Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
PHOENIX -- The Browns are hoping/expecting/counting on Corey Coleman to make a big jump in his second season. The departure of Terrelle Pryor to Washington in free agency demands Coleman to take on the role of No. 1 receiver in his second season. “He’s got to go do it now, because he’s now seen as the ‘the guy,’ so he needs to go play and play well,” said coach Hue Jackson. Jackson described Coleman as “one of the most dynamic players in the draft” when he introduced him as the club’s top pick last year. He was much less than that, missing six games with a broken hand and finishing with 33 catches and three touchdowns. “I think his rookie year was OK, not great,” Jackson said. “We all have different expectations for a first-round draft pick. But we see the potential of what he can be and what he will be and he’s doing the work right now that it takes to get there.” Jackson acknowledged Coleman’s “background is different” coming from Baylor University and exposed to a limited receiver route system in a spread offense. Also, Coleman’s play fell off when the weather turned cold. He did not handle the inclement conditions well, often running from practice reps in outdoor practices to seek cover as soon as possible. Jackson chalked it up to the rookie learning curve. “The season’s long, here comes the snow, it’s cold at practice, the sun’s out the next day, playing a different type of defensive back this week, a guy who’s in my face, a guy who plays off, a guy who talks to me every play, a guy that doesn’t,” Jackson said. “So there’s a lot to prepare for in this league and you’ve to prepare for it. He’ll make the necessary adjustments he needs to play well this year.”
2. Bitonio not moving to tackle: Joel Bitonio played left tackle at University of Nevada, and some scouting reports -- and teammate Joe Thomas -- suggested he could eventually play right tackle in the NFL. Now that the Browns have committed five years and $50 million to Bitonio, some might think it the time to make that position conversion. Jackson is not one of those. “I think he's a left guard and a real good one,” he said. The Browns felt it imperative to improve the interior of the offensive line, and Bitonio’s return to health is seen as an important component to that end, along with the free agent additions of center J.C. Tretter and Pro Bowl right guard Kevin Zeitler. John Greco, who like Bitonio is recovering from Lisfranc surgery, and waiver pickup Marcus Martin, are seen as valuable backups. “We brought those guys in to fix the middle of our offensive line,” Jackson said of the new additions.
3. What about Cam?: Cam Erving’s days at center are over. The 19th pick of the 2015 draft will be moved into the competition at right tackle -- the one huge question mark on the offensive line. After a failed run at center in his second season, Erving started the final game in Pittsburgh at right tackle. The right tackle standing at the end of the game, though, was third-round rookie Shon Coleman, who received his most playing time and may have earned the starting nod heading into the offseason program. The Browns haven’t given up on Erving. “He tried to go in there and play center,” Jackson said. “We thought that was going to be a possible fit for him. Didn’t work out as well as we would’ve liked but I really appreciate a player attempting to do what we asked him to do because of what we saw a year ago. We think he has the skill set, we think he has the desire to do it, so we’ll determine that as we go.” With free agent Austin Pasztor still unsigned, the field at right tackle includes Coleman, Erving and recently signed Matt McCants.
4. Will O.J. do it?: Jackson wants more production from the tight end position, and his eyes lit up when he was asked about Alabama’s O.J. Howard, who parlayed outstanding performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine into the No. 1 ranking in a quality tight end class. Gary Barnidge and three other tight ends combined for 68 receptions for 760 yards and five touchdowns in Jackson’s offense in 2016. “That position needs to upgrade, whether we do that with the guys that are there and continue to get better, or if there’s somebody in the draft than can come in and help our football team,” Jackson said. Howard, 6-foot-5 5/8 and 251 pounds, has been assigned to the Browns at No. 12 in the first round in two of the four ESPN Cleveland mock drafts.