CLEVELAND — Maybe it was fitting that new coach Hue Jackson's first public appearance with fans was at an auto show.
After all, the Browns are shopping for a late model quarterback.
With the No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Cleveland will have yet another chance to select a long-term quarterback, a position that has mystified the franchise for more than a decade. Cleveland has started 24 quarterbacks since 1999, and the Browns' inability to find the right one may be the biggest reason they've been among the league's worst teams.
The Browns are expected to select one of the top quarterbacks in this year's class, which is headed by California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. And while fans have their favorite and draft experts have expressed their opinions on who the Browns should take, Jackson said the team isn't close to making a choice.
"But obviously I know that that's the most important position everybody is talking about," said Jackson, hired by Cleveland in January after two seasons as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator. "So we'll spend the time grinding on our quarterbacks, grinding on every position that's there. We're not anywhere close to being able to make a decision on what is best for us right now."
Jackson met with Goff and Wentz at last week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where players were timed, measured, interviewed and generally inspected like livestock. Jackson said he was impressed by both but isn't ready to declare either as a favorite.
Jackson plans to attend both players' pro-day workouts, when he'll get another chance to evaluate them more closely. As he watches the young quarterbacks, Jackson said he initially focuses on one thing.
"My eye really goes to their poise under duress," he said during an appearance at the Cleveland Auto Show. "Can a guy really manage and hold himself back there when everything's bearing down on him? Is he willing to stick his back foot in the ground and be compact and deliver the ball down the field? If a guy will demonstrate that, it tells me he's not scared. But a guy that has a soft back foot, you better look out, he can't play long in this league."
One of the knocks on Goff by some experts is that his hands are too small. Jackson dismissed that as being a deal breaker.
"Hand size is important because in the AFC North, there's snow, there's rain, there's all kind of elements that you have to deal with," he said. "And sometimes if a guy doesn't have a big enough hand, he can't hold onto the ball and the guy can get stripped. I've seen it happen too many times. But that is not the only characteristic that you look for. But it is something that does go into an evaluation."
Also, Goff played in a spread offense at Cal, but Jackson doesn't see that as a negative either.
"Everybody says I play in a gimmicky offense," he said. "I don't think that has anything to do with it. Can the guy play? Does he demonstrate the characteristics that I'm looking for? If he does that, then he's got a chance to play. I don't get concerned about what school they come from, what kind of offenses they play in. I get concerned about can they do the things that I'm looking for a quarterback to do. If they can demonstrate that, then they have a chance."
As for Wentz, there are those who think he's not ready because of the competition he faced at North Dakota State, an FCS school. Jackson knows firsthand of a small-college quarterback who turned out just fine.
"When we took Joe Flacco everybody said the same thing," said Jackson, who worked on Baltimore's staff. "I think we'd love to have him right now, wouldn't we? So that's just the way it goes. If a guy can play, he can play."
With free agency opening next week, Jackson said the Browns are still hoping to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who voided the final three years of his contract on Wednesday.
Jackson also said the Browns would like to sign two or three starters in free agency.