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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

 

 

 

The good and bad of Browns training camp

Aug 31, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

The curtain falls: The third preseason game marks the end of training camp. The Browns went out on a good note, thrashing Tampa Bay, 31-7.

The offense had two long touchdown drives. The defense made Jameis Winston look like a project. The special teams produced a touchdown.

Now there are just a few matters left before preparation for the season opener begins in earnest -- that nail-biting preseason finale in Chicago on Thursday, and roster cuts on Tuesday and Saturday.

So was this a good Browns training camp or a bad one? I counted seven examples on each side of the ledger. You decide which ones weigh heavier.

Good: Josh McCown.

The 36-year-old quarterback took ownership of his new team, earned the respect of the key veterans, and showed he can still spin the ball and run from pressure. He’ll be the 23rd quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999 and the 13th different opening game starter in 17 seasons.

Bad: Injuries to Connor Shaw and Johnny Manziel.

Both were showing improvement in their second training camps, but their injuries set each back. Shaw (thumb surgery) is out for the year and Manziel (sore elbow) has been shut down until further notice.

Good: Travis Benjamin.

Entering his contract year, Benjamin was the most improved returning player as a receiver and appeared to have regained his form as the No. 1 punt returner (in average) among active NFL players.

Bad: Terrelle Pryor.

In one day, he convinced everyone his conversion from quarterback to wide receiver was no joke. But a month-long bout with a strained hamstring has put the experiment on hold as roster cuts beckon. It’s still a coin toss whether he makes it.

Good: Brian Hartline.

Utterly professional, fiercely competitive and inspired to finish his NFL career with his home-state team, he established quick rapport with McCown and himself as a one of the best boundary receivers we’ve seen.

Bad: Dwayne Bowe.

Hand-selected by GM Ray Farmer as the team’s No. 1 receiver, he missed three weeks with a hamstring injury and then suffered one drop and two misses in three targets in his only game appearance.

Good: John Greco.

Tabbed by coaches as the lineman challenged by first-round draft choice Cameron Erving, El Greco never flinched and pushed the rookie to the bench, which only makes the offensive line stronger.

Bad: Duke Johnson.

Big plans for the rookie running back were tabled when he missed three weeks with a hamstring injury and then suffered a concussion in his only game appearance. Two injuries in a rookie training camp are not routinely overcome.

Good: The defense.

Deeper up front, stronger in the back and yearning to reach another level in its second year in the same system, this unit is ready to win. The performance against Tampa Bay whetted the appetite of what it can be.

Bad: Justin Gilbert.

Somehow he managed to inspire less confidence of becoming a player in his second camp than in his first one. When the coaches finally agreed to try bolstering his confidence by letting him return kicks, he suffered a hip injury to derail that endeavor. Oy.

Good: Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper.

Shelton, bursting with energy, has a chance to reverse the bad fortunes of recent No. 1 Browns draft choices, and Cooper could be a gem of an interior pass rusher.

Bad: Barkevious Mingo.

The 2013 No. 6 overall draft pick has been out of sight, out of mind with a knee injury after playing all of 2014 with a shoulder injury. Mingo was drafted by Joe Banner to rush the passer but this regime views him as a coverage linebacker, when healthy.

Good: The kicking competition.

Carey Spear and Travis Coons have not missed a kick in a game and each has consistently dropped kickoffs deep in the end zone. It’s time the Browns groom a strong, young kicker and get off the rent-an-old leg treadmill.

Bad: The running backs.

With Duke Johnson sidelined, second-year backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West were unspectacular and lambasted by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery. To think that this position can carry the Browns’ offense is a pipe dream.

 

####

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 crush Tampa Bay for first preseason win, 31-7

Aug 29, 2015 -- 9:51pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ClevelandBrowns.com

Updated at 10:50 p.m.

TAMPA, FL

The Browns were anxious to see the preseason debuts of receiver Dwayne Bowe, running back Duke Johnson and receiver Terrelle Pryor in their offense on Saturday night.

But those missing elements to the offense were non-factors in the Browns’ 31-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Browns’ first victory in three practice games belonged to quarterback Josh McCown, who engineered two, long touchdown drives in his return to the scene of his nightmare 2014 season; Travis Benjamin, who returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown and caught all four passes thrown to him; and a defensive lockdown on No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback-to-be.

“There’s nothing like winning, and on the road,” said coach Mike Pettine. “The first quarter couldn’t have gone better. And coming out in the second half and scoring was an important drive, a good confidence-builder.”

As for Bowe, Johnson and Pryor – counted on to be integral players in 2015 -- it was a collective night to forget.

Bowe was 0-for-3 on passing targets with one drop. Johnson was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the second pass thrown to him. And Pryor was a late scratch after a pre-game deluge made playing with his hamstring issue more problematic.

Johnson started the game for the Browns but was receiving only sporadic reps. He carried one time for 4 yards and had one catch for 1 yard.

Then on the first possession of the second quarter, McCown put Johnson in harm’s way with a late pass on third down, and Johnson was annihilated by Tampa cornerback Mike Jenkins. The hit knocked Johnson’s mouth guard into St. Petersburg and Johnson into the locker room, where he was evaluated with a concussion.

“That would be the biggest downer of the night,” Pettine said.

That play underscored a bad second quarter for McCown, when he supervised three consecutive three-and-out possessions and was 5 of 10 for 29 yards.

Otherwise, McCown was 12 of 13 on touchdown drives of 80 and 78 yards, tossing TD passes of 3 yards to Brian Hartline and 7 yards to tight end Gary Barnidge.

McCown was relieved by Thad Lewis in the third quarter. For the game, McCown was 17 of 23 for 117 yards. He was sacked once.

McCown played with reckless abandon, perhaps too recklessly with backup quarterback Johnny Manziel idle with a sore elbow.

McCown was tackled hard after keeper runs of 9 and 8 yards converted third downs on the first possession, and was absolutely de-cleated by Tampa linebacker Kwon Alexander in the second quarter while escaping pressure and stopping to scan the field. McCown jumped right up after the hit, as if to show the braying Bucs crowd that he was alright.

Asked what the game showed about McCown’s toughness, Pettine deadpanned, “That he’s foolish.”

Pettine said that McCown’s competitive juices, playing against the team that released him last year, got the better of him.

“I had to grab him a couple times and say, ‘Use your head,’” Pettine said. The coach added that McCown would “definitely not play” in the preseason finale Thursday in Chicago, partly because “that’s another team he’s played for.”

“I’ve been talked to about taking those hits,” McCown said. “But I want to win. I want to do what it takes to keep the offense moving.”

McCown lamented the fact that he never was able to get much going with Bowe, Johnson and Pryor, but, “for the most part, the preseason has served us well. We closed it out the way we’d like to – with a drive and a touchdown.”

Lewis was good in relief, going 4 of 5 for 66 yards. He added a touchdown in the third quarter on a 7-yard keeper. Lewis set up the score with a 48-yard completion to receiver Josh Lenz, who broke behind the Tampa Bay secondary.

If the Browns could preserve one quarter of football as a blueprint of how they want to play the game it would be the first quarter in Raymond James Stadium.

The defense forced a three-and-out on the opening series.

Benjamin took Tampa Bay’s punt, broke to his right to avoid one gunner, then cut upfield and raced 53 yards untouched for the touchdown.

The defense forced another punt in four plays.

The offense ate up 9 ½ minutes on a 16-play drive, culminated by an outstanding boundary catch in the end zone by Hartline, who followed McCown’s stroll to the right sideline to buy time. Hartline’s catch was validated by a Pettine replay challenge that reversed the wrong call on the field.

The defense concluded the quarter with a Charles Gaines interception of Winston with linebacker Chris Kirksey storming in on the NFL’s No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft. Gaines later left the game with a hamstring injury.

“If we can bottle that up, we’ll make a lot of money,” McCown said of the first quarter.

Winston oversaw just one touchdown in eight full possessions. A rare 27-yard net punt by Andy Lee gave the Bucs possession at the Browns’ 45 in the second quarter. Winston connected with receiver Vincent Jackson for 26 yards, and then running back Doug Martin beat the Browns defensive right edge for a 19-yard TD run.

Winston, who had a promising outing last Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals, finished the night 6 of 15 passing for 90 yards. He was sacked four times. The Browns’ defense forced five punts, one turnover and a missed field goal from 43 yards in Winston’s eight possessions.

Desmond Bryant overwhelmed Tampa Bay rookie guard Ali Marpet for 1 ½ sacks and a third quarterback hit.  

Besides Johnson, Browns cornerback Pierre Desir left the game in the second half with a concussion.

After early trouble, the Browns’ running game opened up a bit as the game wore on. Terrance West had 26 yards on seven carries, including one for 17. Isaiah Crowell had 27 on eight carries with a long of 10 yards. Crowell also had two receptions; West had one.

Lenz’s 48-yard reception from Lewis was the only pass play longer than 13 yards.

With Manziel already ruled out of the Chicago game, the Browns will conclude the preseason on Thursday with Lewis and newcomer Pat Devlin sharing the quarterback duties.

Pettine said he hopes to have Pryor available for that game. But we’ve heard that before.

####

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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