Pat McManamon of ESPN put up some takeaways from the Cleveland Browns’ OTAs, the third practice that was open to the media. With Johnny Manziel now on the team the Browns will have more national coverage. We at FoS are intrigued by how Cleveland teams are thought about and discussed and will take a look at some of the on going national coverage of all things Cleveland. Remembering that our goal and motto is to help Change the Narrative of Cleveland sports. We need to continue to look at the national narrative that exists ongoing about our favorite teams.
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?
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.
Pat makes a great point in his first two points. The Browns are playing it cautious with Hoyer’s injury, and though they like what they have seen from the rehabbing de facto starter, their methods also give far more snaps to Manziel from the traditional, under center look. At some level this could be the best for both of these players. Hoyer has far more experience under center and showed little problem dealing with the rush around him last year. Working out of the shotgun and pistol formations will get him for more comfortable with those areas he has less experience. The opposite is true for Manziel who ran mostly out of the spread, shotgun formation at Texas A&M. He needs to work on his backpedal and seeing the defense while dropping back in the pocket. For each player this should help develop them in the areas they have the least experience, and could make Manziel look worse due to his lack of dropback experience. Hoyer, the competitor that he is, is pushing to get all the first team snaps, as any QB should.
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.
Austin will be an interesting player for the Browns and their fans this year. His history and pedigree says that he can be a reliable pass catcher but his same history says injuries could be a huge problem. Austin will either be healthy, make the team and start (even if Josh Gordon plays) or be unhealthy and likely be cut. He could provide a reliable weapon for Hoyer or Manziel to go along with dynamic slot guy Andrew Hawkins and big tight end Jordan Cameron. If/when Gordon is back with the Browns that 4 some, when healthy, would challenge for the best core in the AFC North and maybe the AFC as a whole.
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.
Just an interesting note about how important OTAs are from a “how do they look” perspective. Players aren’t going full speed, aren’t able to do all the things they will in training camp or the game and looking good is a relative term. Players with speed and quickness often look good due to the lack of hitting, jamming, etc. That is one reason all the hype about Hawkins needs to be tempered just a bit. He can be dynamic, and was under used with the Bengals but in OTAs he is basically playing against a ton of air and space.
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.
Gray is an interesting player, one that Brendan Leister of Draft Browns believes could be the perfect fullback/H-back player in this system. Gray is strong enough as a blocker but has the ability to get outside and get blocks out there as well. His hands are good and his ability to create some deception as a passer can help throw teams off guard. Shanahan’s offense is all about options and pressing the defense into difficult decisions. Gray can help with that.
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.
About half of Pat’s points were about Manziel so we would be remiss if we didn’t hit a little more on the prized rookie. Having whoa moments where fans are excited is one thing. Having moments that cause the players to cheer is quite a different thing. NFL players are used to seeing great athletic plays so to get them to cheer, to shock and surprise them, takes a special kind of talent. Obviously those type of risky plays, as Pat notes Manziel would of been sacked on the first play, can make for some great Sportscenter highlights. Making the right play, the check down play, the quick throw to Hawkins and let him do all the work, is what will decide whether Manziel is a Super Bowl caliber player or just an exciting player who makes a ton of mistakes. That along with his ability to stay healthy will decide his success, far more then his off-the-field persona.
What do you think from what you heard coming out of Berea so far?