CLEVELAND — Brandon Weeden stepped back and delivered a strike to Davone Bess downfield in the seam during the team scrimmage portion of practice during Family Night at FirstEnergy Stadium in front of 24,131 fans. The scenario played out on several occasions during the practice and culminated with a touchdown to Bess in team drills inside the red zone from seven yards out.
Browns fans might want to get used to that this season.
The case could be made that the Browns haven’t had a consistent go to third-down receiver since the days of Joe Jurevicius in 2007 when Derek Anderson had a Pro Bowl season. Rob Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator that season and the Browns are hoping that Bess can fill that role with the Browns now as Chudzinski returns as head coach.
Bess was acquired in a draft day trade from the Dolphins, and he has been the 14th-most productive receiver in the NFL since 2009. He has 321 receptions for 3,447 yards, including 12 touchdowns in his career. His best season was in 2010 when he had 79 receptions for 820 yards. Last year, Bess had 61 catches for 778 yards.
“Going back with Davone, what a great pickup for us,” Chudzinski said after the Family Night practice. “I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s done both on the field and off of it in terms of example and the leadership he’s set.
“He’s able to get open it seems like every play,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
Bess came into the NFL with little fanfare as an undrafted free agent from Hawaii,. Recently, Greg Little and Bess swapped numbers, even though Little had worn 15 for his first two NFL seasons.
“I wasn’t going to press him about it,” Bess said. “I respect him for coming to me to see if I wanted it. I wasn’t going after him about it. He actually asked me if I wanted it and we started talking.”
There was a reason Bess ended up wearing the number he had worn throughout his career with the Dolphins. Bess wore 18 in the June minicamp. The number reminds him where he came from.
“From the time I came into the NFL, (15) was the number (assigned me) when I came in as an undrafted rookie and really having to dive in and come through the hard route,” he said. “It’s actually deeper than just a number. It’s more of a story of where I came from and where I’m at today.”
Bess brings a unique perspective to the receiving corps.
“The more and more you play, the more comfortable you get with it,” he said. “The more reps you get the more second nature it becomes. I was fortunate enough to play for June Jones in Hawaii so he would actually teach us from the quarterback’s perspective how to find the soft spots in the zone and how to read coverages in the run. It came pretty natural as I got into the league, and now I just want to help as much as possible and spread my experience to every else.”
Bess likes the mix of Browns receivers with Little, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin and the others. He feels they all complement each other well.
“I think we are all different,” he said. “I think we all bring a different element to the game. Like I said before, on paper, I think we have everything – speed, we got size, we got guys who can make plays catching the ball. We just have to gel together. The more and more reps we have together, we can get on with Weeden and the other guys, the greater we will be. We’re not where we want to be but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Bess thinks the Browns should be able to create mismatches.
“That’s a big part of the mismatches and I think that’s where we can have to our advantage if we can continue to hone together and work,” he said. “We see the potential every day, but we have to go get it because nobody is going to just hand it to us.”
Bess thinks he’ll be able to be a big help to the Browns offense.
“I’m just trying to hone in on the offense even more,” he said. “Any time you’re dealing with something new, you just have to continue to beat it in your head. That way, when game time comes, it becomes second nature.”
The Browns have needed a veteran receiver’s presence for some time and Bess feels he can help the younger receivers.
“At the end of the day, all of our guys are pros and me personally, I’m not the type to step on toes, but I’m more of a leader by example,” he said. “I like to show how I can help whether it’s in the meeting room or on the football field or even in life. We all have things that we go through unfortunately, but I’ve always reached out to them (if need be).
“We’re pretty tight and those guys are doing a pretty good job both on and off the field,” he said. “We have to continue to stay together, stay healthy and keep rocking.”
Bess thinks he and Weeden are getting a good chemistry down.
“Brandon is solid,” Bess said. “He’s doing a good job of retaining the information. Like I said, we’re all in this thing together. We’re grinding. We’re not where we want to be. There are some ugly plays here and there by all of us but we just have to clean them up, come back and try to not make the same mistakes all over again.”
Weeden said after practice he already can see how consistent Bess is.
“(Bess) is going to be someone I rely on.”
— The Browns honored five-year old Ryan Encinas and his family from Cuyahoga Falls at the end of Family Night with a video story of Ryan’s battle with cancer. After the video, Ryan ran onto the field and lined up in the backfield with running back Trent Richardson, took a handoff from Weeden and ran 50 yards for a touchdown with the encouragement of an entourage of Browns players. He was selected to participate by the Littlest Heroes.
“How about that first round draft choice, Ryan Encinas?” Chudzinski said to open his press conference.
Chudzinski said the idea was thought up by his son, Kaelan, who saw a similar scenario done by the University of Nebraska football team.
“My son actually came up with the idea and passed it onto my wife, who shared hit with me.”
— The Browns two candidates to replace kicker Phil Dawson dueled during practice at opposite ends of the stadium. Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogtay matched field goals until they reached 53 yards out when Bogotay made his and Graham missed his short and wide left. Bogotay was 6-of-6 while Graham was 5-of-6.
“We’ve been trying to put them in situations where they can be dueling kickers,” Chudzinski said. “It was a good opportunity for them to kick in the stadium.”
Chudzinski said he and the coaches will lay out a plan for the kickers in the preseason games.
— As expected, Richardson was held out of the Family Night practice held at FirstEnergy Stadium. Richardson was kicked in the shin at practice Thursday and he was held out of Friday’s practice, as well. Others not practicing were: RB Montario Hardesty (hamstring), WR David Nelson (knee), DB Trevin Wade (tightness), T.J. Ward (hamstring), TE Brad Smelley (hamstring), FB Brock Bolen (calf), OL Oniel Cousins (ankle), OL Chris Faulk (knee), OL Ryan Miller (head) and DB Jamoris Slaughter (hamstring).
Chudzinski said he expects Richardson back at practice on Monday.