Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - When Tom Heckert took over as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns on January 11, 2010 he had 2 goals – get the roster younger and win.
1 down, 1 to go.
The Browns are definitely young.
They finished 2011 with the youngest roster in the AFC – 14 rookies, 5 first year players and 10 players in their second year.
They were also 4-12.
The Browns are even younger entering 2012 as the initial 53-man roster features no less than 15 rookies on it.
“Most times you don’t have that many picks and you’re going to have one or two college free agents, but I think we had three college kids make it,” Heckert said. “Then we just had a lot of draft picks so most of the time you just don’t have that many picks.
“I don’t look at it as a negative at all. We like these guys.”
10 of this year’s 12 draft picks made the 53 – Emmanual Acho (6a) was placed on injured reserve and Brad Smelley (7b) was moved to the practice squad.
With so much youth, winning will be difficult this season – but not according to coach Pat Shurmur.
“Absolutely, we can win with 15 rookies,” Shurmur said. “I’m not a guy that predicts what’s going to happen. All I know is I’ve seen these guys play good football. They have fresh legs. That’s what I’ll say. I expect that when we put them out there, everybody out there, even the 15 rookies, are going to do what it takes.”
This year, first rounders Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are expected to rejuvenate an offense that was stuck in the ditch and scored a measly 218 points a year ago.
Miami speedster Travis Benjamin, a fourth round pick, and supplemental second round pick Josh Gordon are being counted on to provide a needed talent upgrade at receiver and to compliment Greg Little, who enters his second season.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz replaces Tony Pashos, who played 12 games in 2011 with a torn tendon in his foot. Defensive tackles John Hughes, a third round pick, and sixth rounder Billy Winn will sub while Phil Taylor is on the mend.
Linebacker James-Michael Johnson was expected to start in place of Scott Fujita, who is suspended for 3 weeks, before he sustained an oblique/rib injury in the preseason finale against Chicago.
Seventh rounder Trevin Wade has flashed and handled the nickel role in place of Dimitri Patterson who is out with an ankle injury.
“These guys have played games at other levels,” Shurmur said. “I think it’s important that our veterans that are here help them get through the mental part of it. That is a lot of rookies, I would agree with that. It’s going to be fun to see the energy that they play with. I think that’s important.”
Undrafted rookie free agents Johnson Bademosi – a special teams maven, safety Tashaun Gipson and linebacker L.J. Fort also made the team.
Heckert desired from day 1 to blow up the roster and rebuild it through the draft instead of trying to buy and build through free agency.
His philosophy is simple – a young team is usually healthier and hungrier than an older one.
“Not that veterans aren’t, but these guys know and I don’t want to be callous, but they know if they’re not performing we can make changes real quick,” Heckert said. “The veteran guys sometimes that’s probably less likely to happen, but these guys are enthusiastic. They’re excited about playing and its fun. When you get a bunch of older guys even in practice it’s different, it just is and it’s not trying to talk bad about older players, but it’s tough sometimes to get out of bed every day and go out to practice for two and a half hours.
“When you see a bunch young guys running around I think it invigorates the older guys we have. They see all this stuff so it’s just a different atmosphere when you get a young team.”
In 3 years Heckert has stocked the roster with quality young talent.
Only 3 players are no longer with the Browns from Heckert’s classes and they were from his first draft in Cleveland – DB Larry Asante (5c), WR Carlton Mitchell (6a), and DL Clifton Geathers (6b).
Even with the 3 ‘misses,’ in 2010 Heckert still added cornerback Joe Haden, who was selected seventh overall, strong safety T.J. Ward and running back Montario Hardesty in round 2, quarterback Colt McCoy, who started 21 games before losing the job this year to Weeden, and right guard Shawn Lauvao in the third round.
The 2011 draft saw the additions of defensive tackle Phil Taylor (currently on PUP list following surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in May) in round 1, left end Jabaal Sheard and receiver Greg Little in the second round, tight end Jordan Cameron, fullback Owen Marecic, cornerback Buster Skrine, left guard Jason Pinkston and free safety Eric Hagg – a seventh round pick.
That’s 9 starters and 3 reserve/role players in Heckert’s first 2 drafts and as many as 7 of the 12 total picks this year could start this season as well.
To say that Heckert is looking forward to seeing how the new class of rookies play would be an understatement.
“Yeah, but really we could have zero rookies and I’d be curious to what we’re going to see on Sunday,” Heckert said. “This time of year it’s always like this. Obviously, we have high expectations. We think we’re going to be alright, but everybody’s saying that. We really are.
“We’re excited about the season. We’re excited about the young players. We’re looking forward to see what happens.”
Fans are looking forward to seeing wins.
And so is Heckert.