By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
An update: This week marks the last four of the Browns’ 10 OTA practices. Next week is coach Mike Pettine’s mandatory minicamp. Then comes summer recess until training camp kicks off in the last week of July.
Here are five takeaways of where things stand heading into the final weeks of the “off” season:
1. The fate of Josh Gordon will be known any day. The Browns are expecting the worst – an indefinite suspension with a chance to apply for reinstatement after one year. The coaches look at Gordon performing at OTAs, marvel at his smoothness and phenomenal athleticism, and consider him a player simply unavailable in 2014 – same as one with a torn ACL or other season-ending injury. Despite the prevailing fan sentiment to cut ties with Gordon, the Browns have no inclination to do anything rash. There is no need to. Gordon is owed no future cash bonus per terms of his contract. His 2014 base salary of $825,604 ranks 25th on the club (kicker Billy Cundiff, for example, is 21st at $955,000). If Gordon is suspended a minimum of one year, his contract tolls, which means the two years he has remaining will simply pick up whenever he is made active. If Gordon’s suspension is reduced on appeal, it would begin with the first week of regular season and he would be able to participate in training camp and play in preseason games. If it is an indefinite suspension, it would kick in immediately and he would not be able to be around the team for a minimum of one year.
2. The best word to describe Brian Hoyer is “frustrated.” Hoyer feels he is ready to participate fully in team drills, but doctors, trainers and coaches are holding him back. They are concerned with two things: 1. An accidental collision to Hoyer’s mending right knee, and 2. Hoyer overdoing things and suffering a setback. So Hoyer has had to sit out all team drills which call for the quarterback to work under center. He has only participated in team drills out of the pistol or shotgun formation. Meanwhile, rookie Johnny Manziel has made the most of his extra time with the No. 1 team. Manziel has impressed coaches with his ability to learn from mistakes. So when Manziel’s errors are corrected in post-practice film study, he generally rebounds splendidly. All the public attention focused on Manziel is hard enough for Hoyer to stomach. The fact Hoyer is handcuffed from making his own gains in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system is doubly frustrating to him. His time will come. But this early opportunity for Manziel unquestionably has tightened the quarterback competition.
3. If Gordon is suspended, the player who will benefit the most is Jordan Cameron. If the tight end’s third season was considered a breakout year (80 receptions, 917 yards, 7 TDs), his fourth could be record-breaking. There is no doubt the Shanahan offense will commit to running the ball. Shanahan’s zone-blocking run scheme and the additions to the run game (backs Ben Tate and Terrance West, and guard Joel Bitonio) will force defenses to move a safety into the tackling box. Because if they don’t, Shanahan and Pettine will be content to run all day. So when defenses commit their safety to the run, Cameron will have greater opportunity to beat single coverage down the field. Although the receiving corps will be lacking without Gordon, the presence of slot receiver Andrew Hawkins should occupy attention and further assist Cameron’s ability to get open. I will predict right now that Cameron will lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The possibility of a gigantic season by Cameron points to the importance of the Browns negotiating a new contract for Cameron before he becomes a free agent after the 2014 season. Cameron has rejected two previous offers and has recently changed agents. The Browns could use a franchise or transition tag on Cameron to secure him for 2015, but they would rather not do that.
4. The 2013 draft looks even worse in its second year. Yes, the trades for extra picks in 2014 benefitted the team immensely this year. Two of the extra picks netted Manziel, and the third was used on West. But none of the players taken in the 2013 draft is locked in as a foundation player. Barkevious Mingo? He is likely to be reduced to a situational pass rusher role until further notice. He has not gained ground on Jabaal Sheard as the starting right outside linebacker. Leon McFadden? His status was reduced by the additions of Justin Gilbert, Pierre Desir, Isaiah Trufant and even Aaron Berry. Jamoris Slaughter? I haven’t seen him active much in the OTA season. Garrett Gilkey? He is being groomed as a backup center. Armonty Bryant? Another situational pass rusher, but also inactive in OTAs.
5. Justin Gilbert was a great kick returner at Oklahoma State, but the Browns are not in agreement about using him in that role. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor would love to have Gilbert returning kicks. Pettine is not as enthused. Tabor is not going to win that battle, of course. Pettine prefers to have Gilbert saved to focus on nailing down the starting cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden. Make no mistake – Pettine wants Gilbert to be brought up to speed in training camp to start from Day One. He was the driving force to trade down from No. 4, and then trade up from No. 9, and take Gilbert with the No. 8 pick in the draft. Pettine does not want Gilbert’s development as a cornerback impeded in any way by double duty as a kick returner.
|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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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