[Editor’s note: Browns G.M. Tom Heckert appeared on Wednesday’s PFT Live. Here’s a full transcript of the interview.]
MF: Let’s start with the guy that you traded up to get from number four to number three, running back Trent Richardson. What did you see in this guy that made you believe that you had to get him even if it meant bumping from number four to number three?
TH: Well, you know, that’s just it. We thought he was a special player, you know, a guy that’s gained a ton of yards in major college football versus very good competition and he’s just a guy we felt fits into the climate here, the type of player, I think, you know, the last couple years we spent a lot of resources on defensive players, trying to get, to be honest with you, trying to get tougher and more physical on defense and, you know, we thought it was about time to do the same thing on the offensive side so we thought Trent fit that mold and he was worth whatever it took to get him.
MF: Now, this move comes at a time when we’re seeing more and more teams using multiple running backs. Does the fact that you moved up to number three and took Trent Richardson there, does that mean he’s going to be installed as your starter and he’s going to be your guy, he’s going to be the workhorse in Cleveland?
TH: I think it’s pretty safe to say we draft a guy third overall, he’s going to be the guy. But we do think we’re going to need extra backs. You know, last year going into the season we thought we’re in really good shape at running back with Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jackson, and Montario Hardesty and it turns out all three of them got nicked up. So, you know, we do think it’s a position where you better have a couple guys and, you know, we have obviously Brandon Jackson and Hardesty coming back both, so we think it’s going to be, from last year where it was probably a weak spot for us, we think it’s going to be a very, very big positive for us this year.
MF: But doesn’t the fact that running backs tend to get injured more frequently, doesn’t that counsel against using the third overall pick on a running back who may get injured in, I don’t know, I don’t want to put any jinxes out there, but he could get injured in training camp and be done for the year.
TH: Right, and I do think that’s probably one of the reason they don’t go up that high, but we thought he was such a special player, we thought it outweighed any, you know, hesitations about whether the running backs, how long they last, and all that stuff. You know, he scores a lot of touchdowns, we think he’s going to score a lot of touchdowns for us.
MF: And on that issue of injuries he did have a knee injury at some point late in the college football season. I asked him about it that first night at the draft after he was picked, his response was, ‘What knee injury? I’m perfectly fine.’ How did the Browns ultimately feel about any lingering effects of a knee problem that Richardson was carrying into the draft?
TH: None at all. You know, we actually went down and worked him out after the injury and then we actually brought him in here after the workouts, so we had no reservations whatsoever. He’s 100 percent and he looked great in his workout.
MF: How much of the decision to go with Trent Richardson and install him as your workhorse, how much of that comes from the fact that coach Pat Shurmur had Steven Jackson in St. Louis and offensive coordinator Brad Childress had Adrian Peterson in Minnesota?
TH: Well, I think it doesn’t have a ton to do with it but it just, I think, the style we want to be as not only an offense but a team in general, obviously everyone knows our situation in this division, where it is, it’s a tough division and there’s a lot of weather that’s involved. Some days you’re not going to be able to throw the ball 40 times a game, you’re going to have to run the ball. So you know, I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot that those guys have been a part of those types of offenses, but it does help.
MF: Now surprisingly and I guess not shockingly because of the new CBA and the rookie wage scale a lot of draft picks are being signed. Any talks with Richardson or any of your other draft picks aimed at getting any of these guys done before the rookie minicamp this weekend?
TH: Yeah, we’ve talked to all of them and we’ve made a lot of progress on a lot of them. So the first couple are probably going to take a little longer, but I think we’ll have the majority of them done by this weekend.
MF: And you’ve got two first-rounders to negotiate. We mentioned Brandon Weeden earlier. Mike Holmgren did some radio yesterday in the Cleveland area and it wasn’t completely clear to me whether or not he would have preferred Kendall Wright, the receiver from Baylor with the number 22 pick and then maybe would have tried to get Weeden later, or Weeden was the guy, or they whether you were just undecided. Where did it stand just before the Titans took Wright off the board at number 20?
TH: Well, they kind of made it easy for us and I think that was kind of what he was alluding to yesterday, where when he was gone it really wasn’t a big decision. But you know, I think it’s no secret as Mike said yesterday that we did like Kendall, but the issue we had was if you’re going to talk about a quarterback at that position why take the risk and let him go to the second round or, you know, move back a little bit and even if you get another pick it’d have to be pretty strong for you to pass up on a quarterback just in case. I mean if we think he’s going to be the future, which we obviously do taking him at 22, then we might as well go ahead and take him. So that’s kind of the philosophy, you know, we did talk about in dream scenarios, you know, how can we come off, we like these four guys, how do we come up with all four of them? So we did talk about the best way to do it, but like you said, it really was kind of irrelevant once Tennessee took Kendall.
MF: The biggest knock on Weeden is that he comes in at 28 years of age, that’s an age where most guys are hitting their prime. Does he get installed as the starter right away given that he was a first round pick and that he’s 28 years old?
TH: Well, and I think Coach Holmgren said the same thing, yeah that’s the overall view, that’s what we think he’s going to be and we took him there so we expect him to be the guy. Now, if it doesn’t work out that way right away then we’re not going to throw him out there just because we took him at 22. We’re not in this thing to look good in our draft picks and all that stuff. We want to win football games, so we’re going to play the best guy, but, you know, obviously when we took him at 22 we expect him to be the guy.
MF: So if McCoy ends up being the best guy, Colt McCoy the guy who was a third round pick two years ago, if he ends up being the best guy he’ll be the starter Week One?
TH: Yeah, I mean that’s the way I think we look at it at all positions, you know, it’s the same thing to a lesser extent with Trent. If Trent is not the guy, we would play the best guy. But our feeling is going in that those two guys are going to be, you know, hopefully what we thought they were and be the guys.
MF: There was a report last week that comments from Colt McCoy’s fatherm Brad McCoy, after [Colt] McCoy had a concussion against the Steelers last year, that that sealed Colt’s fate and really was the impetus for the Browns to go out and get a quarterback in round one. What’s your response to that report?
TH: Well first of all I think it’s kind of crazy to think we would make football decision based on whatever happens outside of this building, so to be honest with you we didn’t really think much of the comments because it’s just completely false. You know, Colt and I, and Colt and Pat, and Colt and Mike, we all have very, very good relationships and there was never any questions about Colt being around here.
MF: Isn’t it fair though for people to look at the fact that you bring in a 28-year-old quarterback in round one and for folks to conclude that you’ve given up on Colt McCoy after two NFL seasons?
TH: You know, I can understand that, I really can, you know it’s, but I think and we’ve said it over and over, and from the reality of what happened I know it probably doesn’t look that way, but we were OK with going into this season with Colt McCoy, if that was what happened, if we didn’t, you know, we weren’t doing anything in free agency, we made a decision that Colt was our guy, if something happened in the draft, it happened in the draft. But in free agency we did not talk to anybody, we did not bring anybody in, Colt was our guy. Then it just so happened that there was a couple guys in this draft that we really liked and if we got them, which we did, the it would be a competition. But we do like Colt McCoy and we do think he’s got a chance to be a player in this league, so for that reason we didn’t really do anything in free agency and we, you know, really if there’s a few guys in the draft that that happened, like it did, then great, if not we were fine with going with Colt.
MF: The offensive overhaul continued in the second round of the draft, Friday night a couple of weeks ago. Mitchell Schwartz was taken, the presumption is he steps right in at right tackle, is that an accurate conclusion for folks to draw?
TH: Yes, you know, it was a position where we had a couple injuries last year and then Tony Pashos was released so, you know, we do need a guy to come in here and fill that spot. Obviously Mitchell is the guy we targeted for that, now I guess the same thing holds true for anywhere, if he can’t get the job done we’ll move someone else in there. But we have full expectation that he’s going to be the guy.
MF: We talked earlier about receiver Kendall Wright, when you look at the Browns draft picks, you know, there was a receiver taken later in the process, but when you look at the overall depth chart some would say it leaves a little bit to be desired. What would you say to those who think receiver is an area of weakness for the Cleveland Browns?
TH: Well, I do kind of understand that, just because we don’t have the infamous big name, number one receiver and that’s a fact right now. You know, hopefully Greg Little becomes better after he, you know, we have to remember this kid caught 65 or something balls for us last year without having a year of football at North Carolina and then no offseason with us, so we expect big things out of Greg Little this year. We think Mo Massaquoi’s got a chance to be a good player for us, he’s battled some injuries. Then you’ve got [Josh] Cribbs, you got, so I understand what you’re saying, we don’t have the big, number one star, I guess, media-wise. But we do think we’re a solid group and do think we can get better and we’ve added Travis Benjamin this year, so we’ll have to wait and see.
MF: Is part of the thinking if Trent Richardson pumps up the running game, draws a safety down into the box, the passing games opens up, you’ve got a quarterback who can deliver the ball to the open receivers, all of a sudden these guys who weren’t big-name receivers become big-name receivers because they start catching a lot of passes?
TH: I think there’s no question that definitely helps. Look at it the other way, where if you don’t have a running game they don’t have to worry too much about the running the game so they don’t have to have seven, eight guys in the box. So I think it works both ways. But I think the running game will definitely help our passing game and we do think we have a very strong tight end group. So I think, if you mix and match the positions, the skill guys, I think we’re going to be OK.
MF: Now, broadening the lens a little bit and I mentioned earlier you’re in a division, toughest in the NFL if you look at playoff berths, three teams, Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals, all made it in 2011. How realistic is it for the Browns to believe that it’s possible for them to contend given the division that they’ve been assigned to?
TH: Well, I mean it’s easy for us to sit here and say, but we believe it. We believe we can compete with these teams and we think we made huge strides last year in defense, you know, we were a top ten defense statistically wise. But not only that, we think we were very, very young and we started to think out of the whole offense, defense, special team, we started to the most young, you know, the youngest groups out of the entire league. So with another year of the defensive guys getting acclimated to our scheme and with an offseason, we think if we can do anything close to what we did offensively by moving around from a year, we do think we’ll be in really good shape and we do think we can compete.