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In an interview recorded two weeks prior to his year-long suspension being reduced to 10 games, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon talked about what he learned from this experience.

BEREA, Ohio -- A long snapper can never breathe easy.

If he struggles, teams do not wait long to make a move.

The Browns added a long snapper to the practice squad a few hours after practice on Tuesday, which can’t help Christian Yount’s REM sleep much.

Yount’s tough snaps contributed to a missed extra point against New Orleans and missed field goal against Baltimore. The missed point almost was the difference against the Saints; the missed field goal was the difference in a loss to the Ravens.

Tuesday the team signed Charley Hughlett to the practice squad. Hughlett was signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2012, and has spent time with the Cowboys, Patriots and Jaguars.

His presence might mean a move is coming soon, it might mean that the Browns are holding “competition” at the spot during practice (something Mike Pettine seems to enjoy), or it might mean that Yount’s practice snaps are still not what the team wants.

Yount is used to people breathing down his neck as he snaps.

Now he has someone doing just that as a teammate.

BEREA, Ohio -- Clichés dominate sports, and one of them is a team can never have enough talented players at any position.

The Cleveland Browns are about to challenge that bromide.

Because when Ben Tate returns -- which will likely happen this week -- the Browns will have three talented running backs, all of whom will want the ball. This is not a bad thing, except that by Tate’s own admission, only two can play.

“That’s tough to have three running backs," Tate said. "As a running back you want to get in a rhythm, so it’s tough to have three. But two? Yeah, I think definitely two running backs can get the job done.”

Which means that either Terrance West or Isaiah Crowell may see his touches drop Sunday in Tennessee (assuming Tate plays). Which means someone might not be happy.

The Browns signed Tate to be the starter. He did well in preseason and in the limited time he had in Pittsburgh before spraining his right knee. Coach Mike Pettine and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery both said Tate would return to the starting lineup when healthy.

West was drafted in the third round to share time with Tate, and he’s played well, running for a team-high 204 yards and two touchdowns. But Crowell has really opened eyes. The undrafted free agent is a punishing runner who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

How do they see the playing time shaking out?

“I envision all of us being out there, getting time, getting reps, running the ball (and) being the best backfield in the league,” Crowell said.

“Whoever’s got the hot hand and whoever will get us the win, that’s who we’re going to roll with,” West said.

The Browns had all three active in Pittsburgh, and Crowell scored two touchdowns. That happened after Tate was hurt, but it’s possible the team could find carries for all three. Tate, though, is the clear starter by virtue of his experience and ability.

If there are issues with the setup, it might be worth thinking back to the halcyon days of 2013.

Then the Browns’ leading rusher was Willis McGahee, who had 377 yards, less than twice what West has in three games.

Then the Browns had no 100-yard rushing games; West had one in his first NFL game.

Then the Browns had four rushing touchdowns all season; now the Browns have five.

Then offensive coordinator Norv Turner scoffed incredulously at a question about running the ball more; now Pettine says the team is committed to a mentality that they will run the ball.

Then the team had a safety (on a fake punt) and two receivers lead the team in rushing in games. Now there are three running backs who are averaging at least 4 yards per carry.

The Fozzy Whittaker/Edwin Baker days are over.

The Browns addressed the issue in the offseason, signing a veteran free agent, drafting a back and bringing in another undrafted free agent. If addressing the issue leads to occasional unhappiness, so be it. Fantasy team owners just have to pick the right guy.

In Cleveland, the running game matters, and the fact the Browns recognize that truth is a welcome development.

Ben Tate returns to practice

September, 30, 2014
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[+] EnlargeTate
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsBen Tate returned to practice for the Browns on Tuesday and will start Sunday if he's healthy, coach Mike Pettine said.

BEREA, Ohio -- Running back Ben Tate returned to the practice field for the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday and will start against Tennessee if healthy, coach Mike Pettine said.

"[We're] looking forward to getting him back," Pettine said Tuesday as the Browns returned from their bye week. "He was playing at a high level before he got hurt."

Tate was the starter in the season opener in Pittsburgh but sprained his knee on a 25-yard run. He missed a win over New Orleans and a loss to Baltimore but averaged 6.8 yards per carry in his six carries in Pittsburgh.

Pettine would not commit to Tate starting until he sees him practice through the week. Tate told the Browns if there were a game this past Sunday, he probably could have played.

"It leads us to believe it shouldn't be an issue this week, but we still need to get him a full week of practice and see how the knee responds to it," Pettine said.

Tate's return will affect the playing time of one of the two rookies who have contributed in his absence -- Terrance West


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BEREA, Ohio -- The most penalized person for the Cleveland Browns through the first three games of the season?

The bench, otherwise known as the coaches.

The Browns have been penalized for having 12 men on the field or in the huddle four times, the most frequent penalty called against the team.

Thus coach Mike Pettine’s emphasis prior to the bye week was on fixing procedures, because all are a result of not getting the right substitutions done properly.

The 12-men calls broke down this way:
  • The offense had 12 in the huddle against the Saints.
  • The defense had 12 on the field against the Saints.
  • The defense twice had 12 on the field against the Ravens, and it would have happened a third time had Karlos Dansby not used a timeout to avoid the penalty, a move he called “an executive decision.”

The four 12-men penalties leads the NFL, two ahead of the Panthers and Jaguars, who have two each, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Browns were called for five all of last season and have accounted for 22 percent of the 12-men penalties in the NFL this season (four of the 18). The Browns have played three games; 26 teams have played four.

This explains Pettine’s anger and his taking accountability for the loss to the Ravens. And it is partly the result of change, because new coaches have new systems that require new signals that require adjustments. Consider: The Browns and Raiders lead the league in 12-men calls since 2001, per ESPN Stats and Information. The two teams have had 31 flags for that violation during that span and combined have had 16 coaches (including interim coaches) -- seven for the Browns and nine for the Raiders.

The day after the loss to the Ravens, Pettine said things had to change, immediately, because the way things were going was “trouble.”

He said the Browns would practice it better and learn to better deal with crowd noise, an oddity given the calls happened at home. Pettine has adjusted to make many signals come through the communication system between the sidelines and huddle.

“There are no excuses for that,” Pettine said. “We need to get better.”

In other penalty oddities through three games:
  • Justin Gilbert has the most penalty yards on the team by virtue of his 31-yard pass interference penalty against the Ravens.
  • Two Pro Bowlers lead their units. Joe Thomas has been flagged twice for 20 yards and Joe Haden three times for 15 yards. Don’t expect the Browns to start working people out at their positions.

Fantasy Now: Browns

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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video

ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner discusses the Browns' upcoming schedule and who could benefit from it.
The Buffalo Bills named Kyle Orton their new starting quarterback on Monday.

Orton
Orton has one start since 2012, a loss when he threw for 398 yards in Dallas.

In his past 30 starts, he is 9-21, which means he wins 30 percent of the time.

The significance: The Cleveland Browns own the Bills’ 2015 first-round draft choice.

The Bills are 2-2 and reeling to the point that they are changing quarterbacks after losing two in a row. In Buffalo, the team has a front office and coaching staff that used a first-round pick on EJ Manuel, traded a future first-round pick for Sammy Watkins, and now are benching Manuel in favor of Orton, which does not seem to help the offense coalesce.

The move may work.

But the Bills also are an organization going through an ownership change. As Browns fans can attest, that pressure from above weighs on a team. All the Bills' moves -- from trading for Watkins to changing quarterbacks -- show they are feeling the “win now” pressure immensely.

Will this help the Browns in the long run by improving the slot of the draft pick they receive from the Bills?

Harken back to a former linebacker who said after the other team’s starting quarterback was knocked out of a Browns loss: “You always want to see the starting quarterback go off the field.”
On Sunday, Tennessee lost 41-17 to Indianapolis.

Pittsburgh lost to Tampa Bay 27-24. At home.

Jacksonville lost 33-14.

Oakland lost 38-14.

And Tampa Bay ... well it beat Pittsburgh, because either Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay had to win. The game prior to beating the Steelers, Tampa Bay lost 56-14 to Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniThe next five weeks could determine if Brian Hoyer and the Browns will be playoff contenders in 2014.
The common denominator between Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay? They are the next five teams the Cleveland Browns play, with three of the games at home.

Two of the teams are winless. Two have one win. Pittsburgh has two wins, one over the Browns on a last-play field goal.

If the Browns ever are going to get something accomplished this season, this is the time and these are the teams to do it against. The Browns' defense has struggled, especially against the run, but facing this non-gauntlet of teams presents the defense an excellent chance to find itself. The numbers for the five present a challenge, but also an opportunity.

Combined, these five teams are 4-16, winning just 20 percent of their games. On Sunday, the five gave up 24, 27, 38, 33 and 41 points -- an average of 32.6.

Heading into Monday night, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Oakland are the league’s three worst-ranked offenses. Tennessee is 17th, but it's without starting quarterback Jake Locker. Pittsburgh has talent, but struggled to beat the Browns in Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Oakland are the league’s four worst scoring offenses. None average more than 15 points per game.

The Browns are 1-2, but coach Mike Pettine said before sending the team away for the bye that it is about as confident a 1-2 team could be.

“I think we’ve proved over the first three weeks that we can win football games in this league, that we’re close,” Pettine said. “As I said, pass-fail league, we failed two out of three, but there’s a different feel to it just because I know our guys have confidence coming out of it and that if we go out and execute a game plan that we can beat any team in this league.”

If that’s true, the Browns have a prime opportunity in the next five weeks to establish themselves as more than just another team trying to win, more than the pretenders they have been the past six seasons.

A year ago, the Browns talked about playing a meaningful game in a trip to Cincinnati and fell flat. The rest of the season went south in a hurry.

But the circumstances a year ago were different. The team had no running game whatsoever. Brian Hoyer was hurt; Jason Campbell was at quarterback. The team was so fragile that it couldn’t withstand one really bad quarter against the Bengals.

This season the Browns came back from 24 down at halftime to tie Pittsburgh, before eventually losing 30-27. They have two difficult losses, but much to build on. The running game could be a strength and Hoyer has played well. The defense has struggled, but Pettine and the assistant coaches believe in their scheme and promise it can and will work if the players trust it.

The one player missing this season is Josh Gordon, who remains suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But if the Browns can get something accomplished in the next five games against teams that are 4-16, it can build something positive for when Gordon returns.

The Browns have an opportunity the next five games.

If they are going to make something of this season, it has to start with these five games.
Opening up a bye weekend mailBag, starting with some interesting questions about the future of Brian Hoyer.

@PatMcManamon: This is an excellent question. Because it is I'm taking it first. This question assumes Hoyer continues to play well. If so, I think he would love to stay in Cleveland and the Browns would try to keep him. There are so many ways to look at contracts; Tom Brady's average per year of $9 million pales to Drew Brees' $20 million per year. But Brady is guaranteed $57 million in his deal, Brees $55 million. Go through some players. Matt Cassell has had one or two good seasons, much like Hoyer would have at the end of 2014. Cassell is guaranteed $5.65 million and makes $5.25 million per year on a two-year deal. Andy Dalton is guaranteed $17 million and earns $16 million per year. Johnny Manziel is guaranteed $7.7 million and earns $2.06 million per year. Carson Palmer is guaranteed $10 million and earns $8 million per season. Finally, Alex Smith is guaranteed $45 million and earns $17 million per year. Where Hoyer fits in that group is what he and the team would have to determine.

@PatMcManamon: I see many scenarios where Hoyer is re-signed. If he continues to play like he has and the Browns win their share of games, I'd submit that it would be absolute lunacy not to re-sign him. Or at least try. Letting a successful quarterback go would continue the constant cycle of starts and re-starts that have plagued the Browns for years. If he plays well, the Browns owe it to him and to the team and the fans to re-sign him.

@PatMcManamon: When you use the word "terrible," I'd have to say that it assumes facts not in evidence. I would disagree that Phil Taylor is terrible. In fact, I'd say he is nothing close to terrible.

@PatMcManamon: Again, this assumes facts not in evidence. I've seen Chris Tabor grow as a coach, and last season his teams had a very good season. Special teams reflect the roster. When there is turnover, the bottom has more turnover. So Tabor is working with a lot of guys for the first time. That takes time, just like it takes time for an offense and defense to jell. The one concern I have is with Travis Benjamin. He looks tentative, and the last thing any team needs is a tentative returner. If he's taken off punt return duties, the question becomes: Who replaces him?

@PatMcManamon: Neither. Make no mistake, the run defense is a major concern. It has to get better. But the Browns' inability to stop the run has been a constant since 1999. It goes with not winning. The main problem to me is the change in systems. That takes time, trust and patience before things come together.

@PatMcManamon: Another excellent question. I would say Isaiah Crowell is making a strong case for it. He runs downhill and he runs violently. The only thing that could keep him from taking the job is if Ben Tate can stay healthy to finish the season. Tate is a very good back.

@PatMcManamon: I would say we are on the "facts not in evidence" trail again here. Haden has had a couple rough plays. He's getting some tough love. I'm not worried about him, yet. Three more games like this and I will be..

Aggies to welcome back Manziel

September, 27, 2014
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[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
TJ Root/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel is expected to receive his Aggie Ring at Texas A&M's game against Arkansas on Saturday, sources said.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As if Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones weren't tortured enough about not drafting Johnny Manziel, the Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback will be in Jones' building Saturday -- and rooting against Jones' alma mater.

Manziel, the former Texas A&M star, is expected to be in attendance when the No. 6 Aggies play Arkansas in a neutral-site game.

Manziel's Browns are off this week.

In addition to Manziel being on hand, sources close to the team said the Aggies are expected to have freshman receiver Speedy Noil against the 3-1 Razorbacks.

Noil injured his left knee during the Sept. 13 win over Rice. Those close to the team said Noil required minor surgery but has made a "miraculous" recovery. He returned to practice this week and was "making cuts" a little more than a week after surgery, one source said.

Asked earlier in the week about Noil's availability, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said simply, "We'll see."


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Curiosity, perceptions surround Johnny Manziel's bye weekend

September, 26, 2014
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That Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is spending his bye weekend Saturday watching Texas A&M at Jerry World isn't an uncommon concept -- players visit their colleges on their bye weeks all the time -- but it is interesting for two reasons.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Evan VucciCameras -- and perceptions -- are sure to follow Johnny Manziel this weekend as he watches Texas A&M face Arkansas at Jerry World.
There's the nostalgic reason. Manziel will watch Arkansas play A&M, the team Manziel helped score 558 points on the field and even more marketing points off it in 2012 and '13. If this were a true home game, A&M might've tried to honor Manziel in some way.

The game takes place at AT&T Stadium, where Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly wanted Manziel (a Kerrville, Texas, native) to play for the next decade. In every way, Manziel attending the game -- as A&M officials and coaches were expecting as of late Thursday -- is a reminder of how far he's come.

Then there's the perception reason. Manziel could spend the entire game reading over his Browns playbook or discussing health care reform with politicians -- that wouldn't change much.

Fair or not, when the cameras find him on the sidelines or in a suite (and they will find him), a faction of fans will wonder what Manziel is doing after the game.

One of the last times Manziel had time off, he answered questions about why he joined the largest waterfowl species for a swim (gold bottles optional).

Without an extensive on-field NFL résumé to distract, Manziel is smart enough to know these stories don't just die. That's why he probably wouldn't be surprised to know Browns coach Mike Pettine was asked this week whether he had a special message for his backup quarterback about making smart choices.

"Nothing special," Pettine told the media Thursday. "The position coaches handle that just as far as we want to know, 'Hey, where are you going to be? What are you up to?' To me, it's ... we'll check in with our guys over the time, but we didn't treat him any different."

This one is pretty simple, and it goes for any player: Enjoy the weekend, avoid camera phones pointed at you for longer than 8 seconds, and don’t so anything that would lead to egregious headlines.

Manziel-centric stories have fizzled since the regular season started, but since the head coach was asked about the bye-week behavior of a quarterback with a handful of professional snaps, it indicates that attention won't leave him anytime soon.

"We're more under -- coaches and players -- more under a microscope than most," Pettine said. "They represent not just themselves, but their families and the Cleveland Browns -- their teammates -- when they're out of the building. I just kept stressing it to them. Surround yourself with good people. Make good choices. It's a good group, and I think that the time off will be well spent. I'm certain they're going to come back fresh and focused."

Cleveland Browns by the numbers

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
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The bye week comes early this season for the Cleveland Browns, but three games is enough to determine some trends and identify some strengths and weaknesses.

Things might change over the course of a 16-game season, but the bye week is always a good time to take a look at the "Browns by the numbers."

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BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns receivers coach Mike McDaniel is in touch with Josh Gordon "often," McDaniel said.

"Right now, my role is to be a supporter, because one thing that jumped off the map for me once I started working with him in the spring is he does want to be great," McDaniel said. "He truly does."

Gordon
Gordon
Gordon has always wanted to be great, and last season he played great. The problem is he can’t stay away from off-field issues. Gordon is serving a 10-game suspension -- reduced from the entire season -- for a positive drug test in March.

McDaniel said he supports Gordon "in everything he does," presumably meaning on the field.

"As a young person being pulled in every sort of direction, you’ve got to remember he was a three-star athlete coming out of high school," McDaniel said. "Then he goes to Baylor. He goes through that process, and he’s in the supplemental draft. He’s a second-round draft pick, and then all of the sudden he’s an NFL star.

"It’s a lot to handle. He wants to be great, so I support him in everything that he does. I try to do my best job to get him to be what his ultimate desire to be is, which is the best receiver that he can be."

Gordon has immense talent. He led the league in receiving yards a year ago despite missing the first two games with another suspension. He said during a visit to ESPN in March that there is no limit to an individual’s potential.

"In his mind, he wants to be the best receiver in the league," McDaniel said. "As far as a day-to-day standpoint, I check in on him and we talk. I’m just supportive of the stuff that he’s going through and the stuff that he’s learning, because he’s just learning on the fly -- how to be an adult and an NFL player within the confines of our league."
The Cleveland Browns graciously made their assistant coaches available on Wednesday before the bye week. This is the first in a series of short posts highlighting the issues they addressed:

BEREA, Ohio -- Barkevious Mingo has been on the field for 101 defensive snaps this season and has no tackles for a loss and no sacks.

Mingo
But that does not concern the Browns, assistant linebackers coach Brian Fleury said.

Fleury, in fact, said he’s pleased with Mingo.

“We’re asking him to do some different things than what he did last year," Fleury said. “When you guys watch the film, he’s in coverage a lot more than he is going after the quarterback. I know there’ve been some questions as to why the sack numbers aren’t there, and I think it’s just simply a reflection of the amount of reps he’s had rushing the quarterback relative to everybody else. We’re happy with where he is and the production he’s given us.”

Fleury added that on many plays Mingo isn’t being asked to get a sack or get into the backfield. Coach Mike Pettine constantly discusses mismatches, and clearly the Browns are trying to create one by using Mingo different from a year ago.

In the opener, it appeared the Browns wanted Mingo to rush the passer. He rushed often and came close to sacking Ben Roethlisberger on a touchdown pass, but Roethlisberger avoided the sack.

Against Baltimore, it appeared Mingo was dropped into coverage more.

“He’s a remarkably talented athlete,” Fleury said. “He can run like the wind and cover a lot of the guys that maybe some of the other guys can’t cover. So we’re doing everything we can to take advantage of that.

“He creates a unique mismatch because you don’t know whether to identify him as a coverage linebacker or a rush end. We’ve just been using him a little bit more in the coverage phase so far.”

Pettine admitted Mingo is "battling the shoulder," referring to an injury that kept Mingo out of the win over New Orleans. Pettine added that although there's always room for improvement, Mingo is "doing his job" when he's on the field.

"I don’t get caught up in the statistical part of it," Pettine said. "I’ve seen too many guys over the years, especially defensively, get criticized. Like, 'Hey, why isn’t this guy playing well?' Just because it’s not on the stat sheet doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job. We’re more concerned with a plus on the grade sheet based on our standards than anything that would show up in a game book post game."
The Cleveland Browns graciously made their assistant coaches available on Wednesday before the bye week. This is the first in a series of short posts highlighting the issues they addressed:

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns goal with defensive lineman Phil Taylor is to get as many productive plays as they can without overextending him.

For Taylor, that means playing against the run but leaving the field in pass-rush situations.

Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver explained that thinking by saying that Taylor could collapse a pocket from the interior, but it means giving up something else.

“The question is is his pass-rush ability better than a Desmond Bryant or an Armonty Bryant? Which one of those guys do you take off the field?” Weaver asked.

Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin struggled with the rest of the defense in stopping the run, though. But there have been other times this season when Taylor has been chasing players 20 yards downfield.

Taylor is a unique player. He’s big enough to be stout against the run, but he can move well enough to chase a back or receiver in certain situations.

“His effort has been tremendous all season,” Weaver said. “And that’ s a credit to his worth ethic ... when he’s on the field, he’s going to give you his absolute best effort, and I love him for that.”

Weaver said he understands the defense is struggling, but he’s coached in the system before and seen it work. He said the biggest issue is players trying too hard, which takes them out of position.

“What you have to understand is you can’t come out of the scheme in order to do that,” Weaver said.

He also said the quality of the competition has affected things.

“It’s a new scheme, and we’re playing some good offenses,” he said. “They’ve been able to exploit us in situations when we’ve made some mistakes. An average offense might miss that guy.”

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