INDIANAPOLIS -- Hue Jackson played quarterback at the University of Pacific and has coached the position for two decades. He loves quarterbacks.
He hates the quarterback questions he’s received in his year-plus as Browns coach.
“I don’t like it,” he said.
Because he doesn’t have the answer.
“We’re going to keep searching,” Jackson said Thursday at the scouting combine. “No one’s really claimed this position yet on our football team so we need to do everything we can to continue to add a player that we feel, as an organization, really good about, that can lead our football team, and we’ll continue to chase that.”
Jackson was again inundated with quarterback queries. He was asked about his evaluation process, the draft prospects and the uninspiring trio of Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan already on his roster.
“We’re going to do everything we can to go find a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns,” Jackson said.
The combine starts the run-up to the draft, and Jackson vowed to be hands-on for the second straight offseason. He was center stage at the quarterback pro days last year and will be again, as the Browns hold the Nos. 1 and 12 picks.
“As an organization we’ll do anything and everything we need to do to make sure that we see all the guys that we feel like have a chance to play for us,” Jackson said.
The Browns have watched the game film of North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, who are considered the top four quarterbacks and candidates to be taken in the first round. Jackson keys on three fundamental areas in his evaluation.
“Can you throw? Can you process? Can you lead your team?” he said. “We all know the quarterback becomes the face of the organization, that’s really important and a lot of pressure comes with that, so a guy’s got to be able to handle that.”
The Browns will have formal 15-minute interviews with the top quarterbacks while at the combine as the player on film becomes three-dimensional. Trubisky grew up in Mentor and wants to play for the Browns, so the pressure of trying to save the franchise would be even greater.
“Some guys play better when they are at home, some guys don’t,” Jackson said. “We would have to know all those things. And we’ll do the digging on all these guys that way, to find out can they really matriculate to the National Football League and still play at a high level and understand the demands of playing the position, especially for the Cleveland Browns.”
Trubisky’s day started strong as he measured well at 6-foot-2 1/8 and 222 pounds with a 9½-inch right hand, earning a stamp of approval from Jackson. A question about Trubisky that won’t go away is why he didn’t get the starting job until his redshirt junior year after Marquise Williams graduated. Trubisky made only 13 starts but set school records by throwing for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.
“Well, it is a small sample size, but at the same time he still played,” Jackson said. “If a guy demonstrates the characteristics you’re looking for, it’s important to keep digging and find out more, but I don’t get concerned about that part of it as long as a guy can do what we need him to do.”
NFL Network’s Michael Silver, a good friend of Jackson, thinks the Browns will draft Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett at No. 1 and added Jackson doesn’t expect his favorite quarterback to be around at No. 12. The Browns’ options would be: trading for or signing a veteran, taking the preferred rookie at No. 1, trading up from No. 12 or waiting until at least the second round.
Jackson said the organization hasn’t finalized its quarterback ranking.
“It’s way early to make a decision about exactly where that position is,” he said.
Watson has the best resume. He went 28-2 as a starter, lost in the national championship in 2016 and beat Alabama in the rematch this year.
“He’s obviously had a great college career, won a national championship, competed at a high level,” Jackson said. “Very talented player.”
Kizer might be the most gifted physically. He’s 6-4, 233 pounds -- “That’s a big guy,” Jackson said -- with a strong arm and the ability to run. But he went 4-8 as a redshirt junior in 2016.
“We’ll definitely dig into that and understand why,” Jackson said. “Because he’s very talented and you’d like to know why that happened that way.”
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Wednesday the notion of drafting a quarterback who can hit the ground running is “pretty farcical.” Jackson said it’s too soon to know with this class.
“That’s why we’re here, to spend more time with them to and see what they know and what they don’t know and how we can help them and how they would fit in our system,” he said.
Jackson was tortured by the 1-15 record in his first season in Cleveland and vowed it won’t happen again, but he wouldn’t concede adding a veteran starter rather than a rookie would fast-forward the rebuilding process or mean more wins.
“What’s most important is find a guy who can win for us over time and can sustain it and do it week in and week out,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just experience. You have to surround the team with talent. It’s not just putting a quarterback on the team. He’s a huge piece of it, but you also have to equip that quarterback with an opportunity to win. You have to make sure he has enough weapons. You have to make sure you’re able to protect him and you put him in the right spot so he can have success.”
Jackson said finding a starting quarterback will be a collaborative effort among him and the front office. But he has the most experience.
“Our staff is truly wanting me to help them make the best decision for this organization,” he said. “That’s what I came here for, but we’re doing this together. Hopefully they’ll use my expertise along these lines so we can make the best decision for our organization.”
And maybe the quarterback questions will take on a different tone.
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