BEREA, Ohio—When you say you're building through the draft, it's a good sign that all eight of your draft picks from the most recent draft are contributing. Five of the draftees are starters, while the others are playing in reserve roles and on special teams.
Six players drafted in 2010 are also contributing with four listed as starters in Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Shawn Lauvao and Colt McCoy. Montario Hardesty has played quite a bit, when healthy, even though he's not listed as a starter. Carlton Mitchell has been active in recent weeks and has played mostly on special teams.
Pat Shurmur is pleased overall, with the rookies.
"I think they're playing well as a group," he said. "I think they're really benefiting from all this playing time and think this will help as they go from year one to year two."
He knows some of them are now playing more football than they've ever played.
"With these guys it's unchartered territory when they play a 16-game schedule as compared to college."
The Browns are trying to see what they have with the young players as they move forward toward next year's draft and free agency.
"I think it's fair to say we'll have some roster changes in the off-season, but with the rookies we'll probably keep them around," he said. "We will have an off season next year, where they can continue to improve. We think it's very important to build through the draft. Once you hit on rookie players, you want to continue to develop them and try to keep them to stick around."
All totaled, 14 players are contributing from Tom Heckert's two drafts with the Browns, nine as starters. With the potential of adding two first-round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Browns should be able to continue to get better.
Here's a rundown of each member of the Browns 2011 draft class.- No. 1 --Phil Taylor—Started all nine games at defensive tackle and has 31 tackles. He leads the team with four sacks. He has one pass broken up and a forced fumble. Taylor is 9th among all NFL rookies in tackles and third in sacks.
- No. 2a—Jabaal Sheard—Started all nine games, one at right end and the last eight at left end. Sheard has 29 tackles with 2.5 sacks. He has two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery and a pass broken up. Sheard is seventh on the team in tackles.
- No. 2b—Greg Little—Little has played in all nine games, starting the last six. Little leads the team with 37 receptions for 379 yards. He is second in the NFL among rookie receivers, behind only A.J. Green, who has 41. In the last six games, Little has caught 29 passes for 305 yards. He leads the team with 22 first downs.
- No. 4a--Jordan Cameron—After being inactive the first five games, Cameron has been active in the last four games. He has caught one pass against the Texans for seven yards.
- No.4b—Owen Marecic—He has played in all nine games, starting four. Marecic's primary job is to block, but he has carried the ball four times for eight yards. He has also caught three passes for 18 yards. Marecic is third on the team in special teams tackles with three. Marecic is the first rookie fullback to start since Lawrence Vickers did so in 2006.
- No. 5a—Buster Skrine—He has played in all nine games as a reserve and has five tackles. He leads the team in special teams tackles with eight. Skrine replaced DB Dimitri Patterson as the third cornerback the past two weeks in nickel packages.
- No. 5b—Todd Pinkston—Started all nine games at left guard after Eric Steinbach went down with a back injury during the preseason. Pinkston became the third offensive lineman to start on opening day since 2007, joining Joe Thomas (left tackle in 2007) and Alex Mack (center in 2009).
- No. 7—Eric Hagg—He has played in three games as a reserve after being inactive for the first six games, the first four with a knee injury. Hagg missed the entire preseason with a knee injury that required surgery. Hagg showed enough promise to the coaching staff to keep him on the active roster, despite being unable to play for the first four games.
Taylor, Sheard and Little have been the most visibly productive. Taylor and Little might have had their best games of the season last week. Little accounted for 94 yards with six catches for 84 yards and a run for 10. Taylor had five tackles, including a sack.
Pat Shurmur said that Little is continuing to improve.
"Greg has great skill and ability," he said. "What he needs now is to learn to be a pro. He's a guy that was pushed pretty early to be a starter. In the past, he did things on his pure ability. I think he has made big strides as he's learning the pro game."
Pinkston has had to learn on the job after playing tackle at the college level.
"We felt he could play guard and tackle even though he played tackle in college," Shurmur said.
Shurmur said Pinkston, along with Lauvao are learning together.
"I think last week we played better as an offensive line unit," he said. "I think there has been improvement there. I think it helps when they can play together all week in practice, that helps and that hasn't always been the case."
Shurmur admitted the Browns are constantly evaluating the players and trying to find those who can form the core for years to come.
"I think we've started some of that with the mid-season signings of those players we want to be around," he said. "Everybody's being evaluated."
Unlike last off-season where the Browns were not very active in free agency, Shurmur said the Browns will look at all possibilities.
"I think we want to get better and we'll use every avenue to do that," he said. "Whether it's through the draft or free agency, we have an underlying philosophy to get the best players we can.
"Talking about free agency now is a bit early, but we believe in adding free agents that will help this team."
Hardesty, Massaquoi Hopeful: Besides RB Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and DB T.J. Ward (foot) who were ruled out for this week's game by Shurmur on Monday, Shurmur said that RB Montario Hardesty (calf) is going to start practicing, as is WR Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion)."(Hardesty) will be doing some running ," Shurmur said. "I'm not ruling him out. Hillis is out this week, but he's progressing." Shurmur was asked if Hardesty plays, if he would be the feature back or RB Chris Ogbonnaya, who rushed for 90 yards last week. "We have to see how (Hardesty) handles this week at practice and will make that determination then." Shurmur said Monday that he is hopeful that Hillis might be ready for the Bengals a week from Sunday. Hardesty was outside doing running with trainers while the team practiced inside during the part of practice open to the media. Massaquoi practiced with the team Wednesday. Shurmur said his concussion symptoms have dissipated.
Other players on a limited basis are: DL Auston English (knee), OL Tony Pashos (ankle), DB Dimitri Patterson (knee), DL Jayme Mitchell (back). Patterson was doing individual drills with the defensive backs.Shurmur was asked if Hardesty and Massaquoi would boost the offense this week. "It would help to have as many as your front line players available," he said. "I want all of our players healthy."
Ward Cast Off: Shurmur said Ward is out of the cast and he is continuing to improve. He said Ward has a sprained foot and said he expected Ward to be able to be back this season.
Got Away With One: It was disclosed that the trick play that resulted in a 21-yard pass to QB Seneca Wallace should've been ruled an illegal play because when WR Josh Cribbs flipped the ball to Wallace, it was a forward pass and it is illegal to throw two forward passes on a play.
Cribbs took a direct snap and then passed it to Wallace, who flipped it back to QB Colt McCoy, who then threw a pass down the sideline to Wallace.
Shurmur said the league informed the Browns about the play.
"We practiced (the play) three times in practice with a handoff, but in the game it was flipped," Shurmur said. "I was well aware of what happened. The first exchange was practiced as a handoff and the second was a flip."
Old Friends: Former Browns LB Matt Roth signed with the Jaguars as a free agent in the off-season and WR Brian Robiskie signed with the Jaguars after being cut by the Browns earlier this season.
Roth has three sacks for the Jaguars and Shurmur was asked if the Browns tried to retain his services. Roth had 11 tackles last week against the Colts.
"We'll keep all those discussions behind the scene," he said. "But, he's done a good job and fits in."
Shurmur said it was difficult to release Robiskie after he started the season as the team's starting receiver. Injuries to RB Peyton Hillis and RB Montario Hardesty made the move necessary, as the team signed RB Thomas Clayton. Robiskie had just three receptions for 25 yards for the Browns and has yet to catch a pass for Jacksonville.
"You don't want to cut anybody," Shurmur said. "That was the first time we had to do that this season. I didn't want to cut Brian. There's the football side and then there's the business behind the game."
Former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is the Jaguar's defensive coordinator. Luke McCown was a former fourth-round draft choice of the Browns in 2004. Also, DL C.J. Mosley played for the Browns under Eric Mangini in 2009.