Browns TE Cameron catching on as playmaker
Jordan Cameron's hoop-playing days are over. Still, every once in a while he'll join a pickup basketball game, and at some point dunk on some unfortunate defender.
''That's all I can do,'' the tight end said, cracking up. ''I can't shoot.''
Fortunately for the Browns, his football skills are much more diverse.
Cameron, who played basketball at Brigham Young and walked-on USC's team before concentrating on his football career, has quickly developed into one of Cleveland's top offensive players.
Through three games, the 6-foot-5, 252-pounder leads the team in catches (20), yards receiving (269) and touchdowns (40).
Last week, he tied a Browns record with three TD catches, including one off a fake field goal as well as the game-winner from quarterback Brian Hoyer with 51 seconds left.
For Cameron, it had been quite a drought between three-TD games.
''High school,'' he said. ''Back in the day.''
The Browns have been pleased with Cameron's progress and development as a big-time target.
A fourth-round pick in 2011 after catching just 16 passes in 12 games for the Trojans, he had just six catches as a rookie. He finished last season with only 20 receptions for 226 yards, numbers he's already surpassed with 13 games remaining.
Before training camp began, there were questions about his durability and whether Cameron could handle a heavy workload or the complexities of first-year coach Rob Chudzinski's offensive system.
So far, Cameron has delivered.
''It feels good,'' the 25-year-old said. ''It's kind of one of those things that I've been working for so long that it just feels like forever. You have to be patient and I just put my head down and kept grinding every day and I'm just trying to focus on the little things.
''Sometime you can get caught up in hearing everyone else say, `You're not going to make it. You're not good enough. You're just a basketball player.' I haven't made it by any means.
''I have a lot of work to do and I've got to keep progressing each week.''
Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows a good tight end when he sees one. Turner spent several seasons in San Diego with Antonio Gates, a former Kent State basketball player who has built a Hall of Fame resume with the Chargers.
While Cameron has a long way to go to be mentioned in Gates' company, he's making the right strides for the Browns.
''I just like the consistency,'' Turner said of Cameron's growth. ''I think there was a concern in spring and people talked about me getting to know him: `Is he a consistent guy? Is he a guy who can show up and do it?' And right now, he's done that for three games. He creates problems for defensive players.''
Cameron finished with six catches for 66 yards against the Vikings. After three games, he's second among tight ends in yardage, tied for fourth among all AFC players and 11th among NFL players.
While others may seem surprised, the confident Cameron doesn't seem shocked by his fast start.
''I'm just trying to be a playmaker for this team,'' he said. ''It's not one of those things where I was going to have any objectives for myself this season. I just wanted to be a guy that this team could count on, be reliable and that's my goal this year.''
With size and jumping ability, Cameron is part of a new breed of tight ends changing pro football. Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said players such as Cameron are a matchup nightmare.
''They're wide receivers in tight ends bodies and it's bringing a new dimension to the game,'' he said. ''It's how the DBs have now changed from the small guys to the bigger guys. You just tend to match what the other side of the ball is doing and it poses problems for people.
''Because they're so big, they're faster than the linebackers but they're bigger than the safeties. It's kind of that hybrid position that everybody covets right now.''
It's the position Cameron prefers. Once he walked away from the basketball court, he was determined to make plays on the field. He's quieted some of the doubters and wants to silence them for good.
''It is motivation, but frankly I'm tired of hearing about basketball,'' he said. ''I'm not a basketball player. I'm a football player now. I guess it helps. These tight ends nowadays have basketball backgrounds, but I don't want to be known as a basketball player.''
That appears to be a slam dunk.
NOTES: LB Jabaal Sheard did not practice again because of a sprained knee. It's likely he will miss Sunday's game against Cincinnati and possibly more time. With Sheard out, rookie Barkevious Mingo will likely make his first start, and Horton believes the first-round pick is ready for a full workload. ''He's growing,'' Horton said. ''I think he will be better this coming week than he was last weekend.''... DE Billy Winn (quadriceps) and K Billy Cundiff (quad) also sat out practice. ... QB Brandon Weeden (sprained thumb) was not wearing a brace on his hand for the first time since he got hurt. ... RG Shawn Lauvao could make his season debut this week after undergoing ankle surgery.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org