Asked on Monday why he kept so many defensive backs on his initial 53-man roster, Pettine said it was a combination of the best players being at a position of need.
“Well it’s probably a little bit of both,” Pettine said. “We felt that these guys are talented NFL corners that were worthy of being on the roster. The number is towards the high end, but once you get above your minimum requirements at each position, you look to keep the best players in general. You never want to keep a guy for the sake of filling out a quota, as long as you’ve met the position minimum that you can function on game day.”
Asked why the position is so important, Pettine said given the nature of spread offenses in the NFL, he believes the more versatile defensive backs you have who can match up and cover, either along the perimeter or in the middle of the field, the better.
“I think the whole trend in the league -- the spread offense -- is to match up and single guys up, and that’s a big part of what we do,” Pettine said. “We’ll play a lot of split safety, Cover 2, where corners are really essentially almost playing an outside linebacker-type position, with deep responsibility. We need guys that can match up and can run. That’s why we were fortunate that we found as many as we did and we were able to keep them.”
But during training camp, Browns coach Mike Pettine praised Lewis for his ability to gain yards on critical third downs. It was thought that for that reason alone Lewis would likely make the team.
He didn’t, and as of Monday, the Browns are going with Tate and three rookies: Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Glenn Winston, whom they claimed off waivers from San Francisco.
After primarily serving as Arian Foster's backup for four years in Houston, Tate signed a two-year deal for $6.1 million to be Cleveland’s primary rusher. That apparently means on third downs, too.
Asked Sunday if he is comfortable with Tate’s ability to turn third downs into first downs, Pettine said, “We are."
“He’s ahead of those guys, and I think he’s been solid in protection,” Pettine said. “I think he does a nice job catching the ball. I would think that he has the edge over those guys as far as third down. That’s not saying they won’t be there, but he’s ... probably the guy you can trust the most right now would be Ben.”
Pettine better hope so. Given the collection of unproven receivers on the roster and Hoyer’s inexperience, the Browns are going to need a solid running game that can keep the chains moving.
Lewis was on the Browns' active roster for 11 weeks last season, including three games, although he never played. He also spent three weeks on Cleveland’s practice squad before being signed to Jacksonville’s active roster.
The Browns now have seven players signed to the practice squad: offensive lineman James Brown, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel, tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, linebacker Kevin Pough, quarterback Connor Shaw and linebacker Justin Staples.
But the younger Agnew is a fullback, an endangered species in the modern NFL. Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan actually values fullbacks in his zone-rushing scheme, and Agnew is in the mold of Washington fullback Darrel Young.
How stressed were you on Saturday waiting to hear about the cuts?
Agnew: Oh, I was very stressed, just like everybody else, staring at my phone all day, trying to keep my mind off of it, watch TV, watch Netflix or something. But you can't help but be nervous. It's something that you really want for yourself.
Running back is a position where the past two drafts there hasn't been one picked in the first round. Fullback is an even more endangered species. How do you explain being able to carve out a niche for yourself here?
Agnew: You know, I think I just did it just being the best I could be every practice, just doing what I do best, not trying to do to much, just staying within what I'm comfortable with in my wheelhouse. Just trying to really show them that, 'Hey, this is who I am, this is what I do well,' and you know if they thought it could help their team then they'll keep me around and if not then hopefully I'll land somewhere else.
Can you explain the role of FB in Kyle Shanahan's offense?
Agnew: It's obviously very important because I think his offense is one of those that uses the fullback a lot, one of the very few. And, obviously, he can spread it out, sling it but also it's important to have a fullback in this run game and his zone read because they're kind of the eyes for the running back. We're the first to see the opening. We see the opening, we run through the hole, the running back follows us.
The key for a fullback in this offense is just to not stop your feet, you know, just run. You've got to keep running. If you keep running and you have good head placement then the running back can cut off of you. The way the zone works is it doesn't tell the running back you have to run at this hole. The zone is the running back gets the ball, he looks at one hole, if it's not open he goes to the next one, goes to the next one, goes to the next one. If the fullback is lollygagging through the hole or stopping in the hole, he's going to constrict it for the running back and it's not going to be good, it's probably going to result in a negative play. That's basically what the fullback does in this offense.
Is it true you haven't gotten a carry since high school?
Agnew: That is very true. Hopefully that will change this year.
Have you been lobbying for a Ray Agnew package?
Agnew: No, not really. I'm still a rookie so I kind of keep my mouth shut and do my work. It would be nice to get a few carries.
Your Twitter handle is @Underrated_FB. Why?
Agnew: I've had that for a while. I did it on purpose, because I feel like I've been underrated my whole life, and there's nothing wrong with that. I kind of relish that, being an underrated person, being under the radar and working my way up. I'm totally fine with that. It's just something I noticed. Every time I go on my Twitter it reminds me of where I've been and that good things hopefully are ahead.
Who did you call first on Saturday after you made the Browns' roster?
Agnew: Oh, I called my dad first. He's just proud of me, happy for me. He's been there with me throughout my whole life. He's seen what I've been through in my football career. All I've ever wanted to do in my life, whether it's football or anything, was make my dad proud. To hear him say he's proud of me, that means a lot.
When the call came, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers -- nemesis of Hoyer's hometown Cleveland Browns. It's the Steelers that the Browns, with Hoyer at quarterback, will face Sunday to open the season.
Hoyer spent only a few weeks with the Steelers, as insurance when Ben Roethlisberger and then backup Byron Leftwich were nursing injuries. Hoyer didn't play a snap in a game. When he was released, he was claimed off waivers by Arizona, where he spent the rest of the season before later being granted his release.
Hoyer signed with Cleveland in 2013 and started three games before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
"I was grateful to have a job," Hoyer said of his time with the Steelers. "As bitter as this rivalry is and being a Cleveland boy, I will always have a place in my heart for Pittsburgh because they gave me a job at a time when no one else would. ... A couple of things fall different ways, you never know how it would've turned out.
"I couldn't be [happier] to be a Cleveland Brown, but I think that there will always be a spot in my heart for those guys, because they gave me a job when 31 other teams wouldn't. I [will] always be thankful for that, but at the same time, I think I'm on the right side of this rivalry now."
It is an interesting take on a heated division rival that Hoyer understands better than most.
“As you know, the 48 hours after the deadline there’s a lot of movement with the roster,” Pettine said. “So I wouldn’t read too much into where it stands right now. There are some guys that aren’t here, potentially could come back; some guys that are here that won’t be here.
“The roster situation right now, it is very fluid, and I think that just kind of comes with the time of year where a lot of names that are out there are guys that you liked in the draft, that you thought were draftable, that you were getting ready to take and somebody else took them. And then you have to weigh those decisions on can we get this guy here? Can we get him ready? Do we put him on the 53? Do we put him on the practice squad? That’s why (general manager) Ray [Farmer] and his crew have been pretty much working nonstop since the end of our game last week.”
Reading between the lines, will Grossman be back? My guess is that ultimately, yes, he will be. Grossman played for four years in Washington when new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was coaching there. He knows Shanahan’s system. He has experience. He can be a sounding board for Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, if nothing else.
And given that Hoyer is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and Manziel is a rookie learning an entirely new offensive system, it would be wise for Pettine to have an insurance policy with a veteran signal caller on the roster.
Extra point. Cornerbacks Joe Haden (foot) and Buster Skrine (thumb) practiced yesterday, and Pettine said he expects both will play Sunday when the Browns open the season at Pittsburgh.
BEREA, Ohio – The Cleveland Browns continue to tinker with the bottom of their roster. In addition to terminating the contract of quarterback Rex Grossman, they were awarded four players via waivers, signed five others to the practice squad and waived three others.
The headliner of the day was the jettisoning of Grossman, a 34-year-old veteran who was unlikely to play but could have served as valuable insurance in the event that Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel flopped. Clearly Browns head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer valued the roster spot over having a No. 3 quarterback who was unlikely to play in a game.
The practice squad additions, so far, are offensive lineman James Brown, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel, tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, linebacker Keith Pough and linebacker Justin Staples. McDaniel, Ogbuehi and Staples were cut on Saturday.
It is a risky proposition. Even though Grossman had not taken a meaningful snap in a regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2012, his final start for the Washington Redskins, he is a proven veteran who has started 51 career games, including four in the postseason. And Grossman played under new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for four seasons, so he knows the type of offense Shanahan likes to run and the play calls he likes to make.
If nothing else, Grossman could have been a valued locker-room presence and sounding board for Hoyer and Manziel.
Now, the onus clearly is on Hoyer, who started three games for the Browns last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He was named the starter after a shaky preseason, and given the Browns opening schedule, he will have to play lights-out to hold on to it. Hoyer is an even-keeled, hard-working guy, but he struggled during the preseason – as did Manziel – working with inferior receivers.
The Browns don’t practice until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Afterward, coach Mike Pettine will speak to the media and explain why he and general manager Ray Farmer decided to let Grossman go.
McFadden, a third-round pick of the Browns in 2013, played every game last season and started the final two preseason games due to injuries in the Browns' secondary.
The Jets had to do something after a tumultuous preseason.
Top corner Dee Milliner suffered a high-ankle sprain on Aug. 10, and is highly questionable for the season opener against the Oakland Raiders. The other projected starter, Dimitri Patterson, was suspended and released Saturday after an unexcused absence last weekend. They also lost rookie Dexter McDougle to a season-ending knee injury in early August.
In the meantime, here are a few more thoughts about the moves Cleveland made on Saturday, and what could be next.
Rex Grossman is the oldest player on the roster. Some teams keep only two quarterbacks on their active roster. Others keep three. The Browns wisely opted to keep Grossman, a 12-year veteran, to bolster a quarterback room that includes Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel.
Grossman will give first-year coach Mike Pettine a veteran voice and a safety net in the event Hoyer stumbles and/or Manziel isn’t ready to play. Grossman played for Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Washington.
“Rex is a veteran,” Pettine said on Saturday. “He’s played in this system. He’s good for the [other] guys in the room, and he also showed that he can still throw it. And that’s the most important thing. He can still play.”
Pettine values defensive backs. Want proof? He kept 12 on the roster – seven cornerbacks and five safeties. Among the corners are two draft picks, first-rounder Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and fourth-rounder Pierre Desir, and two undrafted rookie free agents. The Browns also added veteran Aaron Berry to match with Joe Haden and Buster Skrine.
Among the safeties, not surprisingly, are free agents Donte Whitner and Jim Leonhard.
“Oh man, we have a lot of talent,” Haden told me recently. “We have a lot of skill players, especially on the back end, in the cornerback room, the safeties. This is the most talented [defensive back] room I’ve definitely been around.”
A dozen rookies made the team. The Browns, who didn’t have a selection after the fourth round of the draft, kept all six of their draft picks: Gilbert, Manziel, tackle Joel Bitonio of Nevada, outside linebacker Chris Kirksey of Iowa, running back Terrance West of Towson and Desir.
Cleveland also kept six undrafted rookie free agents: defensive backs K’Waun Williams and Robert Nelson, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, running back Isaiah Crowell, fullback Ray Agnew and offensive lineman Karim Barton, whom the Eagles cut earlier this month.
There is likely more to come. Said Pettine: “I think the 53 is always going to be fluid,” which means that this 53 is merely the first 53, not the final 53. Look for the Browns to find more help at the wide receiver position.
Purging the 2013 draft class: Cleveland’s 2013 draft was widely panned for being atrocious. It seems Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer agree. On Saturday, the Browns cut cornerback Leon McFadden, their third-round pick in 2013, and guard Garrett Gilkey, one of their two seventh-round picks. With McFadden and Gilkey gone, Cleveland only has two players on its roster -- outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo and defensive end Armonty Bryant -- from last year’s draft class.
Running back depth: Last week, Pettine said Dion Lewis was close to grabbing the No. 3 running back spot. On Saturday, Lewis got cut. Ben Tate will be the starter, backed up by Terrance West and undrafted rookie free agent Isaiah Crowell, who should get a handful of carries per game. In the Browns last preseason game, Crowell rushed for 102 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown run. Chris Ogbonnaya also got cut.
What’s next: After giving the players Saturday off, Pettine and the Browns will return to practice on Sunday afternoon to prepare for their season-opener at Pittsburgh. On Sunday, teams can begin signing players to their 10-man practice squads. Also, the Browns likely will take a look at former New York Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill, the Jets’ second-round pick in 2012 out of Georgia Tech. Pettine was the Jets’ defensive coordinator during Hill’s rookie season. About the roster, Pettine said, “I think the 53 is always going to be fluid, especially at the start of the season.”
Browns moves: The team terminated the contracts of veteran WR Nate Burleson, LB Zac Diles, LB Jamaal Westerman and RB Chris Ogbonnaya. CB Isaiah Trufant was placed on injured reserve. The Browns waived DB Josh Aubrey, DB Leon McFadden, DL Calvin Barnett, DL Jacobbi McDaniel, DL Justin Staples, OL Reid Fragel, OL Garrett Gilkey, OL Donald Hawkins, OL Alex Parsons, OL Abasi Salimu, QB Connor Shaw, TE/FB MarQueis Gray, RB Dion Lewis, TE Emmanuel Ogbuehi and WR Willie Snead.
It was not enough.
With Josh Gordon suspended for the season, the Browns' weakest position group on the roster is wide receiver. Burleson certainly is no Gordon, but he made 457 career receptions for 5,630 yards and 39 touchdowns while playing for Minnesota, Seattle and, most recently, Detroit.
The move begs the question of whether the Browns have interest in someone else, either via a trade or after other teams make their cuts. A team spokesman said he could not confirm that Burleson had been cut.
Asked on Friday whether Burleson had secured a roster spot for himself after playing against the Bears, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine was noncommittal.
"I'm not going to talk on individual players here," Pettine said. "We're still working through the whole evaluation with the position coaches and with the coordinators. I'm not going to comment on a specific player's status at this point."
The Browns' receiving corps, as of now, includes Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin and Willie Snead. Austin twice topped 1,000 receiving yards during his eight seasons with Dallas, but in only 11 games last season he finished with 24 catches for 244 yards. Hawkins played the previous three seasons for Cincinnati. Benjamin is in his third season in Cleveland and caught only five passes for 105 yards last season. Gabriel and Snead are rookies.
Asked on Friday if he felt confident going into Week 1 against Pittsburgh with the receivers he had on the roster, Pettine said he did.
"We'll feel confident," Pettine said. "We'll feel confident with the guys that we have and if we get a chance to improve this football team over the next two days then we will. If we don't, then we will feel very confident with the group we're taking to Pittsburgh."
Burleson, who had been dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, only played in one preseason game. He caught one pass on two targets for 27 yards in the preseason finale.
The 32-year-old had 461 yards and one touchdown last season for the Detroit Lions.
Cornerback Isaiah Trufant was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury that forced him to miss three of the Browns' four preseason games.
Information from ESPN's Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan and ESPN.com's Pat McManamon was used in this report.