As he spoke to reporters Monday at the Cleveland Auto Show, Mike Pettine ran down the usual list of qualities that are attributed to Browns veteran quarterback Josh McCown.
That goes a long way toward explaining why the Browns viewed McCown as a positive addition to the roster, but it doesn’t tell the entire story, Pettine said.
“That's not why we brought him here,” Pettine said. “If we wanted a mentor, you can bring a coach in that can do that. To me, the guy can still play. When the circumstances are right, he's shown he can play at a high level.”
Pettine hesitated to name McCown the Browns’ frontrunner to start the 2015 season opener but stressed he would be “comfortable” with the veteran under center for however long he is considered the team’s best option at the position. Whether or not the Browns add bodies to the quarterbacks room through free agency or the draft remains to be seen, and Pettine wasn’t ready to speculate about players not on the roster.
He’s prepared to roll with what’s already on board.
“We'll see what our roster is like in September,” Pettine said. “Here's a guy who has played quality minutes in this league and brings a lot to our organization on and off the field.”
Pettine’s emphasis Monday centered on what McCown, who had his best year in the NFL in 2013, can do for the Browns outside of the locker room. Newly signed wide receiver Brian Hartlineechoed that sentiment with some passion during a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
“Anybody that wants to bring in a veteran guy like that and believes in him, if you are a fan of the team why wouldn’t you trust the coaching staff and what they are trying to build?” Hartline said. “To me, he is that quality guy … Any guy that can perform at all under that kind of pressure and that kind of change is pretty impressive to me. I know he’s looking forward to establishing some roots here in Cleveland and I am excited to work here with him. I think a lot of what the coaching staff thinks so if they are good with him, I am good with him.”
The outside criticism of McCown has centered on 2014, when he went 1-10 in 11 starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McCown, who missed five games in the middle of the season with a broken thumb and saw his offensive coordinator take an indefinite leave of absence because of a medical condition shortly before the start of the season, threw for 2,206 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
One year earlier in Chicago, though, he completed close to 67 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight games (five starts). His familiarity with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was McCown’s quarterbacks coach at Oakland in 2007, was also a key factor in the decision to invest in McCown more than 10 days before free agency opened, Pettine said.
“When we discussed the quarterback position, all the guys we knew would be available, we stacked them,” Pettine said. “Anybody that’s ever worked with him, you’re not going to find anybody that says a bad word about him. He’s a tremendous leader, he’s great in the locker room.
“We’re just not looking to bring in a guy that’s a leader and a mentor; we want a guy that can play the game as well. He certainly demonstrated that in his last year in Chicago and that’s something we’re hoping to replicate here in Cleveland."