INDIANAPOLIS — The Browns' media portion of the scouting combine began Tuesday with Executive Vice President and General Manager Andrew Berry stepping to the podium.
Here's five highlights from what he told the media:
1. John Johnson III to be released
Berry confirmed that the Browns will be making a big transaction before the new league year begins March 15.
S John Johnson III and the Browns will part ways at some point this offseason. Johnson, a six-year veteran, spent the last two seasons with the Browns, totaling four interceptions in that span.
"I will start by saying John, the first thought probably is just gratitude in terms of what he has done the past two years on the field and in the locker room for us," Berry said. "After just looking at the roster and thinking about where we want to be in 2023, I thought it would be the best move for the organization to really part ways. That certainly doesn't minimize what John was able to do while he was with our team."
2. Berry has 'good sense' of what Jim Schwartz wants
The Browns biggest change so far this offseason has been at defensive coordinator, where Jim Schwartz was brought in and expected to elevate a defense that largely struggled in the front seven last year.
Those improvements, though, will have to come first via acquisitions from Berry, and Berry said he's been in constant communication with Schwartz about how he'd like to mold the defense as he assesses the upcoming free agent and draft classes.
"We have always been a firm believer as a front office in partnering with our coaching staff," Berry said. "That has always been the case with (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski). That will always be the case with our coordinators. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we are able to map personnel strengths and skill sets to the offensive, defensive or our kicking game philosophy.
"That will be no different with Jim. It certainly does help having worked with Jim before and have some level of familiarity. I have a pretty good sense of what he wants in different parts of the defense. That will always be the case with our coaching staff."
The Browns' top needs are at defensive line, where Schwartz's defenses have previously excelled at attacking the QB and stopping the run. Both those areas were shortfalls for the Browns last year, so it wasn't a surprise to see the Browns bring in a defensive coordinator whose career has been established by building dominant defensive lines.
"He has seen so much football throughout his career as a coordinator or head coach," Berry said. "He has had a number of really strong football influences throughout his career, whether he was as a pro personnel intern under Bill Belichick or working with Nick Saban or Jeff Fisher. I think that blend of intelligence and experience is a big reason why he has been so successful."
General Manager Andrew Berry speaks to the media during his press conference at the 2023 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 28, 2023.
3. Starting center role still TBD
One of the biggest moves Berry will have to decide about the offense in coming weeks is whether he'll re-sign C Ethan Pocic, who started in place of the initial starter, Nick Harris, last season after Harris suffered a season-ending injury in the first preseason game.
Pocic is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 15 if he isn't re-signed. He graded as one of the top centers in the league and enjoyed the best season of his six-year career, which leaves a tricky decision ahead for Berry as he attempts to give the Browns the best starting option at center.
He hasn't yet made up his mind.
"That is to be determined, quite honestly," he said. "I think there is a lot of work to do on the roster. We're sitting here on the last day of February, and there is a lot that needs to be done until we get to August and we're competing for roster spots."
Berry said the Browns have been in contact with Pocic, which is the case for all of their future free agents.
"With Ethan, we stay in contact with all of our impending free agents," he said. "That will be no different with him. We will talk with his reps at some point this week. We're really pleased with what Ethan did with one year with us, and we will see where that goes as we go into the offseason."
4. No 'guard rail' on age for draft prospects
The Browns haven't drafted a prospect over the age of 22 since Berry became the GM in 2020, a trend that suggests the Browns have valued drafting young prospects who could have a higher ceiling than older prospects whose prime years might have a shorter lifespan.
Berry stopped short, however, of saying that trend was by design when asked if it would continue in his fourth draft this year.
"I feel like I have heard this term 'guard rail' a number of years now," Berry said with a laugh. "To be honest, I think perhaps more is made of the age considerations than maybe how we actually think about it. We really do try and treat each prospect on the individual merits of their career. I'm not going to suggest that that's not part of the equation for certain players, but just because a player is older coming out does not necessarily mean they have a lower ceiling, and, likewise, just because a player is younger coming up does not necessarily mean that they have more potential.
"We really try to make this consideration on an individual basis. Who knows? Maybe that will change this upcoming year."
5. Two offensive rookies will have opportunity for bigger roles
Berry was asked about what could be ahead for two players from his rookie class last year: third-round pick WR David Bell and fifth-round RB Jerome Ford.
Neither player generated much offensive production in their first NFL season — Bell totaled 214 receiving yards, and Ford had 12 rushing yards — but the Browns believe they have the talents to do more in their second seasons.
"David as a rookie player really did a nice job just in terms of his reliability, whether that is mentally we were able to put him in a number of different spots throughout the year," Berry said. "Really, his biggest strength physically is really his hands, catching the ball, catching in his frame and catching outside of the frame. We would like to have him take a step in Year 2 in terms of taking further advantage of his targets and getting more familiar with our offense, but we were pleased with him as a rookie."
Ford's biggest task was as a kick returner, and he fulfilled the role well and managed to break off a few decent returns.
Berry said he'll have an opportunity to grab a bigger role in the offense next season as a pass-catching running back.
"Jerome, we thought, did a nice job for us his rookie year," he said. "His main contributions were really within the kicking game and carved out a nice role as a really strong kick returner for us. One of the things that drew us to Jerome throughout last year's draft process is his ability in the passing game, and he will certainly have opportunities going into his second year to potentially showcase those skills on a more extended level."