Through the 2009 season, current Browns GM Tom Heckert had built up a stellar reputation working in the Philadelphia Eagles' front office, and when he finally got his shot as a higher position, it was as the middleman in a sense -- perhaps as the intermediary between Team President Mike Holmgren and Head Coach Eric Mangini. With two guys used to calling the shots in either side of him, Heckert spent a but on his podium time at the Scouting Combine talking about the process.
"He’s been great," Heckert said of Mangini. "I think Mike said it right from the beginning, it’s going to be an organizational decision on almost everything we do. Now Eric’s involved in it, I’m involved in it and Mike’s involved in it. I don’t know why he wouldn’t be happy with that situation."
Perhaps because he was used to more organizational control in previous coaching incarnations, but that's a thing of the past -- at least for now. And Heckert doesn't have time to worry about who's getting warm fuzzies; he's got to deal with the personnel holes that come with a 5-11 season. First, of course, is the ongoing quarterback conundrum. When asked about the decision, and how Anderson's upcoming roster bonus affects it, Heckert begged off. It depends. "We haven’t made any final decisions on either of our quarterbacks," he said. "We have some time here. We wanted to see what was here, and what’s available in free agency and we’ll make a decision based on all the things we can evaluate from."
About the Anderson decision, he said that "We’re still talking about that. We’ll get back (to Cleveland) Tuesday, I’m sure Wednesday we’ll get together and make those decisions. But it will come right down to the wire.
With a supreme quarterback evaluator in Holmgren, Heckert was asked if the Browns were averse to going for another first-round quarterback. Taking an early (seventh) pick in what many consider to be a depressed class at the position is a risky move with so many other needs -- especially if Sam Bradford's shoulder and new physique propel him up to first overall. One interesting thing the Browns are doing, according to Holmgren, is flying any potential quarterbacks they like out to Cleveland as opposed to going through the rote speed-dating service provided by the Combine process. Freeze-dried answers in 15-minute bites? That doesn't really do the job. Heckert seemed interested in the abstract, but he could very well have been engaging in the same coached conversation his team is trying to avoid.
"I don’t think we’re closing the door on anything," he said of the first-overall notion. "We’re not shutting the door on moving up or even moving back. We’re listening to a lot of different teams. Obviously it’s still early. We have talked to teams about moving up and moving back. We’re not closing the door on any position." He was also asked about Bradford's specific attributes. "He’s a heckuva football player. I think there’s a feel for the draft. Everybody wants to say he’s a franchise (quarterback), but until he does it, you never know. He’s a big kid, he’s accurate, he won a lot of football games. He’s a leader. That pretty much sums it up. He has all the tools to put it together. Whether it happens, you never know."
More specifically, Heckert was asked whether Mangini's experience at coaching and evaluating 3-4 personnel, as opposed to the 4-3 team backgrounds that Heckert and Holmgren share, would put Mangini's opinion on a slightly higher shelf when it comes to Cleveland's next two-gap nose tackle or inside linebacker. Heckert went back to the symbiosis the franchise is trying to perpetuate from top to bottom. We’re going to be a 3-4 defense, there’s no question about that. I understand the 3-4, I haven’t been a part of it, but I understand how that goes. It’s going to be the same situation with anything we do."
Finally, while it's generally difficult to get a sense of which players a team is looking out for at the Combine, Hillsdale offensive tackle Jared Veldheer should be on every Browns fan's watch list. Why? Heckert also went to Hillsdale, and he's had his eye on the talented and highly regarded player for a while. "I really do," Heckert said, when asked if he had a soft spot for Veldheer. "He’s going to be a drafted player. I don’t know if there has been a drafted player coming out of Hillsdale, I don’t think there has been. That’s obviously exciting. I’ve talked to him. I tried to meet him here last night, but I never got around to it. I talked to his parents about the whole process. This is an exciting time for the school because he’s a big-time player."
As a taller, quicker player, Veldheer fits the prototype of the Brown's line at this time, through Heckert and Holmgren generally prefer more power in their technicians. But who knows? There have been worse tie-breakers in selecting a player, and as Heckert starts to put a stamp on his new team, perhaps that's one way to do it.