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Browns Training Camp Day 6: Team waits for verdict on Josh Gordon appeal hearing

Aug 01, 2014 -- 3:04pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Notes, quotes and observations from Browns training camp Day 6 …

* JG in the Big Apple: Receiver Josh Gordon was absent from practice to plead his appeal of a drug suspension in New York before league-designee Harold Henderson. There have been reports that the only way Gordon could receive a suspension less than “indefinite” -- a one-year minimum, per terms of the league substance abuse policy – would be if Gordon’s legal team negotiated some sort of settlement with the NFL. Gordon’s camp intended to claim secondhand smoke was the reason Gordon tested barely over the league threshold for marijuana. While Henderson, a former league vice president, heard the appeal, it is believed that a decision on Gordon will not be finalized until Commissioner Roger Goodell returns to New York Monday from Hall of Fame festivities this weekend in Canton, OH. At a press availability outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Friday, Goodell said, “Josh is going through the process right now. I am not a part of that process. At some point in time, I may have an opportunity to be involved. When I am, I look forward to meeting with him.” Goodell was pressed on the apparent double standard of heavy league suspensions for positive drug tests v. a lighter one (two games) for the widely seen incident of domestic violence by Baltimore running back Ray Rice. Goodell pointed out it was Rice’s first incident and added, “We have a drug program that is collectively bargained and it has a step process. It takes four incidents before you actually reach a suspension in a drug-related case.” Coach Mike Pettine said he did not know if Gordon would return in time to be active for Saturday’s team scrimmage in Akron.

* Take that: Frustrated by a camp-long domination by the defense, the offense had a little fun on Friday. At times it appeared the practice script called for work on touchdown demonstrations. Willie Snead spiked one ball in the end zone after one catch. After another, Anthony Armstrong turned and launched the ball into the second story of the corporate VIP chalet. Nate Burleson tucked the ball under his jersey after one TD catch and gestured to the crowd. And Johnny Manziel, after trotting into the end zone on a quarterback draw, aimed the football at the crossbar like he was shooting a short jumper. The last act drew an automatic flag from the NFL officials on hand. A new rule, spurred by Jimmy Graham’s game-delaying goalpost dunk last year, now classifies the goalpost as a prop. Using it in a TD demonstration brings an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. “I needed to do a better job explaining the rule to them,” coach Mike Pettine said. “I’d rather learn the lesson at practice and use it as a coaching moment than in a game.” Pettine wasn’t bothered at all by the newfound exuberance displayed by the offense. “I think they were a little frustrated over time with the defensive backs, (who) had been very physical with them and had won a lot of battles. I think that just spilled over. Any time they had a chance to get in the end zone they wanted to make sure everybody knew it,” Pettine said. Receiver Andrew Hawkins said, “Sometimes when you get in these situations where you’re doing so much stuff and it’s monotonous every single day, it’s good to rev it up a little bit and get a little enthusiasm out of everybody.”

* Family Fun, team fun: Saturday’s scrimmage in InfoCision Stadium in Akron will simulate some game conditions. Pettine said first “rack” of plays would pit the No. 1 units against each other, but he didn’t know yet how he would divide reps after that. Each “rack” of plays would end with some sort of kick – extra point, field goal or punt. Tackling will be live except on punts and quarterbacks. Pettine said he will be looking for “who can step up and make plays in a live situation. Just about everything so far has been scripted. This is now just a true, unscripted period.” The scrimmage comes at a good time for Manziel, who has struggled in the tight structure of practice. The chance to return to game-time situations might loosen up Manziel, though Pettine cautioned,  “Some of the things that he was maybe able to escape from in college may be whistled dead in the scrimmage.” All 25,000 free tickets to the scrimmage have been distributed, so there is no walk-up admittance without a ticket.

* More fun: Pettine’s “challenge period” at the end of practice consisted of offensive and defensive coaches trying to catch knuckleball punts from Spencer Lanning. In the fourth round, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver made the first drop. Then offensive intern Mike LaFleur made the catch for the win, earning the offense the right to wear orange jerseys at Monday’s practice. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan drew some laughs with a spin-and-spike routine after making his catch.

* Brownie bits: Safety Tashaun Gipson walked off the field after suffering a knee injury. He was led inside with a trainer. Pettine had no information other than to say, “He’s being evaluated.” … Good timing on the Jim Leonhard signing … Manziel worked again exclusively with the second team. Pettine wouldn’t say if Manziel might get some first-team reps in the scrimmage … Pettine wanted practice to end on a successful long field goal. Billy Cundiff missed wide right from 51 yards, banged the right upright again from 51 yards, missed wide right from 46 yards before nailing one through from 46 on his fourth try.

 

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

 

 

 

Johnny Manziel may be struggling, but the good news is that he and Brian Hoyer are working together

Aug 01, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

The Morning Kickoff …

How ya doin’, Johnny?: Downcast and lacking his branded Johnny Football swagger, Johnny Manziel conceded Thursday he is struggling in the competition to be the Browns’ starting quarterback.

Through five days of Browns training camp, Manziel has completed roughly 50 percent of his passes. Each of his two touchdowns have covered less than five yards. He has not taken a rep with the No. 1 unit. Although that will change “sooner than later,” according to the coaches, Manziel, for the first time, sounded a surprising concession, of sorts.

“I don’t know if they drafted me necessarily thinking that I should come in and start week one,” he said.

Coach Mike Pettine said before camp began that it’s not so much Manziel v. Brian Hoyer but rather Manziel v. the playbook.

The coaches couldn’t bring themselves to say that Hoyer is ahead. But Manziel indicated that the playbook has the upper hand at this point.

“Until you really get comfortable with all of the stuff, it’s still a struggle,” he said.

“It’s a process for me … It’s a complete 180 (degrees) from everything that I’ve been used to, and it’s going to take time. It’s a process coming from a spread air-raid system in college to a pro-style system that’s very unfamiliar with me in terms of terminology, routes and being under center a lot more. It’s not something that I can’t handle. It’s not something that I’m not going to continue to strive and work for to try and get better at.”

He sounded down.

“Once I go through a couple of days with no mental errors or getting to where I need to be every single time, then I’ll feel a lot better,” Manziel said.

Bringing him along: This may be the toughest period of camp for Manziel. He’s calling plays in a language he hasn’t known before and running plays he never ran at Texas A&M, where he played only two years.

“I don’t have all of this stuff figured out,” he said. “I don’t know the ins and outs and every little nook and cranny. Sometimes there’s a little twist on a play, and you can go in and forget to say it in the huddle, and from that, it changes the whole dynamic. Some of those times, some of the plays I’ve ran for the first time and really gone back into it. We run them again and just make sure not to make the same mistakes twice.”

At A&M, Manziel didn’t have a playbook as much as gameplan sheets. And the play-calls were much less complex. As a college player, Manziel could improvise to make a play when his first read was covered. Now coordinator Kyle Shanahan is trying to train him to improvise as a last resort – not as a second option.

“I think any time you have a quarterback who has made a lot of plays with his feet and has won a Heisman Trophy with his feet running around and doing the type of plays that we all enjoy watching – that’s what’s made him successful … there’s a very fine line between that,” Shanahan said.

“You want guys who can do that stuff and make plays when nothing is there. I think guys who are in that situation have done that their whole life. The test when you get to the NFL is a lot of times those defenses won’t allow you to do that. They’re going to keep you in the pocket. They’re going to have their containment, so you can’t always be looking for it. You have to be able to do both. When something isn’t there and the defense gets out of their lanes, make them pay. Go and get out of that pocket and make an off-schedule play. Do what you do best. You’ve got to react to that. That can be your biggest strength, but it can also be your biggest weakness.

“You never want to take that away from him, but you want to continue to develop him as a quarterback because these defenses in this league, especially once you get into the regular season and coaches game-plan for you, if they want to keep you in the pocket, they can. You’ve got to be able to do both, and if you can do both, you can be a great one.”

The Hoyer factor: It’s not as if Hoyer is lighting it up, either. If that were the case, the “competition” would be closed and Pettine would announce Hoyer as the starter.

But Hoyer has his own demons to conquer – recovering from ACL surgery, mastering a new offense, and proving he can stay on the field for more than two games.

“You’ve got a rookie quarterback trying to learn a new offense,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got another quarterback – I know he’s not a rookie – but it’s a new offense for him also. They’re both trying to get their feet wet.”

“He’s been coming along,” Shanahan said of Hoyer. “Through the progressions and stuff, he’s got a little more experience with them being in some different offenses. All of the stuff kind of ties over. There’s some different terminology and everything, but he’s done a good job getting our team out of the huddle, running the plays, executing the plays.”

The good news is that Manziel appears to be soaking in Hoyer’s work ethic and determined approach as a professional learning a new offense.

“I’m obviously learning from him,” Manziel said. “He’s a guy who was in a system that demands a lot in New England. He’s a very intelligent guy. He knows his stuff really well. You can tell that he’s a professional and he’s been doing this for a while.

“This is my first time, obviously. I’m not used to this amount of length during the day of being up here, all the film, all the stuff so it’s different. To have Brian and Tyler (Thigpen) in there has been really nice. My and Brian’s relationship has been just as normal as everybody else’s in the room. I don’t feel any tension or anything like that. He’s helped me in situations, and I’m trying to learn from him.”

When Manziel was done speaking to media, he left the podium and Hoyer greeted him with a pat on the back. And for the first time, really, there was the feeling that they’re in this together.

 

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 Training Camp Day 5: Coaches say no quarterback ahead in competition, but Johnny Manziel still with the No. 2s

Jul 31, 2014 -- 3:08pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Notes, quotes and observations on Browns training camp Day 5 …

* QB competition update: Although Brian Hoyer has held down the No. 1 offense every day and Johnny Manziel has not taken snaps behind the No. 1 offensive line, the coaches refuse to characterize the quarterback competition as having a leader. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan summed it up this way: "I don’t think one’s any further in front than the other. You’ve got a rookie quarterback and another quarterback who’s really only played in three NFL games and they’re both learning new offenses. So when one guy has a bad practice I don’t say, ‘He’s back, the other’s way up.’ As small as patience as coaches have, I’m fighting with myself to have more because I know it’s going to take time. You don’t want to just jump to a conclusion real quick. You’ve got to give them both time to get comfortable and to develop.” Naturally, Shanahan downplayed the fact Manziel has not taken No. 1 snaps. He said we will see that “sooner than later.” Coach Mike Pettine added that other position groups also will see some “mixing up” soon. We will have a complete analysis of the quarterback position Friday in The Morning Kickoff.

* The Johnny play package: Momentum seems to be mounting for, at the least, a special package of plays tailored for Manziel’s running ability in the event Hoyer wins the job. On a goal-line series on Thursday, Manziel showed how his running influences defenses close to the end zone. He rolled left off a play fake and the defense lost containment on tight end Jim Dray. Manziel saw the opening and flipped the ball to Dray for an easy TD. “I would do it if it looked like the right thing to do,” Shanahan said about such a special package for Manziel. “That has to do all about studying Pittsburgh, what their schemes are, whether we think some things look good v. them that maybe Johnny could do that Brian couldn’t. What the rest of our team’s doing. I have no problem with that. I think that does present some issues. But there’s got to be a reason for it.”

* Hoyer bulked up: Hoyer, 6-2 and 215 pounds, said he’s five pounds heavier than a year ago, and most of the added weight is leg muscle as a result of his rehab from ACL surgery. “I’ve built up my legs bigger than they ever were,” he said. “As a quarterback, you don’t want to be too big up top, in my opinion, that you can’t throw the ball. So you want to be long and loose but also have enough muscle to take the hits.” Hearing that, images of muscle-bound Brady Quinn race through the mind.

* Defense wins at end: After losing most of the practice day to the embattled offense, the defense rose up at the end and captured Pettine’s contrived competition to earn the orange jerseys another day. Pettine set the situation at third-and-2 at the 2-yard line with :20 left, the offense down by five points, and one timeout left. On the first play, Chris Ogbonnaya was stuffed at the line and the defense piled over him. On the second play, linebacker Chris Kirksey defended a quick pass for tight end Jordan Cameron. On the final play, Ben Tate failed to get in behind the lead block of MarQueis Gray. Linebacker Karlos Dansby and nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen wound up lifting Tate off the ground and playfully carrying him back to the backfield. “The defense won, stepped up and had a stop,” center Alex Mack said. “We can grumble but it really comes down to those last plays. There’s a good point to be made that you have to make those plays at the end of a game.”

* Together again: Newly signed safety Jim Leonhard arrived. He has been with Pettine at Baltimore, the Jets and Buffalo, and it surely sounded as if Pettine intends to keep him for more than a tryout. At 31, Leonard’s starting days may be behind him, but Pettine stated several potential roles for Leonard. “Core special teamer and also some type of nickel defender, in a package group where we put three safeties in a game,” Pettine said. “Or whether it’s a dime-linebacker type, where we want to move Donte (Whitner) closer to the ball and have Jim take his job deep. When teams go to two-tight ends and two-receivers, we’ve played a good number of three-safety packages intstead of going with a smaller nickel back.” Leonard also will be a backup at punt returner to Travis Benjamin, particularly in situations where ball security is the No. 1 task. “Rex (Ryan) and I used to joke that he can catch a punt in a hurricane,” Pettine said.

Brownie bits: Receiver Josh Gordon was excused to travel to New York and prepare for his appeals hearing Friday to avert a league suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell will be in Canton for Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festivities, but he will make a ruling after conferring with his designee early next week … Guard John Greco and defensive lineman Billy Winn were active for the first time in camp. Only nose tackle Phil Taylor remains out from the handful of players who were not cleared to practice on Friday … Two periods of live tackling produced no apparent injuries. Pettine said there may be one other practice with a portion of live tackling. Otherwise, it’s left only to the team scrimmage Saturday in Akron and the games themselves … Safety Tashaun Gipson blew up tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, blasting away a pass from Manziel, in a goal line drill.

 

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

 

 

 

On Johnny Manziel's early struggles, and other observations after Week 1 of Browns training camp

Jul 31, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

The Morning Kickoff …

Checkpoint No. 1: There are different checkpoints in a training camp and we reached the first one with the Browns’ first off day on Wednesday. When players return on Thursday, they’ll get their first taste of live tackling as intensity inches closer to game-ready.

Here is what we have observed so far:

1. Johnny update: Coach Mike Pettine told me before training camp started that coaches would evaluate Johnny Manziel through the first four days and decide whether he earned first-team reps. The numbers tabulated each day by ESPNCleveland’s Jason Gibbs have not been pretty. Gibbs has charted all plays in 7 on 7 and team drills. Unofficially, Manziel has completed 42 of 85 passes (49.4 percent). He has been “sacked” two times officially. Two other obvious sacks were waved off and resulted in Manziel interceptions. There has been one other interception, four keeper runs by Manziel and three plays aborted by general confusion. Manziel’s only touchdown pass came on a little flip to fullback Ray Agnew off a bootleg. It’s too early to draw conclusions. But it’s nearly impossible to make the case that Manziel has earned first-team reps.

2. Fiercest competition: I love the dynamic at running back. Ben Tate talking tough, rookie Terrance West not backing down. The other backs – Chris Ogbonnaya, Isaiah Crowell, Dion Lewis, Edwin Baker – all fighting for perhaps one roster spot. This is the fiercest competition of any position group. Tate’s edginess is more than just talk. He is starting to remind me of the back who wore his No. 44 in a different era and became the heart and soul of the Browns’ turnaround in the 1980s – Earnest Byner. Tate is much more talented as a runner and seems to have Byner’s, well, earnestness to change the culture of the team from losing to winning. This will be the most improved position group from a year ago.

3. Out of the shadow: Top pick Justin Gilbert affably played second fiddle to Manziel off the field in the weeks after the draft. On the field, Gilbert has showed why he was the team’s top pick. Gilbert looks bigger on the field than his listed measurements of 6-0 and 202 pounds. His athleticism has not been exaggerated. When running with the ball on kickoff returns, he looks like an offensive playmaker gliding through running lanes. Gilbert should be promoted to the first-team defense soon, which would be no knock on Buster Skrine, who continues to improve each year. I’d like to see Skrine moved inside now to have ample time to perfect what is one of the most important positions on the defense. Gilbert has physical skills that not even Joe Haden possesses. There is no doubt in my mind he will start from Day 1.

4. Receiver alert: Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins has been a consistent performer, showing good hands, pinpoint route-running, darting quickness and a work ethic and energy that is infectious. He will be a dependable target for Brian Hoyer. That said, there is nobody out there – besides Josh Gordon – who is going to scare any defense. Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, Anthony Armstrong … none has proved in recent years he can even stay on a field, much less shine on it. Of the rest, Charles Johnson is an engaging and intriguing prospect and has the best athletic skills, but I question whether he can make an impact early. If Gordon somehow beats the rap and does play at all this season, it will make all the other receivers better. Otherwise, this position is still a major concern.

5. Rube awakening: With Phil Taylor still not practicing, Pettine and the coaches have gotten some good looks at Ahtyba Rubin at nose tackle – the position at which he broke into the NFL with the Browns in 2008. Pettine commented on Tuesday, “He’s as good as I’ve had in this system as far as his technique in defending the run.” Rubin has impressed the coaches with his work in the inside run drills. Rubin made an interesting comment on Tuesday, saying “(I’m trying to) let everyone know I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.” That was an apparent reference to frequent speculation that Rubin might be used as trade bait because of the surplus at defensive line. Rubin is in the last year of his contract and carries the fifth-highest salary cap figure ($8.175 million) on the team, but he embodies Pettine’s “play like a Brown” mantra as well as anyone.

6. Quick hits: I’m a little surprised there is no extra punter or kicker, not for competition but to avoid overtaxing the legs of Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff … Rookie Joel Bitonio is rock solid at left guard … rookie Chris Kirksey has been very active in the run and pass defense … tight end Jordan Cameron is going to have a bigger year than last season … linebacker Barkevious Mingo looks bigger and much more confident … I interpret the addition of safety Jim Leonhard as Pettine having the roster spot to give a player he truly likes some opportunities on tape to audition for other teams.

 

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

 

 

 

Why Josh Gordon's chances of avoiding an indefinite suspension have greatly improved

Jul 30, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

The Morning Kickoff …

Game on: The “secondhand smoke” strategy employed by the camp of Browns receiver Josh Gordon in its appeal of a possible NFL drug suspension is the legal equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass.

But recent events mostly unrelated to the Gordon case have acted like penalties against, in this case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and have moved the line of scrimmage closer to the end zone.

What once looked like a foregone conclusion – an indefinite suspension of repeat-offender Gordon, first reported on May 9 by ESPN.com – may not be so cut and dried now.

On Tuesday, Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com reported that Gordon’s one positive drug test for marijuana among at least 70 given him through the NFL substance abuse program was barely above the NFL concentration limit of 15 nanograms per milliliter. How barely? How about by one nanogram – one billionth of a gram!

Standard procedure in NFL drug testing is to divide a urine sample into two bottles and test both. Florio reported that Gordon’s “A” bottle tested at 16 ng/ml and the “B” bottle registered a 13.6, which is below the NFL threshold for a positive test.

Taken together, the average of 14.8 ng/ml would be below the positive test threshold of 15.0. But one of the questionable facets of the seriously flawed NFL substance abuse policy essentially states that the “B” bottle must simply show the existence of the tested substance to confirm the “A” bottle result.

Later on Monday, Adam Schefter reported for ESPN that Gordon’s legal team will argue that the lower reading of the two test results support their argument that Gordon was the victim of breathing in secondhand marijuana smoke and that he should not be suspended at all.

A perfect storm: The precise details contained in both reports suggest, to me, that the Gordon camp headed by agent Drew Rosenhaus and hired-gun lawyer Maurice Suh has elected to take Gordon’s case to the court of public opinion to pressure the under-fire Goodell into showing leniency on Gordon.

The strategy, I believe, is rooted in a perfect storm of events that have made it laughably unjust to give Gordon a minimum one-year ban for barely flunking a test for marijuana – even if the players-approved drug program mandates it.

These are the events that may be working strongly in Gordon’s favor:

1. There is an ongoing tug of war between the NFL and players union on the issue of testing for Human Growth Hormone, an easy-to-mask performance-enhancing drug that some believe is prevalent in the sport. Reportedly, the players would agree to it in exchange for loosening the threshold on marijuana testing – something many think is long overdue. Two states have legalized the use of marijuana and a year ago the World Anti-Doping Agency increased its marijuana threshold from 15 ng/ml to 150 ng/ml.

2. Everyone is waiting to see if Goodell will be as tough on Colts owner Jim Irsay as he has been in disciplining players. Irsay was arrested in March on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of prescription pills -- a controlled substance. Goodell’s discipline of Irsay is under the microscope because he has said that owners should be held to a higher standard than players.

3. Goodell has been excoriated inside and outside the NFL for an insanely lenient suspension of two games of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for a physical altercation with his then-fiancée in February. A video of the incident showed Rice dragging the seemingly unconscious victim, now his wife, from an Atlantic City, NJ, casino hotel elevator. Rice pleaded not guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault. He avoided trial through a pretrial intervention program in May. Public outcry has intensified over the league’s insensitivity to the issue of domestic abuse. Goodell has not commented on Rice’s discipline.

All of which has characterized the league’s uneven system of justice as an abysmal failure in need of a total overhaul.

Ball in the air: Does Gordon deserve a minimum one-year suspension for barely testing positive for marijuana? As a multiple offender and participant in Stage Three of the NFL’s shady substance abuse program, the answer is yes.

(Gordon may also be disciplined in the future for a DUI violation in Raleigh, NC, on July 5.)

Rules are rules and these ones were collectively bargained by the players union and league management. In many cases, the league simply treats multiple offenders of drug violations more harshly than serious criminals.

Gordon’s appeal hearing is scheduled for Friday in New York. Goodell may not even be in attendance; he is expected to be in Canton for Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend festivities. Even so, Goodell will be the one to rule on Gordon’s appeal and his decision is final, per terms of the substance abuse policy approved by the players.

There are larger issues at stake here for the NFL, such as the waning integrity of a discipline system careening out of control.

In the court of the NFL, which, critics say, places Goodell as judge, jury and executioner, Gordon’s strategy indeed appears to be a last-ditch Hail Mary pass.

But on the field, you would not doubt the chances of the supremely athletic Gordon coming down with such a pass, would you?

 

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 Training Camp Day 4: Intensity picks up as defense wins again

Jul 29, 2014 -- 2:50pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Notes, quotes and observations on Browns training camp Day 4 …

* Now that’s more like it: Prior to the second practice in full pads, coach Mike Pettine challenged his defense to be more physical. “He said the pads weren’t loud enough, so we need to be more physical and start acting like a championship defense,” said linebacker Craig Robertson. “We want to set a standard and the first day was below standard,” said safety Donte Whitner. And so, the pops were louder – led off by a hit by rookie Chris Kirksey in the first inside run drill – the intensity picked up, the offense didn’t cower, resulting in three player skirmishes, one escalating to a battle royale involving about 20 players. Ultimately, the defense won the day again. Resoundingly. In 7 on 7 and team drills, it had four interceptions (Jordan Poyer, Justin Gilbert, Josh Aubrey and Tashaun Gipson) and when coach Mike Pettine set up a competition at the end of practice, the defense snuffed out the offense from making 20 yards in the best of five plays. The defense won three of the first four plays and celebrated on the field as Pettine called practice short of the scheduled 12:10 end time for the fourth day in a row.

* Orange jerseys are back: The defense earned the right to wear orange jerseys at the next practice on Thursday (following a mandatory off day). Don’t confuse the orange shirts with the new uniforms kept top secret until the ceremonial unveiling in April of 2015. The jerseys signify which unit captured the daily competition at the end of practice. The idea, brought by Pettine from his days under Rex Ryan with the Jets, is designed to hone the mentality of “finishing” a game. “That could’ve been a day where the offense dominated all day and the defense won at the end when it counted,” Pettine said. “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. I think that’s important to realize, that it still comes down to playing at the end.” He doesn’t need to remind everyone, of course. The Browns blew second-half leads in six of their 11 losses last year.

* Fight for the right: Tempers first erupted during a 9 on 9 inside run drill when Ben Tate got frustrated with defenders poking and jostling for the ball well after the whistle. Tate tossed the ball at big Ahtyba Rubin and all heck broke loose. After that skirmish was snuffed out, a larger one ensued as a result of pushing and general orneriness. Ultimately about 20 players had to be unpiled. “It started a couple plays before when one of the other running backs (Dion Lewis) got thrown to the ground (by linebacker Eric Martin),” said Tate. “That’s unnecessary. Next play somebody did something else. Then when I got in, there were some guys beating their chests. I said, well, hold up. That’s not what’s going on. It’s good for us, too. We do have a good defense, but we can’t let anyone bully us.” Later, in a team drill, Lewis again got tossed to the ground and fisticuffs flew between defensive end Armonty Bryant and offensive tackle Martin Wallace. Pettine has preached against being “confrontational,” but he was not overly displeased with the events after all involved escaped without injury. He called it “the price of doing business” when you’re trying to encourage toughness and physical play. “You hate to see it,” he said. “But it’s also teammates defending teammates. I like the fact everybody jumped in, but that can’t be a habit on game day. We’re not going to be clearing benches.” The fact that Pettine is encouraging defensive players to keep prying at the ball as a means of developing a turnover mentality is going to assure more of these, I believe.

* Johnny Who?: It took only four days for Pettine to go through an entire daily briefing without a single question about Johnny Manziel. Nothing on Brian Hoyer, either.

* Taking a look: The Browns signed receiver Marlon Moore, Pettine said, because it needed another body in the rotation at this period of training camp. Josh Gordon will leave the team Friday to appeal a possible league suspension, and Pettine does not want to over-tax veterans who have had trouble in recent years staying on the practice field, such as Miles Austin (30), Nate Burleson (32) and Anthony Armstrong (31). Also, Pettine wants to keep Travis Benjamin and Charles Johnson, each recovering from ACL surgeries, on a pitch count and give them periodic days off. “He’s played some quality minutes in the NFL. We felt to bring him in and help with depth,” Pettine said. Moore, In four NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, Moore, 6-0 and 190 pounds, has 19 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns. The Browns brought in Moore knowing he will have to serve a one-game suspension to start the season – if he makes the team. A source said that Moore’s suspension was for a violation of the personal conduct policy.

Time out: Wednesday is a full off day for players – no practice, no meetings. In the new CBA agreed to in 2011, players receive an off day every fifth day of camp. There is no curfew on Tuesday night. Pettine said players must report back by 10:30 Wednesday night. Pettine previously said that he would have periods of live tackling at Thursday’s practice.

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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