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BEREA, Ohio — Once they hung up the phones, closed their laptops and discarded uneaten sushi, the Cleveland Browns’ bosses felt satisfied.
Following perhaps the weirdest draft in NFL history — three strange days during which the lockout was lifted, reinstated and confusion reigned over a multibillion-dollar business entangled in legal mumbo-jumbo — the Browns believed they improved themselves.
When they’ll get to prove it is anyone’s guess.
“I feel extremely good about what we’ve accomplished,” Browns’ first-year coach Pat Shurmur said. “We picked players we feel like may have the chance to come in and start. They’re players we like. We felt like if we came out of this draft with a lot of good players, we were going to get better.
“I think that’s what we accomplished.”
With general manager Tom Heckert calling the shots and president Mike Holmgren supervising in a lesser role than a year ago, the Browns addressed several pressing needs. Their first priority was a defensive line transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, and they added Baylor’s Phil Taylor to plug the middle and Pittsburgh’s Jabaal Sheard to rush from the edge.
The Browns’ brass also netted big-play North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little for quarterback Colt McCoy. And, they added speed, strength, versatility, toughness and, maybe most importantly, infused youth into what was one of the league’s oldest rosters last season.
“We’re really excited,” Heckert said following his second draft as Cleveland’s GM. “Time will tell, but right now on paper, we’re really happy. These are the guys we really wanted. Hopefully, we made the right decisions.”
Heading into Saturday with six picks, the Browns selected USC tight end Jordan Cameron and Stanford two-way standout Owen Marecic in the fourth round. In the fifth, they took speedy Tennessee-Chattanooga cornerback/kick returner Buster Skrine before trading two sixth-round picks to move back into the fifth and get Pittsburgh offensive lineman Jason Pinkston.
He grew up in Pittsburgh rooting for the Steelers.
“I love them, but it’s business now and I’m a Cleveland Brown,” Pinkston said.
So what’s he going to do with his Terrible Towel and black-and-gold gear?
“Donate it to Goodwill.”
With their final pick, the Browns took Nebraska safety Eric Hagg (No. 248).
This was the first draft in Cleveland for Shurmur and Heckert, who worked together for eight years in Philadelphia. Their connection was one of the chief reasons Holmgren hired Shurmur after firing Eric Mangini following his second straight 5-11 season.
Holmgren was pleased with how his two top football minds meshed.
“These guys did a marvelous job,” he said. “After working with Tom and being with Pat for a while, I have the utmost confidence in their ability to do a great job.”
Holmgren felt Heckert was able to fill the team’s needs without gambling on players.
“We picked the best player available at the time at a position without reaching,” he said. “That’s the key to a draft. If you can be solid year after year — I don’t think spectacular, but solid year after year — this is a solid way to do it. Then if you hit a spectacular pick, fine. But that’s the way to build a team. The beauty of it is these two fellas work very well together.
“Now, the proof is in the pudding.”
Heckert’s most daring move came Thursday, when instead of taking Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones or another highly rated player, he traded the No. 6 overall pick to Atlanta, getting the Falcons’ first-round pick, a second and fourth-rounder this year and a first and fourth-round selection next year.
While the decision to trade down may have disappointed some Browns fans, Holmgren felt it was not only a wise maneuver, but a necessary one for Cleveland’s future.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do for our team at this particular time,” Holmgren said. “The trade was kind of an amazing trade when you count it up. It’s what we needed.”
The Browns seemed particularly proud of nabbing Cameron, who began his college career on Brigham Young’s basketball team before transferring. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, who showed off an array of impressive dunks in a YouTube video with close friend and NBA star Blake Griffin, is raw. But he could develop into a lethal weapon in Cleveland’s new West Coast offense.
“He’s big, he’s super athletic, and he’s got really good hands,” Heckert said. “This kid’s got a feel. ... This guy was so head and shoulders above everybody else, that everybody was on the same page. Everybody said let’s take him. We’re happy we did.”
During the tension-filled moments when they were on the clock or discussing trades and players, Cleveland’s draft room was stress free and positive all three days. Heckert, Shurmur, and Holmgren were in harmony.
“We all get along, we’re all thinking the same thing,” Heckert said. “It’s all very easy.”
There was strong disagreement over one choice — dinner.
“They like sushi,” Holmgren said, starting a funny exchange. “I don’t like sushi. They had platters of that stuff all over the place.”
“That’s really the best part of the draft, bringing that sushi in,” Heckert said.
Holmgren wouldn’t budge.
“Eww,” he said.
The Browns hope they never hear that about this draft.