It's always nice to get out to Berea and watch the Cleveland Browns take part in practice. This year, I didn't even have to worry about the sweltering heat. Let's get to what happened on Day 4 of training camp for the Browns.
CLEVELAND BROWNS TRAINING CAMP REPORT - DAY 4 (7/28/13)
- Early Arrivial: When I heard Saturday's practice was closed to the fans due to rain, I had a hunch that we would see record-breaking numbers in Berea when it came to fan turnout. There were three things that led me to believe that: Sunday would (1) be the first weekend practice, when people are typically off from work; (2) the first practice in full pads, and people love seeing contact; (3) people get more excited when a new regime comes in that this time, things are going to turn out differently.
With that in mind, I made sure to arrive very early -- I got to camp around 2:20 PM, more than a half hour before the gates would open. The line wasn't too long; I was maybe 200 feet from the entrance. A few minutes later, a fan in front of me turned around and said, "wow." I turned around and saw a line stretching farther than I could see. I guess I got there at the right time.
- Record Crowd: The gates opened at 3:00 PM, and being somewhat of a camp expert now (which isn't hard to become), I quickly observed the four fields to see which ones had the camera bays. Yep, the field on the northwest-most side had the two primary camera bays pointing toward it. Also, that field is the one that had the two portable playclock units on it, which further proved that it would be the field where most of the action took place.
I walked toward the field and grabbed a top row (i.e. row three) on the mini-bleachers at the 50-yard line. As practice started filling up, I looked around, trying to ponder if there was more attendance than the high turnout practice session I had been at in 2012, but I couldn't tell. Even though the areas near the sides of the field can still get crowded, I think some more walking space has been created near the entrance and in the southeastern areas of the complex.
When I got home after practice and checked Twitter, I saw the announcement that the Browns broke a single-day camp record with 4,466 fans in attendance. I'm a part of history, folks.
- Weeden's Buddies: As the players were coming out onto the field, I waited to see when QB Brandon Weeden would emerge. It was definitely easy to spot the red jersey (and orange hair), and I noticed three people talking out with him: C Alex Mack, RT Mitchell Schwartz, and NT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen.
Mack and Schwartz were more so chatting it up with Weeden, while Kitchen got ready to head over to the defense. Mack and Schwartz both went to college at California, so it's no surprise to see the relationship there. And, quarterbacks are always close to the guys who will be protecting their life on gameday.
- Looking at the RB Depth Chart: One of the earlier drills simply had the quarterbacks practicing handoff exchanges with the running backs, with perked me up because I wanted to see where a guy like RB Brandon Jackson was on the depth chart. Here were the alignments I saw (each rotated after one play):
QB Brandon Weeden --> RB Trent Richardson
QB Jason Campbell --> RB Chris Ogbonnaya
QB Brian Hoyer --> RB Dion Lewis
QB Brandon Weeden --> RB Brandon Jackson
QB Jason Campbell --> RB Miguel Maysonet
My first instinct was a tiny bit of surprise that Jackson was fourth on the depth chart, but after he took his rep, I thought to myself, "wait a minute, where the hell is RB Montario Hardesty?" My instant thought was that he was sitting out of practice, and later on, I could see him without his helmet on the field, watching his teammates. "Must be an injury," I thought. After getting home, I saw Rob Chudzinski note that Hardesty sat out with a hamstring injury that makes him day-to-day.
- Lewis Steals the Show...Again: RB Dion Lewis was praised by the media on Saturday for having a great practice, but I got to witness it first hand on Sunday. If I had to make a premature camp-hype prediction, it would be that Lewis will be used as a pretty significant contributor on offense this year. Even though Ogbonnaya seemed like the No. 2 guy in the previous bullet point, Lewis was the one who seemed to be getting the most reps after Richardson the rest of practice.
Part-way through practice, the Browns were doing 11-on-11 drills at midfield. With the second-team offense, a pitch play was given to Lewis, who used his speed (and a nice pull guard block from rookie OG Garrett Gilkey) to get around the left edge. As he was going out of bounds right near where I was sitting, he lowered his shoulder and you could hear the pads smacking a defender. One of the assistants seemed to be yelling at Gilkey afterward, presumably telling him something that meant, 'good work.'
Lewis was just very shifty in general any time he touched the ball. Later in practice, Lewis had the crowd's attention when he caught a pass from QB Jason Campbell in a red zone drill. When he turned, he saw S Kenronte Walker there. Lewis proceeded to make a quick move that sent Walker to the ground in disbelief. In basketball, I always hate the phrase, "he crossed him," but in my notepad, even I wrote down, "26 crossed 36's ankles." Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan was able to capture this brilliant moment on video, which is near the bottom of this post.
- Pads Make You Cringe: In a way, watching practice is weird. If these guys are playing a game, you 100 percent expect there to be ridiculous hard-hitting every play. In practice, despite there being full pads, if there is any semi-significant contact, it almost makes you cringe. That is the feeling I had on the first pass play of 11-on-11 drills, which began at mid-field. QB Brandon Weeden was under center and took the snap, followed by a playaction. He looked around and found WR Josh Gordon on a post route over the middle, with a defender in tight coverage.
As the ball was coming toward Gordon, I saw a safety coming from the middle of the field, ready to collide. The very second that Gordon had the ball hit him in the hands, his knees/legs were immediately taken out low by the safety, who I then identified as Tashaun Gipson. Ouch. It looked like everyone was fine, but later on, I noticed S Johnson Bademosi was running with the first-team defense at safety. I later read that Gipson sprained his shoulder on that collision with Gordon. ... and that's why contact like that is discouraged during practice.
- Norwood Delivers: If we're talking depth chart visibility right now, I'd say this was the pecking order: (1) Josh Gordon and Greg Little, (2) Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin, and then (3) Jordan Norwood. Norwood saw a lot of action when QB Jason Campbell was quarterbacking. In fact, when Campbell got the opportunity to throw in the 11-on-11 drills, here is what he did for three straight plays:
(1) Campbell pump faked to the left, then hit Norwood on the right for a completion with CB Leon McFadden in coverage.
(2) Campbell hits Norwood again for a quick completion.
(3) Campbell throws to Norwood on an out route right in front of my bleachers. The coverage by rookie S Josh Aubrey is like glue, and Norwood makes a great, diving catch.
- Who is No. 83? Sometimes, it pays off not to have studied the jersey numbers of some of the unknown players. During practice, on three seperate occasions, I wrote down, "nice catch by #83, nice out route by #83, and nice catch by #83 after a blitz pickup." As I write this, I still don't know who he is, so let me go to the Browns' roster page and check quickly. The suspense is killing me!
Bang, there it is -- WR Cordell Roberson. Congratulations, Roberson. The media hasn't really mentioned the other lesser known players much over the first three days of camp, so I'm singling out Roberson as being the first unknown newcomer to make an impression on me.
- Chudzinski Pumps Up the Crowd for 4th Downs: At the end of the 11-on-11 drills, head coach Rob Chudzinski walked up to the crowd (somewhat near my area) and called for everyone to make some noise because they were going for it on fourth down!
First up was QB Brandon Weeden and the first-team offense. WR Davone Bess went in motion, clearing room out for WR Josh Gordon to be in isolation on the left side. There was enough of a cushion, and Weeden immediately fired a quick slant to Gordon to convert the first down.
Next up was QB Jason Campbell and the second-team offense. Some pressure started to come up the middle on Campbell, including some from LB L.J. Fort. Campbell threw an out route to the right sideline, but the throw was low and despite WR Jordan Norwood's diving attempt, he wasn't able to haul in the pass.
- Red Zone Work: Although there was some 11-on-11 stuff near midfield, which is the stuff I always dig, I was disappointed that I saw a practice without a simulation of a two-minute drill, or a simulation of a team moving the chains down the field. Instead, a lot of the work ended up focusing on red zone stuff. Sometimes, that can be exciting to see, but today, it wasn't. Maybe it was because our defensive backs did such a good job covering the receivers in the end zone. Our attempts at fade passes by all of the quarterbacks did not succeed very often, if at all.
- Red Zone Interceptions: During the 11-on-11 drills, QB Brandon Weeden threw a pass that was somewhat high and away from WR Greg Little (but still catchable) went off of his hands and to an open area of the end zone. FS Johnson Bademosi was covering someone else, and then alertly dove toward the ball to intercept it.
In 7-on-7 red zone drills, QB Brandon Weeden locked on to TE Jordan Cameron, who was right an out route to the right. Weeden threw a dart, but CB Joe Haden came from that direction and undercut the pass, intercepting it and taking off for a possible return that he cut off after a certain distance. Haden appeared to be smiling after the interception.
- 4th Down Work, Red Zone Style: Just like earlier, head coach Rob Chudzinski asked for the fans to get loud because they were going for it on fourth down, but this time in the red zone.
Oddly enough, despite the red zone struggles earlier in practice, QB Brandon Weeden had success. The play had WR Josh Gordon motioning to the right near the tight end position, putting three wideouts on that side of the field. Gordon went pretty much right up the middle and Weeden found him. Both fourth down attempts by Weeden were successful on the day, and both went to Gordon on quick hitters.
Jason Campbell didn't have the same fortune, again. He tried to hit WR Jordan Norwood, but the pass was well overthrown and incomplete.
- Hey, WHAT ABOUT US? Practice was over. The players started going off to a different field to get their stretching in, and some fans started to head toward the exits. Then, I noticed a group of players coming back to the field where I was sitting. It was the third-teamers, most of whom did not get many reps during practice. For about 10 minutes, they just ran a normal offense -- meaning they had the ability to spread the ball around or air it out as deep as they wanted.
- Notes from the Third Teamers: S Josh Aubrey intercepted a pass by QB Brian Hoyer. There was another play where Hoyer dumped the ball over the middle to TE Dan Gronkowski. He had a lot of open space, so he just started running. For most of practice, the defenders would let up rather than delivering a full blow. That's what S Kenronte Walker seemed to be doing, but Gronkowski just freakin' bulldozed right over the guy. Walker got up and then shoved WR Mike Edwards, who presumably was talking trash to Walker for getting laid out. To close out practice, Hoyer threw a DEEP ball down the field (the first one I had seen all practice from anyone), and Edwards hauled in the pass to the crowd's delight.
- In the Mix at a Return Position: You know that machine that automatically shoots balls up into the air for return men to field? I wrote down the names of everyone who participated in that drill, just to get an idea of who might be in the mix for the return game, even though WR Travis Benjamin has the punt return job locked up. The players were:
WR Jordan Norwood, WR Naaman Roosevelt, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Josh Cooper, WR Mike Edwards, CB Buster Skrine, WR Davone Bess, CB Vernon Kearney, CB Abdul Kanneh, and CB Akeem Auguste.
Roosevelt, Cooper, Edwards, and Kanneh each dropped one of the punts once. Kearney looked like the biggest novice, dropping the ball three times. I liked the demeanor of special teams coach Chris Tabor, though, who was trying to help Kearney by explaining the trajectory of the ball while it was in air and how to adjust to it.
- Speaking of Tabor: He was the closest coach to me during any form of the drills, so I got to hear him talk to his special teams units. He seemed to have a knack for giving firm commands, but in a non-demeaning manner at the same time. A respectable general. At one point, he quickly told other players to move back, looked up to the camera bay guy, and shouted how he wanted to make sure he was getting all of this stuff on film.
- A Brief Look at the Punters: Again with not knowing the jersey numbers of players, it paid off in me not having a pre-formed/bias opinion toward a punter. I could see #2 and #5 punting, but wasn't sure who was who. I thought #2 was a little better than #5 in terms of depth but having good distance, but his punts seemed to vary sometimes, perhaps indicating inconsistency. #5 seemed a little more consistent, but his punts were typically higher and shorter. I preferred #2 overall, and not I see that he is indeed our pre-camp favorite, Spencer Lanning. #5 was T.J. Conley, the former Jets punter.
- Fullback / Tight End Notes: FB Owen Marecic caught two passes in a span of a couple of plays near fans, and both times, the crowd let out a big cheer (which can be taken in a sarcastic way). Later on, without defenders, Marecic caught a wheel route, drawing comparisons in my mind of what he was capable of as a rookie.
TE Brad Smelley saw a lot of reps with the second-team defense, likely ahead of TE Dan Gronkowski. For whatever reason, I swear that Smelley went in motion a thousand times during the camp session, or pretty much every time he was on offense. There weren't many highlights from former camp darling TE Jordan Cameron. The tight ends in general were non-factors at practice.
- Camp Chatter from the Fans: I always try to listen for the logical or absurd "camp chatter" from opposing fans around me. Here is a sample:
(1) Before the gates opened, the fan in front of me started telling me how Colt McCoy being let go was a big mistake. I typically don't care to debate with fans I don't know, but I also know how to brush off a conversation and appease a person: "Yeah, well, if Colin Kaepernick ever goes down, he'll have a chance to lead a Super Bowl quality team," I said. The fan then started mentioning McCoy to other fans, who nodded in agreement with the guy. In my head, I'm thinking, "First off, are people really still hung up about McCoy? Second, these guys responding to this fan are sheep or delusional." I go away from DBN, and I'm not even in the front gate and I already feel like I'm in the twilight zone of Browns talk.
(2) Some fans start bringing up Joshua Cribbs. Another fan, who was listening to the Indians game, interjects that he heard Cribbs has been terrible in Oakland so far and could very well get cut. Maybe that's true, since I haven't looked into Cribbs' status in Oakland, but my hunch is that it's complete bullshit.
(3) During practice, a young kid gasps and looks at his father. "We didn't get Gronkowski, did we?" The father responds, "no." Hearing the context of the conversation, both players were correctly asking/responding about the Patriots' Gronkowski.
(4) "I want to see who our punters are." ... "Both of these guys are terrible." ... "I've never even heard of Conley." were the series of progressive quotes I heard from a group of fans behind me.
(5) Some guy in front of me had big binoculars. I kid you not, he kept asking every fan in the bleachers several times throughout the practice if they wanted to use them. Actually, it was more like, "here, look," as he shoved the binoculars in your face. Everyone kept declining. Later on, the guy sees one bad pass from Brandon Weeden and mumbles about him being horrible. At that point, I know this guy has to be a real tool. Not as much as the giant prick who comes late and walks through a group of fans to temporarily block everyone's view.
(6) I saw Tony Grossi walk by twice. He's easily the most recognizable member of the media in person, and people kept calling out "Hey Tony!" or "Hey Grossi" when he walked by. Now, I am not one to make fun of people, but I swear to you, someone behind me said, "he's as orange as me," and I did a double take to think if my mind was actually somehow trapped in a comments section at DBN.
The fans were actually relatively quiet in general, actually. At times, I thought you could hear a pin drop. That wasn't in a bad way, though. A lot of fans seemed genuinely focused and interested in observing the action going on in front of them.
- Brownies: OLB Barkevious Mingo looked very lean and registered a sack on QB Jason Campbell (Ulrich says he was going against OT Martin Wallace). ... DE Desmond Bryant sat out of practice with back spasms. ... WR David Nelson participated in team drills, but didn't see much actual action. ... All three quarterbacks misfired in a row early on with a play where the receiver stutter steps an out route, only to come back to the middle with a post route. ... I can't pinpoint a particular play for WR Travis Benjamin, but every time I saw him and the ball heading his way, it ended up being a nice completion.
Referees were present and flagged OLB Jabaal Sheard with an offsides call, and some second-string right tackle for a false start. ... I saw ILB Tank Carder jump in with the first-team defense for at least a snap on the nickel defense. ... In 11-on-11's, a low snap came to QB Jason Campbell, and in trying to get rid of the ball on a quick slant in a rush, he overthrew WR Travis Benjamin and the ball caught CB Trevin Wade by surprise, bouncing right into his gut before falling to the ground.
QB Brandon Weeden scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown up the middle in red zone drills when there was no where to throw. ... You could hear pads when CB Buster Skrine tried to square up with RB Trent Richardson. ... WR Davone Bess nearly had a falling, one-handed touchdown grab in red-zone drills, but the referees waived if off. ... WR Naaman Roosevelt had a red zone touchdown from QB Brian Hoyer.
Photos & Videos from Twitter
Props to 92.3 The Fan's Daryl Ruiter for posting all of these:
Link Collection / Training Camp Sources
- Today's practice report was almost entirely my assessment, except for a few of the Twitter lookups I mentioned in the write-up. I will be at the stadium for Family Fun Night next Saturday. Until then, we'll continue to have recaps of what the media said here on DBN.