*Ron's NFL Daily: August 2, 2013
Thursday, August 1 – Browns Camp (Berea, Ohio)
Neil asked me to step in and cover the Browns’ camp session after he spent a night dealing with some misadventures in motoring. The Cleveland staff was very helpful and friendly in dealing with the PFF crew. There isn’t a lot of space for fans to pack in and watch the team practice, but the Browns did a nice job of spreading out the sessions so all those gathered could see them work, especially the 11-on-11 portion.
On an ideal afternoon for full-padded practice the Browns were doing some play installation, though at a measured pace. While both Norv Turner and Ray Horton were in full vocal mode, it was Turner whose voice stood out on the field. At one point he had the offense run one particular play three times until they got it right, then four plays later he had them run it again just to make sure. There is a big focus on attention to detail on both sides of the ball and it didn’t go unnoticed that as a result the practice tempo wasn’t high.
Run First, Run Fast, Run Often
Despite tallying 1,317 yards from scrimmage with a pair of broken ribs and earning a +6.0 grade for his rookie season, there was some concern when Trent Richardson sat out most of the final OTA’s in June due to a foot injury. None of Richardson’s injury issues seemed a concern now, as he was crisp, powerful and hitting the perimeter on one side and then the other on runs and passes. Actually about 85% of the plays in practice (albeit with light thuds for tackling) went to the outside when Richardson’s number was called. The Browns are clearly going to be featuring the ground game this season as they install Turner’s offense, much like the Falcons did when they brought in Mike Turner for Matt Ryan’s rookie year.
It must be noted that Dion Lewis, who Cleveland acquired from Philadelphia in a player-for-player trade before the draft, was quite impressive. Special teams are a particular interest of mine, and of the five players that returned kicks to open the practices today only speedy Travis Benjamin and Lewis (who broke off a nice run up the field to the left at one point) looked comfortable in the role. Lewis was agile and decisive catching passes out of the backfield and had a nice burst up the middle on one play. With Montario Hardesty’s hamstring acting up again, the No. 2 spot really looks like it is Lewis’ to lose. Whoever carries the ball, Cleveland has PFF’s No. 5 OL from last year, and this unit is the strength of the offense.
Barkevious Mingo: Yes, He’s Worth the Pick
The Browns spent money on Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant in the offseason and were generally given a “well-played” nod around the league for their pickups. However, the one player who stood out to Neil and myself on a defense that had 10 of 11 starters available was the sixth overall pick. Mingo is a very lean specimen who will probably add 10 to 15 pounds after the season in the weight room, but he was very sharp today. Usually rookie pass rushers have a limited arsenal of moves in rushing the passer and that tends to catch up to them once opposing offensive coordinator’s get enough tape on them. The Browns have the luxury of picking and choosing their battles with Mingo, as Paul Kruger and the surprisingly fluid Jabaal Sheard are ahead of him.
Mingo impressed both of us with a speed move inside on one play, then dropped into coverage in a fake zone-blitz move only to bolt forward against a guard (a favorite of Neil’s) on the same play for a pressure. On another occasion Mingo lined up shaded on the outside shoulder of a left tackle — NOT named Joe Thomas — and on the snap took a step inward, planted off his left leg, shot two-and-a-half steps to the right, dipped his left shoulder into the tackle’s chest, and got his right hand up in the halo of the quarterback… who was forced to step up and make a hurried throw.
The Browns are clearly taking the 49ers’ Aldon Smith approach in deploying Mingo as a pass specialist for now. On a team looking to establish an identity (again…), the Browns will be hoping Mingo’s results on the field match the affable nature he displayed in several interviews he did afterward. GM Mike Lombardi was on to something good when he opted for Mingo early in the draft, and don’t be surprised if he gets a couple mentions for Rookie of the Year around PFF.
Questions of Futures Past
It’s all about the quarterback in the NFL, and the Browns have gone through 18 different starters since 1999. There was a bit of debate between Neil and I about Brandon Weeden — was his performance last season due to his limitations as a player (Neil), or was he simply uncomfortable in a system that didn’t fit him and surrounded by inexperienced talent (my point of view). To illustrate Neil’s point, Weeden had a QB Rating of just 73.7 (that’s a C-minus type of grade) when he had 2.6 seconds or more to throw. On this day though Weeden was accurate, confident and showed off his strong arm on a deep out pattern for a touchdown to Jordan Norwood.
Both Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer were victims of dropped passes early on. Campbell warmed up as he went on, and he had deeper routes to work with. Hoyer had more short to intermediate routes but didn’t inspire, as he threw an ugly interception on the left side of the field to fourth-string cornerback Abdul Kanneh. Campbell is the primary backup this season, but there is enough here for Hoyer to stay and win the job… in 2014.
— TJ Ward was the lone defensive starter to sit out (due to a hamstring strain). The starting secondary was Joe Haden, Chris Owens at cornerback, Buster Skrine at slot, Johnson Bademosi at FS, and Josh Aubrey getting a look at SS.
— All the tight ends are big and lean types, and Jordan Cameron shredded Aubrey on a crossing route early on in 11-on-11’s. Cameron looked good all day actually.
— Once a staple atop the league standings, the Browns’ special teams aren’t very exciting right now (aside from Travis Benjamin).
NB: The Browns depth chart has been amended, with position battles added in purple and the update is below: