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Browns close out preseason with 24-0 loss to Bears and roster decisions looming

Sep 03, 2015 -- 10:40pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Cleveland Browns

Updated at 12:05 a.m.

CHICAGO

With the Browns choosing to rest 31 players in the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears, the night turned into a tale of high-profile receivers Dwayne Bowe and Terrelle Pryor.

With final roster cuts looming, the two under-achievers were at the cross hairs of interesting debates facing GM Ray Farmer and the coaches.

It was the only drama in a 24-0 loss to the David Fales-led Bears in stifling Soldier Field. The Browns closed out their preseason at 1-3.

Prior to kickoff, Bowe’s roster status was a topic of in-house disagreement among the club’s official broadcasters.

Solomon Wilcots, the analyst on the team-produced game telecast, said of Bowe on the club’s official radio pre-game show, “He needs to deliver. After talking to the coaches, he needs to show up tonight to be a part of the 53-man roster.”

The comments ruffled some feathers because Bowe is guaranteed $9 million over the two years of his $12.5 million free agent contract. Cutting Bowe would be an expensive admission of error, sending Farmer off on his four-game NFL suspension on a negative note. The suspension begins Monday at 12:01 a.m.

Within an hour, Nathan Zegura, the Browns’ in-house co-host of their daily radio show and sideline reporter on the very broadcast that Wilcots serves as analyst, took to the team’s pre-game TV show to disavow Wilcots’ comments.

“Dwayne Bowe is not going to get cut. Put that to bed right now,” Zegura declared.

And after the game, coach Mike Pettine responded, “No,” when asked if Bowe was in danger of being cut.

Bowe was on the field for practically all of the team’s 28 offensive snaps in the first half of the game against the Bears. He caught the only pass from Thad Lewis intended for him, for 8 yards. Bowe also received snaps in the third quarter and missed on his only target.

“He needed to play,” Pettine explained of Bowe’s lengthy play time. “There’s no substitute for live game reps. He’d taken so few snaps during training camp, now here we are on the brink of the season and want to make sure that he is as close to game shape as possible, and that's impossible to do when you're inactive."

Bowe said, “I feel good. I’m a playmaker. I make plays when it’s time.”

Pryor, who had been inactive all preseason, did not make his debut until the second half.

On his second snap, Pryor was called for an illegal formation when he covered the tight end at the line of scrimmage. On an ensuing punt, Pryor served as the upback to protect punter Andy Lee.

On the next series in the third quarter, Pryor lined up on second down as the shotgun quarterback and executed a read-option run for 5 yards. Pryor ran another read-option for 4 yards on the next possession.

None of it amounted to anything, of course, but it may be a tip-off of greater things planned in the offense for Pryor.

Pettine said, “We had a list of things we wanted to take a look at with Terrelle. There were a couple timesthat we had some routes called for him and whether it was protection or the quarterback came off too fast, we didn't get a chance to see him a play."

The use of Pryor in the punt formation was particularly interesting. It adds to Pryor's multiple roles.

“Just the versatility,” Pettine said. “He’s a willing blocker, smart, understands it. Just give (special teams coordinator Chris Tabor) some more options. Anytime you have a guy that can run, that can throw it, that can protect, it just changes the mindset defensively. It’s all to be discussed. It’s not just my opinion.”

Pryor was hopeful of his chances, but said, “I don’t know. I don’t know how they count that. It is what it is. I look forward to being on the team though. I really love the city. I know I can help, but it’s not my decision.”

Lewis started the game hot, but his game came apart as the backup offensive line struggled.

Some of the problems were created by Lewis, who held the ball too long on occasion. He was sacked seven times and intercepted once for a touchdown by Chicago safety Sherrod Martin. The intended receiver on the Pick 6 was rookie Vince Mayle, who also was in a fight for his roster life.

Lewis was kindly relieved for good by Pat Devlin in the fourth quarter. Lewis finished 14 of 20 passing for 100 yards. His favorite receiver was Josh Lenz – another receiver fighting for a spot -- who had three catches for 41 yards. Lenz also filled in at safety in the second half.

“Took me back to my high school days,” Lenz said. “ That was interesting. Told me I was going to do that yesterday. I was just trying to do what they asked. They just told me to play in the middle field and read the quarterback’s eyes.

“It’s just a waiting game now. I feel I went out and did everything I could in the preseason. Just have to wait and see how they feel.”

Yet another receiver on the bubble – undrafted rookie Darius Jennings – had three catches for 8 yards, but had one stripped away and Chicago recovered the fumble.

Jennings also had a 54-yard kickoff return wipe out on an illegal block penalty by Mayle. Mayle finally did something positive with a 12-yard catch from Devlin in the final two minutes.

Like Bowe, running back Terrance West received significant playing time, carrying the brunt of the rushing load behind the second offensive line. West ran nine times for 35 yards and had one catch for 16 yards.

Pettine rested Isaiah Crowell, the presumed No. 1 back, and also got Shaun Draughn some reps at running back with a protective covering on his injured left wrist.

The defense also sat first-teamers. The backups were beaten by Fales, the third-string QB who once played for Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo at San Jose State.

Fales might be a person of interest for the Browns if the Bears don’t protect him. He showed good mobility and throwing accuracy in the Adam Gase-coordinated offense.

Fales was 14 of 18 for 131 yards and wasn’t sacked. He had touchdown passes for 19 yards to Marc Mariani, who made a move on over-pursuing cornerback De’Ante Saunders to break away, and a pretty one on the run from 11 yards to Ify Umodu, who got behind safety Landon Feichter in the end zone.

In his post-game remarks, Pettine gave praise to defensive lineman Jamie Meder (four tackles) and safety Ibraheim Campbell (seven). One who didn’t receive a shoutout was veteran lineman Billy Winn (two tackles), who knows he’s on the bubble.

“It’s hard to say (where I stand),” Winn said. “I proved myself in certain aspects. Hopefully, I did enough. I want to finish my fourth year with this team. We’ll see.”

Pettine said meetings to cut the roster from 75 to 53 commence Friday morning. The team has until Saturday at 4 p.m. to announce its moves.

 

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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 Pro Football 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: Is this the night to see Terrelle Pryor on the field catching passes?

Sep 03, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN Cleveland

What: Browns (1-2) v. Chicago Bears (2-1), 8 p.m., Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

TV: WEWS Channel 5 with Mike Patrick, Solomon Wilcots and Andy Baskin.

The set-up: If all goes right, the final preseason game almost instantly becomes the most forgotten of a team’s four exhibition contests. But if something goes wrong, particularly on the injury front, the last game can haunt a team into the regular season. Thus, it is a nerve-wracking night for coaches hoping to get their team into the real season unscathed by injuries. It also is a nerve-wracking experience for the dozen or so players on the roster bubble. Teams must be down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. That means 22 must be cut or transferred to an injury list. Don’t tell the players that this is a meaningless exhibition.

Did you know?: This marks the 12th year in a row the Browns and Bears are meeting in the preseason finale. How does that happen? It used to be that teams had full control over their entire preseason schedule, but that is not the case anymore. Several years ago, the NFL took over scheduling in the preseason, ostensibly to aid its network partners in presenting some favorable matchups for viewing. The league left one game open for teams to schedule themselves. The Browns and Bears entered into an informal agreement to play their last games together. They like it because: 1. Coming from different conferences, they are infrequent opponents in the regular season and play each other only once every four years. 2. They both have natural grass fields, which lessens the chance of injury. 3. The cities are relatively close, which makes the turnaround home easier for the visiting team.

Bears update: With No. 1 pick WR Kevin White out for the year after shin surgery, by the far the most important additions to the Bears this year are the coaches. John Fox takes over as the head coach after taking the Denver Broncos to the playoffs four consecutive years. Fox is one of six NFL coaches to take two teams to the Super Bowl (Panthers, Broncos). He brought with him the architect of the record-smashing offense in Denver, Adam Gase, as Bears offensive coordinator. Gase, a good friend of Peyton Manning, declined an interview for the Browns’ vacant head coaching job in 2014. One player to watch for Browns fans in this game could be David Fales, a second-year quarterback fighting for a roster spot who was recruited to San Jose State and coached one year by Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Fales missed most of training camp with an undisclosed illness, but played sparingly in the Bears’ second preseason game. If Fales doesn’t make the Bears roster behind starter Jay Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen, he could be a player of interest for the Browns.

Browns update: Coach Mike Pettine said that quarterbacks Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel would not play, which means the position will be shared by Thad Lewis and Pat Devlin. Only a few first-teamers will play, Pettine said, without identifying them. The one player everybody is waiting to see on the field is QB-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor, who has missed all three preseason games with a hamstring injury. Last week Pettine said there is a way Pryor can make the team without playing at all, but the former Ohio State and NFL quarterback is expected to finally debut at wide receiver in this game. Other prominent players on the roster bubble who would figure to need a good showing including defensive lineman Billy Winn and rookie wide receiver Vince Mayli.

Injury report: Bears – Among the players not expected to play: WR Alshon Jeffery (calf), WR Eddie Royal (hip), WR Marquess Wilson (hamstring).Browns – Among the players not expected to play:  QB Johnny Manziel (elbow), DB Pierre Desir (concussion), DB Charles Gaines (hamstring), DB Justin Gilbert (hip flexor), RB Duke Johnson Jr. (concussion), LB Nate Orchard (back).

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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 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
 

 

The lesson of the Phil Taylor experience: When will the Browns think offense?

Sep 02, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Closing the books: When the Browns “terminated” the contract of nose tackle Phil Taylor on Tuesday, it closed the books on one of the worst trades in the franchise’s recent history. That’s saying a lot.

In 2011, the Browns owned the sixth overall pick of the first round. This was the second year of the Mike Holmgren regime. GM Tom Heckert was flushing out older players left from Eric Mangini’s two-year reign as coach.

Heckert felt he needed bodies to transfuse the roster for new coach Pat Shurmur. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron needed linemen to convert Mangini’s 3-4 defensive system to a 4-3.

Enter Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, who craved Alabama receiver Julio Jones to pair with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.

The Falcons were thinking offense. The Browns were thinking defense. The Browns are always thinking defense, defense, defense. It’s an offensive league.

Dimitroff offered five draft picks to move up for Jones – first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2011, and first- and fourth-round picks in 2012. Heckert bit.

It seemed like the right thing to do because the Browns are never one player away and are always infatuated with more picks and nose tackles and defense. Anything but touchdowns.

In Atlanta, Dimitroff was excoriated for “selling the farm” for Jones. In four seasons, Jones has developed into one of the NFL’s elite receivers, earning two Pro Bowl appearances. On Aug. 29, Jones was made the league’s highest-paid receiver with a five-year extension for $71.25 million, including $47.5 million guaranteed.

(The Falcons made the playoffs in Jones’ first two seasons, losing the NFC Championship to the 49ers in 2012, but have fallen on hard times the last two years, resulting in a coaching change to Dan Quinn. With Ryan and Jones and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan – who resigned after one year in the Browns’ madhouse -- they are looking to rebound.)

The Browns wanted Taylor to play next to Ahtyba Rubin in the middle of Jauron’s four-man front. To insure that, they gave up a third-round pick to Kansas City to move from No. 29 to No. 21. That third-round pick turned out to be Justin Houston, a rush linebacker who led the NFL in 2014 with 22 sacks.

Anyways, Heckert blew the Atlanta draft pick windfall on Taylor, receiver Greg Little, and fullback Owen Marecic in 2011; and then on quarterback Brandon Weeden in 2012. The fourth-round pick in 2012 was a throw-in to move up one spot with the Browns’ first, first-round pick in ’12 to select running back Trent Richardson.

It gets worse, of course.

In May of 2014, the Ray Farmer-Mike Pettine Browns – two regimes after Holmgren-Heckert -- exercised the team’s fifth-year option on Taylor’s contract, which ultimately guaranteed him $5.477 million for 2015. Taylor would suffer two knee surgeries in 2014, rendering the 335-pounder a veritable glacier – slow and immobile -- in an ever fast-paced game.

The Browns have plenty salary cap room to eat Taylor’s $5.477 million guarantee. But, still.

Knowing Taylor’s days were numbered, the Browns then were compelled to use their No. 1 pick in 2015 on his replacement, Danny Shelton.

So, another nose tackle.

And the treadmill rolls on.

Johnny’s elbow: Johnny Manziel emerged on Tuesday to say that he received assurance from noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews that he doesn’t need surgery on his sore right elbow, that he has experienced elbow tendinitis since his freshman year at Texas A&M, and that he is “sure” he will resume throwing next week and be prepared to serve as Josh McCown’s backup for the opening of the season Sept. 13 against the New York Jets.

“I don’t expect it to go away completely because this is kind of an injury where I will feel a little bit of tightness,” Manziel said. “Your elbow will get sore just from being a quarterback and throwing. That is not anything out of the ordinary.”

So now the Browns have a backup quarterback still “day to day” in recovery from a 73-day stay in a substance abuse treatment center, who has a sore elbow, and is 22 years old, and has never won an NFL game, and is still learning how to read NFL defenses, and is still learning his second offense in two years.

Which begs the question to Pettine: Are you comfortable with that?

“Whoever our two quarterback is – right now we’re hopeful that it’s going to be Johnny – he has to be able to throw,” Pettine said. “We’re not going to roll the dice and go into a game, especially after Josh showed us that he can be a little bit on the reckless side sometimes.

“We’re confident that (Manziel will) be where he needs to be, and like I said before, if we’re not, then we’ll address it appropriately.”

The Browns complete their preseason schedule Thursday in Chicago with Thad Lewis and Pat Devlin handling the quarterback chores.

With roster cutdown to 53 beckoning on Saturday, Farmer and Pettine have to decide whether to keep a third quarterback or add one to the practice squad because of Manziel’s sore elbow.

 “To me, you need to have three quarterbacks on campus,” Pettine said. “If we go with the decision to only carry two on the 53 -- and we have not made that determination yet -- I just think three on campus, three or four on campus, is important.”

Names to watch: Oakland Raiders QB Matt McGloin and Chicago Bears QB David Fales. Both have associations with Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

Local connections: Kicker Carey Spear, of Mayfield High School and the Ohio high school co-record holder with a 61-yard field goal, was waived in the first roster cut.

Spear had made both of his field goals in preseason action, from 47 and 36 yards, and all four of his PATs, but apparently lost his competition against Travis Coons because of producing only two touchbacks on six kickoffs in the three practice games.

“Statistically, it was almost a dead heat, especially when you put all of the practice stuff in,” Pettine said. “I would say that (Coons has) got a slightly bigger leg. Carey was a guy I thought got the ball up in the air a little bit better so you could really compare the kicks, but Travis has a slightly bigger leg, but it was close. It was not an easy decision.”

At the same time, the release of Phil Taylor bode well for Parma Heights native Jamie Meder, who appears to have earned a roster spot as a backup defensive tackle.

“Jamie Meder has stepped up and proven that he can play at a high level in this league,” 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 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Grossi's QB Tracker: Training Camp Week 5

Sep 01, 2015 -- 7:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

The only thing that could stop Josh McCown now from being named the 23rd quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999 is an act of God – an illness, an unforeseen practice injury, a tardy wake-up call, the cancellation of the opener on Sept. 13 because of an invasion of giant locusts in MetLife Stadium.

McCown all but wrapped up a wire-to-wire victory in the Browns’ Quarterback Tracker by completing his preseason in Tampa on Saturday without injury. Not that he didn’t he come close, mind you.

McCown’s “competitiveness” got the better of him in the 31-7 Browns win over the Buccaneers. He was hit hard on two scramble runs for first downs in the team’s first touchdown drive of the game, and he was positively de-cleated at the end of the first half on a pancake sack while caught between scanning the field and running.

While McCown and coach Mike Pettine were able to joke about the hits after the game, they raised a relevant issue: Who is best prepared to take over for McCown if he does go down and doesn’t get up?

Johnny Manziel closed out the preseason with a bum elbow, which enabled Thad Lewis and newly arrived Pat Devlin to share Manziel’s reps in practice and the last two games.

Lewis relieved McCown in Tampa and posted one touchdown in his first appearance of the preseason. He will start in the finale in Chicago on Thursday. Devlin will make his first appearance for the Browns and probably play the entire second half in Chicago.

While Manziel’s sore elbow certainly hurt his development – he needs all the reps he can get – his down time restricted the drama to whether or not Terrelle Pryor will actually play a down of preseason football. Pryor was a scratch in Tampa for the third game in a row because of a strained hamstring.

Josh McCown left Tampa with a big smile, surviving some big hits and producing a fine performance against the team that released him after a 1-10 debacle in 2014.

Thad Lewis showed the coaches he can still be a dependable backup, capable of running the offense professionally and producing some plays if called upon.

Johnny Manziel hasn’t thrown a football since feeling discomfort in his right elbow during practice on Aug. 24. It is not known when he will try to throw again.

Pat Devlin is cramming for his first preseason appearance on Thursday. He is known to have a photographic memory, which will help him assimilate the John DeFelippo playbook.

Terrelle Pryor, presumed to be the emergency quarterback-in-waiting, will try again to coax his ailing hamstring through a short practice week in hopes of making his first appearance of the preseason. His transition to wide receiver is more a rumor than reality.

####

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 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Who's next in line to pick up the Browns' tradition of quality place-kickers -- Carey Spear or Travis Coons? Or will it be another retread?

Sep 01, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Cleveland Browns

The Morning Kickoff …

Getting their kicks: Let’s talk Browns kickers.

“It is close,” coach Mike Pettine said on Monday of the competition between Carey Spear, of Mayfield High School, and Travis Coons.

Both are in their second NFL training camps and have never kicked in a regular-season game. Spear was with Philadelphia last year and Coons with Tennessee.

This is how close it’s been. Neither has missed a kick. Each has handled six kickoffs with similar results.

Spear is 2 of 2 on field goals with makes from 47 and 36 yards and is 4 of 4 on PATs, which now are from the 33-yard line after the NFL rule change.

Coons is 1 of 1 on field goals, making from 41 yards, and is 3 of 3 on PATs.

Spear has two touchbacks on six kickoffs. Three of his four returned have reached 2 yards deep in the end zone. The other was at the goal line. Coons has four touchbacks in six kickoffs. The two returned landed at the 4 and the goal line.

Rosters must be reduced to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and it’s possible that one of the kickers won’t survive this first cut.

“We still have (nine) moves to make to get to 75,” Pettine said. “We are going to get together (Monday night) to make the decision as to whether or not we can still carry two or whether we are going to have to make a decision here quickly.”

Here’s the kicker: Whomever survives the roster cut isn’t a lock to open the season as the Browns’ kicker. A veteran pickup after roster cuts still is possible, though less so than when camp opened.

Give youth a chance: The Browns haven’t trusted an untested kicker since Phil Dawson made the expansion team as a first-year free agent in 1999.

Back then, first-year coach Chris Palmer informed Dawson, “We’re starting with you.” Not lost on Dawson was the realization that Palmer didn’t exactly have faith in Dawson sticking very long. We’re starting with you.

It turned out, of course, that Dawson not only lasted for 14 years, he became the franchise’s best player for many of them. When the expansion-era Browns finally utilized a franchise tag, it was used on Dawson; twice, in fact.

In 2013, Dawson left in free agency – after the Browns declined to offer him a contract – as the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals and just 78 points shy of Hall of Famer Lou Groza’s franchise scoring record.

The Browns replaced Dawson with veteran retreads Billy Cundiff, Shayne Graham and Garret Hartley. In May, the Browns waived Hartley to concentrate on a kicking competition between Spear and Coons, whom they signed after a joint tryout in December.

Pettine said he will rely on special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to make this call, but he is not apprehensive about heading into the season with an untested, rookie kicker.

“I have seen rookie kickers come in this league and be very successful,” Pettine said. “I am not concerned about that.

“I think the competition has really been great for both of them as far as working under pressure, knowing I have a guy right next to me that is ready to take the job if I miss the kick.

“Those guys have been dealing with NFL-type pressure now since the day we moved on from Hartley and they knew it was essentially a two-horse race. We have been very open with them about there were not going to be any winner by default. Our kicker could be outside the building. Those guys have both kicked well and have done a nice job handling the pressure.”

Contrasting personalities: Spear and Coons come from different worlds.

Spear is a native of Mayfield Heights who developed a love of country music while attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and can speak Mandarin Chinese, partially due to the fact his mother is of Chinese descent.

Spear co-holds the Ohio high school record with a 61-yard field goal and grew up idolizing Dawson, whose No. 4 he proudly wears.

Coons is a SoCal surfer and skateboarder and Jim Carrey lookalike, and former teammate of Danny Shelton at University of Washington. Like this summer so far, Coons didn’t miss a kick in the Tennessee Titans’ camp last year but was cut when new coach Ken Whisenhunt opted to trust a veteran pickup, Ryan Succop.

“And that’s paid off pretty good for them,” Coons said. “After the fact, it made sense. New head coach coming in and bringing in a really good vet makes sense. At the time, I was a little mad at it, but now I totally understand it.”

Coons has that LaLa-land attitude about the competition with Spear.

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s really a competition between me and Carey,” he said. “It’s a competiton against myself. If I make my kicks, I’ll be fine. If he makes his kicks, he’ll be fine. We’ve both done that so far. In the end, it’s all on what the Cleveland Browns want.”

Given the uncertain state of the Browns’ offense, the next kicker looms large, as ever. Dawson was golden for a franchise that struggled to achieve first downs, much less touchdowns, since it was reborn.

But even before expansion, kickers in Cleveland have been legend. Groza … Don Cockroft … Matt Bahr … Matt Stover. Dawson connected with them. Now it’s time for the next generation. Spear or Coons?

 

####

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 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Mike Pettine: Browns not in market for running back in 'this week'

Aug 31, 2015 -- 4:53pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

No names, please: Mike Pettine slammed the brakes on reports that the Browns are on the verge of signing Ray Rice or Fred Jackson or any other available running back with some association with him. Pettine expressed frustration with the national narrative on Monday linking (again) the Browns and Rice. When Pettine was asked about Jackson, who was released by the Bills on Monday, Pettine snapped, “I don’t want to get into being hypothetical … Let’s talk about people that are here. We throw names out … I didn’t give a name out the other day and now it’s ‘I’m not ruling people out,’ so … We’re aware of who’s available, I’ll leave it at that.” In truth, the Browns’ upcoming roster decisions at running back are clouded by the injury situations with Duke Johnson (concussion) and Shaun Draughn (hand). Johnson did not appear on the field for a light workout on Monday and is in concussion protocol. Draughn is practicing. Pettine said plans for adding a running back are on hold. “The immediate future for this week, we are not (looking for a running back),” he said. “Still in wait and see. Duke, obviously, was not out there today. We’ll wait.”

Don’t count Draughn out: Draughns was a workhorse the first week of camp. When he suffered an injury to his left hand, running back coach Wilbert Montgomery gushed about Draughns’ value as a veteran mentor to the other backs. Draughns has slowly worked his way to the practice field wearing a cast on the hand. He received a few reps on special teams in the Tampa game. Pettine said “there’s a chance” Draughns will receive some reps handling the ball as a running back Thursday night in Chicago. So it appears that Draughns is still in the picture as a keeper. “We have a lot of information already on Shaun,” Pettine said. “Whether he plays or to what extent he can play, I don’t think that will be a determining factor on the final evaluation of the roster. We had him end of last year, through the offseason. We know who he is. When things settle down from Thursday night, we’ll have enough information to make a decision.”

Welcome back: It was a light practice, barely more than a walk-through. For that reason, several players returned from idleness, such as: Cornerbacks K’Waun Williams and Robert Nelson, nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, receiver Terrelle Pryor and linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Mingo had not been seen on the field since having arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 6 to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. “That was encouraging to see that he truly is on pace to be back potentially for Week 1,” Pettine said. “It feels good to be back out there moving around with the team. I’m so happy to get out of the trainer’s room,” Mingo said. Asked how far behind he has fallen, Mingo said, “I think that falls back on players when injured to get better in the meeting room, prepare as if you’re going into the game. I’m out here every day to just to make sure I can play if called to. That’s a decision on the coaches and trainers. It’s two weeks away. If I had my choice, I’d be out there. We’ll see how everything progresses in the coming weeks.” Mingo said the injury happened on a play in practice. “We caught it fast, fixed it fast and recovered fast … hopefully.”

Big Phil: Nose tackle Phil Taylor received his first playing time of the preseason in Tampa. Pettine was glad to see it, but Taylor’s availability is still a question mark. “I don’t (know when he’ll be able to contribute),” Pettine said. “That was a pretty serious knee injury and those things take time. I just don’t have an answer.”

Quick hits: Quarterback Johnny Manziel is still in the mode of resting his sore elbow. “I don’t know when he’ll throw again,” Pettine said. “He’s on the training room protocol. There’s not really any update on Johnny.” … Pettine confirmed that Thad Lewis will start the Chicago game and newly signed Pat Devlin will finish. Picking up the Browns’ playbook shouldn’t be a problem for Devlin, a source said, because of a “photographic memory.” Pettine quipped, “I have not heard that, but he’s a Philly kid so that wouldn’t surprise me.”

####

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 Pro Football 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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