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Browns want a strong-armed quarterback

Posted Feb 24, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns are looking for certain qualities in the quarterbacks they’re evaluating in this year’s draft.

Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel at the NFL Scouting Combine

Mike Pettine won’t give up a name.

He and the rest of the Browns’ football decision-makers are wisely treating such information as classified – especially when it comes to any of the quarterbacks the team would consider drafting in May.

Yet, Pettine is willing to talk all day about the qualities that he and Browns general manager Ray Farmer want from the position.

Long before becoming an assistant coach in the NFL who specialized in defense – serving as defensive coordinator for two teams – the Browns’ head coach was a quarterback. Granted, it was in high school, but it still gave Pettine an appreciation for what it takes to succeed behind center.

And during his time working at the game’s highest level, Pettine has gained an even stronger understanding of what separates the bad from the good, as well as the good from the great, at the most important spot on the field.

That knowledge is likely to play a critical part in how the Browns approach draft. Owning a pair of first-round picks, fourth and 26th overall, they seemingly are in good position to land one of the so-called top three quarterbacks in the draft: Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Conventional wisdom has them selecting at least one quarterback somewhere, even if it isn’t one of the “big three.”

Either way, the Browns know precisely what they are seeking.

“I think there are some certain minimum physical qualities they have to have to be successful (at quarterback) in the NFL,” Pettine said while evaluating college prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “You have to have the arm strength, certainly, to throw in a place like Cleveland. You look at the arm strength, you look at the hand size. That’s a critical thing.

“You’ve got to be able to see them throw the deep out and see that ball on a rope. We talk about, when guys don’t have a strong arm, the ball appears ‘big’ on film. So if you ever hear us say a guy throws a ‘big’ ball, it means that they don’t have super arm strength.”

Such qualities already have been ascertained through study of videotape of college games, and could be seen from the quarterbacks who elected to throw during Combine drills on Sunday. (Bortles did; Bridgewater and Manziel did not).

Clearly, the criteria would seemingly have already eliminated some prospects and put others on a list (perhaps a short one) of possible candidates.

But there is more, which only comes from watching the quarterbacks in games.

“They don’t have to necessarily be great athletes, great runners, but they have to have a great feel for the pocket, feel for the rush,” Pettine said. “They have to be able to sense the rush without looking at it. And think that, when you get guys that look at the rush, they’re going to struggle. I think guys that ignore the rush have the chance to struggle even more.

“The great ones, I think, can feel it and slide in the pocket. Peyton Manning’s not fast by any stretch. Tom Brady is not, (either). But they have a great feel for the pocket. They can avoid pressure, step up, find open throwing lanes. And then if you do have that athletic ability to be able to escape the pocket and generate a couple of first downs with your feet, that’s a plus as well.”

Filling out the rest of the Browns’ profile of the ideal quarterback prospect requires face-to-face conversations with them. The Browns chose not to conduct any of those at the Combine, where each team has up to 60 of the 300 draft prospects it can interview for 15 minutes each.

Instead, the Browns plan to include some of the quarterbacks among the prospects they are permitted to invite to their headquarters in Berea. That way, they’ll have 60 minutes to spend with each of them, and are less likely to get as many canned answers as they would at the Combine, for which most players undergo training that addresses everything they will be required to do on and off the field.

“When we interview any player, you (want to find out) how much do they love football and then how much do they know?” Pettine said. “I think you’re okay with some positions if they’re very narrow-minded in their approach. Some of the guys, if they know their job inside and out, you’re okay with it. I think a quarterback has to know everybody’s job; I think that’s critical. And those are things that you look to when you get them on the (grease) board (to draw up plays) or whether you’re watching film with them, just in the course of natural conversation, you try to see if those things come out.

“We’re looking to hear some things that come out that make us think that this player’s a gym rat. I think, in order to succeed in the NFL, you need to have that gym-rat mentality – that you’re the first one in the building, you’re the last one to leave. You come in every day with a list of questions for your coaches or a list of things that you’re going to give him from that you’ve seen from the tape, notes that you’ve taken.

“You have to have a love for the game.”

>>This Road to the Draft segment is driven by Liberty Ford.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.

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