I think we have high expectations for him,” Holmgren said of Weeden. “Is he being handed anything? No. We told him that. He knows that.”

Coach Pat Shurmur raved again about Weeden’s accuracy, decision-making and arm strength. The Browns wouldn’t have taken him if they didn’t feel he was a significant upgrade to McCoy, who went 6-15 as a starter in his first two seasons.

“I think an outstanding quarterback brings synergy to the whole team,” Shurmur said. “It’s hard on offense to talk about one (position) specifically not connected to the other, but I do know this: When you have outstanding quarterback play, all the players on offense and all the people in this room, we all look good.”

Weeden’s advanced age caused some teams to lower his value, but once Holmgren dug in, he viewed it as a positive. The maturity, coupled with his skill level, could allow him to make an impact quickly.

“So he became very attractive to us,” Holmgren said.

McCoy could be viewed as expendable, but the Browns aren’t in a rush to trade him. Holmgren reiterated how much he likes McCoy and added that his performance wasn’t helped by numerous dropped passes in 2011. The Browns could keep McCoy and release veteran backup Seneca Wallace, who will make almost $2 million more than McCoy in 2012.

“We’re nowhere ready at all to answer most of these questions,” Holmgren said. “It just isn’t there yet.”

“It’s a nonstory in my opinion,” said Shurmur, who talked to McCoy twice this weekend. “He’s looking forward to coming back here and getting himself ready to compete to be the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.”

Holmgren acknowledged demoting a quarterback and expecting him to be a good teammate can be a difficult situation.

“If it’s ever going to work, it will work — if that happens — because Colt McCoy is a special young man,” he said.

The third day of the draft started with the position fans had been clamoring for since the first round. Heckert selected Benjamin, the receiver who said he once ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash. He caught 131 passes in 49 games at Miami with a 16.4-yard average and 13 touchdowns. He can also return kicks, scoring on a 79-yard punt return against Ohio State in 2010.

“There’s reasons why we feel good about the receivers we have here,” Shurmur said. “But then as we were addressing needs through the draft, we felt good about picking Travis Benjamin and we felt like he can be an explosive guy.”

The Browns added depth at linebacker, offensive line and defensive line over the three days with two selections each. Their final pick was fullback/tight end/H-back Brad Smelley, who blocked for Richardson at Alabama.

The Cleveland offense ranked 30th in 2011 with 13.6 points per game, holding back a team that was in the top 10 in points allowed (19.2), total defense and pass defense. Richardson, Weeden, second-round right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Benjamin will be counted on to fix the problem.

“What you try to do is get as many pieces in place so that you can be an offense that is efficient and explosive,” Shurmur said. “The end result is scoring points and winning games.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253  or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

BROWNS DRAFT CAPSULES

Travis Benjamin

Drafted: Round 4, 100th overall. College: Miami (Fla.). Position: Wide receiver/return specialist. Height: 5-foot-97⁄8. Weight: 172. Hometown: Belle Glade, Fla. High school: Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central. Major: Sports administration.
Notable: Sixth player in Hurricanes history with 2,000 receiving yards, finishing four-year career with 2,146 on 131 catches. … Also gained 1,728 return yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 49 games. … Averaged 23.7 yards on kickoff returns and 11.0 yards on punt returns as senior. … Had 41 catches for 609 yards in 2011. … Made career-high 43 receptions for 743 yards as junior. … Scored on 79-yard punt return against Ohio State in 2010. … Also ran track at Miami, breaking Santana Moss’ school record in 60-meter dash (6.70). … Graduated with degree in sports administration. … Two-time All-Palm Beach County selection in high school. … Has one daughter.

James-Michael Johnson

Drafted: Round 4, 120th overall (acquired from Broncos). College: Nevada. Position: Middle linebacker. Height: 6-foot-11⁄8. Weight: 241. Hometown: Fairfield, Calif. High school: Fairfield (Calif.) Rodriguez. Major: Psychology.
Notable: All-Western Athletic Conference selection as senior, making career-high 101 tackles and 18 quarterback pressures. … Totaled 299 tackles, 391⁄2 tackles for a loss, 12 pass breakups, seven forced fumbles, and three interceptions for Wolf Pack. … Appeared in 54 games over five seasons at Nevada, ranking third in school history in forced fumbles and fifth in tackles. … Made 27 starts at middle linebacker and 23 at strong-side outside linebacker. … Lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track in high school. … Younger cousin of Raiders strong safety Jerome Boyd. … Parents are Michael and Jamesetta Johnson. … Born in Vallejo, Calif.

Ryan Miller

Drafted: Round 5, 160th overall (acquired from Broncos). College: Colorado. Position: Right guard. Height: 6-foot-71⁄4. Weight: 321. Hometown: Littleton, Colo. High school: Columbine (Colo.). Major: Anthropology.
Notable: Third-team Associated Press All-American as senior. … Started school-record 48 games, becoming the ninth player in Buffaloes history to earn five varsity letters. … Team captain in 2011, participating in 850 of Colorado’s 851 offensive snaps. … Played in East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. … Suffered broken left leg four games into 2008 season, prompting NCAA to grant him medical-hardship status. … Only allowed five sacks and five quarterback pressures in 3,320 career snaps. … Named Parade and USA Today All-American in high school. … Graduated with bachelor’s degree in anthropology in December. … Knows sign language. … Avid kite flyer.

Emmanuel Acho

Drafted: Round 6, 204th overall (compensatory pick from NFL). College: Texas. Position: Inside linebacker. Height: 6-foot-15⁄8. Weight: 238. Hometown: Dallas, Texas. High school: Dallas St. Mark’s. Major: Sports management.
Notable: All-Big 12 honoree as senior, starting all 13 games at strong-side outside linebacker. … Led Longhorns with career-high 131 tackles, including 19 tackles for a loss in 2011. … Ranked sixth in league with 8.46 tackles per game. … Finalist for nationwide Lowe’s Senior Class Award. … Two-time Academic All-Big 12 Conference selection. … Played in 48 contests during four-year career with Longhorns, recording 280 tackles and eight quarterback sacks. … Played football, basketball and track in high school. … Mentored children at a local Boys and Girls Club. … Older brother Sam is a linebacker with the Arizona Cardinals. … Parents were both born in Nigeria.

Billy Winn

Drafted: Round 6, 205th overall (compensatory pick from NFL). College: Boise State. Position: Defensive tackle. Height: 6-foot-33⁄4. Weight: 294. Hometown: Las Vegas. High school: Las Vegas. Major: Business.
Notable: Second-team All-Mountain West Conference choice as senior, making 33 tackles with three quarterback sacks in
13 games. … Third-team Associated Press All-American in 2010, recording 28 stops while helping Broncos finish second in NCAA FBS in both scoring defense and yards allowed. … Completed four-year career with 131 tackles and 151⁄2 sacks for Boise State, starting 41 of 53 contests — all but one at weak-side defensive tackle. … Redshirted as freshman in 2007. … Played in East-West All-American Bowl in high school. … Earned three varsity letters in track, and two apiece in football and wrestling at prep level. … Turned 23 on April 15.

Trevin Wade

Drafted: Round 7, 245th overall (compensatory pick from NFL). College: Arizona. Position: Cornerback. Height: 5-foot-103⁄8. Weight: 192. Hometown: Austin, Texas. High school: Round Rock (Texas) Stony Point. Major: Economics.
Notable: Three-year starter and four-year letterwinner for Wildcats, intercepting 12 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in 50 games. … Served as team captain in 2011, logging 51 tackles, 13 pass breakups and two thefts. … Set career highs across the board as sophomore with 71 tackles, five interceptions and 14 passes defensed. … Played wide receiver in Lone Star Arena Football Classic and point guard in Toros Central Texas All-Star Basketball Game in high school. … Served as youth mentor and volunteered with Special Olympics prior to enrolling at Arizona. … Related to former MLB infielder Hubie Brooks. … Parents still live in Round Rock.

Brad Smelley

Drafted: Round 7, 247th overall (compensatory pick from NFL). College: Alabama. Position: Tight end. Height: 6-foot-17⁄8. Weight: 233. Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Ala. High school: Tuscaloosa (Ala.) American Christian. Major: Business administration.
Notable: Lined up at H-back, fullback and tight end for Crimson Tide, making 10 starts as senior while blocking for Browns’ top draft choice Trent Richardson. … Ranked second on team with 34 receptions in 2011, including game-high seven catches for 39 yards in BCS National Championship Game victory over LSU. … Played in 2012 Senior Bowl. … Finished college career with 54 receptions for 559 yards and four touchdowns in 47 games. … Recruited by Alabama as wide receiver after playing quarterback in high school. … Amassed 5,633 passing yards and 57 scores in final two prep campaigns. … Younger brother Chris plays baseball for Crimson Tide.
— Brian Dulik