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Browns build confidence in 33-13 win in preseason finale against Bears backups

Aug 28, 2014 -- 11:01pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP via ESPN

Updated at 12:16 a.m.

Goals for the Browns’ offense in their preseason final against Chicago Bears backups on Thursday night:

* Get Brian Hoyer one good touchdown drive.

Check.

* See Johnny Manziel throw into the end zone for a touchdown.

Check.

* See Johnny turn into Johnny Football and excite the home crowd with an array of snappy throws on the run, nifty improvisations after jackrabbit escapes from pressure, read-option runs, and keeper runs punctuated by adroit slides.

Check, check, check and check.

The defense was another story.

Or should we say, the same story -- a “learning experience” for cornerbacks Justin Gilbert, who played way too “off” again and was spun around by Santonio Holmes for a 32-yard catch-and-run TD, and Leon McFadden, who had a 29-yard interference penalty and allowed too many David Fales completions to Josh Bellamy.

But the Browns had to be satisfied with some much-needed confidence-building on offense in a 33-13 triumph against a Bears team that sat all its regulars except specialists.

Nevertheless, the win qualified as Mike Pettine’s first as a head coach since his high school days in suburban Philadelphia in 2001. It averted a winless preseason and set up nine days of practice for the opener in Pittsburgh on a somewhat positive note.

“I think our guys will head into next week with a very different mindset,” Pettine said. “If it hadn’t gone our way, it would have been a different shadow cast over us.

Given Bears coach Marc Trestman’s choice to not play any starters, it’s easy to overstate Hoyer’s one series with the No. 1 offense. But it was important for Hoyer to produce a touchdown, and he did on a workmanlike, 13-play, 85-yard drive culminated by Ben Tate’s 1-yard cutback run over the goal line.

Hoyer completed 6 of 8 throws for 69 yards, including 3 of 3 on third down and a first-down maker on fourth-and-1 to fullback Ray Agnew. Nothing particularly special, but it did qualify as only Hoyer’s second TD drive in 16 preseason possessions.

“I wouldn’t call it relief,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s what we expect out of ourselves. I don’t think we were stressing out.”

Pettine served the sparse crowd some popcorn by taking Hoyer out on that positive note and inserting Manziel.

Manziel’s first possession ended quickly on a Gary Barnidge drop and a Terrance West lost fumble. His second one blew up on a Manziel fumble and punt.

But then Manziel summoned his Johnny Football self and strung two scoring drives that just may get Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to the white board, after all.

Manziel threw erratically at first, hanging out receivers Travis Benjamin (38-yard defensive pass interference) and then Charles Johnson, whose helmet was blasted off like a champagne cork inside the Bears’ 10.

Then on third down came an instant vintage Johnny moment. He bought time with movements hither and yon in the pocket, and then made a whip of a throw to Nate Burleson – he lives! – on third-and-10 for a 27-yard gain to the 1.

Manziel followed immediately with his first TD throw of the preseason – rolling left after a play-fake and then finding tight end Jim Dray at the back of the end zone.

On his next series, Manziel showed that he indeed can outrun NFL defenders – well, at least Chicago’s scrubs.

He ran off the read-option for 8 yards and then, after a few misfires followed by a 22-yard strike to tight end Barnidge, Manziel ran a keeper to the right sideline and accelerated in the blink of an eye. The 22-yard run led to only a short field goal, as Manziel’s fade on third down for Taylor Gabriel sailed out of the end zone. But it was an impressive show of his speed.

After halftime, Manziel had one more field-goal possession again ignited by a read-option run and slide for 14 yards.

Manziel’s night ended with misleading numbers – 6 of 17 passing for 83 yards, one touchdown, one sack, and a 71.4 passer rating. That archaic rating stat does not account for four runs for 55 yards and a megawatts of electricity.

“I could tell without looking the stat sheet and tell you that I didn’t complete as many passes as I wanted to,” Manziel said. “I don’t think I threw the ball particularly well. It came out of my hand a little funny those first few throws. As the drives went on I threw it better.”

Manziel added, “To get some good lanes to escape a little bit and get out and run around was a lot of fun.”

Pettine termed it “Johnny being Johnny.”

“A couple of those plays were no, no, no, yes – but that’s what he does.

“That, to me, is what he brings to the table. He just needs to get more comfortable in his reads, take the easy throws that are there. He’s certainly shown why he has the reputation that he does.”

Rex Grossman and Connor Shaw mopped up at quarterback for the Browns.

Grossman (4 for 8 for 80 yards) put up two field goals while demonstrating that the Kyle Shanahan offense can throw vertically (37 yards to Willie Snead and 19 to Johnson).

But the star of second half was Isaiah Crowell, the undrafted rookie running back who has been concealed most of preseason. Crowell put on a belated lunge for a roster spot with 102 yards on 13 attempts, including a touchdown blast of 48 yards in the fourth quarter.

Crowell had rushed 2 times for 3 yards in previous appearances. It will be hard to sneak him on the practice squad now.

"He certainly flashed his big-play ability," Pettine said.

 

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns Preseason Game 4 Preview: Can confidence be restored in a matchup of No. 1s v. No. 2s?

Aug 28, 2014 -- 11:21am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

What: Browns (0-3) v. Chicago Bears (2-1), 8 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium.

TV: WKYC-TV3 with Jim Donovan, Solomon Wilcots and Dave Chudowsky.

The set-up: After suffering a setback on defense and continued sporadic play on offense in the so-called dress rehearsal practice game, coach Mike Pettine has taken the unusual step of playing his starters for a quarter, or so, in the fourth exhibition game. The team continues to hope/beg to see some progress in quarterback Brian Hoyer in this new offense with new receivers while weighing the prospect of devoting precious practice time on a special package of plays for Johnny Manziel.

Did you know?: This is the 11th consecutive year the Browns conclude their preseason schedule against the Bears. This is the only game of the four exhibitions that the teams themselves schedule; the previous three now are scheduled by the NFL. The Browns and Bears have continued this preseason series because of their close geography, the fact they are in opposite conferences and play in regular season only once every four years, and because they both play on natural grass surfaces.

Bears update: Coach Marc Trestman does not intend to play his starting units at all. Already loaded at the receiver position, the Bears signed 2009 Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes on Aug. 16. Holmes played in a little in his first preseason game, and could get more playing time against the Browns. He is on the roster bubble. If he plays, Holmes could be auditioning for other teams in need of a receiver, like the Browns. Trestman intends to rookie sixth-round pick David Fales at quarterback the entire game.

Browns update: A year ago at this time, No. 2 QB Jason Campbell called in sick after pre-game warmups and Hoyer, buried at No. 3, played the entire game. He surprised the coaches with his ability to rally together the deepest backups on the camp roster. It was a turning point for Hoyer, because the coaches elevated him to the starting position in Game 3 – ahead of Campbell – when starter Brandon Weeden hurt his thumb. Now Hoyer is at a crossroads again. He needs to show improvement with the No. 1 offense against the Bears backups in order to restore some confidence in the coaches as the team returns to work for urgent preparation for the Steelers in the Sept. 7 owner. Also, veteran receiver Nate Burleson is expected to get his first playing time of the preseason. Much like David Nelson a year, Burleson needs to shake off the rust quickly to earn a roster spot. Nelson didn’t survive the final cut a year ago. He proceeded to sign with the Jets, scored two TDs for them in a win late in the year against the Browns, and is one of their integral players this season. So the fourth preseason game can have lasting effects, for sure.

Injury report: The following Browns did not participate in the team’s last practice due to injury and are not expected to play: DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), DB Pierre Desir (knee), DB Joe Haden (foot), LB Eric Martin (concussion), DB Buster Skrine (thumb) and DB Isaiah Trufant (knee).

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Everybody loses in the suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon

Aug 28, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

The Morning Kickoff …

Only in Cleveland: Josh Gordon possessed more athletic talent than any player I have seen in 30 years of reporting on the Browns.

That includes the Hall of Famers who performed in my time – guard Joe DeLamielleure and tight end Ozzie Newsome.

You can recount the outlandish receiving numbers of Gordon’s 2013 season and draw conclusions about what his year-long suspension will mean to the 2014 team. I will tell you that those statistics don’t even come close to stating the loss of Josh Gordon.

I would say that Gordon possessed more natural, physical, athletic talent than any player in Browns history other than Jim Brown. Yes, in Browns history! He is only 23 years old and hasn’t scratched the surface as an NFL receiver. What could have been may never be known.

His season is over – and quite possibly his career – because he flunked a drug test for marijuana use by 1 nanogram per millileter in his urine sample. The NFL threshold for a positive drug test is 15 ng/ml. Gordon scored a 16. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram – per milliliter of urine. The threshold for Olympic athletes is 150 ng/ml.

And the second sample testing, which is a split of the original sample, registered a 13, below the threshold, according to reports. But the NFL substance abuse policy agreed to by the players union only requires the existence of the banned substance in the second sample to verify a positive test. Most every other organization on the planet Earth that uses drug testing – sports organizations, private employers, public employers – requires both samples to exceed the threshold to verify a positive test.

Because Gordon is a multiple offender, which means he has flunked multiple drug tests after being warned of the ramifications, and because the NFL players association agreed to the drug policy, the NFL threw the book at Gordon.

FOR FAILING A DRUG TEST FOR MARIJUANA!

Not for dragging his unconscious fiancée out of a casino hotel elevator, as did Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who received two games suspension.

Not for drunk-driving and possessing in his car unauthorized prescription drugs, as did Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has received no NFL discipline.

Not for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, as did former Browns receiver Donte Stallworth in 2009, who received a one-year suspension and played thereafter.

So the hands-down most talented Browns player since Jim Brown – the only player in the past 50 years of the franchise with top 1 percent athletic talent -- is suspended for a year for failing a marijuana test.

So excuse me while I vent at:

The Browns

Where do I begin?

Gordon, who had a history of marijuana use, was drafted by Tom Heckert. Heckert recognized Gordon’s immense talent and was not blind to Gordon’s problems.

Heckert was fired by former CEO Joe Banner and replaced by Mike Lombardi, who agreed with Banner and wanted to trade Gordon – at the right price, which didn’t materialize. They were fired and replaced by Ray Farmer.

Through all the changes, the Browns have failed to do everything in their power to keep their best player eligible. Because of their recurrent regime changes, the responsibility of keeping watch over Gordon, who obviously has a drug problem, which some medical personnel consider a sickness, not a choice, fell through the cracks.

I would bet that any of the top-flight NFL franchises would have identified Gordon as a special player with special needs and would have seen to it that he received ‘round-the-clock care/support/babysitting. Whatever it takes, you do it.

The Browns, who have had fewer playmaking athletes than any NFL team in the last 15 years, who have fielded the worst offenses in the history of this once-proud franchise, should have done more to keep Gordon from flunking a test for marijuana.

The player needed help and the Browns obviously fell short of providing it.

The Browns (again)

The NFL hearing officer in Gordon’s appeal, Harold Henderson, a long-time league office executive, took 23 days to arrive at a decision. The league drug policy mandates an appeal to a suspension be made “in a reasonable time.”

Henderson’s foot-dragging certainly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the drug policy, yet the Browns never raised a fuss about it, never applied any pressure for a resolution, never squawked like Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, Tom Benson, the Rooneys or any other vested NFL team owner looking out for his franchise and its fans most certainly would have complained, legitimately.

The fact of the matter is the Browns’ organization, as presently constituted with rookies-in-training at every single layer of management, has no advocate to look out for the franchise in league squabbles.

It’s a competitive business of 32 organizations, and the timid shall be trampled.

Ray Farmer

The general manager knew of Gordon’s possible indefinite suspension heading into the May 8-10 draft. And despite having high picks in every round of a draft historically rich in receivers, Farmer hemmed, hawed, stayed “true to his board,” and committed the incomprehensible error of NOT DRAFTING A SINGLE RECEIVER.

This was like a doctor not prescribing medicine to a patient testing repeatedly for high cholesterol.

Instead, Farmer tried alternative measures, like signing beaten-down receivers on the verge of retirement and inviting young players left undrafted from the richest crop of college receivers in recent history.

All the while, Farmer pointed to the resident-genius Seattle Seahawks and concluded that since they won the Super Bowl without any premier receivers, surely that must be the formula to winning the Super Bowl.

Those 31 other NFL teams who drafted receivers? Idiots.

The NFL policies on discipline

The league has separate policies on substance abuse, performance-enhancing drugs, personal conduct and on-field conduct. Each may as well have its own commissioner, because there is no logic or consistency behind the discipline imposed in each policy.

Joe Haden received a four-game suspension at a cost to him of more than $1 million for using Adderal, a banned substance, to pull an all-nighter on a vacation in Las Vegas in July of 2012. And yet Rice was suspended two games for some form of physical abuse of his future wife.

Because Gordon had flunked previous drug tests, he was suspended a full season – maybe more – for testing positive for marijuana by a microscopic margin.

The NFL policies of discipline are morally repugnant. The NFL justifies it all by saying, “The players union agreed to it.”

The drug policy disallows the Browns from having contact with Gordon during his suspension. Gordon will have to pass numerous drug tests – up to 10 per month -- to even be considered for reinstatement. If he misses a single test, or flunks one, he will have no chance in front of the NFL parole board.

This is why some people predict Gordon will never play in the NFL again.

Because of drug tests. Crimes, you can recover from in the NFL. But not drug tests.

The NFL players association

I’ll keep this brief. Its biggest triumph in the most recent collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 was securing lighter practices and one day off every five days in training camp.

Enjoy.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

NFL throws book at Browns WR Josh Gordon; appeal of indefinite suspension is denied

Aug 27, 2014 -- 1:10pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

 

Updated at 5:00 p.m.

After weeks of delay, the NFL has disallowed Josh Gordon’s appeal of an indefinite suspension. The suspension is effective immediately and the Browns will be without its Pro Bowl receiver for the entire 2014 season.

Unless …

Unless Gordon’s team of lawyers challenges the ruling legally and seeks a temporary restraining order to keep him eligible. Gordon’s representatives appealed the suspension on the grounds that the scant readings of a positive marijuana test were the result of secondhand smoke.

Hearing officer Harold Henderson sat on the appeals case for 23 days before throwing the book at Gordon because he was a multiple violator of the league’s substance abuse policy.

The policy states a player suspended indefinitely must wait a minimum of 12 months to apply for reinstatement. But the league’s only statement on the ruling said Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement would be determined “following the 2014 season.”

The league does what it does and often doesn’t explain why. It did not explain why it did not hold his eligibility to Aug. 27, 2015 – 12 months after the start of his suspension.

In a statement released through the NFL Players Association, Gordon said:

“I’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans. I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff.”

According to reports, Gordon was in Stage 3 of the NFL substance abuse policy – which means one more strike and you’re out. He was subjected to a maximum of 10 drug tests per month.

Those reports stated Gordon passed 70 consecutive tests. The one he didn’t pass turned up at 16 nanograms per milliliter – just above the NFL threshold of 15 ng/ml. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.

Per the league’s program, the urine test is split in two samples for verification. The second tested sample fell below the threshold, but the league’s program states that the second test must only show the existence of the banned substance to verify the positive test. In other sports organizations and in some states, the second test must test above the threshold to verify a positive test. This could be the basis of a Gordon lawsuit against the league.

The Browns have been frustrated by the NFL’s slow “due process” in the Gordon case, but they have been good company soldiers and have not publicly said anything to criticize the process.

The Browns waited for more than two hours after the announcement of Gordon’s suspension to release the following statements:

From General Manager Ray Farmer:

"While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day to day approach. Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension."

From coach Mike Pettine:

"We will continue to support Josh and we understand that there is accountability for one's actions. Our job and that of the team is to focus on what we can control. Our philosophy in building this team and the mentality we’re establishing is that we’re going to have to overcome challenges and situations throughout the course of a season. We'll continue to be relentless in our approach, in how we work and focus on our goal of returning winning football to Cleveland."

Neither the NFL nor the Browns has indicated what kind of “support” the club is allowed to show Gordon during his suspension.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Forecasting the Browns' not-so-final 53 roster

Aug 27, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/SI

The Morning Kickoff …

Browns roster-ology: In the waning days of the preseason, the final makeup of the Browns’ roster is secondary to the larger goal of preparing for the season opener Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.

Many times the Browns have wasted too much energy worrying about the final 10 of 53 roster spots while neglecting badly needed work with the starters. That’s why it’s heartening that coach Mike Pettine intends to play his starters at least a few series in the preseason finale Thursday against the Chicago Bears.

By their nature, the few spots hanging in the balance are at the bottom of the roster. As always, the “final” roster selected by GM Ray Farmer, who has final say but will consider input from Pettine and his coaches, won’t exactly be “final.”

After the cutdown to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday, there will numerous revisions to the roster through waiver claims, raids of practice squads and, less likely, trades.

I am guessing that anywhere from seven to 10 players on the roster the Browns take to Pittsburgh on Sept. 7 are not currently on hand. They will come from the pool of 704 players league-wide that will be cut over the next four days.

Thus, roster predictions coming this early – with a preseason game remaining and the probability of a few injuries – become obsolete rather quickly.

But here goes, anyway:

Quarterbacks (3): Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel (r), Rex Grossman.

Connor Shaw (r) should be invited to the practice squad.

Running backs (3): Ben Tate, Terrance West (r), Dion Lewis.

Isaiah Crowell (r) figures to be another practice squad invitee.

Fullbacks (1):MarQueis Gray.

Ray Agnew (r) is another PS candidate.

Wide receivers (6): Josh Gordon, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Charles Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel (r).

If Gordon is suspended, he will not count on the roster. This position could add one or two players cut from other teams.

Tight ends (3): Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray.

Offensive linemen (8): Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio (r), Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Paul McQuistan, Garrett Gilkey, Martin Wallace.

I would expect two or three linemen to come aboard after roster cuts. One or two tackles would seem to be in order.

Defensive linemen (8): Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Calvin Barnett.

If the Browns swing a player-for-player trade, their asset might come from this position group.

Linebackers (7): Karlos Dansby, Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Kirksey (r), Craig Robertson, Justin Staples (r).

Might see another linebacker come in after cuts.

Cornerbacks (6): Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert (r), Buster Skrine, Isaiah Trufant, Pierre Desir (r), Aaron Berry.

Leon McFadden is eligible for the practice squad.

Safeties (5): Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson, Jim Leonhard, Jordan Poyer, Johnson Bademosi.

Josh Aubrey is right on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Billy Cundiff, Spencer Lanning, Christian Yount.

Not a peep has been uttered about any of these guys in this camp.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns pass rusher Armonty Bryant emerges as fast-riser in Mike Pettine's defense

Aug 26, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

The Morning Kickoff …

Accidents will happen: Armonty Bryant had a loud introduction to the NFL with two arrests before and after the 2013 draft. But now he is one of the quietest Browns.

He has a slow-and-easy gait about him when he walks off the practice field, totally opposite of the fury with which he has played the defensive end position in his second training camp with the Browns.

When Bryant sauntered into a media circle on Monday, it seemed that his mind was elsewhere. After a few vague answers about the way his rather stunning preseason is going, the subject of Sam Bradford came up and Bryant spoke directly to the St. Louis Rams quarterback through the media.

“I want to say I’m sorry and my prayers go out to you and your family,” Bryant said.

Bryant did nothing wrong on the play that ended Bradford’s season and shattered the Rams’ hopes of contending in their tough NFC West division. He beat left tackle Jake Long, as he has most offensive linemen opposing him this preseason, and made a lunge for Bradford just after Bradford delivered the ball.

Bryant’s right leg made contact with Bradford’s surgically repaired left knee, which was protected by a brace. Bryant almost instantly eased off without ever wrapping his arms around Bradford. In fact, Bryant hit the ground before Bradford did. While Bryant looked downfield for the ball, Bradford crumbled in pain.

Everyone’s worst fear was realized. Bradford’s left anterior cruciate ligament, the one repaired after an injury in the seventh game last season, was severed again. Bradford will miss another full year after rehabbing the 2013 injury for 10 months.

“I tried to, like, swing off,” Bryant said. “I guess he couldn’t lift his foot off the ground. I thought he just hyperextended his knee.

“You never want to see anything like that in the league. A season-ending injury is just terrible.”

Turning it around: Bryant’s rookie season was good (two sacks, 12 quarterback harassments in 12 games) considering he very nearly was cut before he ever signed a Browns contract.    

The Browns took a chance on the small-college pass rusher from East Central (OK) University even though he had been arrested for selling marijuana on campus to an undercover police officer.

A strong recommendation from former defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who himself had benefitted from a second chance, convinced the Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi regime to take Bryant in the seventh round. Six days after telling reporters “I won’t let anybody down,” Bryant was arrested for drunk driving in Ada, OK.

“No one wants that to happen, especially two times in, what, seven months,” Bryant said. “Definitely a life-changing experience.

“I think it just humbled me a little more. My family gets on me all the time, like, you’ve got to quit doing stupid stuff like that. To try to help them to get to a better place, I have to focus on what I need to do here.”

In need of a strong support group, Bryant has been taken under the wing of linebacker Barkevious Mingo as an off-field buddy. On the field, Bryant said he has tried to follow the example of nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, one of the strongest characters on the team.

“I like Rubin a lot,” Bryant said. “He plays the run very well, double teams very well. I just try to see what he does and try to put that in my game a little bit.”

Who knew?: When coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer settled into their respective new jobs, the one position group they were totally satisfied with was defensive line. They added nobody there except a few undrafted free agents. Bryant initially was seen as a pass-rush specialist. But now he has played himself into a starting end position.

Injuries to Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant opened the door, and Armonty Bryant flashed through it with the speed that turned Jake Long, a former Pro Bowl tackle, into a human turnstile.

Two weeks ago, Pettine said of the 6-4, 265-pound Bryant, “Armonty is a guy who I think has a chance to be a special pass rusher in this league. He’s better against the run on early downs than maybe we thought. He’s got a very unique build. He’s very narrow. He reminds me of a slightly shorter Trevor Pryce, who we had in Baltimore and had a long career in Denver.

“I just think it’s kind of unique. He makes it tough on offensive linemen. He can kind of get through some cracks where maybe some of the bigger guys can’t. He’s very explosive with his hands. He’s real good when a lineman tries to get hands on him. He’s very good releasing off of blocks and I just think he has a knack for getting to the quarterback.”

Bryant’s defense against the run has improved enough so that Pettine now sees him sharing time when the other Bryant, Desmond, returns from a wrist injury that needed surgery.

“I thought at first that could have been an issue for him, but he’s gotten better with it,” Pettine said. “I think one of the things he does well is his initial quickness, get off. We can do some things schematically to help him, to kind of put him on the move, and not just having to anchor in and take on a double team – just kind of put him on the move and let him take advantage of his quickness.”

All of which has made Armonty Bryant one of the most positive stories of the Browns’ preseason.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling with the coaches and everyone else believing I can get the job done,” he said. “It’s just, I need to go prove myself on the field. I feel my drive. I just want to go out there and make my statement.”

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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