Browns Seek Cornerback Upgrade

Team has not ruled out taking another corner high in the NFL draft.

The Browns need another cornerback and won't be shy about taking one in the second round if they don't grab Patrick Peterson from Louisiana State in the first round.

A year ago the Browns used a second-round pick on Montario Hardesty, a running back with a long injury history, and were burned when he suffered a torn left ACL in his first preseason game.

On the second day of the coming draft, the Browns could face a similar choice when their turn comes up in the second round, but instead of a player with an injury they might get to decide whether to take or pass on Jimmy Smith, rated as the third best cornerback in the draft behind Peterson and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska.

Smith, 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, failed a drug test in 2007 at the University of Colorado and also was charged with two alcohol-related violations as a minor while in college.

ESPN draft analyst Mike Mayock pegs Smith going to the Browns with the 37th overall pick in his most recent mock draft. He has them getting Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers with the sixth pick in the first round.

"He (Smith) is a fit for the Browns because he would be a steal from a talent perspective there," Mayock said. "They could go in a different direction with that pick. It's one of those times when you look at it and say, 'There's a lot of risk here, but maybe it's worth the potential reward of getting a first-round talent that late.'"

Last year, the Browns used their first-round pick, No. 7 overall, on cornerback Joe Haden. During the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Tom Heckert did not rule out taking another cornerback high in the draft this year. He did not talk about Smith specifically.

Smith started at right cornerback for the Buffaloes, which would work out well for the Browns since Haden is a left corner. Smith played in 47 games and intercepted three passes. He returned one for a touchdown. He also recovered three fumbles and returned one for a touchdown.

The Browns are content with Sheldon Brown as the starting right cornerback, but in the words of team president Mike Holmgren: "You can never have enough corners."

Smith was so respected in the Big 12 that opponents threw against him only 20 times when the Buffaloes were in man coverage. According to NFLDraftScout.com, he likes to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He breaks on the ball well.

Smith gained fame in a game against Hawaii by closing a 20-yard gap to tackle a receiver and save a touchdown.

Still, teams are wary. Some have even taken Smith off their boards because he was not convincing in his Combine interviews.

"I never had a problem with Jimmy," former NFL player Ashley Ambrose, Smith's position coach at Colorado in 2008 and '09, told the Detroit Free Press. "When I said be at meetings, he was there 10 minutes early. That was the thing with Jimmy. Now, his freshman and sophomore year it would have been totally different. But if I said something then he'd adhere to it, and he was vocal with the other guys. He became a leader - a vocal leader."

PASS RUSH IMPROVEMENT: The toughest decision Browns general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur might have to make on draft day is deciding whether to improve the rush from inside or outside with their first pick, the sixth overall.

As the Browns switch to a 4-3 defense, rebuilding the defensive line is a priority.

"All of our scouts came in and I had Pat come and talk about offense and Dick Jauron talk about defense, what we're looking for," Heckert said. "Pat, one of the biggest things he said was, 'Quarterbacks don't like pressure in their face.' The outside guys, you can get to the quarterback and get sacks. But when the guy's right in your face, that's when the tackles come into play. It's important to have those guys."

Defensive end Robert Quinn had 11 sacks as a sophomore for the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2009, and then he made what he called "a selfish mistake" by accepting two watches as gifts. The error in judgment got him banished from college football by the NCAA.

Quinn had two goals at the NFL Scouting Combine. The first was to convince the coaches and general managers that he isn't a bad guy. The second was to prove he did not lose any football skills during his one-year exile.

"I made a selfish mistake and I paid a price for it," Quinn said. "When (the NFL coaches) ask me about it, I let them know it was just one mistake and I had to live and learn from it."

Quinn said the suspension made him mature and cautioned him to be wary of the people surrounding him. He said when a jeweler handed him the watches valued at $5,000 it didn't occur to him they were gifts from an agent.

Heckert is not overly concerned about the suspension. He said the positive way of looking at it is Quinn did not take a physical pounding last year.

"There's no question why people are talking about him," Heckert said. "He's a heck of a football player. He plays hard, He can rush the passer. I think he can do a lot of things that you're looking for in a defensive lineman."

Heckert has similar praise for Marcell Dareus, the 6-3 1/2, 319-pound defensive tackle from Alabama. He had 6.5 sacks as a sophomore and 4.5 as a junior as an end in Alabama's 3-4 defense before deciding to skip his senior season. Dareus totaled 20 tackles for loss over two seasons.

"He's relentless," Heckert said, "He plays hard. I think he spent a lot of time this year with a high ankle sprain and he played through it. He's a high, high-motor guy and he does not stop. He makes a ton of plays for a defensive tackle."

Dareus and Nick Fairley from Auburn are considered the top two defensive tackles in the draft. Fairley is two inches taller, but Dareus is considered by some draft analysts as a safer pick because he is more consistent.

Dareus said playing for Nick Saban at Alabama gives him an edge on the competition.

"I'm ready for the league," Dareus said. "We did all the plays the NFL teams would do and did a lot of things that came with it - a lot of stunts, a lot of things we had to learn, a lot of coverages and calls. I'm ready for all that, the training, all the way around.

"I can play multiple positions. I'm good at what I do."

So are about a half-dozen pass rushers in this draft, which is good for the Browns.

•PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES:

•QB Jake Delhomme has not told the Browns he will not return to the team as a backup next season, according to the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich. Delhomme is due $4 million next season, and it's uncertain he will still be with the team. Colt McCoy is expected to be the starter, and Seneca Wallace agreed to a new three-year deal before the lockout began.

•WR/KR Josh Cribbs was vocal in his opposition to the rule change passed by the NFL that moves kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line.

"I'm very upset about it," Cribbs said on Sirius NFL Radio. "I highly disagree (with) the rule changes. Especially while there's no CBA in place I'm just baffled by their reasoning behind it, you know, changing the rules. Of course I know the reasoning behind it. I just disagree. Trying to make the game safer, I commend their efforts. I just think it could've been handled a lot better. Changing those rules will affect a lot of people including myself and incoming college (players) as well."

Cribbs believes a lot of exciting plays will be lost. "They always say in basketball free throws win games," Cribbs said. "Well, you know what? In football special teams win games. It doesn't matter how good your offense or defense is, if they give up one kickoff return, one fumble on a punt return, that changes the whole game drastically. You win and lose games on special teams and that's what me and Devin Hester have been able to do for our teams. So if you take that out of it, I mean, you lose the excitement (of) all these 100-yard returns."

•RB Montario Hardesty missed his rookie season because of a knee injury, but club president Mike Holmgren said he'd be happy with a combo of Hardesty and Peyton Hillis next season.

"I could get real excited about that," Holmgren said. "That's a good combination for this reason: I think they both have excellent ball skills, catching the ball 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, you don't have to do that.

"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 first casualty of the lockout was the beginning of the Browns' offseason program, which was to start March 14. After lifting and running, players would have gotten some class time and possibly field time to work on Coach Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense if time permitted.

"We will play football again; the tough part is knowing when," Holmgren said. "We've worked very, very hard to establish a program that would win and we are proceeding along those lines. It will be business as usual in the building for the Cleveland Browns."

Meanwhile, CB Joe Haden said players are working out together, whether it's in the team city or their hometowns.

"I'm working out really hard," Haden said. "I'm working out as if we were going to play. We don't want to come into the season and do the conditioning and not be ready for it.

"(But) I don't think the lockout is going to affect the season. It's going to take a little time but I think the games are going to be played."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You understand the fans' emotions. They love this team. They want to watch football. They want to root for their team. I would tell them it will get done and to hang in there." - Browns president Mike Holmgren on the NFL lockout.

•STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL: The Browns were awarded a seventh-round compensatory pick in this year's draft. The Browns didn't lose more free agents than they signed, but the choice was awarded because 11 picks were needed to reach the mandated total of 32 choices. Those picks are awarded at the end of the seventh round to the first 11 teams in the draft order.

TEAM DRAFT NEEDS

Pass-rushing lineman: The Browns are switching to a 4-3 defense and must find a way to pressure the quarterback. It could come from and end or a tackle with their first pick, depending on who is left when the Browns pick sixth.

Wide receiver: If finding pass rushers is Priority One, then finding a wide receiver with speed who can catch and run after making the catch is 1A. The Browns do not have a home-run hitter to star in Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense. The Browns will have a difficult decision to make if A.J. Green is available when they make their first pick.

Cornerback: The Browns are unlikely to take a cornerback with their first pick, but they could be tempted to take one in the second round. Right now, they have Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown set on the corners. Eric Wright is a free agent. They could take a cornerback in the second round and move Brown to nickel back.

Right tackle: The right side of the offensive line is unstable. John St. Clair, who started 10 games last year, was released. Tony Pashos was healthy for only three games. He played only five games in 2009 when he was with the 49ers. Floyd Womack is a free agent.


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