Cleveland Browns Training Camp Report: Day 26 - Improving Third Downs

The defensive line finishes up their individual drills on Day 26 of Cleveland Browns training camp in Berea, OH. It was an overcast day, but it felt great not being scorched by the sun.

For the second time this camp, I made the trip out to Berea Tuesday morning to watch the Cleveland Browns practice in person. It was a much lighter crowd than when I went on Day 3 of training camp, and I would venture to guess that it was one of the smallest crowds of this year's camp.

The difference in weather between the two sessions I attended. The last time I went, I was baking in the sun with very little wind. Today, the sun did not emerge once during practice, and it was probably in the mid-60's to low-70's throughout practice. My full camp report from Tuesday is after the jump.

TRAINING CAMP REPORT - DAY 26 (8/21/12)

  1. No Drives Attempted: Out of all the practices I have attended over the past two years, this one had the most different "feel" to it. One of the things that stood out to me is that none of the drills involved the goal of working down the field to score a touchdown or a field goal. There were no two-minute drills, no red zone drills, and no regular possession drills. After every play was run, the ball was brought back to the original spot.

  2. Plenty of 11-on-11's and 3rd Down Drills: It also surprised me that the players jumped right into 11-on-11 drills. By my tally, there were about 40 plays run in 11-on-11 drills before any 7-on-7 drills were attempted. About 16 of the plays in 11-on-11's were third down drills, meaning the goal was to get a first down, even if it was 3rd-and-long.
  3. Benjamin Stands Out Again: I remain very complimentary of WR Travis Benjamin. We already know that he has the speed. Once again in practice today, he ran smooth routes and caught the ball with ease. I think he'll be put in enough positions where he won't have to worry about a jam, or that it won't even be a problem. In terms of other receivers, I still like what I see from WR Mohamed Massaquoi.
  4. Trying Hard...But Not Working: I keep hoping that the light bulb will go off for WR Josh Gordon before the start of the regular season, but he didn't have an awe-inspiring practice Tuesday morning. It's not like the guy dropped everything thrown his way, but I'm holding him to a higher standard and expect more out of him.

    There was one play in which Brandon Weeden dropped back in third down drills and threw a long pass to Josh Gordon. He had a defender in tight coverage trailing him, but this is a pass that No.1 receivers on many other NFL teams would be able to adjust to and come down with. Instead, the pass bounced off of Gordon. There were some fun theatrics after the initial bounce, as defensive backs James Dockery and Jonathan Bademosi tipped the ball a few times, and as everyone started falling to the ground, it almost landed back in Gordon's lap (it fell incomplete, though).

    There was another play over the middle in which Weeden tried to fit the ball into Gordon. It was a little bit of a high pass, but the type of one I imagined a "physical Gordon" would be able to go up and snag for good yardage. Instead, CB James Dockery made contact with him as the ball arrived and broke up the pass. Gordon later made a catch in traffic over the middle, but I attribute that play more to a nice pass by Weeden.

  5. Tight Ends Still Impressing: Veteran TE Benjamin Watson sat out of team drills again, which meant plenty of reps for Jordan Cameron and Evan Moore. Both guys caught the ball very well, and one of the biggest "smacks" of practice came when a ball thrown by Brandon Weeden was a little behind Cameron. Cameron jumped in air and twisted his body to reach back and grab the ball. Because of the change in body position, his back obliterated whichever defender was in the area. The defender looked like a rag doll, whoever it was. Dan Gronkowski also seems to have good hands, and Alex Smith is still being utilized often.

  6. Token Marecic Praise: I felt obligated to watch what FB Owen Marecic did for at least one play. From I-formation, Brandon Weeden handed off to Montario Hardesty, and Hardesty was able to run to the right after a nice edge block by Marecic. Granted, the defense was intentionally being very lackadaisical in many of the 11-on-11 drills Tuesday, but maybe this makes up for some of my Marecic-bashing.

  7. Quarterbacks Were Fine: It wasn't a sloppy practice, and I would say all of the quarterbacks had decent days. Every one of them did a good job at standing tall in the pocket and hitting the short and intermediate routes. Brandon Weeden struggled at finding the deep ball, though, meaning any passes that had some air under them and were about 25+ yards in distance. Out of about five attempts, every one was either overthrown or went out of bounds. Colt McCoy had two mini-blunders: a high throw over the middle that sailed over the head of Jordan Norwood, and a pass that was almost picked off by Joe Haden after a playaction fake.

  8. Good Day for Sheldon: On my bicycle ride to Berea, I turned right on a road called "Sheldon," and thought to myself, "I wonder how Sheldon Brown will look during practice today?" It must have been a good omen, because Brown had quite a few pass breakups, including a deep ball thrown by Seneca Wallace down the left sideline. WR Owen Spencer appeared to have a step on Brown, but the veteran corner made up ground and played the ball in the air to bat it away.

  9. Sixth Receiver Battle: I like to judge the sixth wide receiver battle in terms of reps and targets. In that regard, Jordan Norwood and Rod Windsor are neck-and-neck. Both guys are targeted a good number of times, and I think we'll see Norwood on the roster and Windsor on the practice squad. Next up is Josh Cooper, but I didn't see him targeted very often today. It doesn't seem good for Carlton Mitchell, who only saw reps with the third-team offense. Despite doing a lot of route running, he wasn't targeted much. Mitchell was getting some practice reps as a gunner on special teams too.

  10. Special Teams Notes: While we're at it, here were the three guys I noticed as gunners on punts during practice: WR Carlton Mitchell, CB Buster Skrine, and CB Jonathan Bademosi. I also saw something interesting during the punt returns. There were several attempts in which either Joshua Cribbs and Travis Benjamin, or Travis Benjamin and Jordan Norwood, would both line up as punt returners, kind of in a (wide) split back formation. Depending on which direction the punt was booted, the other guy would either go behind the other guy for a fake reverse, or would zoom ahead to be a lead blocker.

  11. Haslam on the Sidelines: Even from a long distance, spotting Jimmy Haslam was pretty easy. It either had to be him, or Mark Whipple, and I figured, "why would Whipple be talking so much with Mike Holmgren during practice?" Sure enough, upon pulling out my binoculars, I confirmed it was Haslam. He chatted with Holmgren, Tom Heckert, Pat Shurmur, and other staff during practice, appearing to take another invested interest in the football side of things rather than just the business side of things.

  12. Chatter From The Fans: Here are some of the silly things that I overheard from fans:

    -A young Browns fan said they really wanted to get a look at P Spencer Lanning because "yeah, that Reggie Hodges isn't very good." He also praised the work of Brad Maynard last year.

    -Two fans were discussing the backup quarterback situation between Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Then, another fan randomly turned around and, acting like an expert, said, "They confirmed yesterday that Thad Lewis is going to be the No. 3 quarterback, so they're going to get rid of one of those other guys." I laughed at how Pat Shurmur's comments of Lewis being someone the team is interested in developing suddenly turned into a guarantee that he has the No. 3 job locked up.

    -One fan looked at Travis Benjamin and said to his wife, "Oh, geez, look how small that guy is. Yeah, that's not good." Way to ignore how he's performing on the field, bud.

    -When the quarterbacks were throwing without a defense present, Colt McCoy threw a couple of deep balls to his receivers. Some guy was obsessed with saying, "Wow, that's a nice ball!" You had to hear the way this guy was saying it and how often he was saying it when there was no defense on the field.

  13. Brownies: CB Trevin Wade almost picked off Colt McCoy after WR Owen Spencer had slipped. ... WR Jermaine Saffold tried to turn around at the last second to make a great catch on a deep pass thrown by Seneca Wallace, but he couldn't haul it in. ... I had OL Jarrod Shaw marked down for having a false start. ... DT Billy Winn penetrated on the first running play of practice and would've had RB Montario Hardesty stopped. ... DE Juqua Parker dropped back and coverage and had a throw by Seneca Wallace go right to him, but he couldn't hang on to it. ... It was a short practice, ending after less than two hours of action. ... The final day of training camp open to the public is Wednesday morning.

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