Cleveland Browns: Eric Martin

BEREA, Ohio -- Donte Whitner plainly admitted what the naked eye showed: Monday's first practice in pads for the Cleveland Browns was uninspiring.

"Below standard," Whitner said.

But one day after it seemed like the Browns missed a memo about being fast and aggressive, they were active, noisy, aggressive and chippy. Guys went to the ground, pads were audible and taunts were present. It was much more spirited and energetic than it was 24 hours earlier.

Soon after linebacker Eric Martin taunted the offense after flinging Dion Lewis to the ground -- a supposed no-no -- Ben Tate flung the ball at Ahtyba Rubin when Rubin was too physical for Tate's taste.

"That's OK," Whitner said. "Throwing the football at someone never killed anybody."

It still led to a scrum and a dog pile that involved a large percentage of the team that didn't seem to bother anyone.

"That was a big [fight]," Whitner said. "That's how we like it really. We don't want any soft guys around here."

"You don't want one side of the ball to get bullied by the other," coach Mike Pettine said. "There has to be some pushback."

Martin Wallace got into two scuffles, one at the end of the dog pile and the other shortly after Lewis had been thrown to the ground again. Soon after the second flinging, Wallace was mixing it up with Armonty Bryant.

"It's the price of doing business," Pettine said.

Interesting, because a day earlier he had said he wanted his team to be competitive, not combative. And he had criticized safety Johson Bademosi for lowering his shoulder after a reception.

"Everybody thinks that fighting is bad, but fighting is not bad when guys have helmets on and you're not throwing punches," Whitner said. "It's guys getting frustrated, both sides of the ball getting heated, both sides of the ball getting physical. And that's what we want."

Pettine ended practice with a competitive drill. The offense has to move 20 yards, and it's best-of-5 to see if it makes it or if the defense wins. In this case, the defense dominated, winning three of four. As a result, the defense gets to wear orange "pride" jerseys on Thursday, which may not sound like much but is meaningful.

"Yeah it means something," Whitner said. "It kind of gives you the feel of a real football game. Toward the end of the game when the game is tight, your muscles get tight, you start to tense up a little bit, you understand that something is on the line and one play can cost you the game. It kind of gives you that feeling a little bit."

Clearly simply winning that competition matters. Pettine is not the first coach to institute a reward for a drill, either. Whitner said Jim Harbaugh had something similar in San Francisco.

"I know it's kind of weird," Whitner said, "but the winner had to run gassers. He wanted to see how bad you really wanted to win."

First and 10: Scoring and scoreboards

November, 19, 2013
First and 10 talks Steelers, scoring and stadiums ...
  1. The Browns talked big things a week ago when they said they were up to the task of playing in a big game in November. Now they are 4-6 and the half-full view says that with games at home the next two weeks, they could be 6-6 in December. How the rest of the season goes will depend on how the Browns fare against the Steelers on Sunday.
  2. But a week after feeling good and upbeat after a win, the Browns now look like a team that has lost four-of-five, which it has. The Steelers? After an 0-4 start, they’ve won four-of-six.
  3. No team has treated the Browns since 1999 like the kid brother Rob Chudzinski mentioned than the Steelers, with thrashings and embarrassing losses piled on each other. The lone Browns win in a game Ben Roethlisberger started might have even been a loss, because it started a streak of wins that saved Eric Mangini’s job for one season. To say the Steelers have owned the Browns is an insult to ownership.
  4. By the way ... that motivational speech from the former playmaker himself ... Michael Irvin ... Never mind.
  5. Give coach Rob Chudzinski credit for one thing -- he is very adept at defusing things in his media get-togethers. He was asked if the second quarter against Cincinnati was a snowball going downhill, and he simply said a lot of atypical things happened. Which was wise. He took what could have been an issue -- “how could a coach let things get away that badly” -- by stating a simple fact. It was a very deft statement.
  6. How advantageous is it to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown? Consider that Sunday was the 88th time that had happened in Browns history (Joe Haden did the deed for the Browns). The Browns have won 79 percent of those games, having gone 69-18-1. The one in five they lost was last Sunday.
  7. Backup linebacker Eric Martin must have some unbelievable potential. The guy is a penalty machine on special teams, and he was part of the duo that missed the block on Cincinnati’s blocked punt. His penalties have been downright bizarre. Against Cincinnati, he was flagged for unnecessary roughness when the Bengals sent a kickoff 5 yards out of the end zone. Against Green Bay he was flagged for the same when he blocked a Packers player out of bounds, then blocked him again on the sidelines. On the blocked punt, Martin blocked down on a player already engaged with a Browns protector, which provided the gap for the block. Yet while the bottom of the roster is juggled, Martin remains. Interesting.
  8. Cincinnati’s 31-point quarter was not a record by a team against the Browns. Green Bay holds that mark, as the Packers scored 35 points on Nov. 12, 1967, in the first quarter of a 55-7 rout over the Browns. Longtime Browns watchers recall a player named Travis Williams not once, but twice, returning a kickoff for a touchdown in that game.
  9. The 31 points by the Bengals matched the worst second quarter in Browns history. The team had given up that amount twice -- in 2013 against the Bengals and in 1990 against the Houston Oilers.
  10. It’s really something to hear a mayor of a struggling major city in the rust belt and an NFL team president make a convincing case that $30 million from said city’s general fund is not a bad cost for cosmetic repairs to a stadium. Then you think what $30 million can do for a city, and how that compares to beautiful scoreboards. Cleveland City Council should have fun with this vote Monday, but it would be a surprise if it didn’t pass. Art Modell’s decision was not that long ago.

Breaking down the punt-team breakdowns

November, 18, 2013
Breakdowns by the Cleveland Browns and good plays by the Cincinnati Bengals led to the crucial special teams mistakes that contributed significantly to the Browns' 21-point loss.

“We had two major breakdowns there,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.

One tipped punt and one blocked punt gave the Bengals two touchdowns and helped turn the momentum toward Cincinnati.

The first rush came up the middle, as the Bengals drove a rusher into center Christian Yount and looped Shawn Williams up the middle. Williams was able to tip the ball, which was not considered a block because it went beyond the line of scrimmage.

But the nine-yard “punt” set up the Bengals' second touchdown.

Yount said he should have changed the protection before the play. He also said his snap drifted right, which took punter Spencer Lanning closer to Williams as he rushed.

The second was a block, by Jayson DiManche. He lined up on the left side of the Bengals' rush, and split the gap between linebacker Eric Martin and linebacker Barkevious Mingo. He also easily avoided fullback Chris Ogbonnaya to reach out with his left hand and block the punt.

Mingo lined up off Martin’s right shoulder, a couple yards off the line of scrimmage. When DiManche took an outside-in move, Martin went inside to help and Mingo basically whiffed. As did Ogbonnaya.

In the scramble for the ball, Lanning also had a chance to touch Tony Dye when he recovered the ball, but Lanning said he was trying to recover the ball.

Though Mingo took the blame, coach Rob Chudzinski said the scheme called for zone blocking, so both players were responsible. Chudzinski hinted the responsibility was more on Martin.

“There needs to be help from the inside guy, and he ultimately is responsible for that guy,” Chudzinski said.

Martin actually turned inside to help on a player a teammate was blocking.

The Browns have shuffled players on the punt team, in part because of an injury to special teams captain Quentin Groves.

Mingo had played in various spots on the punt protection, including that one, Chudzinski said.

“The effect of losing Quentin is having to move guys around,” Chudzinski said. “But that’s no excuse. There’s no excuse for getting punts blocked.”
Here is a roundup of what's happening on the Cleveland Browns' beat:
  • With a majority of the starters sitting out the preseason finale, backup quarterback Jason Campbell is expected to start Thursday at Chicago, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Third-stringer Brian Hoyer figures to receive a significant amount of playing time.
  • Even though the backups will play most of the game, Vic Carucci of the team's website believes the main goal is to get out healthy. The Browns have had their share of injuries in preseason games this year: running back Dion Lewis (for the season with a broken leg), guard Jason Pinkston (into the early part of the season with a sprained ankle) and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (return unknown with a bruised lung).
  • There's another trucking company that is suing Browns owner Jimmy Haslam's family company for defrauding it out of fuel rebates, The Plain Dealer reports. Pilot Flying J, has been sued more than two dozen times involving a rebate program that is the focus of a federal investigation. Is it me, or does it seem like there have been more than two dozen suits?