BEREA, Ohio – The Cleveland Browns are trying to fight their way out of the AFC North basement.
At least three times during a spirited practice Tuesday, they were fighting each other.
That’s not exactly what new Browns coach Mike Pettine wants to see, but training camp is supposed to be a building block for a brighter future.
So, for now, what are a few fists between friends?
"It’s not what we want, but it’s also teammates defending teammates," Pettine said. "You go with unit pride first; then, it goes to your side of the ball; then, it goes to the whole team. When (players) see a guy that’s involved in something, they want to go help them out. I like the fact that everybody jumped in, but that can’t be a habit that carries over to a game day. We’re not going to be clearing benches."
The biggest skirmish of training camp came after Ben Tate took exception to a hit by Ahtyba Rubin and threw the ball into Rubin’s facemask. Players from both the offense and defense quickly converged, and when players hit the ground Pettine and the other coaches started worrying about injury.
That first fight broke into another, with backup offensive lineman Martin Wallace trading punches with defensive tackle John Hughes. Wallace got into another skirmish later in practice.
"It’s in the moment," Tate said. "I threw the ball at Rubin. After it was over, I went right up to him and gave him a hug and slapped his hand. We’re all teammates here. At the end of the day, we’ve all got the same mission. It’s OK for it to go down. You just don’t carry it on into the locker room after it’s over with."
The intensity really ramped up early in practice in an inside run drill when linebacker Eric Martin slammed Dion Lewis to the ground with one hand, a play Martin called "an accident" but one that drew the ire of nearby offensive players and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neill.
"And everybody got talking," Martin said, "and you could kind of feel the intensity rising."
The dog days of camp are at least 10 days away, but the Browns were in full pads and Pettine said he challenged his players to avoid the lull that often comes with a practice the day before the day off.
So, they took the challenge.
"I probably got a little too aggressive (with Tate)," Rubin said. "It’s going to happen. Guys are playing hard."
Both Pettine and Rubin confirmed what’s been apparent on the field, that the Browns coaches are emphasizing defenders trying to strip and rip the ball away from runners. Sometimes, that extends after the whistle. And especially on a day the defense dominated, that’s not always going to go over well.
"I haven’t really been here, but I am going to try and make my imprint on this team," Tate said. "We’re not going to take anything from anybody. It’s time to change around here and it starts with attitude and mindset."