Jackson insists Browns focused on winning, not developing

AP Sports Writer

Jackson insists Browns focused on winning, not developingBy TOM WITHERS

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Browns coach Hue Jackson has four quarterbacks, including a rookie starter, and not one has an NFL win on his resume.

He’s got only four cornerbacks, a new wide receiver with blazing speed but brittle hands, and a locker room still reeling after two popular players got cut last week.

On top of that, the rival Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town for the opener.

Problems, for sure.

But after enduring a 1-15 first season in Cleveland, Jackson isn’t flustered or fearful. Just focused.

”This is where we are,” he said Monday, following another tumultuous week for the Browns. ”This is the situation we are in, and I think we are moving forward. I think things have gotten better, I really do.”

Jackson understands the outside perception of his team isn’t positive. After all, last week alone the Browns jettisoned two first-round draft picks in cornerback Joe Haden and offensive lineman Cam Erving, released veteran guard John Greco, kicker Cody Parkey and acquired fleet-footed but fumble-fingers wide receiver Sammie Coates from the Steelers.

Also, the team threw away quarterback Brock Osweiler, who will still be paid the majority of his $16 million contract despite re-signing with Denver.

It was the latest tumult for a Browns organization going through the pains of a stripped-to-the-studs rebuilding project that has no completion date in sight.

Jackson knows there are those doubting the team’s plan, wondering why the Browns would so easily part with Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler who was hurt most of last season. Or why the team would only carry four cornerbacks. Or why Cleveland would sign QB Josh Woodrum, who has already been with the Ravens, Bills, Giants, Colts and Bears after going undrafted in 2016.

The plethora of moves gives the appearance that Cleveland’s front office is more focused on developing than winning.

Jackson disagrees.

”Honestly, this is always about winning,” he said. ”I don’t know any other way to do it. I think our players see it that way, too. We come out here every day and go into these meetings with one thing in mind: let’s win and let’s find a way to win. That is not going to change. I understand where you are coming from and what it looks like, but I think every day everything we do is built toward winning. There is no other way you can do this.”

And while Jackson may have healthy disagreements with vice president of football operations Sashi Brown on some things, he doesn’t doubt the team’s top decision maker and his staff isn’t trying to win.

”I don’t think that they have any other agenda,” Jackson said. ”I know sometimes when you look at transactions and all those things, but I think there is a plan and a purpose to what we are doing and I think we are getting there.”

The Browns went 4-0 in the exhibition season, a perfect run that prompted a local clothing company to make ”Undefeated Preseason Champs” T-shirts.

But following last week’s win at Chicago, Jackson said he felt ”something special” was building with his team. He got more specific about his feelings, saying the Browns have a better, stronger roster with ”a defense that has a chance to be really good.”

Also, Jackson singled out ”promising” quarterback DeShone Kizer, who will make his first start Sunday against Cleveland’s fiercest rival.

”If we can keep growing him and getting better and keep surrounding him with more tools and more guys that will give him opportunities, I think that is what it is all about,” Jackson said.

”I think that is how you start to build a team. I have watched what we have done in free agency with the offensive line and defensive line. Those things are positives for our football team.”

NOTES: OG Joel Bitonio (knee) said he will practice this week and expects to play in the opener. Bitonio was stung by Greco’s release. ”He was kind of a mentor to me and a good friend,” Bitonio said. ”Anytime you see a guy like that leave, it was tough for me. That was one of the tougher cuts, but you understand it is a business.” … Jackson said having four QBs could be ”temporary.” He hasn’t decided yet if Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan will back up Kizer.

For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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