BEREA — Brian Hartline is the third-highest-paid wide receiver on the Browns. In all, there are 16 players on the roster who will earn more than his $3 million salary.
Given those numbers, one could make a strong argument that Hartline gave Cleveland more bang for its buck than anyone else during training camp.
The Canton native and Ohio State graduate set the offensive standard for work ethic and focus at each practice. Better yet, he did so without a hint of bravado or empty words.
“I just prepare every day like it’s a game, that’s how I go about things,” he said. “If the quarterback is willing to give me an opportunity and the play gives me the opportunity, then it’s my job to make the play.”
Since signing a two-year contract March 10, Hartline has earned rave reviews from his teammates on and off the field, defining the term valuable veteran.
After spending his first six NFL seasons — and catching 298 passes for 4,243 yards — with the Miami Dolphins, he has embraced his role as a leader by example.
While fellow wide receiver Dwayne Bowe continues to talk a good game but missed a lot of practices, Hartline is going all-out every day.
“Brian is just a pro, he’s just a pro’s pro,” starting quarterback Josh McCown said. “When he steps onto the practice field, you can tell there’s an urgency to that day’s work, and to getting better and maximizing the time.
“He does that as well as anybody and it’s reflective in his production. That’s been a good thing for us.”
Though the regular season doesn’t begin for another 2½ weeks, Hartline and the Browns appear to be a match made in football heaven.
Their relationship even reads like a fairy tale.
A Canton GlenOak High product joins his favorite NFL team, fulfilling his lifelong dream and that of his family. He also is in the prime of his career at age 28 and brings sorely lacking professionalism to the squad.
“Brian has been everything we expect him to be,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. “As I’ve said before, going against him twice a year in New York and in Buffalo, all he did was run good routes and got open and caught the football.
“It’s easy to see why he’s been productive. He’s a guy that has proven you can depend on.”
McCown certainly agrees, having developed “good chemistry” with the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder that has shown during the Browns’ two preseason games.
Hartline is tied for the team lead with five receptions for 48 yards, four of them on throws from McCown. The duo hopes to add to those totals Saturday when Cleveland plays its third preseason game at Tampa Bay.
“Brian has been great for that receivers room,” McCown said. “He’s got a plan when he’s at the line of scrimmage on how he’s going to attack the defender in the route-running. That trickles down throughout that room, and the young guys, Travis (Benjamin) and Gabe (Taylor Gabriel) are picking up on it too, so it’s good.”
Hartline posted two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and topped 70 catches twice with the Dolphins. But what he didn’t accomplish in Miami before being released Feb. 27 motivates him more.
Despite appearing in 92 games and scoring 13 touchdowns, Hartline has yet to advance to the postseason.
“I’ve missed the playoffs a handful of times by a game, which is frustrating, no doubt,” he said. “We probably did that three or four times when I was in Miami — we win our last game and we make the playoffs, but we lost.
“That’s why it really resonated with me, meeting with Coach Pett and Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) and their knowledge and understanding of football.”
Pettine and DeFilippo quickly sold Hartline on their plan for the future, which all three believe will include a playoff berth.
“Last year was a great foundation year for the Browns,” Hartline said. “When I was down in South Florida, I noticed a 7-4 football team ahead in the division that I instantly put in the category of at least a wild-card.
“We’re done with the foundation now. We’ve moved on and want to compete for division titles. That’s our goal. There is nothing wrong with that.”