The Browns held their 17th full-squad practice of training camp this morning. Here are some highlights from practice and subsequent interviews:
Browns rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon has often stopped short of finishing plays and lacked overall hustle during camp, but coach Pat Shurmur believes Gordon is turning the corner and giving more effort as of late.
“The last couple of days, he’s practicing faster in my mind, catching the ball and running with it instead of catching it and stopping,” Shurmur said. “He’s learning how to do it better in practice, and as we all know if you see it here, then it’ll translate to the game.
“We’ve talked about him practicing in a more aggressive, more game-like speed, which is obvious that he wasn’t really used to. I think in the last couple of days, really since the Green Bay game – we’ve been out here three times now – I’ve seen that start to take shape a little bit.”
In a seven-on-seven drill, Gordon ran a go route along the sideline, reached over his head in stride and grabbed a pass from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden despite suffocating coverage from cornerback James Dockery. It was the best catch of the day.
Gordon, of course, still has room for improvement. Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who serves as an analyst during WKYC’s broadcasts, has been critical of Gordon’s hook routes. In both of the Browns’ exhibition games, Gordon has run sloppy comeback routes, allowing cornerbacks to break up passes from Weeden and nearly pick them off.
“I think he needs to work on that route,” Shurmur said. “The other thing about this process kind of running parallel is us getting used to the routes he runs well and feature them more in the game plans, which is important. … I would agree with Bernie. Running up and coming back right now is not the best thing he’s doing. But he does a good job of running up and keeping running.”
In addition to Gordon, Shurmur said he thought the team as a whole had a much better practice this morning than Sunday, when dropped passes became the norm.
“Feels good to ask the players to respond, and then they did,” Shurmur said. “I saw them do it. It was a good thing.”
Strong safety David Sims had a couple of nice catches of his own. In seven-on-seven action, he intercepted a pass over the middle from Weeden, who was trying to hit Gordon on a slant route, and he picked off another pass from quarterback Seneca Wallace and returned it for a touchdown.
Sims recorded an interception in each of the Browns’ first two preseason games. He returned one against Thursday night the Green Bay Packers for a 38-yard touchdown.
“I think he’s flashed for the coaches as well,” Shurmur said. “He made an interception today, which is good. He’s challenging, he’s physical and he’s really made a huge amount of progress in the time we’ve been together. I’m hopeful that it’ll continue here in the next two preseason games ‘cause that’s the thing you want to see for a guy to make the team. He’s got to flash and he’s got to make plays and to his credit he’s done that.”
Shurmur was asked whether his desire to develop fourth-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis could impact the decision he must make about the No. 2 quarterback. Shurmur said he’ll wait until the team completes its final two preseason games before choosing between Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace as Weeden’s primary backup.
“If we’re gonna talk about Thad Lewis, being with him for a year in St. Louis, I saw him respond in a way that he did in the games, really in the Detroit game,” Shurmur said. “Very few reps and then go in there and play pretty well, which is an attribute that a backup initially needs to have ‘cause you don’t get many reps and all of the sudden you’re in the game, it’s a firestorm and I got to go out there and execute.
“I saw him do that there. As we’ve seen because of what’s going on with our quarterback situation, he hasn’t gotten many reps. And then he went out in the game against Detroit, albeit it was against the thirds, but still executed well and played quarterback well. I think there’s value in that. I really do. There’s something to Thad that I think is worth developing.”
If Scott Fujita’s three-game suspension for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal isn’t overturned or reduced in federal court, rookie James-Michael Johnson will start at strongside linebacker.
Shurmur seems to be growing comfortable with the idea.
“I think the production that he’s given us in the games so far points to the fact that he may be a starter for us this year,” Shurmur said of Johnson, a fourth-round pick. “He has a chance. Again, I don’t want to make any proclamations at this point, but I think he’ll continue to improve as well. I said it early in the week or after the game, but I thought that young linebacking corps did an outstanding job against Green Bay.”
Plan for Josh Cribbs
Shurmur reiterated that Cribbs will be used primarily on special teams, but that doesn’t mean he’ll disappear from the rotation of wide receivers.
“He’s gonna be active, and he’s gonna be a returner,” Shurmur said. “So that being the case, he’s gonna line up and play receiver at times. … I think it’s realistic that he’s gonna get his snaps at receiver much like he did last year.”
Can Shurmur see a case in which fullbacks Owen Marecic, a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft, and Brad Smelley, a seventh-round selection this year, both make the team?
“Possibly,” Shurmur said. “Possibly ‘cause Smelley could be considered a tight end as well as a fullback.”
Defensive tackle John Hughes, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, sat out with an undisclosed injury. Fellow rookie Billy Winn filled Hughes’ spot with the first-team defense.
“He’ll be out there soon,” Shurmur said of Hughes.
In addition to Hughes, the following 11 players sat out today: cornerback Dimitri Patterson (right ankle), strong safety Usama Young (reported hamstring), rookie running back Trent Richardson (had arthroscopic surgery on left knee Aug. 9), strong safety Ray Ventrone (right hamstring), weakside linebacker Chris Gocong (had surgery Aug. 10 to repair torn right Achilles tendon and is out for the season), rookie linebacker Emmanuel Acho (undisclosed), defensive tackle Scott Paxson (right knee), offensive lineman Oniel Cousins (Shurmur cited soreness), defensive end Juqua Parker (undisclosed), defensive tackle Phil Taylor (had surgery to repair torn pectoral muscle May 16 and is out at least until late October) and strongside linebacker Scott Fujita (left leg).
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya walked off the practice field and into the team’s facility with a trainer after linebacker D’Qwell Jackson rolled on Ogbonnaya’s right leg during a two-minute drill. Ogbonnaya got up and ran around after the play, but he didn’t continue practicing.
Earlier in practice, undrafted rookie cornerback Antwuan Reed also walked off the field with a trainer. He injured his left leg while running down the field to cover a punt.
Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (right leg) returned to practice. It was the first practice in which he participated since Aug. 13.