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And the surprise of the Browns' 2011 draft is looking like ...

Jul 30, 2012 -- 1:51pm

By Tony Grossi


Extra Points …

Sophomore of the year (training camp edition): Coaches are always looking to measure improvement in second-year players. They say that jump from the first to second season can be the biggest in a player’s career.

The early leader in this category at Browns training camp may surprise you. It is not Phil Taylor (injured) or Jabaal Sheard (fairly quiet) or Greg Little (leaner) or Jordan Cameron (bigger).

Hands down at this early stage of the summer, it is the last player selected by GM Tom Heckert in the 2011 draft. It is free safety Eric Hagg.

Hagg is not a screamer on the field and he is soft-spoken off it. Like his nature, he has quietly moved onto the starting defense. The coaches promoted him during the offseason practices before training camp.

On the first day of practice in full pads on Sunday, Hagg picked off Brandon Weeden throwing for Mohamed Massaquoi on a deep seam route in a 7-on-7 drill. Now that’s the way to make coaches feel good about their evaluation.

“It’s really good, of course, to be running with the ones,” Hagg said. “But it’s still not a starting spot. I’m just trying to hold it. I still have to get better, learn the system.”

Picks are for kids: Interceptions were rarer for the Browns’ defense last year than touchdown passes were for the offense. They had only nine – second-lowest in the league – and the team-high of three belonged to safety Mike Adams, who left in free agency.

Hagg is the only addition to the starting and sub secondary. So if their interceptions are going to improve, the expectations are going to fall on Hagg -- and cornerback Joe Haden, who dropped about five of them last year.

“Yeah, I hope to,” Hagg said about filling that need. “That’s what we’re all here for. You don’t want to do anything out of character, though, just do your job well.”

Hagg led Nebraska with five interceptions in 2010, when the Cornhuskers were fifth in pass defense and ninth in scoring. That was a loaded unit that featured future NFL first-round picks Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara, second-round pick LaVonte David, fourth-rounder Jared Crick, and fifth-rounder DuJon Gomes.

And do you know who was voted by the team as the defensive MVP? It was Hagg.

“I had some interceptions, made some big tackles,” Hagg said modestly. “They put a defense in that year where I could play nickel and linebacker at the same time. We played nickel pretty much the whole game.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet, but … maybe 20 years down the line I’ll tell my kids and stuff.”

Diamond in the rough: Hagg hurt a knee in his first training camp last year – the one preceded by the owners lockout that nullified a normal offseson of camps – and needed minor surgery. He missed the entire preseason. He came back to play in the last 10 games and did enough to merit a promotion after the year over 2011 free agent pickup Usama Young.

“All along he has impressed us with what he can do,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “Now, as a safety, you need to do multiple things. You have to be able to support the run. If you’re playing on the half side of the field, you have to be able to play half. If you’re playing in the middle of the field, you have to play the middle. You neeed a guy back there that will communicate. For all those reasons, he’s caught our eye.”

If Hagg hangs on as the starting free safety, he would be the fifth starter to come out of Heckert’s 2011 draft. The others are Taylor, Sheard, Little and guard Jason Pinkston. That’s a pretty good draft.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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