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Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson Speaks at the NFL Combine (Transcript)

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson spoke with the national media just before noon on Wednesday at the NFL Combine. Jackson's opening statement went on for quite awhile -- much longer than the norm for this event -- making some wonder if he was trying to avoid as many Johnny Manziel questions as possible.

Listed below is a transcript of the press conference, as provided by Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer and Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram.

(Opening statement): "First of all, what an exciting time to be here at the combine. Because obviously it kind of kicks off the 2016 season and it gives our staff and organization an opportunity to see these tremendous players that are coming out in the draft first-hand and it’s always exciting when you can see some guys you’re going to have an opportunity to put on your football team. So that’s very exciting.

It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve become the head coach at Cleveland and there’s been a lot of progress that we’ve had there. Obviously the completing of our staff, I think it’s a hardworking staff that understands exactly what it’s going to take for us to compete in the AFC North, and also as we compete outside of our division. I was able to obviously hire some people that I knew very well that was with me before and hire some guys from across the National Football League that has a ton of experience. I think when I hired them and we talked about what the expectation was, we really set down and really spent some time. I know on offense we really want to be dynamic and innovative. On defense, what I said to Ray Horton is we want to be suffocating. And in order to do that we know that there’s some places that we need to improve on our football team. And on special teams I told Chris Tabor we want to be second to none, because I think he’s one of the best special teams coaches in football. And so we all understand our challenge as coaches is to get our football team to really buy into our process and how we want to do things as we continue to move forward. And we’re really excited about this opportunity.

Also I think it was very important that our personnel group and our coaching staff have a chance to spend a lot of time together, and we were able to bridge that gap and obviously really sit down and talk about the processes that we want to go through to be able to put Cleveland Brown players on our team as we move forward. And those guys have been outstanding. I think the dialogue between our coaches and our personnel department has just been outstanding. Then I think of Sashi (Brown) and Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry and I knew that those guys were very bright and very strategic thinkers, but on top of that, when you look at the group they’re also about using every resource that we have at our disposal to make better decisions for our football team. And then I go to our scouting department, which I’ve had a personal opportunity to spend a lot of time with, and they’ve also spent a lot of time with our coaches as well, and you think through ... we have some guys that have been in the National Football League a long time within our scouting department who have done it at a very high level. And I think what was really important is that they want input from our coaches, and I think that has really worked out extremely well, because we had to bridge all these gaps before we ever stepped foot here in Indy, because we want to make sure what kind of player that we’re looking for as we start to move forward. And those guys have been outstanding, a lot of those guys are well-traveled, like I said, they’ve been around the National Football League. So again, it’s another collaborative effort that we have in our building.

And we’re going to do everything we can to be innovative, but we also understand, as we think through it, there’s some things that we’re going to have to do the normal way. But if there’s something that we can change and do differently than what we’ve done in the past, we’re open to doing that. The saying ‘well, that’s just the way you do it to do it,’ we want to see if we can challenge that a little bit and I think we have the opportunity to do that.

When I look at us, obviously the draft is going to be very important for our football team. I think to build a sustainable team, it’s going to start in the draft room. We’re going to have to draft some really good football players in order to put on our team now and to get us where we need to be. But we also understand that free agency, we’ll be very thoughtful about how we go about that, that process as well. Because we’ll try to supplement our team as much as we can that way, but we’ll be very disciplined as we go through that because I think our future is in drafting players to our football team. But again as I said earlier, the challenge will be our staff doing a really good job of making sure that we get our football players better, that we create the right environment for them to be all they can be, that we challenge them to be the best that they can be. And I’m very excited about that opportunity.

When I think of specifics of what we’re looking for in players ... and obviously I’m looking for high-character guys. And I want guys that have high football character on this football team. But that being said, we’re also looking for some people that are tough, guys that have passion for the game of football, because we all know it’s a very tough game, so we’re also looking for those kind of people too as we go through the process. And I know everybody talks about our culture and what we need to do. And again, I think it’s about team. I think what I want our players to buy into is that we’re going to be a football team, that we’ll be accountable to each other, and we all know accountability goes both ways. Then on top of that, we’ll be a group that’s hard-working, that we’ll have some grit, that we’ll be physically and mentally tough and be resilient. I think if we go about it that way and we change the mindset of what we’ve been, then I think we have a chance to do something that’s really special. Again, how fast that’s going to happen, I don’t have that blueprint, but I know one thing, no one’s going to work harder at it than myself, our coaching staff and the organization. And I think I have one of the best support systems ever. And I talk about Jimmy and Dee (Haslam) and the opportunity that they gave me, again I can’t tell you enough how they’ve been with me over this month and a half. They’ve been outstanding. I know all of you say, ‘Well, Hue, you haven’t played a football game yet.’ I get that. But at the same time, it has to start someplace and it has to start with support and they did a great job of supporting me."

(Will he be concerned about someone jumping them to No. 1 for a player?): "As we cross that bridge, we'll be OK, because, again, I think you guys all know how you stack your board and what's going to be important is that you take the best player that's available and how that all unfolds, that's going to show itself as we move forward. I know this, we have a chance to draft some really good players on our football team here coming up pretty soon and that's what we're going to do."

(Evaluation of Gary Barnidge): "My evaluation of him: He's a tremendous football player. Guy's a Pro Bowl player this year. He's on our football team and I'm looking forward to working with him. I can't wait to see a lot of these guys on April 4 and get an opportunity to share my vision for our organization with them. Again, he had a sensational season and I don't see him going backwards at all. I see him even getting better and playing really well for us."

(On free agent starters): "You know how these contracts are written. They have an opportunity to do that. That's their right. I understand that. We'd love to have them all back. But we also know it's got to be the right fit for us and if for some reason they decide not to come back it's going to open up another opportunity for someone to come in. And again, we have to build this football team the right way as we move forward. As I said earlier, we want to make sure that we have a sustainable football team, one that can be really good not just this year but for years to come. There's no quick fixes in the National Football League so how it all unfolds as we move forward, it's going to unfold, but I promise you this, we're going to put a football team out there that will compete and play hard and I think that's what's important."

(On analytics): "The analytics part of it, I think everybody's so concerned about it, to me, I'm not. I think it's just another tool. It's another tool for us to use in order to make better football decisions as we move forward. It's not going to drive our organization. It's not going to be the only thing we do to make decisions. I think it's just another opportunity for us to use something that maybe thinks outside of the box to see if we can become better than what we've been in the past, and I think that's outstanding and I think it's a great thought by our organization."

(Keeping guys without creating holes?): "Absolutely. I'd love to keep them all. But again, they have to want to stay. It goes both ways. That's just the way it is in the National Football League. The contracts are written that way. Would I love to have them all back? Yes I would, but at the same time I know they have a right to do what's best for them and their families. To me, if that happens, I don't want to sit here and say, 'OK, well we're going to give the season away.' What we have to do is go find players to fit in those particular positions so we have an opportunity to move forward. And we'll do that if it does go in that direction."

(Have you met with all of the four main Browns free agents? Do they all want to come back?): "I've had some great conversations with that group and I feel very comfortable that they want to be a part of what we're trying to accomplish. They are the cornerstones of this football team and who have helped build it to where it is today. Now that being said, they're not excited about where it is today, but I think they're excited about where it can go from here on. Now, I think that's the most important part. I would love to have everybody that we draft from here on that they stay and become a Cleveland Brown and be a Cleveland Brown. And I think that's important. But again the way contracts are written, as you guys all know, players have an opportunity to kind of exercise their right to do what they want to do as well."

(Johnny Manziel's status): "Well let me say this about that. I knew that question was coming. But I think we all know and understand that we made a statement two weeks ago about Johnny Manziel and I'm going to stand by that and I think his future on our team will be addressed here pretty soon. But let me say this: I think it's really important, that obviously there were some people involved in this situation that happened, and I feel very bad about those things as they do happen. But I want to make sure we all understand that that behavior will not be tolerated. That's all I want to say about it. I want to leave it at that. Our organization is going to take a stand, and we're going to move on from those kind of situations as we move forward."

(Any notification when status of Josh Gordon will be learned?): "No we have not."

(Will you welcome Josh Gordon back?): "It's like any other player. I think I will go through the process of spending time with him and see if it's the right fit for us. Obviously he's a very talented individual, but at the same time, it's got to fit right for us as we move forward in this situation."

(QB at No. 2?): "There's a lot of talented players out there and I don't know if it's just that No. 2. I know everybody thinks that's where we're heading at No. 2. I think we're going to draft whoever we think is the best player at No. 2 for us. But at the same time, there are some tremendous players out there. I don't know. I mean, we'll continue to go through this process. I mean, today is Wednesday and I'm just going to kind of go through this, meet them all, spend time with them all and see where they all fit as we continue to make those decisions as we go forward."

(Does QB hand size mean a lot to you?): "Oh yes it does. It does. It matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there's rain, there's snow and it's different. I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we'll look for a guy that fits what we're looking for in a quarterback and is hand size important? Yes it is."

(How different evaluating a small-school guy like Carson Wentz who hasn't played the same level of competition): "I've had an opportunity to help draft players that come from small schools before. I don't think that will be the criteria that stops us one way or another. If a guy fits for us and what we're looking for, we'll draft him regardless of where he's from at the position we think he's draftable. Again, I don't want it to be about the school a player comes from. Can he play? And does he fit the criteria of what we're looking for in a Cleveland Brown football player?"

(Where does mental toughness fit into your criteria of making a good QB and how do you project a prospect's mental toughness): "I think it's hard, but you can see situations where a guy does display courage. You know, standing on the field under duress, his poise under pressure. Being able to handle the rush. Being able to handle third downs. Those are some of the things that give you clues about that. Do you truly know? You never really know until you get him and he's with you and you put him in those situations before they happen. Obviously college football is a little different than what it used to be from 10 years ago. I think the players are different. At the same time, there are some characteristics that you can see. But again, you never really know until you have that player with you."

(Thoughts on Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell): "I'm really excited about those two young players. Obviously, Duke Johnson was a draft pick a year ago who kind of burst onto the scene and had a ton of catches and made some unbelievable plays. So I'm looking forward to working with him. I think he's very talented. Isaiah Crowell obviously had a good year last year and I think he has the characteristics of a back that can be a big-time runner but he needs to do it very consistently and kind of in the way that we want it done, so I think he's up to the challenge, and talking to him, he's looking forward to coming and running the ball for us and I think at the same time again, those two young players you just mentioned have a bright future ahead of themselves."

(Is that a combo similar to Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill?): "Again, I don't want to compare players to other players I have. I just like those two guys and what they bring to the table. I think they have a chance to be really good football players for us."

(Impressions of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz when you watch them on film?): "I think they're good players and we're going to get a chance to evaluate them a little bit more closely this week and see where they are. But again, we all know those names and they're two really good players in this draft and we're going to evaluate them just like we do every quarterback that's here."