Browns notebook: Starting-caliber cornerback is on coach Mike Pettine's wish list for draft

Coach: Browns can “absolutely” count on Ben Tate as their featured running back next season.
MCT Regional News
Mar 26, 2014

Coach Mike Pettine disagrees with the notion that the Browns must draft a starting-caliber cornerback after failing to add one in free agency.

Still, it’s something he badly wants.

“If the opportunity presents itself for us to grab a corner, then I’ll more than likely be on the table for it,” Pettine said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. “…When you have those guys that can really lock down the outside and play press-man [coverage] and really play nine-on-nine against everybody else, that’s important.”

Buster Skrine started opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden last season and did a decent job. But he struggled at times and has always seemed better suited for covering slot receivers in the nickel package than facing bigger receivers on the outside.

“I think he has the skill set to be an outstanding slot,” Pettine said. “But he also proved that he can play outside.”

Last season, Skrine started and moved to the slot in nickel. Pettine doesn’t want to spread Skrine, or any other corner, that thin.

“I think that’s hard to do,” Pettine said of Skrine pulling double duty. “I think if you have to do it, you do it. But I’ve always wanted the slot corner to be the slot corner. … That’s one of the reasons that we [signed former New York Jets backup cornerback Isaiah] Trufant. He has the ability to play inside. Then if that’s the case, Buster can play outside. That was more of a move to stabilize the roster. In free agency, you want to get to the point where, ‘Hey listen, if we had a game this weekend, we could function.’ Now you get to the draft, and now you can look to take the best players.”

The Browns also have Leon McFadden, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, but he struggled to get on the field last season and didn’t fare well once he did late in the year.

“I know the perception was that he didn’t have a very good year last year,” Pettine said. “But a lot of times when you have a system change and a [coaching] staff change, you get some players that can respond to that and things are suddenly different.”

Cornerback would look drastically different for the Browns had they pulled off a coup by acquiring Darrelle Revis, who was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then signed with the New England Patriots two weeks ago.

The Browns talked about trading for Revis before the Bucs cut him but didn’t wheel and deal because he didn’t want to restructure a deal that contained a $16 million salary in 2014.

“I think it was kicked around,” Pettine said when asked how close the Browns were to trading for Revis. “I don’t know how serious it ever got.

“When you’re trading, you’re assuming that current contract. There’s no guarantee of a renegotiation.”

So now cornerback is definitely on Pettine’s draft wish list.

Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, TCU’s Jason Verrett, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Florida’s Marcus Roberson and Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner are the top-rated cornerbacks in this year’s draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

Offensive line talk

Pettine said the new coaching staff feels “real good about” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and is “pretty confident about where we are with the right tackle spot.”

Does that mean the staff hasn’t talked about possibly moving Schwartz to guard?

“I think we have to wait till the draft plays out,” Pettine said. “But I think once the dust settles from the draft, [we’ll know]. We always want to be in the position of putting our best 11 [players] on the field. So let’s say we’ve taken a tackle and we decide, ‘Hey listen, these are the five guys that need to be out there. Let’s make that work whether it’s taking a tackle we drafted and putting him at guard or vice versa.”

Extra points

The St. Louis Rams struck a deal Tuesday with free-agent defensive end Alex Carrington, according to reports. Carrington visited the Browns last week and started for Pettine and the Buffalo Bills last season before suffering a season-ending torn quadriceps. Pettine praised Carrington and said, “He's a guy that we'd be very interested in adding to the roster.” … Pettine said he believes the Browns can “absolutely” count on Ben Tate as their featured running back next season. But even though the team recently signed Tate, Pettine said it could still add depth at the position. “It's a deep draft from a running back standpoint,” Pettine said. “So at some point, I wouldn't be surprised if we added a back.” … Pettine said adding a starting-caliber inside linebacker to play alongside Karlos Dansby, who signed with the Browns two weeks ago, isn’t a top priority. “I feel good about Craig Robertson,” Pettine said. “It’s not something that’s a glaring need to me. I think this is a good linebacker draft, and that’s why we feel so good that if that opportunity presents itself, that we’ll be able to do that. That’s not a position that in my mind just jumps out to me that that’s something we absolutely have to address.”

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By Nate Ulrich - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

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