I'm sure many of you were in attendance at Cleveland Browns Stadium Friday Night to catch the team's only training camp practice of the season on the shores of Lake Erie. You couldn't have asked for better weather -- the sun was going down just as practice started so everyone was in the shade, the wind was minimal, and the projected thunderstorms held off.
There's nothing better than getting to sit right up to the 50-yard line for only $5 (which graciously goes to charity as promoted by the organization). Many of you probably saw the practice aired on Sports Time Ohio if you didn't attend, but I'll still go over my personal thoughts from the evening:
TRAINING CAMP REPORT - DAY 10 (8/1/08)
- Great Fans: The Browns fans are just the best in the world...to see the Dawg Pound and the entire lower level of the stadium filled to a capacity crowd for just a two-hour practice is amazing and a testament to our dedication.
- Hotdogs, Get Em' Plenty: The Indians run their popular $1 hotdog promotion every so often to draw in massive crowds. Hotdogs were being served for $1 at the stadium tonight, and I couldn't believe how many people I saw carrying 12 of them back to their seats. An order of two were good enough for me, and they were as good as a hot dog can get.
- Coming Prepared: I had a pen, a little notebook, and a roster sheet for the Browns handy before entering the stadium. I made sure my roster sheet was ordered by jersey number so I could identify players quicker -- the team's handout was listed in alphabetical order.
- Arrival: I arrived to the stadium probably around 6:20 PM, overhearing the Browns' season recap being played over the videoboard. I got goosebumps hearing Jim Donovan highlights from games such as Dawson's miraculous bounce against the Ravens and Lewis' rumbling run against the Jets.
- Pre-Session: Before the rest of the team came out, kickers Phil Dawson and Jason Reda were trying field goals from straight on, and eventually from side-to-side.
- Dawson First: When I got there, Dawson's first kick was a 55-yarder which was good. His next kick was from 57 yards, which boinked off the bottom left of the crossbar for a miss. After that, he tried it again and absolutely drilled it. A little later, he tried a 57-yarder from the right hashmarks but came up short.
- Reda Second: On the other end of the field, Reda was at work, and overall I was very impressed by the shots he was delivering through the uprights. His kicks from 40, 45, 50, and 55 yards were all perfect line drives through the uprights with room to spare. I didn't get a great look at his kicks from when he moved to the right/left hashmarks, but I do think that he was not as strong as Dawson with respect to that skill.
- Punt Returners: Not sure if Gerard Lawson is trying out for the punt return role or was just back there as a ball retriever -- all I know is that on the first play that I actually sat down, I saw him tried to field one and he dropped it. Syndric Steptoe and Brandon McDonald came out a little later to field punts -- without coverage units -- an seemed to be catching the ball fine.
- Zastudil Consistent: I think it's safe to say that Zastudil's punting issues from a year ago are behind him for now. His punts were high spirals, usually positioned around the seven-yard line. When he went for the coffin corner, I recall him having about 2/3 good attempts, with the worst going out of bounds somewhere around the 13-yard line.
- QBs Out Next: The next three people on the field were the quarterbacks, drawing an ovation from the crowd.
- Holding Now: When I mentioned the kickers earlier, they were kicking off the tee (self-holder). At this point now, Zastudil was holding the snap from Ryan Pontbriand (no rush coming). Dawson again drilled a 57-yard field goal.
- Everyone Else: The rest of the team came out from the locker room, unit by unit. The quarterbacks by far drew the largest applause, but thankfully I didn't hear any negative Anderson vs. Quinn talk around me.
- Pregame Format: The first hour or so after 7:00 PM involved the team getting familiar with the actual pregame routine that they will be using on gameday. Stretching, quick passes, quick contact, etc, that type of stuff. One particular note of interest was when the quarterbacks were lobbing about 20-30 yards passes to either offensive or defensive players one after the other. Gary Baxter -- who probably isn't going to retire considering he's out there -- made a nifty one-hand snag. In pregame 7-on-7's, #86 dropped a quick, simple pass over the middle. That would be rookie tight end Martin Rucker.
- Standing Out: I might as well note this, because I did write it down in my notebook: "#96 stands out". What does that mean? Well, #96 is Alex Hall, and I saw him standing on the sideline next to the rest of the players. He just looks so physical and bulky when you see him -- you can't miss him.
- Three Kick Returns: The team ran three kick returns. The first and third ones were to Syndric Steptoe, and the second one was to Jerome Harrison. Because tackling wasn't allowed, on all three attempts, the returner sifted through the defenders and looked like they could've gone the distance. I was a little annoyed by some fans around me who actually seemed to think that in a real-game situation, we would've been burned all three times. On the first one though, I was actually impressed with the quickness of Steptoe. On that particular play, he may have actually gone the distance, or at least pretty darn far.
Scrimmage Time! Here's the format of how things went down, as far as I could tell / understand:
1st: First team offense vs. Second team defense (about 65 yards away)
2nd: First team offense vs. Second team defense (about 65 yards away)
3rd: Second team offense vs. First team defense (about 65 yards away)
4th: Second/Third team offense vs. Mixed defense (about 65 yards away)
5th: First team offense vs. First team defense (Red zone drills)
6th: First team offense vs. First team defense (Red zone drills)
7th: Second team offense vs. Second team defense (Red zone drills)
8th: Second team offense vs. Second team defense (Red zone drills)
9th: First team offense vs. First team defense (1:20 drill from 55 yards away)
10th: Second team offense vs. Second team defense (1:20 drill from 55 yards away)
- Edwards Excels: It didn't take long for Derek Anderson to look for Braylon Edwards. On the second play, a quick pass was incomplete -- however they went right back to it for a five-yard gain on the very next play. Four plays later, with the offense 49 yards away from the end zone, Anderson dropped back and threw a deep ball to Edwards, who dove all out and made a magnificent catch before being touched down at the two-yard line. By far, it was the highlight of the night and really got the crowd into things.
- 1st Drive Tidbits: Other tidbits...Charles Ali had a two yard catch in the flat, and Brad Cieslak also had a five-yard catch. Anderson tried to hit Edwards on a fade after their big play, but it was incomplete. Jamal Lewis plunged in for a touchdown on the next play.
- Daily Wilson: First drive? Check mark for Edwards. Second drive? Check mark for Travis Wilson. It took Anderson just seven plays to guide the team to their second touchdown in a row; here's what happened. From about the 10 yard line, Wilson was to Anderson's right and ran towards the corner of the end zone. We he turned around, it was a bullet towards the pylon. He dove out, and bobbled/corralled it into his chest for the score as he got both feet in bounds before hitting the ground.
- Dinkins Laughable: I'm sorry, Darnell Dinkins and offense just shouldn't be mixed together. Earlier in the second drive, Dinkins caught a pass and had some open space. Out of no where, on a day when tackling is prohibited, he fumbled the football -- he just flat out dropped the thing. Defenders tried to pick it up, but I believe it scurried out of bounds.
- Stallworth Sighting: Right after the Dinkins muff, Anderson stayed hot on the next play. After nothing was doing as he sat in the pocket, he rolled out to his right and fired a strike to Donte Stallworth down the sideline for about a 20-yard gain. That play basically set up the touchdown to Wilson.
- 2nd Drive Tidbits: It was Jerome Harrison seeing action before Jason Wright. Unfortunately, with any of the running backs at the practice, I can't give an assessment on them running the ball. As soon as contact is made, the referees blow the play dead. In an actual game, contact alone means nothing.
- Quinn Time: For the third drive, Brady Quinn was in at quarterback along with the second-team offense. The first-team defense came on, featuring Shaun Smith, Shaun Rogers, and Robaire Smith up front. Corey Williams was still out to injury.
- Sanders Express: The player of the drive was definitely receiver Steve Sanders. After three mediocre passes to start for Quinn, he threw a pass into tight coverage and Sanders made about a 20-yard catch with two defenders right on top of him. Right after he made the catch, I believe it was Sean Jones who drilled him -- probably accidentally -- in trying to go for the football. Two plays before the drive ended, Sanders made what I wrote down as an "A+ catch with A+ coverage".
Drive Ends Abruptly: In the only interception of the night, Quinn's drive came to an end on the ninth play. He sold a playaction pass nicely and then rolled out to the right side of the field. He threw the ball a little in front of the front pylon of the end zone, but it was cornerback Eric Wright who was camped their, picking off the pass easily. He tried to return it, but was touched down fairly quickly. The pass was intended for rookie receiver Paul Hubbard.
- 3rd Drive Tidbits: Quinn didn't look as fluent as Anderson did, and like he's done in the other camp sessions, he stayed away from the deep ball. He seems to have good chemistry with Sanders though. A wide receiver reverse was tried to Joshua Cribbs, but perhaps they've run that play too often the past few practices: it only went for about a gain or two. A screen pass was attempted to Harrison, but Brandon McDonald and D'Qwell Jackson were all over it. Do consider though, that Quinn was facing the first-team defense with the second-team offense.
- Hall's Breakout: On the next drive, Quinn left and Ken Dorsey came in. Overall, it seemed like some second and third stringers came in. On a drive that lasted just four plays, the defense got more pressure than the previous three drives combined, primarily thanks to rookie Alex Hall. On the first play, he was right on top of Harrison on a run play for a short gain of two. On the final play, the play was blown dead because Hall quickly reached and touched Dorsey, therefore counting as a sack.
4th Drive Tidbits: Rookie tight end Martin Rucker had a catch, but it was brought back due to a holding penalty on the offensive line. Haven't seen anything tremendous from him at this point, but he seems to catch the ball fine. Also worth noting: Kellen Winslow seems to be absent from getting plays his way; don't recall a single ball coming his way once during the entire event. On the second play of the drive, Chase Pittman and Shantee Orr had chased Dorsey to the sideline and forced him to throw it away.
- Red Zone Blunders: Next up were the red zone drills, and they weren't too impressive. The first and second teams had two shots each, and the conversion rate for a touchdown was only 25%.
- 5th Drive Tidbits: With Anderson facing the first defense, here's how it went down: run to Lewis for 5 yards, incomplete to RB in flat, and incomplete to Edwards on a pass to the corner that just barely hit his fingertips. I believe Edwards was called for offensive interference anyway, and the drive was considered a wash as they reset for drive six.
- Misses Stallworth: This is the one that hurt: on the first play or try two for Anderson and company, he had Stallworth fairly open in the end zone coming across the field to the left side. However, the throw was a little ahead of him, and Stallworth's quick attempt to stretch to it deflected off his hands for an incompletion.
- 6th Drive Tidbits: On the next play, Robaire Smith was credited with a sack on Anderson. Shaun Smith also had some penetration -- the pressure came from Joe Thomas' side I believe, but it looked like the running back (Lewis?) missed the chip. Robaire was called offsides on the next play. After that, Anderson hit Edwards on a quick slant and he raced through the defense into the end zone. However, the officials ruled him down at the seven, making it a fourth-and-two (I personally think he would've broken the tackle for six). The big backs were brought in, and a one-step back and quick throw to Stallworth was deflected and incomplete. 0/2 for the starting offense against the starting defense.
- 7th Drive Tidbits: Now, it was Quinn's turn for two attempts. Jason Wright finally checked in with a small gain on first down. On the next play, Quinn again hit Sanders, but rookie cornerback A.J. Davis knocked the ball away on a play Sanders should've had pretty easily (this ended up setting a decline for Sanders). Right after that though, the Browns hit their only red zone touchdown when Quinn lobbed a pass to Travis Wilson in the corner of he left end zone. It was Wilson's second score of the day.
- 8th Drive Tidbits: Quinn again tried to find Sanders on the first play towards the left sideline, but he threw it way over his head and out of bounds (Jereme Perry also had fine coverage on the play). Travis Thomas checked in next with a carry for a small gain -- looks a little slower, as expected. On third down, Quinn tried to hit Thomas on a pass but the throw went way over his head for an incompletion. On the final play, Quinn again overthrew a pass to Sanders for an incompletion -- I believe Sanders was called for offensive pass interference on the play as well.
- More Kick Work: The offenses and defenses took a five minute break to allow the kickers to get some work in with the lines in place too. Dawson and Reda both seemed to hit their kicks consistently.
- 2-Minute Drills: Though they were titled "two-minute drills", there was only 1:20 on the clock. To compensate for that, the drives started just 55 yards away from the end zone. Anderson got the first series, and Quinn got the second.
Deep to Donte: Anderson and Stallworth seem to like the bailout/deep ball play already. With the clock ticking down quickly, Anderson dropped back and completed about a 32-yard pass to Stallworth down the sideline on the fourth play. With only 0:24 left on the clock, a timeout was called. Not positive, but I think Eric Wright has coverage on the play.
- Try and Try Again: Earlier in the drive, Anderson tried to hit Edwards but Brodney Pool broke the pass up on a nice play. After Stallworth's catch, Anderson threw a jump ball to Edwards in the right corner of the end zone. Much to everyone's surprise, Edwards bobbled the ball after having possession while in the air and it almost ended up going into the defender's arms after he lost it. On the next play though, Edwards was on the left side of the field and Anderson basically ran the same play, this time for a touchdown, against Brandon McDonald.
- 9th Drive Tidbits: After the drive started with two incompletions, the pocket surrounded Anderson on the third play. He ran forward and found Dinkins just before crossing the line of scrimmage, and Dinkins plummeted forward for a first down. Anderson seems to have good command of the offense.
- Quinn's Attempt is Sour: You can't be too impressed again with how Quinn's drive went -- again, I'm not making this a Quinn bashfest, I hope to death that he thrives in the preseason and gets the chance to work with the first time. In his 1:20 drill though, things weren't the greatest, and I attribute a lot of that being due to him not expanding his options further down the field.
- 10th Drive Tidbits: In order: no gain swing pass to Harrison, short gain to Rucker, incomplete to Sanders, and incomplete to Wilson. On the pass to Sanders, Sanders fell down as the ball way coming, but the throw may have been off target either way.
- Conclusion: The team signed autographs after practice, and fireworks were held at the stadium. I didn't stay for the fireworks, but just as I was on the Detroit-Superior Bridge coming home, they had just started and I got a perfect view of them.
I didn't get a chance to see a lot of players, and because tackling wasn't allowed, it was very difficult to critique the defense. I didn't mention Shaun Rogers' plays at all above, but fear not: he seemed to get a decent push throughout his time in the game. The offensive line seemed to win the battles whenever Anderson was in the game, as the pressure on him was rare.
I couldn't keep up with all of the changes being made, so unfortunately I can't comment specifically on what a James Lee or a Mil'von James might have done. The one surprise -- as I mentioned above -- was not seeing Winslow involved at all. Also, I know Paul Hubbard was in the game for a few snaps, but the only time the ball came his way it was called back due to a penalty if I'm not mistaken.
If anybody has any questions they'd like to ask me about what I may/may not have seen, I encourage you to ask. And, if you attended or watch it on television, please feel free to contribute your own observations.
P.S. I stayed up to post this at 2:30 AM in the morning, so forgive me if anything had poor grammar. I'll try to look this over again in the morning and make any necessary correctons...
EDIT @ 3:00 AM: The Plain Dealer has some updates that clear a few things up:
- Joshua Cribbs was limited with a hamstring injury, and Kellen Winslow was held out of team drills with the same issue.
- The team expects Corey Williams to return to the field this Sunday.
- Gary Baxter, who I saw in warm-ups, stayed on the sidelines (out of team drills, like Winslow).
I knew I didn't see Winslow in on the action, but I wasn't 100% sure. And, that explains why Cribbs really wasn't fielding punts or kick returns during the "pregame" portion. And, there's the update on Williams that some of you were looking for...