By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Put a bow on it: Browns training camp officially closed with Wednesday’s practice.
The Browns counted spectators at each of the 14 practices open and reported an average attendance of 2,653, which was the highest average since figures have been tracked at their Berea complex in 2005. The previous record average was 2,235 in 2008. Last year’s average attendance was 1,608.
In addition, attendance at the Family Night practice in Cleveland Browns Stadium was 19,412 – up from 12,354 from the previous year.
So interest is on the rise. Why? I think the addition of young offensive players has a lot to do with it. A new quarterback always spikes interest – for a while. I also believe the sale of the team to Tennessee billionaire Jimmy Haslam was a jolt of energy to the stale franchise and to its suffering fan base.
Now the team retreats to regular-season mode to prepare for the season opener on Sept. 9. Here’s a review of what we’ve seen of this team so far.
The coaches: Pat Shurmur has asserted himself more in his second year. The ejection of Joe Haden from Wednesday’s practice for not heeding warnings about pulling jerseys was an eye-opener. I’ve never seen a player of Haden’s stature kicked out of practice in 28 years covering the Browns. Shurmur and Haden appeared to have things patched up by the end of the day.
The quarterbacks: Brandon Weeden continues to throw the ball well and should expect to get increased reps with his receivers as the season approaches … The fates of Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace might not be known until after the fourth preseason game. The trade market could perk up then ... Thaddeus Lewis has a chance over the next two games to win a roster spot.
The running backs: Trent Richardson could be back on the field next week, but is not expected to see action in the preseason. His return for Sept. 9 is still on schedule, according to the club … Montario Hardesty is running hard, but doesn’t gain a lot of yards. His receiving skills simply are not good enough … Brandon Jackson has not flashed … Chris Ogbonnaya’s sore ankle will not help him climb the depth chart, though he may have the best versatility of the backups … Adonis Thomas is on a collision course with the practice squad … Owen Marecic remains the starting fullback … Brad Smelley hasn’t proved he can adequately lead-block.
The receivers: Greg Little quietly has had a very good camp … Mohamed Massaquoi appears a marked man among the concussion-spotters and may have trouble staying in the lineup … Josh Gordon may have survived the worst. Some accelerated growth could be in the offing now … Travis Benjamin has been impressive – when on the field … Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper are coming down the wire neck and neck … Josh Cribbs is an insurance policy if one of the first four go down … Carlton Mitchell has to shine in the next two games to press for a spot.
The tight ends: Ben Watson has hardly been out there … Jordan Cameron has had a very good camp catching the ball … Alex Smith is the only dependable blocker … Evan Moore is in a fight for a spot … Dan Gronkowski has shown he can catch.
The offensive line: Continuity on the first unit has been outstanding … Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao are improved … Mitchell Schwartz will be fine … Ryan Miller is holding his own and has moved ahead as the No. 1 backup tackle … Oniel Cousins took a major step back in the Green Bay game, and hasn’t practiced since.
The defensive line: Ahtyba Rubin is working himself into shape … Still a quiet camp for Jabaal Sheard … John Hughes is on the verge of winning the Phil Taylor replacement spot … Billy Winn and newcomer Ronnie Cameron look like they will help .. Frostee Rucker needs to be in there for the run defense to get better … Juqua Parker has some gas left … Emmanuel Stephens looks like a keeper … Marcus Benard is still one of the team’s best pass rushers … Brian Schaefering is one tough S.O.B.
The linebackers: D’Qwell Jackson holds everything together now … Kaluka Maiava could be pressed, in time, by Craig Robertson at the weakside … James-Michael Johnson is settling in at the strongside … Scott Fujita’s left knee injury from last season appears to be giving him trouble again … L.J. Fort took advantage of increased reps and is on track to win a spot … Emmanuel Acho has fallen by the wayside.
The cornerbacks: Joe Haden looks a little frayed by the uncertainty about a possible suspension … Sheldon Brown is healthy and energetic … Perhaps no player has moved up more than Trevin Wade. He could be Dimitri Patterson’s injury replacement at nickel back … Buster Skrine is in line to start if Haden and Patterson are out on Sept. 9 … James Dockery should get some looks on the outside in the next two games.
The safeties: T.J. Ward is healthy and should be able to take the next step up in his career … Eric Hagg can really play … Ray Ventrone has developed into a very competent backup …David Sims could push injured Usama Young off the roster.
Special teams: Phil Dawson and Reggie Hodges are in mid-season form … The coverage units have more speed and are looking good … Josh Cribbs is not going to lose his job to Travis Benjamin and Jordan Norwood, but they are very good backup returners.
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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