ORLANDO, Fla. — Browns coach Mike Pettine conceded starting a rookie quarterback next season is “a possibility,” but that doesn’t mean the franchise will draft a quarterback fourth overall on May 8.
“The fourth pick, I think, there’s going to be some outstanding players available,” Pettine said Tuesday during an hour-long group interview at the NFL owners meetings. “But I also think that we are in a position, given where the roster is right now, that if that best player there is a quarterback, we’re in a position to take him. And if it’s not, I think it’s a deep enough quarterback class that we can pursue that option later in the draft.”
The Browns have 10 picks this year, including one late in the first round (No. 26 overall) and another early in the second round (No. 35 overall).
So does Pettine believe the second tier of quarterbacks could produce someone capable of prevailing in a competition with incumbent starter Brian Hoyer and stepping into the lineup?
“It could,” Pettine said. “That’s how deep of a class I think it is. You saw a guy like (Seattle Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson that was taken (in the third round in 2012) and very quickly found his way in the lineup. Once guys get in, where they were taken and how we acquired them, that disappears. We’re going to play the best players.
“That, to me, is the great thing about competition. We’ll be confident that we’ll have the best guy. Those guys will compete, and we’ll start the best one.”
Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel are the top-rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft class.
Most analysts project them to become top-10 picks.
Then there’s another wave of quarterbacks that includes Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Alabama’s AJ McCarron. Carr is generally considered the fourth-best quarterback in the draft, and NFLDraftScout.com projects him as a first- or second-round pick.
“I think he’s the best natural thrower as far as arm strength and when you’re just looking at the guy, natural thrower, in the draft,” Pettine said of Carr. “Very physically gifted.
“It’s an interesting class. There’s more than just the first three (quarterbacks). There are some other guys down the line that are impressive on their college tape.”
Because the Browns have 10 draft picks and believe the quarterback pool is rich, Pettine acknowledged it’s possible that they could pick two quarterbacks this year.
“I don’t think we would hesitate to add that player that’s the highest available left whether it’s a second quarterback if we’ve already taken one,” Pettine said. “I don’t think (general manager) Ray (Farmer) would be averse to that at all.”
The Browns, though, have raised eyebrows by paying less attention to quarterbacks during the pre-draft process than expected. Farmer reportedly attended the pro day workouts of Bortles and Bridgewater, but Pettine and his top offensive assistants did not. Like Farmer, Pettine said he would not attend Manziel’s pro day Thursday.
Pettine downplayed the importance of those workouts and said he wanted the new coaching staff to spend time this spring working together on the playbook and other projects instead of constantly traveling to pro days. He also emphasized his belief that private workouts are much more valuable than pro days and explained the team would soon embark on a tour to conduct private workouts with Bortles, Bridgewater, Manziel and several other quarterbacks.
“It’s a big list,” Pettine said.
Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will be heavily involved in those workouts. Owner Jimmy Haslam said he wouldn’t join the tour.
The Browns also plan to host several quarterbacks for pre-draft visits. The organization has turned heads not only for its lack of a coaching presence at notable quarterbacks’ pro days, but also for its decision to not conduct any formal interviews with quarterbacks last month at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Pettine, however, said the team spoke to all of the quarterbacks informally at the combine.
Despite the perception, Pettine insisted the Browns are doing their “homework” on the quarterback class. He even gave reporters his evaluation of each of the big three.
* Bortles: “He has all the measurables. If you said draw me an NFL quarterback, that’s probably who you’d draw. I think the thing that’s impressive about him is his ability in crunch time in a lot of tight games, a lot of come-from-behind wins, you can see he’s confident, can make all the throws. I think he’s a better athlete than some people give him credit for.”
* Bridgewater: “I think he’s extremely accurate. You can tell he’s a very cerebral quarterback. He understands the game very well, understands coverages — that kind of jumps off the tape at you. To me, he seems very unfazed by things. He plays very well under pressure. He’s a guy that’s NFL-ready. It doesn’t seem to be too big for him. He kind of has that calming presence out there. Some quarterbacks get real emotional, get real fired up and he’s not that. He kind of has that quiet confidence about him.”
* Manziel: “Gifted playmaker. The play starts when he makes the first guy miss. That’s exciting to watch, but to transition to the NFL, he’ll have to be able to play in structure, his fifth step, his foot hits the ground so that he can execute a throw. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that wouldn’t happen, and I think he’s capable of doing it. But when you have that ability to improvise like that, that’s what makes him special and maybe separates him from other guys.”
Although Pettine said the quarterback position must be addressed, he made it clear the Browns won’t reach for one at No. 4 unless they’re convinced he’s worthy.
“I don’t think you want to force it,” Pettine said. “If that guy’s not there at that pick, I don’t think you take one and force the issue (and) say, ‘This is the quarterback of the future.’”
As for adding a veteran quarterback via free agency, Pettine said the Browns will explore their options but won’t rush.
Pettine said he likes former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Browns will have discussions about him. However, their interest seems to be limited, and Sanchez is reportedly expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles pending a physical.
Another free-agent quarterback, Rex Grossman, spent the past four seasons with Shanahan as a member of the Washington Redskins. Asked if signing Grossman is a possibility for the Browns, Pettine said, “Options are still on the table for us to add a veteran quarterback.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.