Cleveland Browns: First Impressions from Training Camp
It is finally time to talk about football being played on the field instead of projections and controversy off of it. No team should be more excited that training camp has started than the Cleveland Browns. After an offseason filled with Johnny Manziel storylines and Josh Gordon uncertainty, it's nice to finally focus on football.
The Browns are looking to change the course of a five-year stretch that has seen just 23 victories. They have not won more than five games in a half-decade. Things need to change, and they need to change fast.
The place where change begins is training camp. This is new head coach Mike Pettine’s first shot at running his own camp, and only time will tell how successful it will be. The one thing that is for certain right now is it's chock full of fun storylines.
Here are five first impressions from Browns training camp.
Hoyer Well Ahead of Manziel
The quarterback battle the entire league has their eyes on is starting out quite lopsided. As expected, Johnny Manziel is not playing on the same level as Brian Hoyer right now. Hoyer has a better grasp on the offense and a much better feel for the speed of the professional game.
It was extremely evident after the second day of camp, according to Scott Petrak of The Elyria Chronicle Telegram.
#Browns practice over. Hoyer wins day by a bunch. Real sharp, Manziel struggled.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) July 27, 2014
Despite a report from Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Browns were “shocked” at Manziel’s partying and that he lost ground to Hoyer because of his offseason, Manizel seems unfazed and determined.
He will have to be a lot better than unfazed over the next two weeks if he wants to win the starting job, however. He has a ton of ground to make up right now.
Defense Ahead of Offense
This one should be no surprise to anyone who has ever watched football, but the Browns defense is currently light years ahead of the offense. This is the norm for most training camps but will be especially prevalent this season for the Browns.
Even though there are new coaches and systems on both sides of the football, defense never changes all that much. On offense, a new language, tons of new personnel and a quarterback competition have slowed the progression through the first few days.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com wrote extensively about how not only have the quarterbacks started sluggish but the offensive line has also been lackluster thus far as well.
On one series directed by Brian Hoyer, sacks where whistled on three of six plays. There was another sack on Hoyer’s next series. In this same sequence, Johnny Manziel’s series ended when he scrambled to avoid a sack, turned to his left, actually looked behind to see if anyone was chasing him, and then whistled a throw on the run, only to be picked off by rookie linebacker Chris Kirsey, who made it a Pick 6.
For now this is really a non-issue. But if this trend continues past the first preseason game, there may be more serious offensive issues at hand.
The Pinkston Mystery
One of the most heated position battles on the field will be at guard. It will also be without one of the top contenders for a starting position. Jason Pinkston has been noticeably absent through the first few days. What is even more mysterious is the way Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer have refused to answer why he is not in camp.
Pinkston followed up their evasiveness with a tweet on Sunday.
I can assure you I'm in no legal trouble & retiring hasn't came up. As far as my situation I'll leave it to them to explain— Jason Pinkston (@JasonPinkstonOL) July 27, 2014
On Monday, the team and Pinkston’s agents issued a joint statement that said little more than he has not been cleared to practice at this time. Pinkston has missed time in his career for blood clots in his lungs, and many fear the worst.
Either way, we do not have much information at this point, and the Browns have one less able body on the offensive line.
The Next Training Camp Superstar?
Each and every year there are a few players who come out of nowhere and look like All-Pro talent during training camp. Most of them never make the team and fade into oblivion. That might not be the case for wide receiver Charles Johnson.
You may remember Johnson’s story from last season. The Browns signed him in October from the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad only to find out he had a torn ACL. The joke was on the Browns, or maybe not.
Johnson is healthy and has impressed during the first few days of training camp. With the obvious void at his position, he has a real chance to make the team and contribute. Johnson is 6’2” with good hands and speed.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com explained on Sunday that Johnson is a guy who may surprise many on the outside but not in Berea.
Browns GM Ray Farmer was the assistant GM last year and had a voice in signing Johnson.
“The easy things (to point to) are all the recognizables right away, that he’s 6-2 ½, 215 pounds … he ran a 4.38 40,” Farmer said. “Those are the easy pieces, but when you watch the tape you like his hands. You like the fact that he can run the routes, and right now it’s a young man that put a lot of work to recovering from an ACL injury. You can see that he’s big. He’s still fast and he can run routes and catch the football.
“I’m really excited for him to get his opportunity. Everybody now is getting a chance to see what we thought about Charles Johnson live.
Josh Gordon Saga Reaching a Boiling Point
The Browns may finally find out the fate of star receiver Josh Gordon. He is scheduled for a hearing about his suspension on Friday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It will be easier for the Browns to formulate a game plan once they know just how long he will be gone.
On Monday, Gordon took his fight one step further and hired a proven commodity to join him in his appeal process.
Josh Gordon has hired attorney Maurice Suh, who helped Richard Sherman win his appeal. Suh will work w/ noted NFLPA attorney Heather McPhee.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 28, 2014
If Gordon can play at all in 2014, it is a win for the Browns. Not only because they need him on the field, but also because they will be able to keep closer tabs on the oft-troubled receiver. Gordon himself even seems to know he has a problem.
ESPN reported he checked himself into rehab for two weeks after his DUI arrest earlier this month, which is a start.
Hopefully he realizes just how close he is to losing what could be a great career. The Browns are hoping he can overcome these issues with them this season.