Day 4 of Cleveland Browns training camp took place on Sunday, and it marked the first practice session I've been to in 2015. I am scheduled to head to one more on Monday, August 10th.
The Value City Easy Pass gets fans early entrance into practice at 8:15 AM instead of 8:30 AM. I made sure I was in line by 8:10 AM and had my folding chair ready. I was hoping that practice would take place on the field closest to the entrance, but as soon as I entered, I could see that the action would still be taking place on one of the fields close to the field house. Bummer -- that meant me, along with the rest of the fans, would be in for 3.5 hours of sitting in the scorching sun with very little wind. I think we went about 45 minutes without the slightest gust, and then at 11:00 AM, everyone savored the 15-second draft that came out of no where. The full practice report is below.
CLEVELAND BROWNS TRAINING CAMP REPORT - DAY 4 (8/2/15)
- Danny Shelton. I was surprised not to see him with an orange practice jersey, considering the defense had won the previous day's "competition." It wasn't until Shelton came closer and the rest of the defense came out that I could see the new camouflage jerseys:
Jerseys Create Buzz: The first player out on to to the practice field for the fourth day in a row was rookie NT
- Running Backs Group a Tad Thin: With RB Terrance West (calf cramps), RB Duke Johnson (hamstring), and RB Glenn Winston (knee) out of action, the Browns only had a total of four running backs. Near the beginning of practice, each positional group splits up into their own area of the practice field to run drills with their respective coaches. In the past, I've been close to defensive linemen or linebackers. Today, it was the running backs.
The coaches/assistants arrived to the area first, and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery was very friendly with the fans in the bleacher section next to me. He approached them and explained some of the drills that the running backs would be doing. He also tossed a deflated-looking football (presumably to emphasize ball security) into the crowd and told the fans to pass it around for a bit to get a feel of what the running backs would be dealing with. When the running backs eventually came over, Montgomery told the group to acknowledge the fans. Those are the experiences at training camp that stick with you.
(The four available running backs today were RB Isaiah Crowell, RB Shaun Draughn, RB Luke Lundy, and FB Malcolm Johnson).
- He Can Catch, But Can He Block? On Day 3, one of the top stories was the receiving ability of rookie FB Malcolm Johnson. Even Browns.com had tweeted, "Malcolm Johnson = not your traditional fullback," in reference to Johnson's catching ability. While that is all good and fun, perhaps the follow-up question is if there is a downside to Johnson not being your traditional fullback. On Sunday, it appeared there was a downside.
The Browns went through a drill in which the quarterback simulated a snap from under center with the running back behind him and a linebacker on the "defensive" side. The purpose of the drill was for the running back to step up and hold off the linebacker as long as they could. Of the four players trying to protect the quarterback, one jersey kept standing out like a sore thumb because they kept letting the linebacker slide past them rather quickly: No. 44, the team's sixth-round fullback.
Granted, it's just one practice, and Johnson might not be expected to be a pass-protecting back as he moves all around in the H-Back type of role, but I thought he would've looked a little better in this area.
- Lundy Looking for Someone to Hit: If the coaches are looking for a guy who is giving maximum effort and over-exerting himself, look no further than RB Luke Lundy. He was going all out in individual drills and did a solid job pass protecting in the drill discussed above. He was a little overzealous, though, in a variation of the drill discussed above. This time, the drill involves the running back going upfield and then turning toward the flat with the linebacker typically initiating a jam.
When one of Lundy's turns came up, he just trucked ILB Tank Carder, sending him flying a couple of feet, before turning out into his route. It was the loudest pop of the day (at least on our side of the field) and fans were taking notice. Personally, it looked obvious that it was offensive pass interference, as Lundy ran up to Carder and pushed him to the ground. Unfortunately, Lundy's day didn't last much longer. He walked off the practice field near the end of practice and was diagnosed with a concussion. With the way he was playing, I'm not surprised.
- QB Conversation: I thought QB Josh McCown looked confident in the offense and was poised in the pocket amidst pressure. None of the quarterbacks threw as well as in camp last year as McCown did on Sunday. That is partially indicative of how bad the quarterbacks were in camp a year ago, but also (optimistically) a sign that the offense is further along than they were a year ago.
I saw some improvements from QB Johnny Manziel too. I thought I saw a concerted effort from him to stay in the pocket and make a strong throw to his first read. When that happened, Manziel was on target. He also had a stretch in which he threw a couple of nice passes to the sideline. He also had a stretch later on that you'd like to sweep under the rug, including a lame duck on a rollout that should have been picked off. We're looking for baby steps from Manziel through the duration of camp, though, and I left feeling he looked more comfortable than he did a year ago.
Side note: here is one positive play captured for Manziel: he fields a low snap and gets pressured but stays in the pocket and floats a bit of a back shoulder throw to where only his receiver can get it (well...I'd like to hope this was Manziel's line of thinking and not a blind throw that just happened to work out):
- Veteran Defenders Get the Day Off: Several veteran defenders got the day off on Sunday: DL Randy Starks, CB Tramon Williams and SS Donte Whitner. It's always fun when first-teamers exit the line-up because you get a sneak peak into which players from the second-team defense have earned an opportunity for more reps. We're not sure who filled in for Starks, but S Jordan Poyer was in for Whitner. What about cornerback?
- Desir Takes Advantage: The big winner on the depth chart was CB Pierre Desir, who leap-frogged CB Justin Gilbert to play with the first-team defense. After practice, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said that Desir got that spot "because he's earned it." That is not a complete knock at Gilbert, though, who also looks more prepared in his sophomore season. It sounds like Desir, who was viewed by fans as a very mature player but raw talent last year, is driven to turn heads in 2015:
Was told by someone close to Pierre Desir that he's gunning for a starting spot and nothing less. Seems off to good start at Browns camp.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 2, 2015
- Wide Receiver Competition is Real: The Browns don't have four No. 1 receivers. They don't have the big-name players, which makes other fan bases think the team doesn't have any receivers. The truth is that Cleveland has a lot of quality receivers, and the competition isn't fading. From my perspective:
-Dwayne Bowe is still being utilized as the top receiver on the club. He has that role locked down and it's going to keep him happy and motivated.
-Andrew Hawkins is as quick as they come in space. It was also nice to see him catch a pass in the end zone (offense only drill) and come closer to us than any other player had throughout the day.
-Forgive me for piggybacking on some of the over-the-top praise that Bowe and CB Joe Haden have been giving Taylor Gabriel, but he really does look like a small receiver who plays like a No. 1-caliber receiver.
Those are the three receivers who, in my opinion, headed in to camp as the most established. My biggest question marks were around Brian Hartline, Travis Benjamin, and Vince Mayle. Although he's not quite as old, I'm almost getting a "Nate Burleson" type of sense regarding Hartline's job security -- in other words, even if he has a fine camp, if Cleveland needs to make the numbers game work, Hartline could be the odd man out.
Benjamin has a very good day catching the ball -- he seemed to catch more passes than any other receiver from QB Josh McCown, and most of them were intermediate routes. Mayle caught a few deeper passes with the second- or third-team offenses, including one in which he was falling backwards as two defenders were draped on him. I need a larger sample size of him, but while a guy like Charles Johnson was no where to be found in camp last year, Mayle already made some form of a positive impression on my first day.
The other receivers behind those six are playing pretty well too. Maybe we need to give this Joker Phillips guy some credit.
- Lee Can Indeed Boom Them: I've seen Cleveland's punters in camp for several years. Today, I saw Andy Lee, and good lord, what a difference. The consistency in which he hits for depth and distance is going to be one of the underrated advantages the Browns have compared to previous years. I could definitely see WR Travis Benjamin fielding punts, but couldn't make out the other guys. The OBR says WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Shane Wynn were also fielding punts, which makes sense, so I'll take their word for it.
- No Special Treatment for Pryor: Fans wanted to talk about several players at camp today: QB Johnny Manziel, CB Joe Haden, and WR Terrelle Pryor. Everyone wants Pryor to succeed, and everyone wants to know whether he'll make the roster. Before practice started, a member of the media approached a fan in the bleachers next to me.
Media: "Excuse me, do you know who Tony Grossi is? He always takes questions from fans and answers them. We're doing something new where fans ask a question via video, would you like to participate?"
(Media member whips out phone and says, 'go ahead.')
Fan: "What do you think of Terrelle Pryor and will he make the roster?"
Of course. As much as fans and the media want to make Pryor happen, though, I didn't see the coaches playing any favorites in terms of featuring him...yet. One member of a group next to me was taking photographs. The photographer had just started to get up to move elsewhere, when his buddy all of a sudden "quietly yelled," "HADEN'S ON PRYOR, HADEN'S ON PRYOR," as if to say to his buddy, "Oh my god, I can't believe you are missing this epic shot opportunity after you sat there taking snapshots for ten minutes!" Then, the person realized that it was just a running play, so he said, "oh...never mind, it's just a run."
A few members of the media pointed out that Pryor was with the first-team offense for a couple of snaps, as if it's a big breakthrough for him. If that is a breakthrough, then what about WR Marlon Moore also playing a few first-team snaps? Where are the headlines about that? The truth is that the coaches mix the reps up every so often; let's not read in to it until the sample size becomes much, much greater.
But, for those interested, here is Joe Haden vs. Terrelle Pryor:
- Offense Wins the Competition: The final portion of practice pitted the offense vs. the defense in third-down situations again, although head coach Mike Pettine did not clarify after practice what the specific situation was. The first play started off with QB Josh McCown connecting deep with a receiver who I couldn't catch the number of. Immediately after the ball was caught, LT Joe Thomas took his helmet off and was running around with it in the air. He then jumped and bumped a few of his offensive teammates in anticipation that today was their day.
McCown and company left after that first play and then QB Johnny Manziel took the field. His first pass was an intermediate drop-in-the-bucket play along the left sideline to FB Malcolm Johnson. It was a perfect throw with rookie S Ibraheim Campbell in coverage, but the rookie fullback dropped it.
Manziel then had an incomplete pass in the direction of WR Vince Mayle. A false start penalty by somebody made the scoreboard read 3rd-and-15. Manziel threw a quick-hitter wide receiver screen pass to WR Darius Jennings, who showed off his speed as he blazed all the way down the sideline for what would've been a presumed touchdown (although CB Joe Haden could be seen on the sideline motioning his hand as if there was a foul on the play). Manziel then had an incompletion to end his day.
The final "drive" of the day saw McCown come back on to the field. He dropped back and I could see a tight end breaking free up the middle of the field. McCown stepped up and chucked the ball downfield. Last year, with all due respect to what QB Brian Hoyer achieved, the ball would have been underthrown. This one hit TE Gary Barnidge in stride, with ILB Craig Robertson trailing behind, giving the offense the camo jerseys for when camp resumes this Tuesday.
- The Gatorade Story: We had great end zone seats, and then, all of a sudden, a worker wheeled a Gatorade dolly/hydration unit right in front of us. The worker returned a few minutes later to the machine, and a fan behind us was yelling out loud, "why would they put that thing right in front of the view of the fans?"
I'm guessing the worker heard the fan, because he then wheeled it about 15 feet away from where it was and plopped it down. I looked over, and the thing was now wheeled in front of a media member who had a professional camera with him. His expression was, "are you kidding me?" since the guy just left it right in front of him. A few minutes later, it was wheeled over to the running backs, and that is what all four of them were enjoying in the lead photo to this article.
- Camp Chatter: Every year, I try to highlight some of the camp chatter around me. I've already touched on some of it with respect to WR Terrelle Pryor, but here are a few other things I overheard:
-One fan said, "We need Bernie Kosar back on the preseason games, he was really good at analyzing things." The fans around agreed and said how his speech was probably because of how many concussions he had. "He used to line up under center with one foot already out because he was so slow and he wanted to get that extra head start."
-Some discussion was about QB Johnny Manziel: "With his height, the trajectory of his throws are going to be batted down a lot."
-There was a kid nearby, and someone was mentioning how NT Danny Shelton was the first one to come out for practice. The next thing I know, the kid just screams, "I didn't f#$%ing say Johnny Manziel was the first one out, I said SHELTON!", to which I cringed if that's how the kid always reacts to a misunderstanding.
-Much of the conversation around me was quite knowledgeable. Even when there were mistakes, they soon corrected themselves. For example, I recognized the "double team the gunner" drill as a special teams one right away, but other fans were asking, "why are they practicing double teaming wide receivers off the line?" or "why is the receiver going out of bounds?" The light bulb soon clicked.
- RTA Chatter: For some non-football camp chatter, here is some fun RTA dialogue I could see/hear on my way home at one of the rapid stations. There is an older white guy who seems to be a talkative type of person, and there are about 5-6 people in the vicinity of him. He is talking to a female and was apparently asking her something several times, and she was not interested. As he persists, a younger black guy calmly interjects and says, "hey, I think she already said she wasn't interested."
The older white guy snaps with, "Why don't you mind your own f%$#ing business!?! You seem like a nice guy, just leave me alone."
The younger black guy is walking away and says, "I am leaving you alone, you're the one still talking."
The older white guy yells, "OH, so you think you're a tough BLACK GUY, eh? Why don't you come over here coldclock me so you can spend a year and a half in COUNTY PRISON!?!"
Well, this guy seems like a clear racist. Thankfully our bus arrived, and the older white guy wandered off somewhere.
- Injury Update: Besides the four running backs who are injured, DB Brandon Stephens (hamstring) remained out. OL Vinston Painter left practice with a neck injury, and DL Billy Winn's injury has now been ruled an ankle sprain.
- Brownies: There were 3,113 fans who attended practice, the largest crowd in four days. ... NT Phil Taylor took part in team drills (9-on-9) for the first time this camp. ... NT Danny Shelton quickly recovered a botched center-quarterback exchange from QB Johnny Manziel. ... Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner attended practice ... OLB Paul Kruger came off the edge on one play to immediately swat down a pass. ... DL John Hughes looks more physical in camp than I remember. ... Day 5 of practice is scheduled for 9:30 AM on Tuesday (gates open at 8:30 AM), as the team has an off day Monday.
Link Collection / Training Camp Sources
- Scribbles about Justin Gilbert, Pierre Desir, Terrelle Pryor (Pluto, Plain Dealer)
- Browns training camp Day 4: Injuries pile up at running back (Grossi, ESPN Cleveland)
- 5 observations from Day 4 of Cleveland Browns training camp (Jones, Browns.com)
- Desir got chance with first-team defense ‘because he earned it’ (Ulrich, Akron Beacon Journal)
- Training Camp Notebook: Offense Strikes Back (Grayshock, The OBR)