The Browns' front office started looking ahead to next season one day after the 2011 season ended. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron wants to remain part of the team's plans.
"I would love to do this again," Jauron said. "I obviously would like to win a lot more games.
"To be in the National Football League is an unbelievable honor and a treat. I've been at a lot of franchises; they were all outstanding. We talked earlier in the year about the traditional franchises. I've been at a number of them, and I really like it. I like the old rivalries. I like the history. I really enjoy it, and it's obviously a great place to work."
The Browns have an offensive-minded head coach, Pat Shurmur, and an offensive-minded president, Mike Holmgren, yet defense was their strong suit this year.
Cleveland finished 10th in the league defensively compared to 29th offensively. They were 30th in points scored (218) and fifth in points allowed (307). The Browns know who the core players on defense will be in 2012, but they haven't identified their starting quarterback and they haven't committed to re-signing running back Peyton Hillis.
Safety Mike Adams said defenses around the league were not hurt by the lockout as much as offenses were because defense reacts to what the offense does on every play. But the Browns switched schemes, and that meant finding out whether left or right end was better for rookie Jabaal Sheard, moving Ahtyba Rubin from nose tackle in a 3-4 to defensive tackle in a 4-3, finding out how best to use linebackers Scott Fujita (since injured) and Chris Gocong, plus deciding whether to start Adams or Usama Young at safety. All those things would have been determined in May or June with an offseason program.
"Dick understands this is a player-driven league," middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "He's been around. He understands in order to be a great defense, you have to involve everybody. That stands out to me.
"He's the same guy every day, and you can tell he cares about what he does."
Jackson has had four defensive coordinators in six seasons -- Todd Grantham in 2006-07, Mel Tucker in 2008, Rob Ryan the next two seasons (Jackson missed all of 2010 with a pectoral injury) and now Jauron. He would not rank the coordinators, but he did contrast Jauron and Ryan.
"Rob was more in your face and more vocal," Jackson said. "You wanted to play your heart out for him. Same with Dick. He brings the same intensity and the same professionalism and he expects the same out of his players."
Jackson praised Jauron's staff. Dwaine Board (defensive line), Billy Davis (linebackers), Jerome Henderson (defensive back) and Ray Rhodes (senior assistant) have a combined 77 years of coaching experience in addition to Jauron's 27 years on sideline. Jauron, Board and Henderson all played in the NFL. Jauron (Bears and Bills) and Rhodes (Eagles and Packers) were NFL head coaches.
"It's a great mix," Jackson said. "We have some guys in our room who understand how to win football games. They gain instant respect when they walk in the door. Any guys they bring in, we're all in for them."
With three picks in the top 37 this year, Heckert could add another top player to the defense, even if he uses the first two on offense. Jauron sees the defense only getting better.
"There's no doubt a year with the group obviously gives us familiarity with each other with their capabilities and with the scheme," Jauron said. "You can build on that. We're very optimistic about the future."
--When Seneca Wallace lost to the Steelers in the final game of the season, his career record as a starter over nine years dropped to 6-15. Colt McCoy has an identical record as a starting quarterback.
--Only two of the Browns' 10 non-division opponents for 2012 are in this year's playoffs. Cleveland plays the Giants and Broncos on the road. Since the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals all made the playoffs, however, half of the Browns' games will be against playoff teams.
--Green Bay went 15-1 this season. That means the Packers won more games in one season than the Browns won in the last three combined. The Browns were 5-11 in 2009, 5-11 in 2010 and 4-12 in 2011.
--Wallace has started a new program named "Joyce's Angels" that focuses on raising charitable donations and awareness to fund research to find a cure for multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer affecting the plasma cells primarily in people over the age of 50. It is the second most prevalent form of blood cancer in the United States.
--McCoy ranked 33rd with an average of 5.90 yards per pass attempt. The reason 33 quarterbacks were ranked is because Kyle Orton had enough attempts while playing with Denver and Kansas City to qualify along with Tim Tebow of the Broncos and Matt Cassel of the Chiefs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have a much clearer picture of what this team is, of who my players are, of how our coaches and players interact, and I feel good going forward making some of the necessary changes that need to be made." -- Browns head coach Pat Shurmur.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Colt McCoy was declared the starting quarterback for 2011 at the end of 2010, even though the Browns did not have a head coach at the time. Now they do have a head coach for next season, and if McCoy is the starter in 2012, he'll have to earn it in the offseason and training camp.
The "best quarterback" will start the 2012 season, coach Pat Shurmur said at his wrap-up press conference, but whether that means McCoy, Seneca Wallace, a veteran signed in free agency, one acquired by trade or one picked up in the draft, he wouldn't say.
The Browns go into the draft with the fourth pick in the first round, an undetermined pick belonging to the playoff-bound Falcons late in the first and the fifth pick in the second round.
"We need to develop all the players, (McCoy) included," Shurmur said. "We'll do what we have to do to put the best quarterback on the field for our franchise.
"I expect Colt to improve, just like I expect Seneca (Wallace) to improve and whoever the quarterbacks are. I expect the quarterbacks here to develop in the offseason, and we'll play the best one."
1. Running back: The Browns are staying mum on their plans for Peyton Hillis, who will be a free agent in March without a new contract. The Browns have to re-sign him or make replacing him a top priority.
2. Wide receiver: The Browns' three opponents in the AFC North have speed at wide receiver. The Browns can improve quickly by drafting Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State with the fourth pick.
3. Outside linebacker: Scott Fujita will turn 33 on April 28, the Saturday of the draft this year. He finished 2010 and 2011 on injured reserve.
--P Reggie Hodges is progressing well after tearing his Achilles tendon in training camp. He has started jogging as part of his rehab.
--G Eric Steinbach is continuing his recovery after having back surgery in August. He plans to play next season.
--QB Colt McCoy said he is experiencing no lingering effects from the concussion he suffered Dec. 8.