Heckert sees a maturing team

Posted Dec 14, 2012

While the Browns started the season with 25 first- and second-year players on the 53-man roster, general manager Tom Heckert has watched the young team mature and develop.

When the Cleveland Browns broke training camp in August, the team started the regular season with 25 first- and second-year players on the 53-man active roster. Since then, the Browns have added to that number and carry 27 players with fewer than three years of playing experience into Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.

General manager Tom Heckert spoke with a group of Cleveland reporters on Friday afternoon and no longer considers the players on the Browns’ roster rookies because of the experience gained on the field and coaching of Pat Shurmur and his staff.

“It’s a credit to Pat and all the players where we were in almost every game, all but one,” Heckert said. “We were up on the Giants and ended up getting beaten pretty badly. We were up 14-0 and something would happen. We were winning a lot of those games in the fourth quarter, and it’s a matter of finishing. We finally figured out a way to do it. Hopefully, those guys are learning from it, but I really do think you can see the maturity in all these guys. They’re not rookies anymore.”

The Browns are on a three-game winning streak and two of those victories -- a 20-14 decision against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a 20-17 win at Oakland -- came by one score. The Browns lost five one-score games in the first 10 weeks of the season.

“We were just waiting for this to happen,” Heckert said. “In my opinion, you could see there’s some guys that can play. There’s going to be some growing pains. There’s a lot of things: playing together, the quarterback and wide receivers and the quarterback knowing what he’s doing. Talent-wise and athletic-wise, you saw a lot of things and it’s like, when is it going to all come together? It started, which is great to see.

“When you’re 0-5 to start, it’s tough. There’s probably times where you could think, ‘Let’s start backing off of this guy and we’ll play somebody else,’ but we didn’t and I think that’s great. The experience these guys are getting is going to be unbelievable for them down the road.”

With the winning streak, the Browns have entered into the playoff debate. When asked if the team could be a contender in the AFC North Division next year, Heckert quickly responded, “Yes.”

“I think this is a good, young team,” Heckert said “The type of team that we have, I like it. Everybody gets along. It’s just a good atmosphere, it really is. You don’t find that all the time. That part of it will help. These guys are mature and I think the veterans that we do have are phenomenal. They buy in. (Linebacker) D’Qwell (Jackson) could’ve been the first one to say, ‘I’m out of here. I’m not dealing with these young guys’ last year when he was a free agent and he didn’t. He helps these guys. There’s no egos. It’s really good to be around.”

In addition to the experience and productivity benefitting the players, Heckert feels it will make the team stronger when it comes to drafting players.

“Instead of saying, ‘It really doesn’t matter what we draft because that guy’s going to start,’ now, that’s not going to happen, which is always great,” Heckert said. “We’ve had a lot of draft picks that made the team and some of it was because we had no one else to play. We want that competition. You hate to say it like this, but you want some of your late-round picks not to make it if you’re getting that good. That’s our goal, or they beat out somebody that’s pretty good. That’s what you want.”

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