By Will Burge | ESPNCleveland.com
T-Rich on the sidelines – Members of the media were welcomed to week two of OTAs with a surprise. Trent Richardson was not practicing due to what the team called a lower leg injury. Normally missing a day of off season work would not be a big deal, but the Browns are installing a new offensive system that has many downfield passing routes.
When Brandon Weeden has to wait for deeper routes to develop it allows time for the defense to get into the backfield. Richardson needs to know his protection assignments like the back of his hand.
When that pressure forces Weeden to check down he needs to be on the exact same page as his running back. Without thinking, he needs to know where Richardson will be and which way he needs to lead him with the pass. There is still plenty of time for Weeden and Richardson to get on the same page, but there is a chance Richardson will not be back in practice for a few weeks.
“It’s precautionary, we’re holding him out,” said head coach Rob Chudzinski. “We got mini-camp in a week and a half, he may miss that I’m not sure. We’ll take it day by day.”
While Richardson rests his leg, Montario Hardesty took the reps with the first team offense. Even though he has looked good through the first two weeks of OTAs and has been very consistent catching the ball, it seems as though he may be the odd man out. He certainly needs to build more consistency when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield. That skill is highly coveted in Norv Turner’s and Rob Chudzinski’s offenses.
Also working against Hardesty is the fact that Dion Lewis is emerging as a candidate to not only make the roster but steal some playing time. He has been electric in team drills and thrives catching the ball in the flat.
“Dion has done a nice job,” said Chudzinski. “He had a couple nice runs out here. He shows some quickness, he can catch the ball, and has some skills.”
Add in the resigning of Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya’s pass catching ability and it equals heavy competition in the backfield.
That’s your starting quarterback – Brandon Weeden had one of the sharpest practices I have seen in since he entered the league. Weeden was a surgeon in the two minute drill and carved up the first team defense. He found Travis Benjamin for a 30+ yard touchdown pass down the sideline and made a perfect throw on a similar route that Josh Gordon seemed to lose in the sun.
He was quick and decisive. He did not pat the ball. His footwork looked quicker. These were all the things that the coaching staff has been hoping he would improve. Even when he had his few misfires in the red zone drills, after some quick tutelage from Norv Turner, he bounced back with back-to-back touchdown passes.
If you did not know anything about the Browns and walked out to practice, you would have no trouble identifying who is the starting quarterback on the team. If Weeden continues this progression there won’t be any QB controversy before the season starts.
Brian Hoyer, who many thought would get to compete for a starting job in Cleveland, looks like he may be relegated to the third quarterback position. He did not get many reps during practice and that is exactly why the Browns went after him apparently.
“He is a guy that has had experience, has been around, and with our situation right now (at quarterback) you don’t have enough reps to split a lot of different ways,” said Chudzinski. “So having a guy who has had a lot of experience and been around on NFL teams helps.”
On a different route – One of the most improved players so far has been Travis Benjamin. Last season he was nothing more than speed in a uniform. You could tell his athleticism and quickness helped him succeed in college much more than his route running. He did not make particularly sharp cuts and didn’t sell his fakes well.
It looks like Benjamin really focused on his route running this offseason. His cuts are quicker and sharper and he consistently is beating defensive backs with precision instead of quickness. Once he learns how to sell the outside and underneath routes, his speed will be that much more effective. I have also yet to see him drop a pass.
Tight end battle getting tighter – Last week Jordan Cameron was one of the disappointments from practice. He did not have a great week and still looked as though he lacked the aggression that is needed to catch passes in congested areas of the field. This week, Cameron missed practice with a groin injury and as the old saying goes, “never let them see your backup.”
Gary Barnidge, who most dismissed as a role player and head coaches guy, has had two very impressive showings. He is not the fastest guy on earth but has great hands and knows how to use his big frame to get himself open. Only one time all practice was someone able to defend a pass thrown his way. If Cameron takes too long getting back on the field he might find himself behind Barnidge on the depth chart.
Miscellaneous sights and sounds – Rob Chudzinksi’s practices have music blasting during warm-ups to get the players loose and motivated. One of the songs that played on Thursday was Jay-Z and Alicia Keys Big Apple anthem, Empire State of Mind. Browns GM Michael Lombardi could be seen mouthing the lyrics to one of Jay-Z’s verses as he stood on the sidelines and took in the activities. He keeps it real.
The scoreboard on the side of the Browns’ practice facility looked a little different this week. The movie “Draft Day” has been filming at the facility for the last few weeks and one of the subtle changes they made was putting the name “Weaver Field” on top of the scoreboard. Sonny Weaver Jr. is the Browns’ general manager in the movie played by Kevin Costner.
One of the Browns PR staffers told us a funny story about the film crew. They were filming a scene in the hallway near the weight room and had no signs up or production assistants to signal that cameras were rolling. While going about his daily activities, the staffer wandered right into the middle of scene causing the director to yell, “Bogey, bogey! Cut!” The next day there were production assistants at every possible entrance to the filming area.
|Will Burge covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and hosts 3 Deep, Monday - Friday from 7pm-9pm.|
Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge
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