Cleveland Browns Who've Turned Heads During OTA's
There is no better time than OTAs to start making an impression on coaches. Sometimes those impressions are good, and sometimes they are bad. For the Cleveland Browns players who are competing for starting spots, this time is extremely important.
With the OTAs in the books and mandatory veteran minicamp set to begin, the stage is just about set for the Browns to start training camp. There are just three more days to impress the coaches before the players get some time off and training camp beings.
As we get ready for the most pivotal part of the offseason, let’s take a look at who turned heads during OTAs. Some were for good reasons, some were for injuries, and others were for off-the-field occurrences.
When the Browns signed wide receiver Andrew Hawkins away from the Cincinnati Bengals with an offer sheet, there was quite a bit of optimism. While he only played eight games and caught just 199 yards' worth of passes last season, the Browns know all too well what Hawkins can do on the field.
In 2012, Hawkins caught seven passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Browns. That is some extremely efficient production.
Through OTAs, Hawkins showed flashes of his 2012 form with good hands and blazing speed. What has impressed his teammates more, however, is the pace at which he practices.
“The one guy I like more and more every day I work with is Andrew Hawkins,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said, per Nate Ulrich of The Akron Beacon Journal. “The guy runs his routes so hard. It reminds me a lot of my time in New England with Welker, where the guy runs every route to win. He’s going full blast.”
That is an extremely lofty comparison, but Hawkins has the potential to put up big numbers if he is healthy in the right offense.
Even the cornerbacks have taken notice. Rookie Justin Gilbert said he would rather check Josh Gordon, the NFL’s leading receiver, than Hawkins.
“He’s out there making plays every day,” Gilbert said of Hawkins. “I’d rather guard Gordon than him. He’s so little and quick. Those guys are hard to get a handle on.”
Last year, former Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton attempted to convert Jabaal Sheard from defensive end to outside linebacker. Early in the year, the transition looked like a genius move.
Sheard lost weight and was showing flashes throughout the preseason. He then tallied 1.5 sacks in the first three games before going down with an injury. He returned from injury in Week 7, but it took until Week 12 for him to find his productivity again.
This year, Browns head coach Mike Pettine thinks Sheard can be a key contributor.
"@Welcom2Jamrock Jabaal Sheard to play more LB or DE // LB. Pettine told me he has big plans for Sheard.
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) June 4, 2014
Sheard looked healthier, more athletic and more confident throughout OTAs. He is the type of player who could dominate at his position if he is consistently asked to attack the backfield instead of drop into coverage.
Pettine is expected to do just that with the fourth-year pass-rusher out of Pitt. If Sheard stays healthy, he could end up having a huge year in this defense.
It is nearly impossible to talk about turning heads without mentioning Johnny Manziel’s name. Since the conclusion of OTAs, Manziel has been spotted partying on a swan in Austin, Texas, for the X Games and taking in the action of the NBA Finals while wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers hat.
Some of the attention off the field was not his doing, however. The San Diego Padres decided they would join Manziel Mania and drafted the Browns quarterback in the 28th round of the MLB draft. While this was an obvious attention grab, it still made national headlines.
Everything the kid does, or sometimes doesn’t do, makes news.
On the field, Manziel flashed some of the abilities that forced the Browns to trade up to the 22nd pick and select him. Despite throwing some interceptions in OTAs, he consistently made jaw-dropping throws down the field.
Manziel with the play of the day. He rolled right and completed a deep pass to Cameron on the left sideline— Jeff Schudel (@jsbrownsinsider) June 3, 2014
It seems as though even Hoyer is feeling the heat. He sees Manziel taking some of his reps and does not like it one bit. The Browns are bringing Hoyer back slowly, but that does not mean he is happy with it.
Per Nate Ulrich of The Akron Beacon Journal:
You never want to see someone else doing your job. That’s the biggest thing for me. I feel I’m ready, and I know a lot of people who come back from this injury talk about the mental aspect. I think I’ve conquered that months ago. So I know [the coaches and medical staff] emphasized it’s the best thing in my interest and for the team, but as the competitor in me, I want to be out there with my guys, calling the plays and running them.
Ever since the Browns traded up to select running back Terrance West in the third round of the draft, there has been speculation that he could challenge free-agent signee Ben Tate for the starting position. He has done nothing to dispel that notion as of yet.
West has the look of a starting running back in the NFL, and his running style should fit nicely in a zone-blocking scheme. One-cut runs are kind of his thing.
"That's where I get my money at," West told Tom Reed of Cleveland.com. "I was doing that at Towson. I'm pretty good and confident in what we're doing."
It is really tough to judge running backs before preseason games. Right now, they are not wearing pads, and there is no tackling. Until they face opponents from another team, it’s almost impossible to see who has the edge.
The important thing for West is that he is still in the discussion to start. That means he has a shot, and that also means the Browns will have competition at an important skill position.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com says that in the long run, West has more to offer the Browns than Tate does: "Competition concerns are legitimate but based strictly on traits to fit the zone-blocking system, West has the higher upside and could quickly overtake Tate as the Browns' feature back."
Finally, it is time to talk about a player who turned heads in OTAs for the wrong reason. Rookie guard Joel Bitonio did not play poorly. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
He was a legitimate candidate to start at either guard position and probably was on the fast track to doing so. That was until he left OTAs with a sprained ankle.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com wrote that not only did Bitonio leave practice with an ankle injury, but he won’t be returning for quite some time:
"Bitonio, a starting candidate at either guard spot, suffered what is believed to be a high ankle sprain at OTAs last week and will be shut down until training camp. The biggest battle is at right tackle between Schwartz, Faulk and McQuistan."
This won't hinder Bitonio too much if he can return for the start of camp, but if this injury lingers, it could keep him from truly competing for a starting job.