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Marla Ridenour: Browns willing to look past blemishes with prospects

By Marla Ridenour

Beacon Journal sports columnist



INDIANAPOLIS:With the sixth pick in the April 28 NFL Draft, Browns General Manager Tom Heckert would seem to be in an enviable position.


Sitting there could be the top receiver, best cornerback, top linebacker and several members of an outstanding class of defensive linemen. Even NCAA scandal-survivor Cam Newton of Auburn should be available.


But instead of merely weeding through college film 40 times to make a decision, Heckert and his staff will have weightier issues to consider, like players who were one-year wonders and were suspended by the NCAA.


Almost every door Heckert opens has a skeleton in the closet.


Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley's one year was wonderful — 111/2 sacks, 60 tackles, 24 tackles for losses for the last season's national champions. But the junior college product started only two games in 2009.


North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn was suspended for all of 2010 for accepting $5,642 in illegal benefits, then repeatedly lying about it to the NCAA.


Georgia receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games last season for selling a jersey for $1,000.


Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is considered the safest pick of the defensive linemen, but he was only a one-year starter. He was also forced to sit out two games in 2010 for agent contact and receiving improper benefits and had to pay back $1,787 for two trips to Miami.


Newton, a quarterback probably not on the Browns' radar screen, survived an NCAA investigation into his father shopping his son's talents. With big talent and an ego to match, he's the ultimate one-year wonder in this class, even as a 30-touchdown pass season earned him the 2010 Heisman. ''Even the Auburn fans didn't know what they were getting at this time a year ago,'' said Newton, who played at Binn (Texas) Junior College in 2009.


Although Heckert said he probably wouldn't consider veteran free agents with character issues, that's not the case with draftees.


''It's not a deal-breaker,'' Heckert said Friday. ''Obviously, anybody who's had any issues in college, you just have to figure them out and it's a case-by-case basis. You have to meet with them and talk to the coaches and as many people as you can and find out if it was a legit deal, was it a mistake? I don't think anybody's ready to crucify a guy for making a mistake. You have to get to the know the kid or at least find out what his feelings are in the whole thing and how he handled it and make your decision. We're not going to take him off [the board] just because he was suspended.''


Heckert said in the Browns organization, the background work on such players is done by the scout responsible for that player.


If the Browns are looking for genuine remorse, they will find it from Quinn. Forced to work out alone in a weight room set up at an indoor track during his suspension, Quinn said he ''definitely cared.''


''Watching the whole season, especially when UNC played LSU and I went down to support them, seeing our guys run on to the field, in the middle of the game I was about in tears in the stands,'' Quinn said. ''I made a selfish mistake and couldn't be out there. That's never my mindset. God gave me a talent and he can take it away from me.''


As for one-year wonders like Fairley and Dareus, Heckert also seemed open-minded.


''It's something you have to consider,'' he said. ''You have to dig into why they weren't performing that way or why they weren't even playing up to that point. I think you can probably look too much into that. If you played the whole year, you at least have a whole year of film to watch. I don't think it's that big of a deal. I wouldn't rule anybody out just because they only played one year,'' Heckert said.


If there are red lights flashing in his head over Fairley or Dareus, coach Pat Shurmur didn't show any alarm, either.


''It is a little bit of a concern,'' Shurmur said. ''There are reasons that may keep you from doing something, but there are also reasons why it won't concern us. Each situation in the one-year wonder category is different. It's important for us to find out why.''


Would 14 game tapes be enough to convince a team investing millions on the sixth pick in the draft? For the Browns, apparently so, if the extenuating circumstances are right.


The wild card for the Browns at No. 6 might be LSU's Patrick Peterson, a shutdown cornerback and gifted return man who started for two years. An All-American and protege of the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson, Peterson has not been touched by scandal.


But Heckert showed he's not afraid of taking chances last year when he traded into the second round to select oft-injured Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty, who tore his ACL in his only preseason game. This April, Heckert seems ready to play the risk-reward game again if he finds a player he deems worthy.


In this year's draft, there seem to be several who are worth the risk. But in the next two months, they've got some 'splainin' to do.

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