BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns got bigger and maybe a lot badder. That’s a good thing.
Playing in a division where the Steelers and Ravens are the resident bruising bullies on the block, a little attitude can’t hurt.
With the first of two second-round picks, the Browns selected Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard, the Big East’s defensive player of the year, an off-the-edge pass rusher who had nine sacks last season but nearly missed his senior year after being suspended following an arrest.
Later in the round, Cleveland found a potential No. 1 target and game-changing playmaker for quarterback Colt McCoy by picking North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little. He missed last season while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting improper gifts.
Those two selections followed the Browns using their first-round pick on Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a massive run stopper who has controlled his weight problem but has an insatiable appetite for quarterbacks. The 335-pounder has his own sordid past having been kicked off Penn State’s team by coach Joe Paterno for his involvement in a campus fight.
The newest Browns say they’ve learned valuable life lessons from their troubles, but all have a nasty streak that made them appealing to Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert.
“I think they both have that (toughness),” Heckert said, initially referring to only Taylor and Sheard. “Greg Little does too. He’s tough. When he catches the ball he tries to hurt you.”
Friday began with the Browns introducing Taylor to the media. Dressed casually in a green golf shirt and orange Browns baseball cap, the easy-going Taylor was asked what kind of player he hoped the Browns would take in the second round.
“I would like a nice defensive end next to me,” he said.
The Browns got him one.
At 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, Sheard fits the profile Heckert prefers in defensive ends — fast, agile rushers who can get off the ball and around the end.
“I know how to get to the quarterback,” Sheard said on a conference call.
A high school star in Florida, Sheard wound up at Pitt, where he played for former Chicago and Miami coach Dave Wannstedt, the man he credited with getting him ready for the NFL. While in school, Sheard often found himself in the company of the Steelers, who share a training facility with the Panthers.
Sheard compared his game to Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
“Just as far as aggressiveness, his motor,” Sheard said. “I’m always thinking of getting to the quarterback or whoever has the ball in his hands. I want to make that hit where the crowd goes ‘Ooohh,’ and then everybody screams. I want to be the talk of the game.
“I want guys to say, ‘Man, you’re something else, I never want to play against you again.’”
In taking Taylor and Sheard, it’s the first time in their history the Browns have devoted their top two picks to defensive linemen. The club is transitioning to a 4-3 scheme this season under new coach Pat Shurmur.
“It just got a little easier,” Heckert said.
Sheard’s dreams of playing in the pros almost ended last July, when he was arrested for allegedly throwing a man through a glass door of an art gallery. He eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was reinstated by Wannstedt. His teammates voted him captain.
Sheard said the incident was misreported. In tying to break up a fight involving a teammate, he said he was assaulted and while defending himself, he and the man fell through a window. Sheard said the incident both matured him and prepared him for his future.
“That’s the first trouble I’d been in,” Sheard said. “That’s not the guy I am. On the field, maybe I get a little hot and it’s football, it’s competition. But off the field, I’m not like that, I’m a cool, laid-back dude and I’m not looking for trouble.”
Heckert said he has no concerns about Sheard’s character.
“We talked to a ton of people and we can’t find one person to say a bad thing about this kid,” Heckert said.
Same with Little, who instead of running pass routes in his final season in Chapel Hill for former Browns coach Butch Davis, spent it watching his teammates. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Little was one of several Tar Heels to be suspended for accepting diamond earrings and trips from agents.
Little described the imposed layoff as “really tough” and that it changed his morals. The time away from football also gave him a greater appreciation for the game more.
“I’m so hungry to get back,” he said. “It just baffles me sometimes.”
Shurmur isn’t concerned that time away will hurt Little’s play.
“He’ll have fresh legs,” Shurmur cracked.
Cleveland has been seeking a top-flight wide receiver since trading Braylon Edwards, and the club passed on a chance to take Alabama’s Julio Jones on Thursday. Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are adequate receivers, but don’t strike fear into a defense.
Shurmur believes Little can become the No. 1 receiver the Browns have coveted.
“He can beat bump and run. He has the size and the hands. He can separate. He finds a way into the end zone,” Shurmur said. “We’re looking for him to come in and make an impact.”