INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Mike Pettine hinted that picking a quarterback early in May's draft is his preference for the Browns, but he also believes it's possible to build a winning team with other strategies.
The Browns have 10 selections in this year's draft, including two in the first round (Nos. 4 and 26 overall). Many outsiders expect them to choose one of the top-rated quarterbacks -- Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Central Florida's Blake Bortles -- fourth overall.
That might happen. But even if it's the primary mission of Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer, contingency plans must be in place if the quarterback they want isn't available.
"With the number of picks we have, if we don't get the quarterback early, all options are on the table," Pettine said Saturday during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "We're not locked in saying we have to take a quarterback early in the draft."
Farmer delivered a similar message Thursday when he said, "It could be safe (to say we'll draft a quarterback), but we might not go that direction. It may not be what everybody thinks it's going to be. There is an opportunity for some curveballs."
However, there's no denying that quarterback is a top need.
"We have a lot of priorities," Pettine said. "Quarterback is the obvious one. We're going to be very meticulous there, but it's not going to end there."
Pettine echoed Farmer's sentiments when he stressed that a winning quarterback can be secured without a top-five pick.
"I think being a championship quarterback is not making him win the championship himself," Pettine said. "You saw that happen in Seattle. Would you put Russell Wilson in the top 10 in the NFL in quarterbacks? No. It's a team sport. They played great defense. The supporting cast around him was tremendous."
Pettine isn't entirely dismissing Brian Hoyer as someone who could lead a winning team. Pettine said Hoyer, who led the Browns to back-to-back victories in September before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, is ahead of schedule in his rehab and is expected to do at least some limited work in the spring when team workouts resume.
"He's proven he can be successful in the NFL," Pettine said of Hoyer. "But at the same time, you're always looking to make the team better, and that's the most important position. So we're going to do a lengthy evaluation on what's available in the draft, what's available in free agency, what's on campus and make that decision for what's going to give us the best chance to win."
Pettine is a defensive-minded coach, so he conceded he'll rely on offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains as the staff provides Farmer with input on quarterbacks this offseason. He sidestepped questions about his opinions of Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles.
"Initially, I have to defer," said Pettine, who spent the past five seasons as a defensive coordinator, one with the Buffalo Bills and four with the New York Jets. "I'm not going to profess to be an expert on all of the graduate-level details of offensive players."
Still, Pettine knows he wants an "all-weather offense," and that desire will affect how the team evaluates quarterbacks.
"It has a big effect," Pettine said. "The thing that's coming out now, you talk about the size of Manziel's hands (9 7/8inches, larger than Bridgewater and Bortles). It was a factor with E.J. Manuel at Buffalo. If you're going to be quarterback in an area where it is potentially going to be windy or you're going to get some bad weather in the year, that's a big priority. You're looking for guys that have strong arms that can deal with the wind and can protect the football."
Off-field traits are also vital.
"I think high character is one of the most important aspects," Pettine said. "Certainly the quarterback, given the position of leadership, has to possess it above all else."
Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a candidate for the Browns' No. 4 overall pick, drew praise from Pettine. Watkins, 6-foot- 3/4 and 211 pounds, said he had met both formally and informally with the Browns at the combine.
"Anytime you can add somebody to your team that can score points, that can make explosive plays, that's what the NFL's all about," Pettine said. "... You have to have players that when they get their hands on the ball are special, and I think he falls into that category."
Watkins said he could see himself playing opposite Browns All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon, who set a franchise record with a league-high 1,646 receiving yards last season.
"For me, Josh Gordon is one of the top receivers in the NFL," Watkins said. "I'd take some pressure off him with double coverage and them flipping the coverage to his side. It would become a nightmare for (opponents) to match up. For them to get me would be a great decision."
A second-team All-American by the Associated Press, Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. In a 40-35 victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, he pulled in 16 receptions for 227 yards and two scores.
Pettine said if he boasted an offense that included Watkins, Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, he wouldn't worry about keeping them all happy.
"If that's our biggest problem, worrying about that, where do I sign up?" Pettine said.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has rarely been mentioned in connection with the Browns, perhaps because he may be gone before they pick fourth.
Asked if Clowney could fit his scheme, Pettine said, "We're always looking to have explosive athletes. You need guys with size and explosion, and he certainly fits into that category."
Clowney, 6-5 1/4 and 266 pounds, hopes to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range Monday. He totaled 13 sacks as a sophomore, but managed only three last season, when coach Steve Spurrier failed to endorse his work ethic. But Clowney's goals remain high.
"I just want to be the best, one of the greatest of all time," Clowney said.
Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack burst onto scouts' radar during a 40-20 loss at Ohio State on Aug. 31. The 6-3, 248-pounder recorded nine tackles, 2 1/2 for losses, 2 1/2 sacks and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. His forced fumble on a blitz was nullified by an unintentional face-mask penalty.
He went on to be voted the Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year and is projected as a top-10 pick.
"I got a lot of single blocks," Mack said of the OSU game. "It just so happened I played off a cut block and got an interception. There were a lot of things that played into my favor that day. Luck, I guess you could say, but hard work paid off."
Asked if he got a sense he was being underestimated by the Buckeyes, Mack said, "I feel like there was a little bit of disrespect there from a schematic approach. But at the same time, I wanted to make them pay for it."
More thoughts from coach
-- Pettine is eager to meet with Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack when he returns from Brazil to sell him on the program he wants to establish. Mack is scheduled to become a free agent March 11.
"Nothing (is) scheduled, but I welcome that because once he sits down and he senses where we're headed and I can lay out the philosophy and the program from A to Z, and hopefully, we have that shared vision of what it should look like going forward and it's something he wants to be a part of," Pettine said. "I am confident when he sits in front of Kyle (Shanahan), (offensive line coach) Andy (Moeller) and (assistant offensive line coach) George DeLeone, that he'll feel the same way."
-- Pettine said Barkevious Mingo will "definitely be one of our outside linebackers. The obvious question that's come up with him is his size and the ability to put weight on. That's something that's going to be a priority for us. ... We'll sit down and make sure it's not bad weight, that we do it the right way. He has freakish ability."
Mingo is in Brazil with Mack. So in an email Pettine sent to Mack he included, "Make sure (Mingo is) getting enough to eat."
-- Pettine said he'll use a multifront defense but wouldn't commit to employing a 3-4 or 4-3 base.
"It opens up our options. We're not limited in the type of football player we can take," Pettine said. "If there's a guy that's an explosive athlete that can make plays for us defensively, then we'll find a spot for him."
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