Cleveland Browns: 5 Things to Watch for at OTAs
With the Cleveland Browns entering their second week of organized team activities, a number of storylines are already emerging.
This new defense is easier to learn, players are saying, and they're loving it, according to Matt Florjancic of ClevelandBrowns.com.
The coaches are emphasizing speed and cardio training, with "a lot of running."
At offensive skill positions, the Browns recognize they've got a lot of youth and continue to bring in competition.
With "99 percent" of the offense and defense installed, the focus now becomes repetition, speed and mastery.
So keeping these things in mind, let's take a look at some stuff to look for as OTAs continue.
Keep an Eye on the Development of Jordan Cameron
The Browns don't get a lot of love for their tight end position group, not from fans in comment forums and not from the media.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot recently wrote that the Browns "really like" Cameron as their starting tight end and "plan to throw to him a lot," having already heaved "a lot of deep balls" his way in OTAs.
Here is the view from ESPNCleveland's Tony Grossi: "Entering his third season, Cameron will be given the chance to blossom as a No. 1 under the new coaching staff. Davis will be the in-line blocker. Barnidge is a low-risk flier with one year experience in coach Rob Chudzinski’s offense in Carolina."
And here is what head coach Rob Chudzinski had to say about it according to ClevelandBrowns.com: "This offense has featured tight ends, and tight ends have always been a big part of it. He has a skill set that fits. He’s had a good couple days. It’s a learning process right now, and he has to keep progressing, but we feel good about him, and where he’s at right now.”
C.H.U.D. and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are known to work some voodoo on tight ends. Keep an eye on how they continue to bring Cameron along.
What's Happening at the 2nd Inside Linebacker Spot?
The linebacker position group has seen some big additions in free-agent Paul Kruger and first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo.
Somewhat lost in the barking about outside linebacker, however, is what's been happening at inside linebacker.
Team leader D'Qwell Jackson obviously has his slot sewn up. But there is a strong competition going on for the second role.
So far in OTAs the Browns have been lining up 2011 undrafted free agent Craig Robertson as the other inside linebacker with the starters, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. But count on 2012 fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson to give him a run for his money.
Johnson recently told the Ashtabula Star Beacon that the new 3-4 scheme is "much easier to learn" than the 4-3 system under Dick Jauron, adding that things were going great.
Robertson told the Akron Beacon Journal that the new defensive scheme is less constrictive.
"You just go make a play. Go find the football. Make the tackle," he said. "We’ll live for another play. Then we’ll make something happen on defense.”
But it's not just himself and JMJ, Robertson noted. "It’s L.J. [Fort]. It’s Tank [Carder]. It’s Adrian Moten. It’s every guy in that room," he said. "It’s not just one guy. So we’re all going to push each other, and we’ve been doing that since day one."
Watch out for how this competition develops.
What Are the Coaches Doing at Free Safety?
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton so far has lined up 2012 unrestricted free agent Tashaun Gipson at the free safety spot, and Gipson seems to be well on his way toward winning it.
GM Mike Lombardi told the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club recently, "Gipson played last year, and he played well for the team. So he’s going to get all the looks," according to DawgsByNature.com.
Meanwhile, the News-Herald reported that Gipson picked off a deep pass over the middle intended for wide receiver Travis Benjamin.
In addition to Gipson, the Browns have Eric Hagg competing for the spot. Hagg showed promise in two training camps with the last regime but struggled to make it translate to actual games.
The Browns have also moved special teams ace Johnson Bademosi over to the free safety position, according to Ohio.com, and drafted Notre Dame's Jamoris Slaughter, who is recovering from an Achilles injury.
The Browns need someone fast to stalk the middle of the field deep. This will be another competition to watch between young players with potential.
How Are Sheard and Mingo Adjusting to Playing OLB?
The Browns have two outside linebackers who have never played the position before, but the team is certainly counting on them.
ESPN Cleveland's Will Burge wrote that two years ago he marveled at the speed of then-defensive end, now-outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard's first step.
"He was so explosive off the snap that it stood out above and beyond anyone else in his position group," Burge wrote. "Now that he is an outside linebacker, his first step is highlighted that much more."
"Unfortunately for Sheard, his first step was not the most impressive in camp. His backup, Barkevious Mingo, was everything he had been billed to be," he continued. "He made Sheard look slow. He exploded toward the line of scrimmage like a sprinter out the blocks in the 100 yard dash."
"Both he and Sheard did not look very comfortable when they dropped back into coverage however."
So they've both got a lot of work to do getting comfortable. While pass rush is no doubt the emphasis for these two, coverage is not something to be taken lightly.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot reported that Mingo "swooped in and knocked a pass away from tight end Kellen Davis," on one play, so he's starting to get there.
Meanwhile, of Sheard, she said, "The Browns believe Sheard will actually be a better pass rusher in this scheme than he was last season."
We know that Sheard and Mingo will have some fun getting after the QB. Keep an eye on how they develop at dropping back though.
New Front Office, New Coaches, What's Different?
Browns fans have seen a plethora of atmospheres in Berea over the last decade. Every coach and front office do things a little different.
With a new owner and new front office regime, changes aren't limited to the practice field.
Grantland's Chuck Klosterman revealed in feature piece that the facility now boasts a "brand new cafeteria," the one aspect of the organization "everyone insists has been truly reinvented."
"For breakfast, you used to just get a greasy breakfast sandwich," he quoted punter Spencer Lanning. "It made you feel worse. Now we have all this great cereal."
Akron's own Klosterman concurred: "The food is borderline delicious. On the day of the draft, they serve prime rib for lunch and crab legs for dinner. It seems curious that the concept of nutrition had never occurred to the Browns until 2013."
Tight end Jordan Cameron even mentioned in an interview on ClevelandBrowns.com, "We’ve got this cafeteria with this new food, so it’s really good to see the changes and see them open-minded about stuff that really benefits the players."
But he didn't stop there. Cameron said there is a whole new energy.
"You can feel it with the players and the coaching staff, and the trainers, and the management. You can definitely feel they want to win," he said. "You can feel they’re competitive, and they’re doing anything they can to give us an advantage or an edge on our opponents.”
New wide receiver Davone Bess said the players are really buying into Coach Chud and his system, according to CBS Cleveland.
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who is on his fourth regime in eight years, agreed.
"Guys are excited," he said. "They’re competing, and that’s what you want to get out of this time of year," according to ClevelandBrowns.com.
This team, these fans, desperately need a total culture change in Cleveland. Tracking the evidence of that will be important to those who are tired of hearing it and want to finally actually see it.