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Answering the bell every day at practice, Browns TE Jordan Cameron braces for a breakout year

Aug 13, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Availability is good: Any given player injury is news during an otherwise uneventful training camp practice. Because of that, we in the media sometimes devote more attention to the guys not practicing than the ones who are.

Perhaps that’s why tight end Jordan Cameron has flown under radar at this Browns training camp. He has not missed a day at practice the whole camp. That is a welcome change for him in his third season and can’t be overstated.

It is welcome to the coaches, too, who envision a large role for Cameron in the offense. Still a developing player, it is imperative for Cameron to stay on the field and stay off the stationary bikes reserved for the mending. So far, Cameron is answering the bell.

“He has,” said offensive coordinator Norv Turner. “And he’s played more physically, and he’s worked hard. It’s an interesting position because it’s a very physical position. You get the ball in traffic a lot. I’m hoping he can become a guy that gives us the consistency we’re looking for on third down plays.”

In June, the Browns’ minicamp ended with Cameron sidelined with a pulled hamstring. As players retreated to their summer vacation, coach Rob Chudzinski put the marvelously athletic Cameron on notice with the biting words, “The best ability is availability.”

Tight ends coach Jon Embree slipped Cameron a phone number and told him to call Tony Gonzalez.

How to be a pro: After yet another bothersome injury in minicamp, Cameron returned to southern California and looked up a hip specialist whom he first met while playing receiver for the Trojans of USC. He worked on training methods to prevent future injuries.

He also followed Embree’s instructions to reach out to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has obliterated every individual record for an NFL tight end. Last year, at the age of 36, Gonzalez had 93 receptions and caught eight touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons. He has missed one game in 16 NFL seasons. Embree coached Gonzalez for three seasons in Kansas City, during which Gonzalez averaged 89 catches and seven touchdowns.

“He talked about getting a routine and even though you’re hurt or tired, the mundane things (of practice), you have to just grind through it,” Cameron said. “That’s what the great players do. They have something they do every single day and they focus on that. In the middle of the season, you don’t want to do the (resistance stretch) band work but you have to just stick to it, eat right and focus on the details every day.

“He said he’s never in the locker room just hanging out. He’s always doing something to get better at football. If he’s at work, he’s at work.”

On Monday, after a particularly up-tempo practice, Cameron spent about 20 minutes working with quarterback Brandon Weeden on red zone pass patterns, refining the precise timing essential in the congested confines of the end zone. And then he spent another five minutes catching balls from the JUGS machine.

Simply being able to put in extra work is a joy to a player whose development from basketball beginnings has been interrupted by muscle pull after muscle pull.

“It wasn’t anything major,” Cameron said of assorted injuries in his first two seasons. “Just so annoying to have little tweaks or strains here and there. During this time in my career, I need to have all the time I can on the field getting the reps. The more you can get out here having actual experience against the defense, that’s how you learn the offense.”

Bracing for a breakout: In two years at USC after transferring from Brigham Young University, Cameron had 16 catches. In two years in the NFL, buried behind veterans Ben Watson and Alex Smith, he has 26 receptions. Those numbers are a far cry from the production expected of a tight end in Turner’s offense.

But at 6-5 and 245 pounds, his 4.59 speed tantalizes Turner and Rob Chudzinski and Weeden. In the first preseason game, Cameron had a short Weeden fastball bang off his face mask when he took his eye off the ball. But later he turned a five-yard crossing route into a 30-yard gain.

Cameron knows the coaches are counting on him to complete their offense.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “They use the tight ends a lot. You’re going to get looks and opportunities to get mismatches out there. If you’re a tight end, there’s not another offense you’d rather be in.”

Which is why among the millions of fantasy football players, Cameron is not really a player under radar. Everyone’s looking for that late-round gem as fantasy drafts draw closer.

“I hear all that stuff,” Cameron said. “I don’t really get into that fantasy stuff. That’s a whole different world. It’s serious, though. I try not to pay attention to it. I’ll just focus on my job and hopefully whoever drafts me will get some points out of it.”

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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