Cleveland Browns Training Camp: Week 1 Stock Report
Now that football is officially underway, it is time to see what guys are actually made of. For months we have made prognostications and predictions about who would shine and who would fizzle. It is time for everyone to put up or shut up.
For the Cleveland Browns, it has been extremely difficult to predict what training camp may hold. There is a new general manager, new head coach, new quarterback and almost completely new complement of offensive weapons. How could anyone accurately imagine what all of this would look like?
Well, no one has to imagine anymore because three days of training camp are in the books, and there is no better time for stock reports than after the first padded practice.
Let’s take a look at whose stock is currently up and whose is falling fast.
Stock Down: Johnny Manziel
At this point it isn’t the partying that is hurting rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. It is the actual play on the field. He just has not looked sharp through the first few days of camp.
Truth be told, this is pretty standard for rookie quarterbacks. It is almost impossible to come into your first training camp and set the world on fire. If a rookie does, it usually says more about the inadequacies of the team’s defense than the quarterback’s offensive prowess.
Either way Manziel is obviously still adjusting to the speed of professional football, and that will take some time. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com wrote on Saturday that even Manziel seemed to feel the pressure of camp starting.
Manziel spent a fair amount of time snapping off his chinstrap and turning in disgust after not-so-good plays.
As the day went on, his body language got worse and worse. A sidearm throw on a rollout that was well short of the receiver. An underthrow into double coverage. The same deep throw Hoyer completed to Gabriel was overthrown badly by Manziel. Another overthrow. Another near interception.
This isn’t the end of the world for Manziel, and it certainly does not mean he has already lost the starting job. What it does, however, is leave the door open for fans, media and the front office to continue questioning just how much time he spent partying instead of studying the last few months.
Over the next two weeks you will see Manziel improve by leaps and bounds. The question will be whether it will be enough to catch Hoyer and actually challenge for that starting spot.
Stock Up: Justin Gilbert
The No. 1 pick whom everyone forgot about is trying to become a little more memorable in training camp. Cornerback Justin Gilbert entered camp behind Buster Skrine on the depth chart, but it did not take long for him to make his presence and intentions felt.
Gilbert is expected to grab the second starting corner job, and it is clear why after just three days of camp. Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Gilbert shined in the first day of full pads.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert picked off Brian Hoyer in one-on-one cornerback receiver drills when he ripped the ball out of Andrew Hawkins' hands. It drew the loudest cheer of the day. Gilbert also broke up two passes, one from Johnny Manziel in 7-on-7s and one from Manziel in 11-on-11s.
Gilbert also returned kickoffs, but coach Mike Pettine said he'll do that only in a "break the glass'' emergency in a game. He joked that special teams coach Chris Tabor finds the idea much more intriguing than he does.
Gilbert looks bigger and more physically imposing than any of the other corners in camp when wearing pads. Mike Pettine loves a big second corner who can be physical at the line of scrimmage, and it is obvious that they got that guy in Gilbert.
Stock Down: Offensive Line
For a good portion of last season, the Browns had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. What seemed to be a strength before the season started quickly became an Achilles' heel.
The Browns tried to avoid a repeat of 2013 by bolstering the line through the draft and free agency. It is a good thing they did because they are already a man down. Jason Pinkston has not been in training camp, and while no one will say much, it doesn’t sound like he will be there anytime soon.
In a joint statement made by the Browns and his agents, they said he was "not medically cleared" to practice, per The Associated Press (via Fox News). Couple that loss with the fact that they have been less-than-stellar so far and that means the offensive line’s stock is falling.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com wrote about the number of sacks the offense would have already given up, and it is not good.
The good news is that the line is a unit built on chemistry. Once Mike Pettine settles on who will start, the players should begin to jell, and their performance should improve. At least, it better improve. Otherwise, it does not matter who wins the starting quarterback job because he won’t have time to throw.
Stock Up: Terrance West
One of the most exciting players in camp so far is rookie running back Terrance West. He was brought in to not only backup Ben Tate, the free-agent running back the Browns signed from Houston, but also challenge him for reps.
Even though the Browns have just one day of practice in pads under their belts, West has shown he is ready for the challenge indeed.
Oohs and aahs from a crowd of 3,702 during the Browns’ first full-squad training camp practice Saturday morning caught the attention of new coach Mike Pettine.
The exclamations were for rookie running back Terrance West and his multiple one-handed catches during receiving drills.
“Each and every day I come to practice, I have to put on a show,” said West, a third-round draft pick. “I have to show everybody in that building they can trust me on Sunday.”
Pettine wasn’t sure he could believe what he was seeing.
“I was a little shocked with Terrance today,” Pettine said. “I had to double-check my roster card to make sure I was looking at the right number.”
That is high praise from a coach and one heck of a way to start off training camp. We will learn more about West during preseason games, but for now, he is doing everything he needs to earn more reps.
The running back position was a mess for the Browns last season, so it is certainly nice to see some positive news in the backfield. If they have two legitimate threats to carry the ball this season, then they will be in a much better spot than most teams in the NFL.
Stock Up: Chris Kirksey
Almost all the scouting reports on third-round draft pick Chris Kirksey said that he was undersized for a linebacker and would be most effective in coverage. Some even said he was more like an oversized safety than a true linebacker.
While Kirksey still needs to prove he can handle the rigors of NFL run defense, he is already showing that coverage should be a breeze for him even at the next level.
Kirksey snagged an interception on Johnny Manziel in 11-on-11 drills Monday and caught the attention of some of his teammates.
“Chris Kirksey, he has it in him. Some guys get it brought out of them,” veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby told Nate Ulrich of The Akron-Beacon Journal. “Certain situations on the field brings that dog out of them, and you like to see that.”
Another reason Kirksey’s stock is up is because of his versatility. While some would view his smaller size as a negative, Pettine and the Browns see it as an opportunity. They will use him in multiple positions and try to best utilize his skills.
#Browns HC Mike Pettine said staff will experiment with rookie Chris Kirksey at OLB. Had been ILB since being drafted in 3rd round.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) June 10, 2014
All in all, it was not a bad start for the linebacker from Iowa. If he keeps making plays and turning heads, he could certainly snag a starting spot from Craig Robertson. It is ripe for the picking.