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.|
Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge
(On if it’s hard to know what he has on defense since everything is just coming together)- “It may not be hard, but it’s fun. It’s exciting. The guys are working very, very hard and that’s the most important thing – that they are applying what they are learning. They are doing a great job. They are being diligent in the workouts, not only on the field but also in the class room.”
(On how long it will take for Barkevious Mingo to get into the flow and take a bunch of snaps)- “I don’t know. We are not putting a timetable on anybody. All we are really doing right now in these OTAs is trying to install the defense and trying to get our guys to understand our system and play hard. We aren’t putting a timetable on anybody. We are just trying to get better.”
(On what he saw from Mingo prior to the draft and what we has seen since he has been here)- “Before, obviously it was all on tape and it was an explosively player. He is a young man that played with his hand in the ground at LSU and now we are asking him to stand up and do different things. He’s got a learning curve and we don’t want to rush him. We don’t want to say this is what we expect day one or day two. We want it to be a growing process. This is not a simple defense. It’s a complicated defense. He’s got a learning curve and we want to make sure that he learns it.”
(On what the biggest adjustment is for the players switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3)- “It’s a totally different defense so there is a lot of adjustments – terminology, drops, the way I call games, the way I ask them to learn the defense. Right now I am just asking them to trust me and trust the defense and they are doing that. We are pleased with where we are at day three of OTAs.”
(On Mingo’s weight and what type of player they want him to be)- “I want him to be a dominating player. Weight? Some guys are too big, some guys are too small. Some guys aren’t fast enough, some guys aren’t slow enough, but they learn how to play. We want athletic players. He is an athletic football player and that’s what we want him to be.”
(On the secondary)- “It’s a lot of young men competing for jobs. You hope I think in every situation in every NFL city, is that you get competition at positions. I think that’s what we have. We are going to let it settle, however it does, with guys busting their butt, learning the defense and committing to the Cleveland Browns. That is what they are doing right now.”
(On if he feels he has hit the jackpot with the all of the defensive acquisitions)- “I bought a Powerball ticket last night, I didn’t check it yet (joking). I am very pleased with how Mr. (Joe) Banner, Mr. (Jimmy) Haslam and how coach (Rob) Chud (Chudzinski) have stockpiled the defense. We have got a lot of talent and we are going to try to figure out who fits where best for the Cleveland Browns to play very good defense. Everywhere I go I hear about the Dawg Pound. I meet people and they are in the Dawg Pound third row or this or that and they are excited. We are excited to put a good product on the field that the Cleveland fans will love and be excited about.”
(On how much different his defense is than other 3-4 defenses and how much of a change it will be for Paul Kruger)- “In the old days in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Jets, we would steal from each other. Rex Ryan, Dick LeBeau and I think you do. You evaluate people and what works best. I think on offense it’s the college read right now with those Washington, Seattle and San Francisco quarterbacks. I think you take a little bit from successful teams and I think that’s what we are trying to do here. Obviously, he (Kruger) stood up so things were simpler for him. He has been in the type of system before so there is a transition or learning curve for him as well, but it’s a little different than it is for a rookie that had his hand in the ground.”
(On Jabaal Sheard’s transition to linebacker)- “He’s been doing great. We ask him to do different things. If you would have asked me what I am most excited and happy about is the way the guys have come in and trusted and applied themselves. We’ve had almost 100 percent participation. The guys are attentive and they are doing what we ask them to do. The participation and the trust factor right now has been fantastic.”
(On Tashaun Gipson)- “It’s the same thing. He’s come in and he’s taken reps. He is learning the system and he is playing well. He had a nice interception today, showed athleticism. That’s the kind of thing I am talking about. You can name a lot of guys, but you will probably hear the same thing – we have guys that are competing, playing hard and are trying to learn a new system. What we want to do is be a defense that the Cleveland Browns fans can are excited about.”
(On T.J. Ward playing closer to the line of scrimmage)- “He’s a dynamic player. He’s another guy that has come in and we’ve asked him to do a different role and has trusted – I keep using that word, trusted – he has trusted us that we are going to put these guys in the right position, whomever they are to play quality winning football.”
(On what he saw from Johnson Bademosi in moving him to safety)- “If you guys were here at the press conference, coach Chud was talking about a hybrid defense. That’s part of what we are talking about, moving guys around. Is he a corner? Is he a safety? Is it a 3-4? It’s a 5? It’s athletic men playing. We are trying to let athletic men find a place to play.”
(On how important the tempo of practice is for an aggressive defense)- “The first thing you need to do is know what to do. The tempo of everything, sometimes we slow it down, sometimes we speed it up. To me, you’ve got to know what to do before you can do something fast.”
(On how Buster Skrine is coming along)- “Buster is competing hard. He is one of those hybrid players that is playing corner, nickel, penny, safety. He’s a dynamic player that can play more than one position. If you can do that in the Cleveland Browns defense it opens up a versatile attack where you can attack from different angles because you have different players on the field.”
(Opening statement)- “Thanks for coming. We had a really productive week. I am really pleased with the tempo that the guys have practiced with. Their approach, again, has been outstanding. We got a lot done this week. As far as the OTAs themselves, the structure of it has been that we bring them in, they have a lift session. We get a chance to meet with them for an extended period of time where we will correct the previous tape as well as install for a particular day. Then we have a chance to come out here and practice. The past three days we have done that. We’ve had a chance, situation primarily, where we have been working on our first and second down packages, offensively, defensively and then really getting into some third downs. We got into some shorter third downs the first day of the week. There have been some medium third downs and some longer third downs. We are in process of installing those situations. It’s been a good week for us. It’s been good to get a chance to go out on the field against each other and see guy’s execution. That’s been the focus and really what we are trying to work on and see the execution level after being in phase two, which is basically working on air, for the past three weeks.”
(On why Shawn Lauvao is playing left guard and if that change is permanent)- “We are moving guys around at the guard position. (Jason) Pinkston has been back. Just this week is his first week back so he is not getting the normal amount of reps. We will slowly work him into it. We are working all the guards at all the different spots.”
(On if the guards need to get outside a lot in the run game)- “They need to be able to block inside, pass block and be able to get outside as pullers as well.”
(On if they did a lot of pulling with the guards)- “We did. That’s part of what the install was this particular day, the plays where you saw those guys getting outside a lot.”
(On Buster Skrine)- “I think he’s done a good job. Again, it’s only been a couple days here going against guys. He’s worked at it and he shows a lot of the skills from the corner position that you like. He’s got feet, he’s competitive so it’s just the process of learning the defense and just honing up on the fundamentals and techniques.”
(On how Brandon Weeden has been able to translate from the classroom to the field)- “I think he’s done a good job with that. It starts, really with those guys with calling the play. Getting in the huddle and being able to go through that process. We had a play clock, I don’t know if you guy’s noticed. We’ve had a play clock out here on them to really try to really work on that tempo because that’s the difference. Guys can learn it indoors in the classroom and the application out here is what we are looking for. Part of that is the process of having to do it when there is a time constraint going on. That’s a big part of it.”
(On if the offense needs to be at the line at a certain point on the play clock)- “Not necessarily at the line. When we break the huddle, we set it for different times and that has progressively gone down as the week has gone on. We will get it down to where they are breaking it at 13 or 12, which that is kind of a stress situation where you have to move things along quickly. That is kind of what we are putting on those guys right now.”
(On how much more he knows know about Weeden than he did in January)- “You get to know about him. How he picks things up. How he translates and that’s what we want to see is how he is translating to decision making on the field. That’s what we are looking at right now at this step. Obviously, things are slowed down up front a little bit so you are not getting the total pass rush. It’s not completely 100 percent guys going against each other.”
(On Brian Hoyer and if the three quarterbacks here now will be the three in camp)- “I think all of that will remain to be seen. We are coaching these guys up right now. I feel good with this group with what they are doing and how they have progressed. We will just move along and keep going in the same direction. As you saw today Brandon was working with the first group. Jason (Campbell) has been working with the second group and Thaddeus (Lewis) has gotten reps with the third group. We will continue along that way, it’s just too early right now to be able to say anything. It wouldn’t be smart to name a starter and all those types of things that we have gone through before.”
(On if it’s different world for a quarterback during his second year in the league)- “Every year is a different world for a quarterback. The minute they get comfortable – you can’t do that at that position. It will help, that experience under his belt of what it’s like to be in a game. It’s obviously a brand new system so there are a lot of things where it will be like a first-year guy again.”
(On if it is tough for Weeden because he will be compared to the elite class of rookies from last year)- “That’s going to happen all the time at that position. If you are playing that position in the NFL you have to expect those things.”
(On when Leon McFadden will be available)- “He is finishing up his school so he will be back next week.”
(On what Jason Campbell brings to the quarterback position)- “Really if you look at him, he’s a guy that’s had success. He’s played in the league. He’s got a good arm, good mobility and that experience level that he brings to the table.”
(On if Campbell has one of the stronger arms in the league)- “He has a strong arm. There are quite a few guys that have a strong arm. He has good touch and he is able to get the ball where he wants to put it.”
(On if you can tell that Campbell has played in this offense previously)- “He knows the terminology. It’s a little more comfortable for him. He has basically called the same things before. That definitely helps.”
(On who has influenced him as a coach)- “Along the way I have been real fortunate to be around a lot of great coaches going back all the way to Jimmy Johnson. He was the first guy I played for in college. Through Dennis Erickson and Marty Schottenheimer and being around Norv (Turner), Romeo (Crennel) and Ron Rivera. I’ve tried to grab a little bit from each guy. The thing that we do want is to emphasize the tempo, emphasize trying to put pressure on ours guys to make it as game-like from a standpoint of them having to react to situations as quickly as we can. ”
(On if he has been happy with the tempo)- “The tempo has been pretty good. We have been working them at a pretty good clip and they have responded to that. I’ve been pleased with that. That’s the first thing, if you can create the environment of the practice and situation around them then we will get the result we want as we are working and continue to work.”
(On what he has seen from Josh Gordon)- “I’ve really seen improvement from Josh. From his route running standpoint, he is really working at it. A lot of times that takes time. He has really embraced that. He is making plays and really, I’ve been pleased with his progress.”
(On what they saw in Johnson Bademosi to move him to safety)- “He is a good football player, obviously on special teams. He is aggressive, good tackler and he goes 100 miles per hour on that. We felt like from an athletic and physicality standpoint, that it would be worth trying to look at him at safety. We know that he has played corner and can play corner. That is some of what we are trying to do out here now, is put some guys in some spots that they may not necessarily have been in before and just take a look at them.”
By Casey Kulas | ESPNCleveland.com
Brian Hoyer is coming home.
According to reports from Ian Rapoport and Adam Caplan, Brian Hoyer, who was released by the Cardinals this week, has agreed to a two-year deal with the Browns.
Hoyer, 27, spent three seasons in New England as a backup to Tom Brady and played his high school ball at Saint Ignatius in Cleveland. He was claimed on waivers by the Cardinals last season and started the team's season finale, becoming the fourth quarterback to start for Arizona in 2012.
Hoyer finished the 2012 season playing in two games. He completed 30 of 53 for 330 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Browns currently have Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Thad Lewis on the roster.
A real “who’s who” of Browns executives was on hand today. Not only owner Jimmy Haslam III, his second practice in as many days, but President Alec Scheiner, GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner took in various parts of practice.
Standing Out: Browns first round pick Barkevious Mingo sure passes the eye test. Just watching him through a few drills, he is very quick and fly’s throughout whatever obstacle he is working against. Seeing him for the first time, I do agree with most- he could afford to add some weight. With the frame he has already; give him a year in an NFL strength program and all those worries will go away.
Chip on my shoulder: At 5-9, Browns 3rd round pick Leon McFadden lacks the ideal height for an NFL cornerback. Going against receivers well over six feet tall, McFadden will have an uphill battle to compete. Just don’t tell that to McFadden: “Me personally, I don’t think my height is a problem. I take that as a chip on my shoulder and turn it into a positive and go out there to compete on every down.” said McFadden. He also said he plans to prove he can play against bigger receivers in the NFL
The San Diego State product figures to be a factor for the Browns second starting cornerback job opposite Joe Haden. He will be competing against the likes of Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi for the job.
Signing: The Browns announced they signed undrafted free agent, running back Robbie Rouse. Rouse was in for a tryout with the team before being signed. He is currently the all-time leading rusher for Fresno State University. Rouse had 4,647 yards over four years. At just five foot six, Rouse is in contention for one of the shortest players on an NFL roster.
Where to go from here: Currently the Browns have 50 players in rookie mini-camp. For the majority of them, Sunday’s practice will be their last contact with the Browns. OTA’s (organized team activities) begin on May 22nd with the Browns integrating their selected rookies with their veteran players.
|Matt Fontana covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN Cleveland. Catch Matt on Munch in the Morning from 4:30-6 am on ESPN 850 WKNR. Follow him on Twitter @MattFontana83|
By Will Burge | ESPNCleveland.com
Cleveland Browns General Manager Michael Lombardi joined The Really Big Show to discuss the draft, trading picks to Pittsburgh, the apparent lack of a win now mentality, and Brandon Weeden.
Here is some of what he had to say.
Does Barkevious Mingo need to put on weight to be productive?
“I think that’s easy to say that and you certainly look at a player and you evaluate what he does on tape. I think if you just focus on ‘what is production’?’ then you say Mingo wasn’t productive. But I think if you look closely, if a quarterback moves off a spot, or if a quarterback has to reload, or if a quarterback has to do something different in the pocket that forces him to get off his rhythm, that’s a productive play even though it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. So I think you have to really analyze it and really grade it correctly.”
Will Mingo be a star in this league?
“I don’t know how to define star but I think he can be impactful in how he plays and I think he’s going to have to take some time. But along with Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger it will give us an opportunity to put some pressure on the quarterback which essentially is how you can stop great quarterbacks in the NFL.”
You are getting panned for the “wait til’ next year” approach of trading away your 4th & 5th round picks. What was the thought process?
“Look, everything is about value. You have to make sure you make sure you make decisions based on the value that is presented. I understand that fans want you to fill out the depth chart, but I’ve never believed that filling out a depth chart is the right way to approach a draft. I think it’s a broader sense, it’s about building a team, and it’s about value. You have to look at today, tomorrow, and next year and what those assets that you have acquired going into next year’s draft how that may help you find ultimately what you need to bring to the table as your football team grows.
There is no ‘wait til’ next year’ approach by anybody. I mean we have to look at personnel every single day; we have to try and improve the team. However, that being said, we also know what value is. And Joe (Banner) has done a great job with this going back to his days when he started in Philadelphia. It’s about value, the draft is about value. That’s why they put a numerical value (on picks). Well the value of the pick does translate into something and that’s what we try to do, match the value with what we were doing.”
Did you know there would be a backlash trading with the Steelers?
“Well I think we most certainly have to focus on improving the Cleveland Browns football team. The Steelers have had a great history and Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert do a tremendous job. Nothing but great respect for them. I think we, as an organization starting with Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski and myself, we got to really work hard to make the Cleveland Browns better. Whatever we can do to do that, whether its trading with the Steelers or trading with the New Orleans Saints, I think that’s the most important thing.”
There is a perception you don’t like Brandon Weeden, can you clear that up for us once and for all?
“I’ve made it very clear that some things that are said after a draft, and when you get to know things and dig deeper into the situation, they’re different. I love this game, people go back and they take an article I wrote five years ago and apply it to today. I don’t see how that is relevant, I really don’t. Because at that moment that may have been the case.
I don’t want to get all philosophical on you but to improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often. There is always going to be some change in every evaluation that you do and there is always going to be change. I think that’s how we get better. I think the scout who tells you that he’s never made a mistake is a bad scout. You learn from your mistakes, you move forward, and I think you’re constantly evaluating all the reports. That’s why you write reports because you want to go back and see what you said about a player back when you wrote it when you had all the time to do it. So I think that’s the most important.”