Browns: 5 Things We Learned from Cleveland's OTAs
The Cleveland Browns concluded Organized Team Activities (OTAs) last week with a number of things to be optimistic about but also a number of legitimate concerns looking toward minicamp this week and training camp which begins late next month.
Team leaders on the defense are praising new coordinator Ray Horton and his aggressive, attacking-style scheme. Major questions still linger, however, about the team's secondary.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has displayed fire during OTAs, and hopes are running high that his playcalling and the innovation of head coach Rob Chudzinski will translate into a respectable showing for a young offense.
But can Cleveland really count on so many young players to all take the big strides necessary for the Browns offense to be dynamic and explosive?
Let's take a look at these questions and more as we examine what we've learned so far from OTAs.
1. Players Are Excited About Horton, but the Team Lacks a Clear No. 2 Cornerback
"Ray Horton is so smart in what he does — he thinks outside the box,” proclaimed team leader D'Qwell Jackson in the Elyria Morning Journal Saturday.
Jackson has repeatedly been quoted showing excitement about the Browns' new scheme under Horton, and getting to attack some of the other teams in the AFC North like they've been attacking the Browns over the years.
But while the front seven is going to get busy going quarterback hunting, the Browns' secondary still has some big questions lingering following OTAs.
For the No. 2 cornerback position opposite Joe Haden, the battle has no clear-cut favorites.
It's a competition between three players all under 5'10": Chris Owens at 5'9, Buster Skrine at 5'9 and rookie third rounder Leon McFadden at 5'9 and 5/8.
Owens has been running with the first team D for the past three weeks, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Skrine got the slot, which was the best fit for him last year, while McFadden has been going with the second team.
This competition will really heat up in training camp later this summer.
But Browns fans are still left to wonder whether the No. 2 cornerback slot will be a weak point for opponents to continually jab throughout the 2013 season.
2. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner Is Willing to Get Worked Up
Norv Turner will get angry. Norv Turner is not afraid to show it. Norv Turner got heated during OTAs.
Last week the Akron Beacon Journal noted, "Turner chewed out second-string quarterback Jason Campbell for not throwing to running back Dion Lewis in an 11-on-11 drill, and he ripped undrafted rookie wide receiver Mike Edwards for failing to run the correct route during the same play. It didn’t take long for Turner to follow his profanity-laced rant with another aimed at first-team quarterback Brandon Weeden for a much less obvious reason that had something to do with the way he handled a certain call."
This Browns offense is young and they need the pressure of fierce urgency.
The days of coaches shaking their heads woefully on the sideline should be over. These fans are crawling out of their skin for a winner and aren't interested in another audition and evaluation year, even though that's basically what 2013 is for the offense.
These players need to know that they have to get this going or they're toast. A strong, fiery coach can sear that in.
The Quarterback Position Is Far from Settled
Second year pro Brandon Weeden has been getting all of the first team reps, but that doesn't mean Jason Campbell won't continue to push him throughout the summer, vying for the top spot.
Take this, for instance, from the Canton Repository's Steve Doerschuk: "I seem to see Brandon Weeden underthrowing receivers more often than he ought to. I don’t seem to see Jason Campbell underthrowing receivers at all."
While QB controversy is well-known to Browns fan, this looks to at least be a valid QB competition going on in Berea. As long as the coaches don't pull a Mangini and wait until the last possible moment before naming their guy for sure, they'll be in a healthy spot.
Training camp will render the decision out, and Weeden is still certainly the favorite at this point, but make no mistake: there is a competition here.
The Coaches Are Switching Guys Around Looking for Best Fits
One thing that stands out among these coaches, especially Ray Horton on defense, is the willingness to switch things around and line guys up at different places to see how they work.
“It’s athletic men playing. We’re trying to let athletic men find a place to play," Horton was quoted saying by ESPN Cleveland.
They've moved former cornerback Johnson Bademosi over to free safety. They've had Buster Skrine playing deep free safety. OLBs Jabaal Sheard and No. 6 overall draft pick Barkevious Mingo have lined up on both sides, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
In his first press conference in Cleveland, Horton talked about using multiple fronts, meaning OLBs like Sheard may find themselves with their hands in the dirt.
One big question on Browns fans minds is if and how often Shear, Mingo and No. 1 FA acquisition Paul Kruger will all find themselves on the field at the same time.
"He doesn't have a blueprint. He likes to mix it up a little bit," MLB D'Qwell Jackson was quoted saying by the News Herald. "It's going to be harder for offenses to game plan for us."
Special Teams Competitions Rage on
Cleveland Browns Special Teams coach Chris Tabor lost both a Pro Bowl kicker and Pro Bowl kick returner this offseason.
What happens now remains largely unknown.
The Browns have brought in veteran kicker Shayne Graham to compete with University of Georgia rookie Brandon Bogotay.
The hometown reporters have been all over the map on how that competition is going.
From the Canton Repository: "Brandon Bogotay is attempting some of the field goals, sharing work with Shayne Graham. There is less than a zero percent chance Bogotay, who was on the Georgia roster but was not the field goal specialist, will win that job. At least, given that background, how could he?"
But then again, ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi tweeted this in response to a question about whether Bogotay will have a shot at the spot: "Not etched in stone. Bogotay will compete."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer was more declarative with, "Brandon Bogotay will be dueling Shayne Graham for a Browns' open kicking pursuit this fall."
But the one thing everybody knows, regardless of who wins the spot, is that Browns fans will be sure to bemoan the loss of Phil Dawson to the 49ers as soon as whoever it is has his first miss.
As for replacing Josh Cribbs, who is now a Raider, on kick and punt returns, the Browns have been experimenting with WR Travis Benjamin, CB Buster Skrine, FS Johnson Bademosi and RB Dion Lewis, according to the Dealer.
Tabor used multiple guys during his years with Chicago before coming to the Browns.
"That's what we want to get to here, developing a bunch of guys," he told the Dealer. "I just don't need that one guy."
Preseason games will go a long way toward determining who does what.