Ten takeaways from the third open practice of the Cleveland Browns' offseason work:
Quarterback Brian Hoyer continues to do everything right, yet finds himself fighting to get on the field for a full workout. As of this week, he is still limited in some team drills, permitted to take a shotgun or pistol snap but not permitted to face a rush. The Browns don’t want to take a chance on anyone accidentally rolling up on Hoyer's surgically repaired knee. Hoyer’s response: What difference does a month make? Because he will be doing just that in training camp. The Browns simply prefer to be cautious. Hoyer has no limitations physically, but is only seven months removed from surgery. “I just think from a risk-reward standpoint it just still doesn’t make a lot of sense to expose him at this point,” coach Mike Pettine said.
The problem, of course, is that because he can’t take part in every drill full speed, Hoyer has to watch while the guy trying to take his job gets more chances. If the Browns had drafted any other quarterback -- Teddy Bridgewater, for example -- the interest and expectation for playing time would have changed completely. Hoyer would be the starter, and no one would argue. Every dynamic changes with Johnny Manziel in town.
Receiver Miles Austin got some individual work for the first time on Tuesday. The Browns are taking it slow with Austin since he was not working with a team before they signed him. If healthy, it would be tough to see Austin not being in the starting lineup.
Ben Tate’s comments on the attention given Manziel being excessive given he has yet to play a down in the NFL were not incorrect, or outrageous. Tate’s right. Manziel is treated like a rock star, yet he’s never completed an NFL pass, much less won a game. Tate seemed most irritated at the media for the constant attention given Manziel, so it’s tough to say he was irritated at the quarterback. What this does is give the Browns a glimpse of what they will face in training camp, when the attention will be daily, constant and unending. It already has been. When the Avon Lake High School Chorale wasn't sending their operatic harmonies skyward, the dudes were asking about Manziel as they strolled the streets of Manhattan on a spring trip. In May TMZ followed Manziel in and out of a club. It's not going away. This is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, so the players best start preparing.
The Browns really couldn’t say much about Josh Gordon's situation, but the wait on an announcement has to be wearing on everyone. His being pulled over recently is really a bizarre situation. Here is a guy facing a minimum one-year ban by the NFL who drives around a passenger carrying marijuana.
People always ask how certain guys look in OTAs, and it’s really tough to tell. I once asked offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley what could be gleaned watching linemen in a minimcamp, and he simply said: “Nothing.” This is one step removed from minicamp. Consider safety Donte Whitner, who is all over the middle of the field, intercepting passes but often running past a receiver. Full-speed, in a game, that run past a receiver would turn into a lowered shoulder and a jarring hit. It didn’t stop Whitner from pointing out to a young receiver who didn’t make a catch as he ran near him that the receiver was scared. Tough business, this professional football.
The Browns moved MarQueis Gray to fullback this week, and Pettine called him a true work-in-progress. This is an interesting move worth watching in camp. Gray has some unique abilities. He is a former quarterback who played tight end and ran the Wildcat last season. He can run, throw and catch. Chris Pressley was given a look-see at fullback, but he’s a straight downhill blocker. In the Browns' system, the fullback might have two duties -- block the outside shoulder of an end and then slide to a linebacker. Gray has done some of that as a tight end, and he could be a very reliable receiver. He’s a guy who gives coordinator Kyle Shanahan a ton of options that usually don’t exist at the fullback position. If it works.
It’s foolish to make too much of three plays in an OTA practice, but the “whoa” and energy from the team as it watched Manziel’s cross-field throw 40 yards downfield was revealing. When he threw the ball, the first thought was, ‘what the heck?’ As it flew across the field, the second thought was, ‘where will this wind up?’ When it landed in tight end Jordan Cameron's hands just over two defenders, the eyebrows were raised and the players cheered. That was the first indication of what he can bring to the team. He can move, he can avoid the rush, and he can create something.
The fact that he followed it by creating two more plays on the move cemented the impression. Now ... on the first throw he might have been sacked had it been full speed. But the throw itself was, as Nate Burleson said, “pretty sweet, huh?”
This should be the focus when folks talk about “letting Johnny be Johnny,” not the off-field Hollywood-club nonsense. Manziel’s ability to make a play on the field has not yet been affected by his off-field life, and if it does then it’s an issue. Right now it’s a novelty. Letting Johnny be Johnny means letting him do what he did in college, and that is create plays and make something happen when nothing is there. The Browns have shown zero inclination to stamp out that facet of his game.