BEREA — Always start at the beginning with the end in mind. But to get there the Cleveland Browns, maybe more than any other team, have a long way to go.
Hue Jackson and his team are putting 0-16 behind them, that much is clear from talking to the coach and his players on Thursday. Jackson didn’t even include a mention of the depressingly bad 2017 season during his address to the team on Wednesday night.
They are not focusing on that team’s utter inability to win games over the last two seasons. Those shortcomings, they said repeatedly throughout the day, are in the past, and the 2018 Browns are a completely new team.
In putting that past behind them, this new team seems to have some pretty lofty goals.
Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, acquired for a third-round pick and signed to a five-year, $75.5 million contract extension in April, has been vocal about his belief this Browns team is ready for the playoffs, and maybe more.
“I’m just saying that if we play to our full potential, we have a great chance at making the playoffs, and maybe even going further,” Landry said before Thursday’s practice.
“Talent is one thing, but you have to be a team. Talent wins games, but teams win championships,” Landry added. “We want to be a team, and obviously we want to win a championship.”
The start of that quest to making this a special “worst-to-first” kind of season for the Browns began with some of the old nagging nuisances.
In Berea on Thursday, the Browns got together for their first official training camp practice session, and cramps, conditioning issues, and injuries were the talk of the day. This was days before the team prepares for the real test when they put on pads to begin the grueling grind towards Week 1.
With all of the new faces, an improved quarterback group, and belief, there’s only one thing that is nearly certain at this point: the 2018 Cleveland Browns will win at least one game.
My Observations from Day 1:
- Josh Gordon’s absence was a common topic for questions throughout the day. The team seams united in a top-down effort led by John Dorsey to defer and avoid questions about Gordon’s future. His teammates, like Dorsey, have continued to wish the best for Gordon and are hopeful he’ll return to the team soon.
- Speed is one thing I heard repeatedly in talking to folks in Berea. The improvement from last season to now is noticeable. It’s hard to tell without pads how much that speed will translate, but I observed some of it—as well as the human eye can ascertain—from running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, receivers Antonio Callaway and C.J. Board, and defensive back Denzel Ward.
- Ward, who signed his rookie deal yesterday, also had an interception with Jarvis Landry draped on his shoulders. He ran pretty exclusively as a starter opposite of T.J. Carrie at the other cornerback spot, and Damarious Randall at free safety.
- Nick Chubb is built like a tank, has a low center of gravity, and really seems to have some burst and flexibility. I think he’ll have a big year, especially if he stays healthy and the team rides the “hot hand”—as coaches have said they will—when deciding how to split carries between Chubb, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.
- A big story again this season is going to be the influx of new names at the receiver position. With Gordon missing the start of camp, at least, Ratley injured, and Ricardo Louis out for the year, Todd Haley’s group was in constant rotation on Thursday. Rookie receivers C.J. Board and Antonio Callaway spent some time in drills and scrimmages running routes with the first team offense, and Landry seemed to be the overwhelming focal point of the offense for the plays he was on the field.
- Landry, Callaway and Jeff Janis really stood out by catching everything thrown in their direction. Janis also had a very nice reception over his shoulder down the left sideline, thrown by Drew Stanton. And Landry had a couple big catches in traffic.
- Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield were both impressive, and pretty similar looking in commanding the team’s offense on Day 1 of training camp. Although, as advertised, Taylor worked exclusively with the first-team offense, and that group dominated the day in terms of offensive repetitions in the 11-on-11 portions of practice.
- Coaches and teammates continue to rave about Taylor’s work ethic. Landry said the veteran quarterback is always the first guy in and last guy out of the building every day. “That’s not an understatement, and it shows,” Landry said. “It’s paying off.”
- Jackson was complimentary as well. “He is leading the offense, making plays, getting people in the right spots and all of those things,” the coach said after practice. “I am very impressed with what he is doing. He just has to keep it going.”
- Taylor is the team’s starter heading into the season barring a big surprise, but it is impossible to stand on the sidelines and not see what John Dorsey and his staff saw in Mayfield. He was accurate, and his arm was better than advertised. Mayfield looks special.
- Injuries—TE Devon Cajuste (concussion), DL Caleb Brantley (cramps), WR Derrick Willies (cramps), WR Damion Ratley (hip), and DL Daniel Ekuale (calf) were injured during the practice. Brantley and Ratley were carted off, and Willies, Cajuste and Ekuale walked inside with trainers.
- Play of the Day—Mayfield threw up a deep sideline fade that fellow rookie Antonio Callaway pulled in, drawing a huge buzz from the crowd. Plays earlier, Corey Coleman dropped a similar ball thrown by Tyrod Taylor.
Baker hits Callaway on a bomb. #Browns pic.twitter.com/VNofzikCZR— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) July 26, 2018
- Bonus material: “Quarterbacks only” club—Apparently Mayfield and Taylor started an exclusive secret club in an RV in Berea. Name of the club is TBD:
Browns quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield have acquired an RV and parked it here on the premises for training camp so they can have a top secret clubhouse. Only QBs allowed inside for now and no name yet. They won’t tell me what goes on inside.— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) July 26, 2018
I wasn’t invited inside.
- Hue Jackson post-practice interview highlights:
On if the Browns will tryout former Bengals DB Adam Jones for a workout tomorrow:
“As you guys know, (General Manager) John (Dorsey) and the personnel group are always trying to uncover talent and uncover guys that can play. Obviously, there is an opportunity to continue to look at guys so I am sure we will bring them in and take a peek at him.”
On if Browns players ‘measured up’ with the first few days of practice being critical after returning from the offseason, as well as citing restarting the end of practice:
“I thought they did. At the end, I just think [it was] fatigue. They have not been pushed like this. This is pro football. You have to work through those things. For the most part, I think that our guys did some good things. I have a standard that I want these guys to attain each and every day. We just have to keep working towards it.”
Expectations for Baker Mayfield during training camp:
“Just that he is progressing and improving. I saw some of that improvement today. Normally, he would flush out to the right side when pressure came. He stood in there, especially in our scoring zone area, and made some plays. He stood there and threw the football. That was good to see, but we have to continue to do that. This is the first day. We have to put on pads. There is still a lot of football ahead of us, but I thought that there were some guys that made some strides, but we have got to continue to do that.”
On receiver Corey Coleman’s big Week 17 drop:
“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. You do not want that to happen, but hopefully, he will grow from that and learn from that. I think that Corey is into Year 3 of his professional career and he knows that it is time for him to play better and to make plays for the organization. He did some good things today. It was good to see him fight through a lot – the first offense was in there a lot – so he was in there a lot and competing. That was good to see.”
On how Coleman has responded to entering his third season, given his first two seasons:
“He is competing. He is here. He is accounted for and has been working hard. That is all you can do. All Corey can do is do his job. Do his job and what he is supposed to do, and the rest will take care of itself.”
On the Browns skill position groups working together:
“It is a working progress, but I see good things. Just need to see the consistent things play in and play out. That will come in time. We do not have to be a well-oiled machine right now, but I think that our guys are starting to get a feel for each other. That is a tribute to the quarterbacks, the extra time that they spent together working together because you have got to build that chemistry. I think that is what they are starting to develop.”
On Coleman’s ability to ‘pick up the NFL game’:
“No, I don’t think he has problems picking up the NFL game. Corey has had some tough breaks. Obviously, when you are a first-round pick, a lot if expected from you, and I think he wants to do that as well as anybody, but we can’t talk about the past. He is out here today. 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.”
On Joe Thomas does not see rookie Austin Corbett as a tackle in the NFL
“Joe Thomas is entitled to his opinion (laughter).”
Do the Browns coaches view Corbett as an interior lineman:
“I think he is an offensive lineman who has versatility who can play on the edge and can play inside, and we are going to find out where the best place to play him once we put these pads on.”
Have the browns ruled out tackle for Corbett:
“I don’t think we have given up on anything. I think it is too soon. I think we need to get the pads on, and watch guys compete and kind of go from there.”
On QB Tyrod Taylor’s leadership:
“No different. He does not flinch. Tyrod Taylor is the same guy that walked into the building however many months ago and is the same guy today. He is leading the offense, making plays, getting people in the right spots and all of those things. I am very impressed with what he is doing. He just has to keep it going.”
On the Browns CBs:
“There is competition. I said this yesterday, that is what is going to make out football team better. There is competition throughout our team. I do not know how it is going to shake out. The players are going to decide that by how they play, but we have candidates out there that can play and that is the fun part so we will just let it all play out.”
On easing back Jamie Collins and Mychal Kendricks:
“Absolutely. Those guys are coming off of some surgeries so we are going to just work them back in. Now, the most important thing is I have to get this team healthy to the season. Obviously, we have practice and preseason games, but we have some players that we have to make sure we give them the due time that they need to get their bodies in the right shapes so that they can play football.”
On Shon Coleman’s development:
“Close. Going against (DL) Myles Garrett is not fun, but I thought he competed well. I thought he did some good things. I need to go back and watch the tape to be very honest with you, but I felt like he wasn’t a liability over there or anything like that. This is football in shorts right now. When the pads come on here this Saturday, we will find out a little bit more about our football team.”
Jackson expects Jabrill Peppers, Chad Thomas and Desmond Harrison, who all started camp today on the PUP list, back at some point during training camp.
He had no updates on any injured players today, other than he believed Brantley had calf cramps.