Staying the Course

Team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert met with the media for 70 minutes discussing the present state of the Cleveland Browns and the direction slated for the organization as player free agency and the draft occupy time between now and May.

BEREA, Ohio—Browns president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert met with the media for 70 minutes Thursday in the post-mortem on the most recently concluded 4-12 season. There was really no news coming out of the session with most of the time being centered regarding the proper way to build a championship caliber team and the commitment from Randy Lerner, Holmgren and Heckert to do so.

Holmgren and Heckert talked about Colt McCoy, as well as the continual building through the draft.

Before Holmgren answered any questions, he gave a disclaimer:

"I know you have a lot of questions and some things we don't have answers for yet," Holmgren said. "There are rules about talking about specific players, as well."

Holmgren and Heckert wouldn't answer any questions about potential draft choices or free agents, as well as their own free agents such as Peyton Hillis and D'Qwell Jackson.

"We're all disappointed in the record of the team," Holmgren said. "We do recognize some really good things to build on that give us hope."

Again, the questions early in the meeting focused on whether McCoy could be the franchise quarterback.

"I think he can be he could be," Holmgren said. "I'm not ready to say that yet. You know what he did this season. He played this year. I was pleased with a lot of things he did. My opinion of Colt hasn't changed, but the quarterback is judged on how well the team plays. Am I ready to anoint Colt? Not yet."

Other highlights of the press conference are as follows on answers from Holmgren:

Q: You have said you don't like an open quarterback competition. With that said, do you expect to have a quarterback decided upon before training camp?

Holmgren: "In a perfect world, I believe that. Sometimes, situations dictate that you need a little more competition. (In his rookie year),Colt had established himself a little bit. We wanted to find that person. This season, we all knew the job was his. I don't think the competition will go into the last preseason game. That isn't going to happen. I don't believe that works well. Competition will take place, but the decision will come in time for the guy to be play a little bit."

Q: Is it fair to judge McCoy based on the other parts of the offense?:

Holmgren: "It's hard to judge off the season because the offense just wasn't good enough. Why that happened we're going to look at that. (McCoy's) got to throw to somebody and he's got to be protected. The quarterback is part of the situation."

Q: Does it take time before you know you have a franchise quarterback?:

Holmgren: "It usually happens that way. Very few guys have come in and shot lights out, very few. If you're a young quarterback with a team that's still building, it (takes time)."

Q: Is there anything such as a can't miss quarterback prospect?:

Holmgren: "You see guys with all the credentials and slam dunk and it doesn't happen. You've seen it and it happens every year. There's no tried and true formula for this. As long as the athlete has all the intangibles and has the work ethic, he has a chance."

Q: Are you in a tough spot to get it right with the quarterback going forward?:

Holmgren: "I'm not in tough spots. I have a responsibility here and take it very seriously. Whoever plays quarterback is going to play well."

Q: Do you anticipate bringing in another quarterback?:

Holmgren: "We'll probably bring in a quarterback this year. We typically bring in a quarterback every year."

Q: Are you committed to building through the draft?:

Holmgren: "We have a philosophy of how to build the team. If (free agency) was the right thing to do to build the foundation long term we will do that, but that's not our philosophy for the long term. You see teams do that every year. Does it automatically guarantee it will work? I have a lot of faith in (Tom Hecket) right here."

Q: What do you say to the fans regarding the direction the team is heading?:

Holmgren: "First of all, our fans are phenomenal. The fans of the Browns are going to be fans of the Browns forever and ever. They can be upset. The difference is we made a decision (to keep Eric Mangin) and another decision a year ago (to hire Pat Shurmur). We had a new roster, with a new coach and had some difficulties, but this is the first year. It's a little unfair as they've not only been here one year.

The growing pains are difficult. Our defense did a good job. We couldn't stop the run a couple of times, but our offense, not so much. On special teams, I saw some things that happened that I'd never seen before.

"To wait another year or two (the fans) will hang in there. I meet people on the street who have no qualms with coming up to tell me their opinions. We've tried to lay out how we're going to build this. I came to this city because of the tradition of this city. It reminds me so much of the places I had coached before. I suspect the fans will hang in there with us. I so want to enjoy this with the fans and I think we'll be there. Until the team improves on the field, I suspect there will be frustration. I've been through this before. As soon as the team gets good, well have a full stadium and."

Q: What is Randy Lerner's commitment level to the Browns?

Holmgren: "I want you to really believe the commitment of Tom and I. Randy is really committed as an owner to do whatever is necessary to get this done. The fans here have been really longsuffering. We are driven and put pressure on ourselves to turn this around. The next couple of years are important in determining on how this will go. I'm upset with our record, but I am not discouraged."

Q: How close are the Browns to the Super Bowl?:

Holmgren: "It's one of those things like trying to find a ceiling on a player. I can only tell you based on my experience. In Green Bay, it took us five years but we found a quarterback in the first year. In Seattle, it took us 7 years, but we didn't find a quarterback until year three. Every place is different. What I expect is to be a much improved football team next year, record wise and everything. When we get into the playoffs then you can make a better timetable to get to the Super Bowl. You want to develop a playoff caliber team."

Q: Did you over value the wide receiving corps in retrospect?:

Holmgren: "When you talk about your players you want to be more positive than negative. Did they drop some passes? Yes. In Greg Little do you see some things you can build on? Yes. Do we need to make the pile bigger? Yes. There isn't an offensive area that we won't look at."

Q: Is there anything you can say about Peyton Hillis returning?:

Holmgren:" We're not going to talk specifics, contractually. I will say this about Peyton. You saw some things at the end of the season. He gets hurt and now that thing becomes an area that becomes unstable. As far as the future, we're not going to comment on that."

Q: Are you committed to Pat Shurmur for the long term?

Holmgren: "I know this about the man coaching this football team. He is good and he is smart and he will do what is going to take to. I want to emphasize this. We're building this a certain way. No one is on the hot seat. We understand what we're trying to do. You don't get to where you want to get to by blowing it up every two or three years. You're going to have bumps in the road. We're going to hang in there together and we're going to get it done."

Q: Will the Browns hire an offensive coordinator?:

Holmgren: "That's the way we were trying to go. Last year, I told (Pat) If you don't get the guy you want, do it yourself. We're looking at hiring an offensive coordinator."

Q: Will Shurmur give up play calling, if he has to?:

Holmgren: "It will be difficult to give up. Pat liked doing it too. That's fun during the game. What I'm saying about being unselfish sometimes those guys come in and they want to call plays. If you have (calling plays) sometimes you might miss out on someone."

Q: What did you like about Shurmur's first year as a head coach?:

Holmgren: "His perseverance and ability to handle adversity. For a first year coach, he went through some stuff that I've never went through. He went through some stuff that was a little unusual. Does he need to take a vacation? Absolutely. Will he come back stronger? Yes. He's wired the right way and he's smart and he's going to do the right things for this team."

Q: We're you disappointed in the way the offense performed?:

Holmgren: "We're going to have some meetings and tweak some things. It takes some time to get the offensive pieces functioning right. I wasn't shocked by it. Things slow down and the things that frustrate you and me as it gets cleaned up it will improve."

Q: Any predictions on next year's record on what you would expect it to be?:

Holmgren: "I had hoped we could take a jump in our record and get up near 500. With a couple things here and there, but we could've been there. It's an indicator of progress. It was the first year with this group. I am disappointed with the record and we see it the same way you see it. Next year, I expect it to be better.

"That's how we all look at it. We were 4-12 this year, but if we were 4-12 next year I won't be a happy camper. Ultimately, you are responsible for the guys you coach and will be judged on your record. Am I committed to Pat, yes."

Q: Do you anticipate possibly trading up or down with your extra draft picks?:

Holmgren: "Philosophically, we did this last year. (Tom) and I had a long discussion about getting all of these draft picks (this year). Philosophically, we would like to use our picks. We need the picks to keep filling in our roster."

Q: Did you interview Brad Childress for offensive coordinator last year?:

Holmgren: "We didn't interview Brad last year. This year, I'm not going to talk about it."

Q: Have you had two number one draft choices before?:

Holmgren: "I had exactly the same situation in Green Bay. (GM Ron Wolf) told me he was thinking of trading our second No. 1 for a guy named (Brett) Favre. Tom did a nice job last year setting up for this year. "

Here are some of the questions addressed by Heckert:

Q: Do you anticipate signing a quarterback in free agency?:

Heckert: "Probably not, it's still early. We will look at everybody. There are a few guys that will be free agents. It's really early, but we will evaluate everybody. It doesn't matter at what position."

Q: How important is free agency in filling needs?:

Heckert: "We made a bunch of moves the first year. We're never against it, but any time we can add players we'll do it.

"We believe you build a team through the draft and think you can see it. With selective free agents, we'll go after them if we think we need to do that.

We don't want to go out and sign 10 free agents, but if there's a guy who can help you well definitely go after him."

Q: Are you happy with the progress of the defense?:

Heckert: "We think we have a pretty good defense, that will only get better."

Q: Is it difficult evaluating the quarterbacks in college with all of the spread offenses being played?:

Heckert: "It's difficult, but it's the way it is. Guys in the SEC and almost everybody except maybe the Big 10 are using it. It's mostly shotgun and four wide receivers. Cam Newton did it and that's what you're seeing in college football. You don't see run blocking."

Q: Is there a possibility of trading up?:

Heckert: "That was one of the reasons we made the trade (last year to have the extra picks). You never say never. We like our picks. We have nine right now. We'd like to use them to add to our team."

Q: Do you feel extra pressure on this upcoming draft?:

Heckert: "It's pressure I like. We have to hit on our draft picks because if that's our philosophy. We're at number four now. It would be tough to mess that up."

Q: Will you address the offense in the draft?:

Heckert: "It's obvious we addressed the defense last year. We thought we did a good job on defense last year getting players. We're going to address the offense. Whether in the draft or free agency."

Q: Give an update on the injured players?:

Heckert: "Brandon Jackson should be ready to go. Eric Steinbach is getting close s week or two. Marcus (Benard) is doing alright. Titus (Browns) had surgery and (Scott) Fujita is coming along."

Q: Do you anticipate adding a No. 1wide receiver in free agency or the draft?:

Heckert: "It depends on who's going to be available. Ideally, you want a big, fast guy who has great hands. We do have to address play makers all the way around, but it all depends on who's available. It's a little early to tell who will be available. Greg (Little is a good football player. The jury is still out, but we feel he can be a good player. We didn't have a true no. 1 for most of my time in Philadelphia."

Q: Can you count on Montario Hardesty coming back?:

Heckert: "We like him as a player. Injuries are what they are. He had injuries before we drafted him but running backs get hurt in this league. We like him and we know we need more than one back. It's a position where injuries happen."


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