Five early Browns camp impressions
BEREA, Ohio – In two days at camp, not much has really happened.
But a bunch has.
This is an NFL training camp. These are the Cleveland Browns, who don’t know normal and don’t do quiet.
That’s fine. The real fun — and there will be some — is just beginning.
1. Long days. Long process.
Gone are the days of two-a-day practices and the Oklahoma drill and all that tough-guy stuff. The Browns will put the pads on as soon as Monday morning, and when they do new coach Mike Pettine said there will be an inside run drill every day. Pettine said he’s anxious to "hear" his team, too, and that’s a sign of real football. But these days these camps are still about staying healthy, staying out of trouble (that’s you, Number 2) and bracing for the long road ahead. Nothing’s really been gained or lost in the first two days with the Browns still essentially in the nametag stage and wearing shorts on the field.
2. About the quarterbacks…
It’s not really fair to judge every throw and every drill because unless you’re in the meetings and in the huddle and in the post-practice film room, you really don’t know what you’re supposed to be seeing. But when a long-struggling team is holding a very public quarterback competition between two popular (for very different reasons) players at two very different points of their careers, every throw and every setting is going to be scrutinized. If you don’t think I know anything, fine, but on Saturday both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel were just OK, and on Sunday Hoyer was pretty darn good and Manziel was anything but good. The best news for Manziel is that the most important day is tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s early, but right now it’s not close — and that’s based on a three-month body of work, not two practices. Fifteen years of Browns training camps makes me plenty qualified to judge average quarterbacking (and just plain bad quarterbacking) when I see it. The look on the face of Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan after one particular Manziel throw at a later stage of Sunday’s practice told me all I needed to know about what kind of quarterbacking one guy in those meetings thought he was seeing.
3. Josh Gordon is out there.
Read that however you must. The NFL not having a final ruling on Gordon’s situation and reported looming suspension simply isn’t fair to the Browns. It just isn’t. Gordon is running some routes and going through drills but the team has been preparing for months to play without him and now is officially preparing for the months ahead but still has no resolution. and that’s just not right. Miles Austin is catching everything, Andrew Hawkins is this team’s best wide receiver and Anthony Armstrong looks like a starter. There’s a buzz building around Charles Johnson, too. And tight end Jordan Cameron looks outstanding. But none of them are Gordon, and the quarterback needs help, and there’s a long way to go. So stay tuned.
4. Terrance West could save — or at least go a long way toward fixing — this offense.
IRRATIONAL SNAP JUDGEMENT ALERT! IRRATIONAL SNAP JUDGEMENT ALERT! West is a rookie, and a small-school player, and he has a long way to go. But he’s shown up to camp and played his butt off, showed off some real athleticism for a man his size and seems to bring extra energy to every play he’s in. No matter what happens with Gordon and the quarterbacks, the Browns are built to play good defense and to keep that defense rested, and this offensive line might be pretty good, too. The team is high on Joel Bitonio at guard and also thinks it has a keeper behind West in undrafted runner Isaiah Crowell. The bottom line is that the Browns need playmakers and didn’t draft a receiver in part because they traded an extra pick to go get West. He looks like he might eventually be worth it.
5. The crowds have been amazing.
Especially Saturday, the energy and enthusiasm were electric. Keep in mind it’s very hot out, the team hasn’t been in full pads and more half of the people at camp can’t see anything. There’s no tall bleacher to provide fans a view of more than one field, and a bunch of the best seats are reserved for VIPs and sponsors. The fans I’ve seen, anyway, don’t seem to mind. Some people just come for autographs. Some, apparently, just want to bark. But they’ve come in droves — and they’ve come early. Monday’s session is sold out, too. So is Saturday’s scrimmage at the University of Akron’s Infocision Stadium, which holds over 25,000.
Imagine if the Browns ever get good.
And right now, you can.
Bless you, training camp. See you again in the morning.