Countdown to The Draft
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By Will Burge | ESPNCleveland.com
The skinny – The Browns held their first OTA with both rookies and vets this week. Over the next three weeks the Browns will hold practices Tuesday through Thursday and the media will only be allowed to view the final day of each week. The team has also instituted “media reporting guidelines” which prevent us from telling the fans about trick plays, who played with which units, and how many reps players were taking. Essentially we can’t tell you anything you really want to know. Here is the best of the rest though…
Tempo, tempo, tempo – Since the very first time Rob Chudzinski spoke with the media in Cleveland as a head coach, he was preaching fast and aggressive football. Thursday’s practice certainly lived up to the billing. Neither Shurmur nor Mangini ever had a practice this fast paced and competitive.
Chudzinski did however have an element of Mangini’s program: Loud music. The music played as a soundtrack to an intense two hours of team drills. Mix in the yelling by players and coaches and it was quite an entertaining afternoon.
The QB pressure cooker – I had been told that Brandon Weeden did not look very good through the first two days of OTAs and this was confirmed on Thursday. Weeden himself admitted this was his worst day of the week. He struggled to find the open read on many throws, missed a few open receivers and had multiple miscommunications with his wide outs.
Jason Campbell didn’t look much better. While Weeden throws a better ball, Campbell seemed more comfortable finding the correct read. Once he found that read, however, he did not consistently deliver the ball in a place that led receivers away from the defender. It was a rough day for the QBs.
It is unwise to read too deeply into the third day of OTAs but I certainly wasn’t the only one who noticed the poor play. Just hours after practice ended the Browns reportedly agreed to a 2 year deal with quarterback Brian Hoyer. Hoyer, who Browns’ GM Michael Lombardi has previously said he thought could be a starter, will compete with Weeden and Campbell.
“I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters. I’ve said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he’s got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team.” – Michael Lombardi with WEEI Boston on December 9th, 2011.
It remains to be seen exactly what job Hoyer will compete for. Will he challenge Campbell for the backup role or will the entire thing be an open competition? At the very least this move improves the overall talent of that position on the roster.
Not only does this mean the end of Taddeus Lewis’ tenure in Cleveland, but it also presents a challenge to Weeden mentally. The team refrained from drafting a QB which led everyone to believe that Weeden was “the guy” moving into this season. But as Lee Corso so obnoxiously says, “not so fast my friend!” Hoyer’s signing sent a clear message to the rest of the quarterback room: There will be competition at ALL positions.
The bright side – Whoever ends up as the quarterback of the Browns this season (for the record I still think it will be Weeden) will have a pleasant surprise. The wide receiver corps not only looks like it is NFL caliber, but it looks, dare I say, dangerous. Greg Little and Josh Gordon look confident and fluid in their routes and more aggressive to the ball once it is in the air. They will give any defensive secondary fits with their size and speed.
“No doubt about it,” Weeden responded when asked if he has seen progression in the duo. “Not only what they are doing out here on the field but just the way they are walking through the building, studying and all those other things. They have taken the next step. They are playing faster. I think they have a lot of confidence in this system and the routes they are running. It’s exciting for me.”
Devone Bess, who the Browns acquired in a trade with Miami, is the easiest player to spot on the field. If someone told you to point out who has made a career on moving the chains on third down, you could do it in less than five plays. Bess has a knack for finding the open part of the field, runs some of the cleanest routes I have seen in my time covering the NFL, and made whoever covered him look silly time and time again.
Secondary is the primary concern – After the draft, fans and media were ranting and raving about the fact that the Browns only drafted a 5’9” cornerback in Leon McFadden when they had so many other perceived needs. We will have to wait one more week to find out about Mcfadden because he is still finishing up school at San Diego State but we now know who will start at free safety. It’s Tashaun Gipson for the time being.
Gipson looked good too. He will be left to cover the deep part of the field by himself most of the time because TJ Ward is moving into a role that closely resembles that of a fifth linebacker. With Ward playing near the line of scrimmage and blitzing, Gipson was the sole insurance past Joe Haden and Buster Skrine (who got the start as the second CB with McFadden still not in camp). Not only did he hold his own but Gipson actually snagged an interception when Weeden tried to fit a ball into double coverage deep down the sideline. Eric Hagg and Johnson Bademosi were the backups.
I didn’t think it was possible but Haden looked better than I have ever seen him. He was absolutely dominant on his side of the field and only saw one reception against him. He broke up multiple passes and blanketed whoever he covered the entire day.
That first step is a doozy – On the first day of training camp two seasons ago I marveled at Jabaal Sheard’s first step. He was so explosive off the snap that it stood out above and beyond anyone else in his position group. Now that he is an outside linebacker, his first step is highlighted that much more. He is able to start his rush from the standing position and can use his speed to try and beat the left tackle.
Unfortunately for Sheard, his first step was not the most impressive in camp. His backup, Barkevious Mingo, was everything he had been billed to be. He made Sheard look slow. He exploded toward the line of scrimmage like a sprinter out the blocks in the 100 yard dash. Both he and Sheard did not look very comfortable when they dropped back into coverage however.
Time for the next step – One of the staples of the Norv Turner’s offense is the tight end. The Browns have shown a lot of faith in Jordan Cameron by not bringing in a legitimate contender for the starting spot. The Browns need to see more from the young man.
There is no doubt he has the physical attributes but once the ball is in the air he doesn’t seem to win the fight as much as you would like. Cameron has improved his route running but will need to adopt the company mantra of “aggressive” more frequently if he doesn’t want new competition when other teams cut down their rosters.
|Will Burge covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and hosts 3 Deep, Monday - Friday from 7pm-9pm.|
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