Day 2 of Cleveland Browns training camp took place on Sunday, and I ventured out to Berea for my first scheduled trip of the season I have three more planned, with the next one being this Friday).
Temperatures in the morning started off around 75 degrees, but the humidity was hovering close to 100%. When I left the house and stepped outside, my legs were immediately covered in moisture. Yes, humidity doesn't make for the best-feeling conditions, but I'll still take it over practice being rained out.
CLEVELAND BROWNS TRAINING CAMP REPORT - DAY 2 (7/27/14)
Fans who stay on the right eventually move up and get partitioned into six mini-lanes, where you then present your ticket to somebody with a bar code scanner. Upon scanning my ticket, I entered the facility (when I got home, I saw the email that confirmed I had attended the event). I had arrived at Beech Street at about 8:28 AM, when gates were about to open, and I probably only had to wait in line for 3 minutes despite the long stream of fans. All things considered, it seemed like an efficient setup.
: This year, the Browns implemented a new ticket registration system for camp that was capped at 4,000 tickets per session. When entering on Beech street this year, most of the people begin in the big line on the right side. There is an express line on the far left for fans who took an additional step during the registration process (I am trying to get this for Friday's session).
Please Don't Let it Be Field 2: There are four football fields in Berea, and the team typically rotates which field the bulk of the action will take place on. Every year when I go to training camp, I pray that the action isn't going to be on Field 2, because that is the only field that is impossible to get a good glimpse of because of how far away from the fans it is. Well, sure enough, I was greeted with this:
D'oh! Oh, well. One good decision that I made this year was to bring my own foldable chair, because I was tired of standing in the hot sun for 2.5 hours or being scrunched on bleachers for 2.5 hours. Because I arrived early and picked my spot quickly, I had plenty of leg space and room for my water bottles and notebook (well, that is, until I was engulfed by fans who surrounded me after practice because Donte Whitner was a couple of feet away from me to sign autographs).
Grading the Quarterbacks: Most training camp evaluations are premature, but you can at least get a vibe based on rep distributions and general competency as to who is doing well and who isn't. Here is how I assessed the four quarterbacks on Day 2 of practice:
Hoyer: Clearly the best of the bunch. He threw a pretty deep ball early on in practice to WR Anthony Armstrong, who caught it despite double coverage from CB Joe Haden and FS Tashaun Gipson. Hoyer also displayed the same qualities that made him an effective quarterback in 2013: he got rid of the ball quickly. There were several pass plays in which he took the snap and immediately fired the ball out to his left. The play might have yielded a couple of yards only, but it still moves the ball and keeps defenses guessing. He also had nice zip on an intermediate pass to WR Andrew Hawkins, one that he easily could have taken the distance in open field if it were a real game.
Manziel: I didn't have time to do a predictions post before training camp, but if I could have, this would have been one of them: a healthy Hoyer will start all 16 games in 2014. I love what Manziel can and will bring to the table, but he's no where near as polished as Hoyer is. I know it's his style, but too often on Sunday, he seemed to move out of the pocket just for the sake of moving out of the pocket. He made some nice throws -- such as an intermediate laser he fired to WR Taylor Gabriel -- but he also threw balls behind, over, or at the feet of receivers, like when he missed WR Willie Snead on an out route for the final play of practice.
Thigpen & Shaw: Wow, this was pretty ugly, particularly with Thigpen. His throws weren't even close when he got the reps. Shaw got a very limited sample size since he is the fourth-string guy, but he didn't make the most of his opportunity either. For the record, even though I hammered Manziel in my assessment above, Manziel was still light years more accurate than these two.
A Little Boring: Overall, practice was pretty boring. I didn't want to use that word, but I convinced myself after I saw that Craig over at Waiting for Next Year agreed with me. The first two days of practice weren't in pads, though, and it looked like the drills were designed around that fact. Contact wasn't permitted. Monday's practice will be in full pads, and I can only hope the same will be true when I go out again on Friday.
Hawkins Delivers the Goods: The best receiver of the day was WR Andrew Hawkins. The funny thing is that when you think of him, you think of the bubble screen type of play where he makes defenders miss. All of the receptions I saw for Hawkins came on intermediate passes with tight windows and two-three defenders collapsing around him as the ball game. Hawkins kept his concentration on each play -- the most impressive one was the aforementioned throw from QB Brian Hoyer that would have gone for a big gain after the catch too.
Armstrong Making His Case: Besides Hawkins, WR Anthony Armstrong again made an early impression. I already mentioned the deep connection he had with QB Brian Hoyer, but shortly after that, Armstrong made another nice catch off of a playaction pass from Hoyer. I officially regret not including Armstrong on my first 53-man roster projection, not just because of two nice catches today, but because he reportedly did this regularly throughout all of OTAs and minicamp.
Gordon's Talent Doesn't Match Practice: WR Josh Gordon seemed to be running limited reps, or at least not with the first-team units again. Early in practice, one of QB Johnny Manziel's first throws was a pass to Gordon on a dig route. It was right in his breadbasket, but he dropped it -- Gordon has always, to be frank, looked like an average receiver whenever I've seen him in previous years at training camp. Obviously, that's not the case when gameday hits.
There was also one instance in which a deep ball was thrown for Gordon. He had to wait on it a little, and that allowed CB Buster Skrine to make up some ground and break up the pass at the last second. That play might be more of a tribute to Skrine, but in a game situation, it's a play where you'd hope Gordon would jump back to the ball more, alas what Bears WR Alshon Jeffery did against our secondary in 2013.
The view of where we camped our foldable chairs right after the gates opened.
Other WR Notes: I didn't really see much of WR Miles Austin and WR Nate Burleson, but maybe they got some work on the field I couldn't see in one-on-one type of drills. When it came to the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 action, it seemed like WR Willie Snead was being targeted at a high rate. I didn't see WR Chandler Jones once during practice, and I had wondered if he'd fallen big time on the depth chart. After practice, though, I saw that Jones missed practice. I saw WR Travis Benjamin fielding some punts, but not getting much action at receiver.
Lastly, WR Taylor Gabriel was on the receiving end of a deep pass from QB Brian Hoyer, again amidst double coverage. Gabriel is off to a hot start to camp, but the issue again becomes that he seems too similar to Hawkins.
Positional Drills: When the team broke into positional drills during practice, I had an up-close look at the defensive line, as you can see from the lead photo. All of these guys seemed to have the nasty combination of power and quickness, but DE Desmond Bryant was particularly impressive. The effort was there from everybody, including youngsters Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel. Because of how stacked the defensive line is, those guys could be duking it out between each other for a practice squad spot.
The drills themselves were interesting. The coaches would have a football attached to a stick sitting on the ground to simulate when the snap actually took place vs. reacting to a cadence. That drill was for both the defensive linemen and the outside linebackers, and I think OLB Edgar Jones might have been the only one to bite on a false start. The defensive line must have won a bet against their coaches, because at one point, four defensive line coaches/assistants dropped to the ground and started doing pushups, much to the amusement of the players.
One other early drill for the cornerbacks had a coach lobbing the ball in the air for a cornerback (with the defense only being on the field). After the cornerback caught the ball, a convoy of defensive players would begin blocking in front of the intercepting player.
RB Notes: It's hard to judge running backs in practice because you know the defense isn't allowed to tackle them. With that said, I didn't expect RB Terrance West to look as quick as he did. West and RB Ben Tate were getting most of the reps, so I saw very little of the other backs on the roster. I was hoping that "my guy," RB Dion Lewis, would catch fire again, but I barely saw him. Lewis did have two touches late in the day, and on both of them, he was putting on the same moves he did last year. Lewis is going to have to capitalize during the actual preseason games or as the kickoff returner to make the team, though, based on the running back reps he is getting.
Gray is Back in Business: I saw FB/TE MarQueis Gray on the field Sunday, and he was off to the side practicing long snaps with the punter. Gray is already taking on a versatile role, so why not add "backup long snapper" to his resume? After practice, Gray tweeted, "I'm in shape!! Just a minor setback with cramps the other day! Moving forward." The Browns want to get him some more reps to see if he can be the team's lead fullback.
Camp Chatter from the Fans: I always try to listen for the logical or absurd "camp chatter" from opposing fans around me. Here is a sample:
(1) During the first couple of minutes of practice, someone said, "Is Buster Skrine still on the team? He sucks." Well, way to show confidence in a much-improved corner, one who has gotten off to a good start in camp.
(2) Every year, you see the Browns set up a machine that simulates a punt or kickoff -- it shoots the football deep or sky-high into the air for the return man without wasting the punter's leg. Well, this machine did this several times, and then one fan behind me said, "Man, who is throwing that ball? That's going REALLY high in the air." They said this a few times, and once some people moved out of the way, they realized it was a machine, to which I think, "come on, you really thought a quarterback could or would be throwing the ball as high as a punter kicks the ball?"
(3) "Who the hell is McDaniel?" in reference to DL Jacobbi McDaniel, one of the lesser-known defensive linemen in our area.
(4) One fan behind me was insistent that the Browns did not let QB Brian Hoyer take any snaps under center on Day 1 of camp (he was telling this to a friend). I actually laughed out loud a little to myself because I knew it was not true. Right around the same time, Hoyer (from under center) had just completed the early deep ball to WR Anthony Armstrong. As fans were clapping, the two people behind me started talking again.
"Who threw that?" said one fan.
"Well, like I said, Hoyer isn't taking snaps under center yet, so that must have been Manziel," replied the other fan.
And that's how things can get lost in translation. I thought about correcting the guy, but I didn't feel like taking my attention off the field.
(5) After practice ended, players came to sign autographs. SS Donte Whitner was a few feet away from me, and I didn't have time to move my chairs out of the way. It was too late -- kids had pushed through the ropes and now circled me 360 degrees. I just had to sit still for a few minutes until I had a slight opening to move behind me.
Hat tip to my brother for relaying this one, though: QB Johnny Manziel was signing autographs at a different part of the field, and my brother overheard one fan complaining about Manziel leaving the field when the horn sounded (signifying that players can leave now):
"Fuck Manziel! That prick...motherfucker. I waited out there, had everything ready for him to sign, and then he blew off like he doesn't even have the time to sign my stuff while I'm waiting there. Fuck him. Fuck Manziel."
(6) It never fails me how fans go, "Wow!" every time a running backs goes through the entire defense to green pastures, not realizing that tackling isn't allowed and that's a large part of the reason they appear to be "free."
Concession Stand Prices: What would you buy?
- Brownies (Part 1): LT Joe Thomas had the day off, as he is on a "veteran pitch count," according to head coach Mike Pettine (well earned if you ask me). ... With Thomas having the day off, OT Martin Wallace filled in at left tackle with the first-team offense. ... OG Jason Pinkston has missed two practices, and a DBN reader tells us that he might have an issue with his lungs again. ... The final drill of the day had QB Brian Hoyer and QB Johnny Manziel taking three snaps each from Shotgun. ... RB Ben Tate caught a pass on the sideline with ILB Craig Robertson in coverage.
Brownies (Part 2): On one of the poor throws from QB Tyler Thigpen, CB Leon McFadden dropped an interception. ... I saw S Jordan Poyer covering TE Jordan Cameron deep on one play. ... QB Johnny Manziel began practice with bright neon green cleats, but had to take them off (league policy) and replace them with orange cleats. ... Reports say that CB Buster Skrine and WR Willie Snead, as well as TE Emmanuel Ogbuehl and OLB Edgar Jones, got into mini-skirmishes, but I didn't witness either one of them.
Brownies (Part 3): Just from my visuals, it seemed like P Spencer Lanning was getting good lift on his punts, compared to last year. ... Per of Browns.com, CB Isaiah Trufant is getting the nickel back work for the Browns right now, because the team wants CB Justin Gilbert to just focus on learning the outside cornerback position for now. ... RB Isaiah Crowell is now No. 34 instead of No. 30. ... There was a zip line at practice today, and it will be in Berea two more times, as well as at Family Day in Akron, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
Photos & Videos from Twitter
Link Collection / Training Camp Sources
Most of the information in today's report came from my in-person experience. With that said, I always double-check additional sources for further nuggets:
- Surprises so far in Cleveland Browns training camp (Jones, Browns.com)
- Ray Farmer speaks, Brian Hoyer looks sharp (Cabot, Plain Dealer)
- Hoyer Sharp During Day 2 And Other Notes (Ruiter, 92.3 the Fan)
- The Browns have some veteran confidence (Lyndall, WFNY)
- Pettine cautions against grading the QB competition day by day (Grossi, ESPN Cleveland)