AFC North: Cleveland Browns

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Browns Camp Report: Day 5

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
5:00
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • The defense stopped Ben Tate on the last goal-line play to retain the coveted orange jerseys for one more day. The jerseys go to the side of the ball that comes out ahead in the final drill, an emphasis on ending the game well. The run stuff came after a pass breakup was negated by a defensive offside in the full-speed drill. Brian Hoyer scored on two of four plays in his first attempt (both runs), and Johnny Manziel scored on three of four -- with the fourth a near TD broken up by a tough hit from safety Tashaun Gipson. Hoyer got the last three plays. “This is a situation where something is on the line,” coach Mike Pettine said. “As simple as a practice jersey is, it’s good work for us.”
  • Pettine welcomed old friend Jim Leonhard to the roster. The Browns signed the veteran Wednesday night, and Pettine made it clear it’s to provide depth as a backup to Donte Whitner and Gipson. Pettine said Leonhard, who played for Pettine in New York and Buffalo, would be a core special teamer and a nickel pass defender. He also could be used at safety if the Browns put Whitner near the line. Petine said there’s a lot to like about Leonhard, including his ability to catch a punt; Pettine said he and Rex Ryan used to joke that Leonhard could catch a punt in a hurricane. “He’s smart, he’s tough, he knows the defense,” Pettine said.
  • Pettine detailed the plan for the team’s intrasquad scrimmage at the University of Arkon on Saturday. The team will eschew kickoffs and kickoff returns and will not tackle quarterbacks. Drives will start at the 20 or 30 and will go until the offense scores or the defense gets a stop. Starters initially will face starters, but Pettine said units would be mixed. Red-zone drills will follow a break.
  • Guard John Greco and defensive lineman Billy Winn returned to practice, but defensive lineman Phil Taylor was still on the sidelines. ... Pettine admitted the team is trying to massage Miles Austin through camp so he stays healthy for the season. ... Josh Gordon was missing to travel to New York for his much-discussed Friday hearing about his positive drug test. ... On the first two plays of a team drill with tackling, Whitner chased a running back out of bounds and dove at him as he did, then made the next tackle on a swing pass. ... Linebacker Chris Kirksey ran step for step down the sidelines with running back Isaiah Crowell to break up a pass. Crowell cried for the flag, but Kirksey made a nice play. He’s been very active.
  • The Final Word: “It’s football, tough sport for tough people.” -- Pettine on a big hit by Gipson on tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi in a goal-line drill.

Up next: The Browns practice at the team’s facility in Berea Friday from 9:30 a.m.-12:10 p.m.
Josh GordonDavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon will have a chance to appeal a one-year minimum NFL suspension in a hearing on Friday.
The Josh Gordon stew was put on boil Tuesday when details about the arguments Gordon's side reportedly will present Friday became public through ESPN's Adam Schefter and Pro Football Talk.

One of the arguments his attorneys will present at his appeal to avoid a one-year minimum ban from the NFL will be to blame secondhand smoke for a positive marijuana test. The other will state that he gave two samples, one of which was barely above the NFL threshold, the other below.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • The defense is compelling and interesting. However, the process has to play out.
  • To pretend Gordon is not a repeat offender denies reality. He had an incident at Baylor in which he and a teammate fell asleep in a Taco Bell drive-through line in the wee hours of the morning and police reportedly found a bag of marijuana in the car. According to NFL.com, Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college, including one at Utah, where he transferred after he was dismissed from Baylor for what he told the Houston Chronicle was a failed marijuana test. He’s had problems in the NFL -- speeding tickets, a DWI, a car pulled over with the smell of marijuana wafting out of it with him driving, the positive test. List that pattern about anyone, and eyebrows would rise. That he’s a marvelous athlete does not change that reality.
  • The secondhand smoke argument likely won't hold much water. How can a guy who has had at least three violations of the substance abuse policy -- the general trigger for a suspension -- continually put himself in situations in which he risks a suspension?
  • The league looks at substance abuse policies as a medical program. Initial positive tests are treated with treatment and counseling. Players are given second and third chances. When a fourth chance is needed, drastic steps might be needed. The performance-enhancing drug program, per the league’s view, is about the integrity of the game. And the league does not feel comparing NFL thresholds for marijuana -- 15 nanograms of concentration of a drug per millimeter -- to those of the World Anti-Doping Agency -- 150 ng/ml -- is appropriate because WADA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and the NFL does not consider marijuana a PED.
  • Players are responsible for what goes in their bodies. That’s a simple tenet that is a foundation of the league’s drug testing programs for PEDs and banned substances.
  • Other players have already been suspended this year for not recognizing what was in their body. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis got four games for a fertility drug that raised his testosterone level. The principle remains.
  • The one interesting claim that Gordon will make involves the two urine samples collected. The first, according to reports, tested positive at 16 ng/ml, which was just above the threshold of 15. The second -- the B sample -- was at 13.6. The legal team will say the disparity indicates secondhand smoke. Still, the 16 was a positive test.
  • What’s also interesting is that Gordon evidently is not claiming a flawed process or a mixed-up sample or a mishandled sample. Those are lame excuses (baseball's Ryan Braun) that do not deny taking anything, merely call the process into question. Gordon is saying, evidently, that he did not smoke any pot.
  • Yes, marijuana is legal in three states. Yes, it’s a recreational drug. But the league has wanted HGH testing for years. Recently, word broke that a new policy that included HGH testing would include reduced penalties for marijuana. Perhaps Gordon is caught in the middle here as the two sides hammer out these details, because no new agreement on policies and procedures has been reached.
  • Looming over everything here is the NFL’s decision to suspend Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for domestic violence when video evidence showed him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator. Two games seems inexplicable. How, folks ask justifiably, can Gordon lose one year for being one ng/ml over the limit when Rice allegedly knocks out his now-wife and loses just two games?
  • The Rice/Gordon comparison is a bit apples and oranges. Substance abuse penalties have been negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement, and agreed to by both sides. Personal conduct also was negotiated, and decisions were left in the hands of the commissioner. The one-year ban for failing a test at this point is written in the CBA.
  • For folks who suggest ignoring the rule, negotiated with hours of sweat and discussion, I bring back ex-NBA commissioner David Stern. When it was put to him that one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during the playoffs were not fair, he said: “It’s a rule. What other rule should we choose to ignore? The traveling rule? The out-of-bounds rule? It’s a rule in our books.” Would players like it if teams decided to ignore the rule mandating one off day per week during training camp, which is also in the CBA?
  • The answer also lies in multiple violations for Gordon and not for Rice, but the anger over the weight of the punishment considering the gravity of the two incidents remains.

Browns Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
7:16
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BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Tuesday was a day for the defense, with offense struggling in major ways. Four passes were intercepted -- by Jordan Poyer, Justin Gilbert, Tashaun Gipson and Josh Aubrey. Only one really strong pass was completed, when Brian Hoyer dropped, threw on time and hit Miles Austin perfectly at the sideline. Pettine ended practice with an offense-defense competition in which the winners were rewarded with orange practice jerseys on Thursday. Doesn't seem like much, but it meant something to the players, who obviously love to compete. "We want to train our guys that it doesn't matter what goes on over the course of a game, we've got to make sure we can finish," Pettine said. "I think that's important to realize that it still comes down to playing at the end." Browns fans remember well that that did not happen last season.
  • It took four days, but Tuesday marked the first time that Pettine was not asked about one of the quarterbacks in his post practice media gaggle. It's amazing how despite the hype and hoopla over a player, eventually a training camp settles into a predictable pattern that has nothing to do with the hyped player.
  • Linebacker Eric Martin was probably as responsible as anyone for starting the tussles that "highlighted" practice. Martin threw Dion Lewis to the ground in a nine-on-nine run drill, then taunted the offense. Shortly after Ben Tate was throwing the ball at Ahtyba Rubin (the two made amends after practice). The nine-on-nine drill was a new one in practicing the run game. "If we can run the ball in that period, then we'll be able to run the ball against anybody," Pettine said.
  • Pettine had some high praise for defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, saying he's as good anyone he's coached at defending the run. Rubin remains one of the team's most active and, along with Gipson, underrated players.
  • Martin Wallace has shown some ability backing up Joe Thomas at left tackle. He's active and nasty, both good offensive line traits. … Wednesday is a day off for the players, with no curfew Tuesday night and nothing required until 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Choose the state you feel Johnny Manziel may be photographed in at your own discretion. ... Inside linebacker Craig Robertson showed up on several defensive plays and on special teams; he and Chris Kirksey continue competing to start alongside Karlos Dansby ... Garrett Gilkey is getting a lot of reps at right guard with John Greco out, but this is what Pettine said about him: "He's been solid. It's still early. He's probably getting some more reps than maybe he would have." Greco, Phil Taylor and Billy Winn continue to miss time. Tight end Gary Barnidge returned to practice and said he was fine after the conditioning test, just dehydrated.
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BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns and WR Josh Gordon may not know what to expect from Friday’s meeting with league officials in New York.

But this much is clear: Gordon has looked at times in practice as if he expects to lose his appeal of his yearlong suspension.

Either that or he’s just his usual self.

Not to say that Gordon is not giving effort. But his involvement with the offense and his approach to recent practices bring to mind the criticism a year ago that he is lazy in practice. Keep in mind that former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner blistered that criticism and staunchly defended Gordon, who rarely goes 140 mph in practice but led the league in receiving yards (in 14 games) in 2013.

Gordon
Gordon
In short, Gordon presents the same conundrum in the small picture that he presents in the big one: His immense talent brings risks, and because of his immense talent the slightest lackadaisical effort takes on large meanings.

Gordon will argue at an appeal hearing on Aug. 1 in New York that he was the victim of secondhand marijuana smoke and that his test results were questionable and inconsistent between two samples, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. What happens is anyone’s guess. Clearly the public negativity toward Ray Rice's two-game suspension for allegedly knocking out his then-fiancée creates the perception that Gordon’s penalty is excessive. But the substance-abuse penalties were negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement and the personal conduct decisions are up to commissioner Roger Goodell. Gordon has hired a high-powered attorney to plead his case.

On the field, Gordon is not getting all his reps with the starters, and he has loafed through some routes. On Tuesday, he wisely backed off a route that would have led to a serious collision with a safety, something nobody wants in practice. But other times, he has not gone all-out; he has given up on routes; he has not extended himself; and he has let passes go through his hands.

There is no mistaking the reality that the Browns have Gordon practicing with different units. If things were normal, Gordon and Miles Austin would be paired with Jordan Cameron to form an impressive pass-catching trio.

But things are not normal.

Sometimes Gordon lines up with the 2s, sometimes the 3s. It’s only occasionally that he’s with the starters. The team is caught in the middle and has to protect itself if Gordon is suspended. It’s a tough balancing act. The Browns can’t give him all the reps ahead of others who will be around, but they also have to get Gordon ready in case he avoids suspension.

It's understandable if he is distracted and his mind is on the hearing, but Gordon has to cooperate by going all-out in the reps he does receive. Occasionally, he does. On Monday, QB Johnny Manziel badly underthrew Gordon on a fade. DB T.J. Heath was all over Gordon. But Gordon stopped and simply outmuscled and outmaneuvered Heath to make the catch. It was tough to imagine any other Browns receiver making that catch, but it was also tough to see Gordon make it, knowing he might not be around in September to make similar catches in games.
A day-by-day and honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

THE WORK: Wednesday was not a particularly good day for either quarterback, as the defense responded to prodding from head coach Mike Pettine to produce a much more lively, active and chippy practice. That being said, Manziel has not shown the spark in practice that produced the glittering numbers in college. Any neutral observer who has watched practice has left with the impression that Brian Hoyer is far ahead in the quarterback competition. Manziel has taken steps, but none strong enough to firmly take the job. He looks like a rookie learning an offense and struggling as he goes -- while usually facing the second-team defense.

GOOD THROW: This was a defensive day, with the defense playing aggressive and with energy. The offense did not match that energy, Manziel among them. To say he did not have a good throw probably isn’t fair; coach’s film could probably find one. But there was not one single throw that jumped out live. He did complete a lot of passes in five-on-five (mainly short), when the team drills took place he struggled.

BAD THROW: It might have been a sack live because Manziel stepped up to avoid a rush. But when he stepped up, he had a chance to complete a throw. Instead, he sailed it well over the receiver’s head and into the hands of Jordan Poyer, who would have had a clear path to the end had the pick been in a game.

THE WORD: “I don’t react to that because I want to know the why.” – coach Mike Pettine on how he reacts to interceptions thrown in practice.

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being Manziel certainly starts the opener -- Manziel started with a 3, dropped to a 1, went back to a 3 and Tuesday moves to a 2.

Browns Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
5:30
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Monday was the first day the Browns could put on pads, and when they did, coach Mike Pettine said he wanted to hear the practice because if he could hear it, it meant players were being physical. There must be varying definitions of loud and physical, because Pettine said he was pleased, even though there wasn't much to hear. It was probably the quietest full-pad practice in memory, as the Browns practiced at what almost seemed like a slower pace than normal. A blitz drill that with some teams involves yelling and serious competition did take place, but without much interplay and without much competition. Pettine said he liked it all though, and said the work was "solid," so there is that. #whatever
  • Pettine became agitated when safety Johnson Bademosi dropped his shoulder into Nate Burleson after a reception, saying: "I told the guys that that stuff is not going to help them make the team. We want to be tough. We want to be nasty, but we want to play within the rules. We certainly want to protect each other while we're practicing." Burleson spun away from the "hit" and ran toward the end zone. #notsooldschool
  • Cornerback Justin Gilbert was active, with a couple interceptions and a pass knocked down. It was the most noticeable he'd been all camp. He even took some reps returning kicks, though Pettine said that would happen only in emergency. "I think I'd hold my breath or watch with one-and-a-half eyes covered if he was returning a kick," he said. Gilbert is very adept as a returner, but teams do not like risking their first-round pick that way. "It's much more intriguing for (special teams coordinator) Chris Tabor than it is for me," Pettine said. #defensive
  • Joe Thomas on whether it was good to hit someone again: "Not really, but it's a necessary part of football." Yes, he was smiling. ... Of a car in the parking lot decorated with Packers gear, Thomas said with another smile: "That could be a relative." He's from Wisconsin. ... In a mild surprise, the Browns released OT Chris Faulk when they activated LB Tank Carder. Faulk was trying to come back from tearing multiple knee ligaments in 2012 at LSU. ... The team and Jason Pinkston's agents released a statement saying Pinkston had not been cleared medically to play. No further details were provided. ... WRs Charles Johnson and Travis Benjamin were given a day of rest for their surgically repaired knees. .. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery shrugged at Ben Tate showing some attitude by saying nobody in the running backs room scared him. "I think it's funny," Montgomery said. "I think that's what all of them would say. For him, if that's the way that he's going to motivate himself to try to win a job, that's good for him." #dot-dot-dot-com
The last word: Pettine on what it's like having his father watch practice, and the tape: "I usually get about a page of notes a day sitting on my desk."
BEREA, Ohio -- Joe Thomas has reached the point in his career where he is given days off during Cleveland Browns' training camp.

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP PhotoVeteran tackle Joe Thomas runs sprints during a conditioning test at the Browns' training camp facility in Berea, Ohio.
It's a sign of respect, and in Thomas' case it's respect for sustained and consistent excellence in each of his seven previous seasons in the league, when he's made seven Pro Bowls and never missed a snap.

Thomas remains ever dedicated, ever courteous. He also is unfailingly humble. But as his career progresses, he has become more and more insightful about the game's nuances and games within the game.

So when he speaks, it's worth listening. There will be no outrageousness, and no fudging of the truth either. Monday, Thomas spoke with the media for the first time since training camp began, touching on two issues of interest -- the running game and Brian Hoyer (he was not crusading for Hoyer, merely answering questions).

Thomas spent most of last season talking about the running game being an NFL dinosaur and saying that to win in the modern age teams had to throw the ball. He even went as far as to say he'd never draft a running back in the first round. Now, though, he plays for a team that (assuming Josh Gordon is suspended) will have to run the ball effectively to win.

Thomas acknowledged the irony, but added the Kyle Shanahan system -- an offshoot of his father Mike Shanahan -- would have the Browns closer to a 50-50 run-pass split than at any time in his career regardless. He said Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme is dependent on the run because it relies heavily on play-action.

"You need to be able to run those wide zones, even if it gets one or zero yards, to keep the safeties up," Thomas said. "It's when they're trying to fill in the run game that you can hit those big plays over the top."

Thomas said the Browns and Baltimore (with Shanahan disciple Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator) are the only two teams to run the zone-blocking system, which requires lateral movement from linemen and a back who can read the hole, plant and hit the hole with authority. Thomas said the zone-blocking scheme is drastically different than anything he's done, but it fits the skills of the team's offensive line better than any system in his career. That's because the Browns have guys who can move in Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz.

"This is in my opinion one of the only schemes that you can run the ball consistently," Thomas said, "because you make those defensive linemen run sideline to sideline. And it does set up the passing game that we run very, very well."

Regarding Hoyer, Thomas had nothing but praise. He was careful not to compare Hoyer to Johnny Manziel, or to say that one or the other would start. He simply praised Hoyer as "every bit one of the best competitors in the NFL."

"No matter if we drafted a quarterback No. 1 overall, I knew that in his mind he expected to win the job," Thomas said.

He added Hoyer is never hesitant or afraid to challenge teammates on the field, and he is much more vocal than it might appear.

"He has less starts than probably any guy but a rookie who's out there starting right now," Thomas said. "He commands a level of respect because of the way he goes about his business doing things the right way and acting like he's the starting quarterback that's taken us to five playoffs.

"I think it's that attitude and that swagger that demands respect, and he also goes out and he backs it up on the field where he throws the ball to the right person, he's doing the right things, he's getting everybody on the same page. That's just as much the role of the quarterback as throwing touchdown passes."
A day-by-day and honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

THE WORK: Better than Sunday, which coach Mike Pettine described generously as “inconsistent.” Manziel seemed more comfortable in the pocket, and with the calls. For whatever reason, he was less hesitant than Sunday, and he drove the ball better. His play still did not match that of starter Brian Hoyer's, but Manziel clearly put a tough day behind him and rebounded to make some throws and run some read-option. The highlight: The Browns ended the day with two-minute drill, with Manziel and Hoyer each receiving two opportunities. Manziel was the only quarterback to score, setting up a six-yard play-action roll-out touchdown throw to fullback Ray Agnew with a nice throw over the middle to Taylor Gabriel.

GOOD THROW: The throw down the middle of the field to Gabriel on the final two-minute drill was not a tight spiral, but it got there and it was accurate. It also was one of a few throws when Manziel stepped into the pass and drove the ball, which was nice to see.

BAD THROW: In 11-on-11 work, Manziel found no one open and scrambled to his left. At one point, he looked behind him -- away from the line of scrimmage. He then tried to sidearm a throw downfield, but rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey intercepted it. It was the kind of play and throw that would have had fans howling if it were Brandon Weeden doing it.

THE WORD: From coach Mike Pettine on the play-by-play process with a rookie quarterback: “You’re going to have some good ones, you’re going to have some bad ones and you hope you can minimize the bad ones.”

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being Manziel certainly starts the opener Manziel started with a 3, dropped to a 1, and Monday goes back to a 3.
Examining the Cleveland Browns' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
If an alien landed from outer space, he or she would look at this list and think it’s a guy with three starts, a rookie and a veteran who didn’t play last season. Which is accurate. Thigpen did little to impress in the offseason work, but the Browns have to keep a third behind Hoyer and Manziel.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

Tate and West are givens. Dion Lewis was a favorite of the team a year ago, but that was a year ago. This season's staff really is high on Crowell, and he's got a lot of early looks. It might be tough to bring him back to the practice squad if he's released.

FULLBACK (2)

By taking a quick look at Chris Pressley in the offseason and then releasing him, the Browns showed they don’t want a road grader at the position. By moving Gray there later, they confirmed that they want their fullback to be more active. Ogbonnaya is the kind of guy teams like and need. Smart, plays anywhere and contributes on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

We’ll assume that Josh Gordon is suspended. If he’s not, add him and remove Armstrong. But don't sleep on Willie Snead, an undrafted free agent who has done some good things; he could force his way into the mix.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Gray moved to fullback during the offseason, so we’ll assume he stays there. The Browns are well fortified with the three tight ends they have.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

Jason Pinkston's sudden absence is concerning, especially when Pettine merely said "possibly" when asked if he would be back. Pinkston had issues with blood clots earlier in his career, but it's not known if this is a repeat. The Browns have built an offensive line that is talented, deep and smart. They have a lot of money invested here, but they have some good players as well.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

Another deep group with a lot of talent. Coaches should be able to keep fresh linemen on the field, and keep active linemen playing.

LINEBACKERS (8)

Mingo showed a lot on the first day. He'll be given plenty of opportunities to play this season. Sheard is a linebacker who will also play with his hand down.

CORNERBACKS (6)

The most interesting competition remains Skrine and Gilbert to see who starts opposite Haden. Finding a cornerback who can play press-man coverage is vital in this defense, and Skrine showed up in excellent shape and has been very aggressive the first weekend.

SAFETY (4)

No big mysteries here, but Bademosi makes the team based on his value on special teams. Whitner seems to be a very good veteran addition, and Gipson is the most underrated player on the team.

SPECIALISTS (3)

No need to change anything here from last season, as all were strong and dependable contributors.

Browns Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
7:34
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Brian Hoyer will continue to get first-team quarterback reps through Tuesday. That’s the word from coach Mike Pettine, who said Johnny Manziel will continue to work with the backups until the team’s first day off, when the coaching staff evaluates things. If Hoyer keeps performing the way he did on Sunday, Manziel may find it increasingly more difficult to move up. Hoyer was that effective, and confident, and poised, and savvy. He clearly was the first star of the second day. As for Manziel, GM Ray Farmer said: “Johnny shows up fine.” #grabbingholdoftheposition?
  • It’s not fair to say that Josh Gordon has been marginalized, but he clearly is not getting the same amount of team reps with the ones and twos as he did in the offseason. It’s tough not to read into that that the team expects a tough result from Gordon’s meeting next weekend with commissioner Roger Goodell about his failed drug test. “When the league tells us what the clarity is,” Farmer said, “then that’s when we’ll move forward.” The meeting in New York evidently means that Gordon, the NFLPA and the league could not come to some sort of settlement on the issue, which happened last season when Gordon missed two games and played two games for free. That it goes to Goodell also means that rules negotiated and agreed to in the Collective Bargaining Agreement come into play. Some may wonder why Ray Rice only was suspended two games for hitting his then-fiancee while Gordon faces a year ban for testing positive for marijuana. It’s because personal conduct is the commissioner’s decision and substance abuse falls under hard-and-fast CBA agreements. #stormclouds
  • The running back competition could get interesting Monday when the team dons pads and runs the most physical drill of Pettine’s camp: the inside run drill. It involves five linemen, a tight end, fullback and running back against a front seven. Mano a mano. There will not be full tackling, but the blocking will be full speed and physical -- the way the coach wants it. “I want to be able to hear the practice,” Pettine said. “To me, you know when the pads are popping and we’re getting after each other.” Putting on the pads also should bring a new element to the passing game, as the pass rush will be much closer to real and the coverage more physical as well. “Football is played with the pads on so, to me the real evaluation of people really starts (Monday),” running back Ben Tate said. #saddleup
  • Guard Jason Pinkston was absent and the team was cryptic about the reason. Pettine merely said Pinkston was missing, he couldn’t explain why and answered “possibly” when asked if he Pinkston would be back. Pinkston had tweeted on Saturday lamenting his fate, and after Pettine spoke Pinkston tweeted that he was in no legal trouble and retirement had not come up. He referred questions to the team, which isn’t saying more than it has. Pinkston missed a considerable part of the 2012 season with blood clots, but returned last season. It’s now known if anything similar has sidelined him. #concern
  • Sounding like a long-time veteran, Tate also said this: “When this thing gets tough and everybody’s dead tired you’ll see (which) guys are going to dig and fight. That’s when the team is made. Guys don’t make the team in the first two days (or) three days of camp.” … To give Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey a few extra snaps inside, the Browns put Karlos Dansby outside for a few plays. Which sounds like an intriguing notion; Dansby playng outside with his size and range. ... MarQueis Gray joined practice and returned to fullback after passing the conditioning test. He tweeted his issue was cramping. ... Joe Thomas was shown proper respect and given the practice off, while defensive lineman Phil Taylor is dealing with an unspecified injury. ... Receiver Charles Johnson remains the great unknown. Farmer said he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash coming out of college. The legend grows. ... Had the Browns been installing a new set of plays Sunday his blasé performance might have been understandable. Except they weren’t new. They were old plays practiced in the offseason. ... Manziel took the field in neon spikes, but changed them less than 30 minutes into camp. Players must wear team-issued gear. Saturday defensive lineman Calvin Barnett wore Oklahoma State socks. “That lasted a day,” Pettine said. “Even though they were Browns’ orange, that lasted a day.” ... Pettine added: “I’m a black shoe, black sock guy myself.” #dot-dot-dot-com
  • The last word: “Nobody knew Miles Austin until Miles Austin got his opportunity.” -- Farmer, explaining why he’s not worried about the team’s receiving corps without Josh Gordon.
A day-by-day, honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

 THE WORK: Once the Jason Pinkston situation was briefly discussed after practice, the first question asked of coach Mike Pettine was this: “Did Manziel take a step back today?” Point asked, point taken. Because it sure looked like he did. Manziel was indecisive, slow in his reads, quick to leave the pocket and sloppy with his throws. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play was wonderful. It’s best not to make too much of this, because guys will have bad days; but on this particular day, Manziel did little to quell the critics who would say he spent too much time taking party photos in the offseason and not enough mastering a complicated new system. It’s an easy criticism, but one that will arise anytime he struggles. Manziel’s body language reflected his frustration with the way things went. It simply was not a good day.

GOOD THROW: Typical that it happened when Manziel made something happen out of nothing. Manziel did not handle a low snap but he was able to pick up the ball and run to his right before planting and completing a pass across the middle to Miles Austin. The throw just beat the coverage, and came when Manziel does what he does best: improvise.

BAD THROW: After seeing nothing initially in seven-on-seven, Manziel rolled right and tried to sidearm a throw. It was poorly thrown, underthrown and almost intercepted. Bad decision, bad throw.

THE WORD: From Nate Burleson, on how the receivers view the QB competition: “We don’t ever think about [who’s ahead]. ... I’m not just saying that here and being politically correct about it. My whole career, it doesn’t matter who’s in. Most of the time we don’t think about it. It’s not like we’re jogging to the huddle and we think, 'Johnny's in' or '[Brian Hoyer's] in.'"

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 meaning Manziel certainly starts the opener, we'll take a three-times-per-week look at his chances. Based on this one day, and based on Hoyer's good day, it drops from a 3 on the first day to a 1 on the second day.
BEREA, Ohio -- It took Brian Hoyer all of one day to move on from the excitement of the past and to focus on simply playing the position he’s always wanted -- quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesBrian Hoyer made all the plays in Day 2 of training camp.
 The change in Hoyer from Saturday to Sunday was marked, as he was decisive, quick, accurate and confident in the second training camp practice. Johnny Manziel? Not so much ... as his body language steadily deteriorated as the day went on.

Hoyer had some first-day sloppiness, and that could have been for several reasons: getting cleared to practice fully following knee surgery, trying to win the job for his hometown team, the hype about his backup and appearing for the first time in front of fans and media.

“He’d have to a robot not to be affected,” coach Mike Pettine said. “I’m sure there was a lot going on inside his head.”

The Browns are publicly saying the right things about the quarterbacks, with Pettine admitting that both have gotten off to “solid starts” and GM Ray Farmer saying both will have plenty of opportunities.

But if a neutral observer descended above the team’s practice field on Sunday, he would float away with a clear and definite impression that Hoyer is well ahead of Manziel, who has a long way to go.

All the usual caveats apply. It’s only Day 2 of camp. Manziel is a rookie, and he should have a learning curve. The team has not practiced in pads, so Manziel can’t make many of his patented create-something-out-of-nothing throws.

But it’s also true that Hoyer is learning a new offense, he’s coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and hasn’t played in a game since last October. He also has to learn to drive the ball off the knee that was repaired – and he’s shown no hesitation in doing so.

 The tally sheet of good throws and completions for Hoyer would be lengthy. He started his day in team work with a deep post that hit Anthony Armstrong on the numbers. He followed with a throw outside to Willie Snead just over a linebacker. Later, there was a deep throw to Taylor Gabriel past the corner and in front of the safety, then a deep sideline throw to Nate Burleson. In the final team drill, Hoyer completed all three passes and got the ball out quickly -- showing a strong grasp of the offense.

Manziel spent a fair amount of time snapping off his chinstrap and turning in disgust after not-so-good plays. As the day went on, his body language got worse and worse. A sidearm throw on a rollout that was well short of the receiver. An underthrow into double coverage. The same deep throw Hoyer completed to Gabriel was overthrown badly by Manziel. Another overthrow. Another near interception.

Manziel even started the day with neon shoes -- an interesting choice for a rookie -- but he changed them less than 30 minutes into the practice because they weren’t “team issued.” It’s way too early to make any final determination on the position, but the Browns also are at a point where every snap counts, as Pettine and Manziel have admitted. This was not a new group of plays for either quarterback. Pettine said the plays were the same ones run on the second day of offseason work, as the training camp lessons will mirror what happened in the offseason.

The Browns will not be drawn into a Manziel-Hoyer discussion, and Pettine does his best not to give instant feedback on quarterback play after practice. But it’s evident the respect the coaches and front office have for how Hoyer has attacked the opportunity -- and his rehab from last season.

“I think Brian’s been phenomenal,” Farmer said. “He’s handled it like a pro, which is what you would like. He’s a man’s man. He didn’t cry over spilled milk. He attacked his rehab. He was here probably more than anybody. I think I work a lot of hours, and there weren’t many hours that I was in the building that Brian wasn’t somewhere working on his craft. Be it the meeting room, the indoor facility, the weight room, he did everything he could to put himself in the best position possible.”

It was pointed out to Farmer that the obvious comparison to that is a guy who was on the party circuit.

“From Brian’s perspective, he’s been a pro,” Farmer said. “He’s handled himself the right way. I’m only going to compare Brian to Brian.”

Browns Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:15
PM ET
BEREA, Ohio – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Linebacker Barkevious Mingo was active and noticeable on several plays. On the first, he covered a tight end down the field and intercepted Connor Shaw. The pick led to a wild celebration from Mingo. The reason? He had dropped a few in offseason work – five in one day – and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made him do work on the Juggs machine. This one he caught. Mingo later was all over the field in team drills, forcing an interception with the pass rush and on leaping back and knocking down a Brian Hoyer short throw. Mingo received the bulk of the work at right outside linebacker, with Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger at left. This coaching staff is very high on Mingo, who admitted he had challenges as a rookie. “I learned a lot of lessons – stuff that you can’t draw on the board,” he said. “I feel like I’m using that this year to help me be a better player.” Said coach Mike Pettine: “You could tell that hopefully the switch has been flipped.” Good enough to to give him the first day's "first star" (think the way they do it in hockey). #reasonforoptimism
  • Rookie running back Terrance West earns the second star after making two eye-opening catches in passing drills. One was a one-handed snag on a deep throw down the sideline, the other a leaping, over-the-head snag of a high throws. “I had to double-check my roster card to make sure I was looking at the right number,” Pettine said. West practiced with a lot of energy. He spent one day on the non-football injury last week because he didn’t pass his conditioning test, but the next day “crushed” the test, Pettine said. Ben Tate said in the offseason that nobody in the running back room scared him, but he best not sleep on this job, because West has ability. On one run, Tate let Buster Skrine chase him down from behind to poke the ball loose; the crowd cheered the would-have-been turnover. #bearswatching
  • Safety Donte Whitner was back on the field after cramping up during the conditioning test and having to be helped off after. But the story of Whitner simply completing the test is worth hearing. “We had to run 20 sprints, and when we got to 16 my entire lower body started to cramp up,” he said. “I had to fight through those last four. That last one I jumped over (the finish line). I wanted to make the time but I wanted to give everybody something to talk about. I didn’t hurt myself, but I had to get two IVs, though. My lower body was pretty severely cramped, but other than that I was pretty good.” Other than that. “Once the cramps hit, there’s nothing you can do. It has nothing to do with being in shape, not being in shape. It’s maybe just dehyrdration or something. Once they kicked in, I really had to fight through it. … I could have easily laid on the ground at No. 16 and said, ‘Oh, I cramped up.’ But I wanted to fight through it. Even though it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, I still had to do it to show my teammates that I was going to fight for them.” As Jimmy Johnson once said before a practice, let the mind control the body, not the body control the mind. Whitner earns the third star. #mentaltoughness
  • Five Browns started camp on the non-football injury list, which translated means they did not pass the conditioning test, or were injured while trying to pass. They were guard John Greco, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive lineman Billy Winn (hamstring), tight end Gary Barnidge, offensive lineman Nick McDonald and fullback Marqueis Gray. Pettine said it’s the price of not having an easy test. His test consisted of 20 sprints of 40, 50 or 60 yards, depending on position, all of which had to be done in a required time. Mingo and Skrine were two guys who got through the test impressively. Pettine said the others will eventually be back, though it might not warrant passing the same test – which might be tough for a guy like Taylor. #demanding
  • Receiver Charles Johnson was on the field for the first time as a Brown; he was signed off Green Bay’s practice squad a year ago with a torn ACL (the Browns didn’t know at the time). Pettine knew so little about him, he watched college highlights of Johnson at Grand Valley State on YouTube. … Hoyer received a warm welcome from the fans in attendance. “I saw someone that I played youth baseball with over there,” he said. “It’s really cool for me, but like I said, it’s really about focusing on what’s going out on the field each and every play.” … Hoyer will wear a knee brace through the season. … Pettine on whether he’ll monitor Hoyer as he comes off a knee injury: “I don’t think he’s going to let us back him off.” … The coach said one of his daughters tore both her ACLs playing lacrosse. … Chris Faulk practiced at right tackle behind Mitchell Schwartz. … With Greco out, Joel Bitonio lined up at left guard, with Garrett Gilkey at right. Skrine was the starting corner opposite Joe Haden, and Craig Robertson was with the ones at inside linebacker. … Pettine was pleased with the condition of receiver Miles Austin, who was held out of spring as a precaution. … Fans from 10 states, including California, were among the 3,702 in attendance – a high for a first day since at least 2005. #dot-dot-dot-com
  • Jimmy Haslam on Hoyer: “Is there a better story? First of all, he’s a hometown kid. He’s coming off an injury. We all want him to do well. He’s a quality guy and a class act, so we all want Brian to play well. We want Johnny (Manziel) to play well, and we want (Browns QBs) Tyler (Thigpen) and Connor (Shaw) to play well. It’s an important position.” #thefinalword

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