Cleveland Browns: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
One full week of training camp is in the books and the Cleveland Browns are still a giant question mark. The roster has plenty of talent, and it seems like the product on the field will be improved, but there are so many new parts it is hard to tell for sure.
Head coach Mike Pettine has his fingerprint all over this team already. That is a good thing. The true test will be if the losses start to pile up. That is when a coach’s influence over a roster is truly tested.
The quarterback competition is tight and unimpressive to this point. While Brian Hoyer seems decisively ahead of the field, he has still been very underwhelming. Neither he nor Johnny Manziel has flashed the brilliance the organization wants to see just yet.
It is amazing what one can learn in just six days of training camp. Let’s take a look at what is evident after the first week.
Offense Is a Work in Progress
Like most teams early in training camp, the Browns defense is well ahead of the offense. The defense dominated Mike Pettine’s first two competition periods and has made the quarterbacks look like guys who just started in a new system.
The defensive line dominated the offensive line throughout the first week and would have racked up impressive sack totals on both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. The secondary has found themselves running the other way with interceptions on numerous occasions as well.
The Browns, fortunately, have five more weeks to get this offense fixed. Either that or the defense is really, really good.— Jeff Schudel (@jsbrownsinsider) August 2, 2014
The difference between the two sides of the ball is not only obvious but glaring. The offense has miles to catch up before they can sniff the level of play the defense is maintaining. Luckily for the Browns, the offense usually makes its biggest jump through the second and third weeks of camp.
Front Office Knows They Still Need Help
At least the Browns front office is not in denial about their offensive issues. Like any good NFL franchise, the team should jump at any chance to improve their roster. The Browns did this twice last week.
First, the team announced that they had signed wide receiver Marlon Moore, who will reportedly miss the first game of the 2014 season due to suspension. Moore had just seven receptions for 62 yards with San Francisco and Miami last season.
They also added injured offensive tackle Michael Bowie from Seattle after claiming him off waivers. Bowie started eight games for the Super Bowl champions last season but will be sidelined for an extended period with a significant shoulder injury.
Many around the league feel like claiming the 22-year-old was a good move for the long-term offensive line picture in Cleveland.
Michael Bowie has a bright future if he's healthy. VG athlete with guard and right tackle upside. #Browns— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 3, 2014
Manziel Needs Time to Adjust
Lost in all the Manziel hype and circus is the fact that he is still a rookie. And it is certainly not breaking news to anyone that rookies need time to adjust to the NFL.
Obviously Manziel has some adjusting to do off the field as well, but on the field is what’s most important. The speed of the game is something he is really struggling with right now. Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com described his play as “frantic” in the team’s scrimmage on Saturday.
Everything seemed frantic for Manziel – his escapes from pressure, his designed runs, his few completions off sprint-outs or moving out of the pocket, after which he’d fire the ball through tight windows. Sometimes the receivers couldn’t hold on – Charles Johnson dropped a wicked fastball just inside the goal line from the 4. Sometimes they did – Gary Barnidge made a nice catch in the right corner but appeared not to get both feet in. A rare sight was Manziel in a conventional dropback; he did complete one of 14 yards to Snead from the pocket.
It is clear from watching practices that Manziel is still thinking about plays, formations and receiver locations and not just reacting as he normally would. The sooner he has that playbook committed to memory the sooner we can see exactly what he can do in a Browns uniform.
QB Competition Won't Be Decided Anytime Soon
If you were hoping to know who will start in Pittsburgh Week 1 as soon as possible, then you will be disappointed. This one will go all the way down to the wire.
Head coach Mike Pettine said earlier in camp that he wants to name the starting quarterback before the third preseason game. That means by August 23 we will have an answer. That leaves 19 more days for someone to grab hold of the job.
Brian Hoyer, while being firmly ahead of Johnny Manziel, has not been impressive. For lack of a better description, he has looked like a backup quarterback. Just like Manziel, he too is still learning the system.
Manziel, on the other hand, looks like a rookie who is nowhere near ready to start. The coaching staff is admittedly hoping someone makes their decision easy.
"I don't think one is any further in front than the other," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told the media after practice last week, adding:
Hopefully, as these practices go, one of them will make the decision easy on us...One will just take off and start playing really well. Usually that answer becomes pretty easy. If they make it tough, I hope it's because they're both playing really well.
Despite what Shanahan said, the only thing we know for sure about the quarterback competition is that it would be scary to start either one in a meaningful NFL game right now. Luckily there is still a ton of time left in camp.
There May Be Good News in the Gordon Situation
The pending Josh Gordon suspension has been looming over the Browns since they started camp. No one knows for sure what to expect. Last week a report surfaced that Gordon might not be doomed for the 2014 season.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter (h/t Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports), Gordon’s defense team is claiming that he only had a failing test in one of his two samples, and the one failed test was because of second-hand smoke. They are hoping that the backlash from Ray Rice’s two-game suspension will help push the arbitrator in their favor.
Gordon’s appeal lasted 10 hours on Friday, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Even that was not enough to resolve the situation as the hearing will resume this afternoon.
The appeal hearing of #Browns WR Josh Gordon is scheduled to resume at about noon today, a source said.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 4, 2014
So while there is a possible light at the end of the tunnel, we still don’t know exactly what the outcome will be. We should learn that in the next few days, however.
Pettine Loves Competition
When the Browns finally settled on the defensive-minded Mike Pettine as their head coach, no one really knew what to expect. It doesn’t matter how a coach was his entire career; taking over the top spot on a team is a totally different ballgame.
So far, however, Pettine has stayed within himself and brought the intensity and competition the front office had hoped.
Pettine introduced “competition periods” to training camp this year. The very last portion of practice each day pits the offense against the defense and the winner gets to wear orange practice jerseys the following day. The team has really responded.
“You understand that something is on the line. One play can cost you the football game. It kind of gives you that feeling a little bit,” Safety Donte Whitner told the media after practice last week. He went on:
Coming out as a defense and responding the way that we did is a good first step, but that’s all it is – a first step. If we can come out [Thursday] and do the same thing…then we’ll start to do something.
One day is OK, but we’ve got to put a string of them together.
This camp has also already featured full tackling to the ground. That is something that has not been seen in Cleveland since Eric Mangini was the head coach. There have also been quite a few fights throughout camp. Pettine loves the team getting fiery.
So does anyone who has had to watch bad football over the last five seasons.
Defense Is High-Intensity
Watching practice in Berea is sort of like watching a defensive pep rally. As I said earlier, the defense is light-years ahead of the offense at this point. They have also dominated the competition periods thus far.
And the defense is making sure the offense knows about it.
After just about every play the defense celebrates, cheers, hollers and chest-bumps like they just made a game-winning play. It has led to quite a few skirmishes in camp but has also given the defense an identity.
"When we talk about the kind of team we want to be, you have to practice that way and that is hard, that's difficult," Mike Pettine said after practice last week, adding:
I can't tell that lie that we can be a certain way on a practice field and carry it over on the game field. There are going to be times when it does boil over. And you don't want one side of the ball to get bullied by the other. There has to be some push back....You look at that and it's the price of doing business.
Pettine is trying to use the defense to set the tempo and tone for the team. The offense has yet to reciprocate.
This Isn’t Your Grandpa’s Training Camp
The Browns training camp has made a huge transformation over the last two seasons. Last year they added food trucks, a midway type area with games and activities for kids and a two-story, corporate VIP area equipped with bar and buffet.
This season fans have to register to attend camp and can even ride a zip line over the field on designated days. That's right, a zip line over the practice field.
The NFL has changed over the last decade into a spectacle and not just a sport. The Browns are finally catching up to that notion. While the added attention has created parking issues for fans (and media), it is a small price to pay to be a part of the experience.
The days of sitting quietly and watching the punters practice are long gone. Now there are Manziel chants and heart-pounding sky rides across the facility—just the way the NFL wants it.
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