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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Let’s try again

Browns attempt for 15th time to get draft right

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

In the very first pick of the first round of their first season back in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Tim Couch of the University of Kentucky. With the second pick in the 1999 draft, the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb of Syracuse.

A selection of Texas A&M’s quarterback Johnny Manziel could be the answer to Cleveland's prayers both in talent and excitement. The polarizing and popular Aggie will likely be available at No. 4. A selection of Texas A&M’s quarterback Johnny Manziel could be the answer to Cleveland's prayers both in talent and excitement. The polarizing and popular Aggie will likely be available at No. 4.
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Oh, well. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s exactly what the Browns have been doing for 15 mostly miserable years.

They have played 240 games since Couch and his new team laid a 43-0 egg in the ’99 opener against Pittsburgh. Between then and now, 20 different quarterbacks have started games for Cleveland. Only one has started a postseason game. (Does the name Kelly Holcomb ring a bell?)

None will get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without a ticket. (Does the name Spergon Wynn ring a bell?) Only one was a Pro Bowl selection. (Does the name Derek Anderson, in 2007, ring a bell?)

It’s time for the Browns to un-ring a lot of bells. They’ve turned the franchise over to a lot of quarterbacks, which is far different from saying they’ve had franchise quarterbacks.

Cleveland has the No. 4 overall pick Thursday night in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Whether it is Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles it is time to be bold and get a quarterback for the present and foreseeable future.

The Browns have two first-round picks, three of the top 35, eight in the top 145, and 10 overall. They can make some hay. Plus, there is talent on the current roster, including six Pro Bowlers in 2013 despite the team compiling a 4-12 record.

Cleveland may not be as far from being competitive as you might think.

Blake Bortles may not have the excitement level that Johnny Manziel has, but Central Florida’s QB is nearly as solid in talent. Blake Bortles may not have the excitement level that Johnny Manziel has, but Central Florida’s QB is nearly as solid in talent.
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That’s why now is the time to strike while the iron is hot. OK, lukewarm.

Of course, there is the theory that the Browns already have a No. 1 quarterback in Brian Hoyer. He started three games last season, played pretty well before being sidelined by injury, and the Browns won all three. Based on recent history, they should be putting up a statue of Hoyer outside FirstEnergy Stadium.

They should not automatically make him the starter, then shuffle through free agents Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen to decide who gets the ball cap and who gets the clipboard. For all that Hoyer produced during a short sample last season, his career is that of a journeyman.

The Browns have a chance to do better, much better, so send the piece of paper up to the podium and let commissioner Roger Goodell announce, “With the fourth pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select …”

■ Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M — He would inject immediate life and put a national spotlight on the Browns, ala RGIII since he joined the Redskins. He makes throws and plays that a lot of NFL starters do not. Sure, he gets antsy in the pocket and his tendency to extend plays could wreak havoc on his 6-foot-1 (barely), 210-pound (barely) body with bigger, faster, stronger players hitting him. But, c’mon people, this is Johnny Flippin’ Football we’re talking about. If Houston, with the top pick, passes on him, and it sounds as if they will, pull the doggone trigger.

■ Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida — You don’t have to worry about this body. He is 6-5, 232, mobile and has a big arm. He’s a tad behind Manziel, perhaps, in his reads and understanding complex defenses, but few are finished products the day they walk through the door.

■ Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville — OK, he may be a reach at No. 4. He doesn’t have a laser-beam arm, as if 70 yards in the air makes or breaks an NFL quarterback, and his pro-day workout was below average. But he completed 71 percent of his attempts for almost 4,000 yards last season. He can throw on the run, off balance, and across his body. He’s mobile and intelligent. Reach or no reach, he has to be an option.

Some Browns’ observers/​experts have been making goo-goo eyes at Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, envisioning him opposite Josh Gordon. Those folks point at the 26th pick in the first round, the product of last year’s Trent Richardson trade to Indianapolis, as a spot from which to orchestrate (maybe by trading up a few slots) the quarterback pick.

The guy in focus there would likely be Derek Carr of Fresno State, who led the nation’s collegians in attempts, passing yards, and passing touchdowns last season. The kid can move chains and drive the ball. He’s more a quarterback of the future than the present, perhaps, and maybe it’s the route to go if you are convinced the Browns can win with Hoyer for a year or two until he’s ready.

Playing draft roulette near the bottom of the round is always risky. Do you get your man?

You do at No. 4. It’s time for the Browns to stop getting a man and go after THE man. Either Manziel or Bortles, maybe both, will be there. Take the best available quarterback. Period.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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