I'm in Lexington, Ky., preparing to cover Kent State University in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
While I'm currently on the college-basketball beat, that hasn't kept my mind off the Cleveland Browns, free agency and the upcoming draft.
Here are a few topics that I've pondered in the last week:
THE NO. 16 PICK ... And that's where the Browns will be selecting after winning the coin flip with the Atlanta Falcons yesterday. Let's hope that's just the beginning of a run of good luck for the Browns.
For a year, I've thought the Browns had to go offensive line in round one. I've finally had my head turned. I received several fan e-mails suggesting that the Browns should look for a running back to start this year's draft. While I rarely endorse a strategy that includes drafting a back in round one, this year it might make sense.
I've heard from several scouts and a few assistant college coaches who believe Michigan State's T.J. Duckett is the real deal. They all say ignore the inconsistent reports regarding his post-season workout performances. "He is the perfect back for the (AFC North) Division," said one scout.
One look at Duckett and you know he is a perfect compliment to a division that includes Jerome Bettis, Eddie George and Corey Dillon. Duckett is a big back with impressive speed to go along with his 253-pound frame.
Durability is a question with Duckett considering he tends to run a bit upright and he has some lingering injury questions from his sophomore year. I like the fact, however, that he is young. While he had over 600 carries in his college career, he still has a great deal of football ahead of him.
I like his potential as a big back in the passing game. From what I've seen, his hands are better than most scouts credit him as having. While I've heard some scouts question his blocking, I like the size and athleticism that could eventually lead to his being strong at picking up the blitz.
By the way. I've always been in favor of developing the offensive line first, then doing your research and finding a running back in the middle of the draft rather than in round one. The Browns have tried that theory and seemingly come up short with Travis Prentice and James Jackson. Prentice was cast off, and Jackson's injury problems and size make him a big question mark. While the jury is out on Jackson, it is unlikely that he is the answer at running back. Maybe it is time to take a chance on a premier running back at the top of the draft.
WHAT ABOUT THE LINE? ... If the Browns don't go for offensive line in round one, don't be surprised to see Butch Davis spend the rest of day one looking for help up front. I know, hard to believe that a Butch Davis team would stay away from a first-day defensive pick, but everything I've heard out of Butch Davis leads me to believe that he is committed to improving the offensive line. He knows it is his team's No. 1 weakness, and with only one real move in the first stage of free agency, there are only two routes for Davis to consider in upgrading the offensive line - the draft and June 1 free agents.
The top-rated tackles - Bryant McKinnie, Mike Williams and Levi Jones - will all be gone by the time the Browns draft in round one. I've always liked Florida tackle Mike Pearson, and I know Gerard Warren will put in his two cents in support of taking Pearson at the end of round one. Warren told me he believes Pearson has the raw talent to make him a poor-man's Tony Boselli. With Pearson's stock dropping, however, the Browns might consider running back in round one, then look for tackle help in round two.
Marc Columbo is an obvious choice in round two. Paul Zukauskas was Columbo's roommate at Boston College, and he is a big fan of the 6-foot-7, 288-pound tackle. Columbo has the frame to add more size. Zukauskas called Columbo "a big guy with a real mean streak." Most scouts say Columbo also has a nice combination of speed and quickness at left tackle that makes him effective against speed rushers. Those are all qualities that will attract Davis - He's big, fast, and he's a "slobberknocker."
While I've seen him ranked as a likely fourth-round selection, Chester Pitts is a nice option for round three. Pitts projects as a tackle, but at 6-3, 315 pounds, he could develop at guard for a year or two. He's a big, powerful guy who's best skills are in the running game. That's just what the Browns need. He just needs a chance to play more. Pitts didn't play football until arriving at San Diego State. A year or two of coaching at the pro level and he could be a real anchor to the offensive line.
I would rather see the Browns take a chance on Pitts and allow him to develop at guard then take a proven guard like Fred Weary or Eric Heitmann late on day one. To me, Pitts just has more upside.
IN DEFENSE OF LANG ... I've heard two different scouts offer the opinion that the Browns made a mistake in signing Kenard Lang early in the free-agent signing period. They thought the Browns were overrating Lang's ability.
That may be, and while I will miss the explosiveness of Keith McKenzie, I like the commitment to stopping the run the Browns showed in the signing of Lang. The Miami product can still be an effective pass rusher, but his size and his work at previous work at defensive tackle will make for a stronger defensive line. I like the theory of improving the run defense from the outside-in.
With Lang on the left and Courtney Brown on the right, the Browns could have two of the premier run-stopping defensive ends in the game. They could be a perfect compliment to a group of defensive tackles led by Warren and Orpheus Roye, who are more effective when penetrating.