BEREA — Corey Coleman arrived at training camp and was greeted with questions inspired by two years of unfulfilled promise and unrealized expectations, and made even more relevant by the sweeping changes at the top of the personnel department.
Is his career at a crossroads as he enters Year 3?
“I don’t know. We’re going to see,” he said. “I’m going to do what I need to do.”
Does he agree with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley that this is a make-or-break season?
“I wouldn’t take it that far, but it’s a big year for me,” Coleman said. “Coach Todd Haley, we talked about what he expects of me and I’m out here at practice each and every day. I wouldn’t take it as far as y’all taking it.”
Haley and coach Hue Jackson were clear throughout the offseason. After two disappointing seasons, this year will go a long way in determining Coleman’s future with the Browns and in the league.
The message has been received by the receiver … to a point.
“If I don’t do what I’ve got to do, changes are going to be made,” he said. “I don’t know what type of changes, but some need to be made.
“Yeah, it’s going into my third year, time to take a big step. I feel like it’s important.”
As the No. 15 pick in 2016, Coleman would be under the microscope regardless. But Josh Gordon’s uncertain future after his decision to skip the start of training camp intensified the focus on Coleman as practice began Thursday.
Coleman (5-foot-11, 192 pounds) went from fighting for playing time and competing to be the No. 3 wideout to back in the starting lineup opposite Jarvis Landry. It’s unfair to expect Coleman to live up to the expectations for Gordon, who’s 4 inches and 33 pounds bigger, but the Browns need him to produce if the offense and team are to reach their goals of making huge leaps from last year’s winless season.
In two years, Coleman has totaled 56 catches for 718 yards and five touchdowns. He missed six games as a rookie with a broken right hand, then seven last year with the same injury, and chose to blame the lost time for the inefficient start to his career.
“Been hurt a lot, can’t control that,” he said. “That’s really the main thing, haven’t played a full season.
“I feel a lot better, had a great summer, put in a lot of work, just super confident and I’m just still working hard.”
Injuries haven’t been the only issue for Coleman. His work ethic and effort have been questioned, he was sent home from a road trip for missing curfew and his fourth-down drop late in the finale last year in Pittsburgh guaranteed the 0-16 season.
“Corey has had some tough breaks,” Jackson said. “Obviously, when you are a first-round pick, a lot is expected from you, and I think he wants to do that as well as anybody, but we can’t talk about the past.
“Let’s give this man an opportunity to see what he brings to the table this year and if he can be the type of player we think he can be.”
Coleman was devastated in the minutes following the loss to the Steelers.
“We have talked about it, but it is behind him. There are some really good players that have played in this league that have dropped some very critical balls at very critical times,” Jackson said. “You do not want that to happen, but hopefully he will grow from that and learn from that.
“He is competing. He is here. He is accounted for and has been working hard. That is all you can do.”
Coleman said the drop fueled his fire to improve.
“It motivated me,” he said. “I shut it down, I cleared it, every receiver drops balls. It motivated me to get better.”
Coleman could be challenged for playing time by fourth-round rookie Antonio Callaway, who has similar size and skill set and had an impressive first day. A key for Coleman is a stronger commitment.
He said he worked out and studied harder this offseason and, on the advice of Landry, improved his diet.
“I was eating bad,” Coleman said.
His routine of steak, wings, chicken tenders and French fries appalled Landry, whose drive and intensity set the tone for the receivers and team.
“I know it sounds good, but in this league we want to have a healthy diet,” Landry said. “It allows us to play better, feel better, have our body feeling better, get the things in you that you need to come out here and perform.”
Coleman said his weight would fluctuate during the last two seasons and he could get a bit heavy. He said he’s at 192 pounds and plans to stay there by eating more fish and less fried food.
“My body has changed,” he said.
Landry described Coleman as a hard worker, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor sees him as a weapon.
“He is very athletic. He catches the ball with confidence,” Taylor said. “I did not know how fast he was until I started throwing to him. The deep passes, he can definitely go get them. It is hard to overthrow him.
“Just overall athletic ability. He has every tool. This is definitely a big season for him. We know it as a team. He knows it as a person and as a player. He is excited for the opportunity that he has right now.”