BEREA: Browns cornerback Buster Skrine is accustomed to it by now. Different year. Same story. The team, looking to upgrade its secondary, drafts fresh-faced prospects.
Last year, that was Leon McFadden from San Diego State. This year, it’s first-round pick Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State and fourth-round selection Pierre Desir from Lindenwood.
Gilbert, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, will be given every chance to win the starting job opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Skrine, though, won’t relent without a fight. He became a full-time starter last season, and wants it to stay that way.
“I feel like it’s my job,” Skrine said Wednesday after the second practice of mandatory minicamp. “Every year, they bring in corners. I feel like I’m holding my ground.”
Skrine, whom the Browns drafted in the fifth out of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga three years ago, might sound nonplussed because he has been practicing with the first-team defense opposite Haden throughout spring practices while Gilbert has toiled with the second unit. Still, Skrine realizes what everyone else knows – the Browns have great expectations for Gilbert.
“I was happy for him to get drafted in the top 10,” Skrine said. “The family is blessed. He has a lot of financial stability. He’s a good player, and I just hope for the best for him because he’s getting better every day.”
Even if Skrine can’t hold off Gilbert heading into the season opener Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh, he’ll still play a prominent role covering slot receivers in the nickel package.
“I definitely look at it as my job,” Skrine said. “But I know in this defense you play a lot of DBs, so really the nickel plays a lot of plays.”
However, that doesn’t mean Skrine is ready to concede anything with respect to his current status. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Skrine made strides last season, tallying 23 passes defensed, an interception, 75 tackles and a sack.
“I told Bus the first time I talked to him that when I turned on the film I couldn’t wait to watch Haden, Haden, Haden,” new Browns secondary coach Jeff Hafley said. “And then I saw him out there and it was, ‘Who is this guy?’ [He has] explosive bursts. [He’s] one of the most competitive guys I have ever been around. It’s really exciting to see how he’s come out and competed. I’m really excited about what he brings to our defense.”
Running back Terrance West signed his rookie contract Wednesday afternoon. He received a four-year contract worth $2.796 million, NationalFootballPost.com reported.
Last month, the Browns traded up to draft West in the third round (No. 94 overall). The rookie from Towson University is expected to compete with free-agent acquisition Ben Tate for the starting running back job. West took first-team reps Wednesday while Tate sat out team drills.
The 5-10, 225-pound West believes he’s an ideal fit to run behind the zone-blocking scheme used heavily by new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan because of his one-cut rushing style.
“That’s where I get my money at,” West said last week. “I was doing that at Towson. I’m pretty good and confident in what we’re doing.
“It’s instinct. That’s how I run — one cut and downfield.”
The Browns now have three of their picks from this year’s draft under contract: West, linebacker Christian Kirksey (third round) and Desir (fourth round). Gilbert (first round), quarterback Johnny Manziel (first round) and guard Joel Bitonio (second round) remain unsigned.
Rumble in trenches
When a fight breaks out at practice, it’s usually nothing more than a shoving match that is quickly broken up. However, a fight between guard Garrett Gilkey and nose tackle Phil Taylor got downright nasty Wednesday.
Gilkey threw several uppercut punches and Taylor delivered haymakers. As players tried to separate Gilkey and Taylor, a pile of bodies formed between the two. That’s when Taylor shoved wide receiver Miles Austin out of the way and took more shots at Gilkey.
Browns coach Mike Pettine said the fight tested the limits.
“Especially because of Gilkey’s [long] hair,” Pettine said. “There might have been a hair pull or two at the end. I think that’s why it took us a while to get it broken up.”
Added outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo: “Tempers flare. Someone feels like they’ve been wronged, they’re going to retaliate, so that’s what happened. You’ve got to break that up. You can’t have that.”
Gilkey was involved in another scuffle this spring.
“There are some guys that are maybe more apt to get involved with it just by the nature of how they play,” Pettine said.
Of course, that’s probably a compliment for an offensive lineman, and Pettine added that Gilkey will compete with John Greco and Paul McQuistan for a starting job this summer.
All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon didn’t practice Wednesday and won’t practice Thursday because he suffered “a minor ding” Tuesday, Pettine said. It’s believed to be a hamstring injury, which also kept Gordon out of team drills Tuesday.
Pettine said Gordon sitting out has nothing to do with the looming drug suspension that the Pro Bowler is appealing.
Pettine was critical of Gordon’s practice habits during a radio interview Tuesday with 92.3 The Fan, and he elaborated on the topic Wednesday. Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard ripped Gordon last year for “loafing” during practice, a claim that former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner disputed.
“[Hustling during practice is] something I think he’s made progress with,” Pettine said of Gordon. “It wasn’t just him. I think that’s one thing that we stress to our guys when we come in is that we want to finish. … Each position has its own little definition of what ‘finish’ is. That’s something that he’s improved on, but just like some other guys, there’s some room for more improvement.”
In team drills, Gilbert used his left hand to bat down a floater from Manziel to wide receiver Kenny Shaw on a quick drag route. Gilbert thought he should’ve intercepted the pass, and he let Manziel know.
“I told him after that play, after we went over to the sideline, I was like, ‘You’re welcome,’” Gilbert said. “It should’ve been my first NFL interception, but I didn’t make it.”
Veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson shared his opinion about the ongoing debate regarding Manziel’s partying.
“I just think he’s a guy who’s going out enjoying his free time,” Burleson said. “Now if he came out here stumbling around, smelling like booze, we can have this conversation. That would be a legitimate conversation to have. But he’s coming out here focused, very alert, locked in on what he’s doing. Until that changes, I think everybody should let the young guy do what young guys do.”
Quotable part 2
Pettine shared his thoughts on the San Diego Padres drafting Manziel on Saturday in the 28th round of the MLB Draft.
“I didn’t really even realize that he played baseball,” Pettine said. “I think it was back in high school, and I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him about it.
“When I heard it, somebody texted me about it, and I didn’t think it was that big of a deal because the kid’s die-hard football. It was a bit of a surprise. … He’s football through and through.”
Dad knows best
Pettine’s father, iconic Pennsylvania high school football coach Mike Pettine Sr., was a guest at practice Wednesday.
“He’s been watching some of the practice tape, so we had – I don’t want to call it heated – but an Italian conversation this morning before practice, he, I and [defensive coordinator Jim] O’Neil,” Pettine said. “It’s great to have him here. It’s just another guy not necessarily who’s immersed in the scheme, but I always say it’s nice to get the 30,000-foot view sometimes instead of when you’re deep in it, where he can make some comments.”
In addition to Gordon, wide receivers Travis Benjamin, Charles Johnson and Willie Snead, running backs Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis and Jourdan Brooks, defensive back Robert Nelson, inside linebackers Karlos Dansby, Brandon Magee and Tank Carder and defensive end Billy Winn rode stationary bikes and worked out on the side with athletic trainers.
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and Austin watched practice from the field. Defensive back Darwin Cook, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and guard Joel Bitonio (ankle) were not at practice. Offensive tackle Reid Fragel left practice with an athletic trainer and did not return.
Guard Jason Pinkston returned to practice after leaving Tuesday because he was bothered by his left hand.
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar worked with Chicago Bears quarterbacks Wednesday during the team’s organized team activities. Bears coach Marc Trestman coached Kosar with the Browns and at the University of Miami. … The first-string offense, led by Manziel because veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer is still limited to a simulated version of team drills as he recovers from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, went three-and-out in a pair of two-minute drills that simulated the end of the first half. The second stringers, led by quarterback Tyler Thigpen, set up a 45-yard field goal, which Billy Cundiff made. … Desir intercepted a pass from undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw during team drills. … Musician and radio personality Michael Stanley and ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski attended practice.