BEREA: Failure turned David Sims into a man hell-bent on demanding attention from Browns coach Pat Shurmur and his assistants during training camp.
“It changed my mentality to work harder,” Sims said Monday after practice. “It opened my eyes — I’ve got to work 10 times harder.”
Last September, the New York Giants waived Sims, an undrafted strong safety from Iowa State University, during their final cuts. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him Nov. 1, then waived him three days later. He finally stuck with the Browns after joining their practice squad Nov. 29.
Now he’s on a mission to make the Browns’ active roster. The Browns must trim their roster, which stands at 89 players, to 75 on Aug. 27. Then they must whittle it down to 53 on Aug. 31.
The memory of being cut by the Giants still affects Sims. He doesn’t want to feel the pain again.
“It hurt me because I know I’m good enough to play, and they had me kind of questioning my ability to play for a little bit just because I got cut and I knew I was doing a good job when I did get in,” Sims said. “So that kind of put a heartache on it a little, but when I got cut, I still worked out and trained, so if I got a call, I’d be ready.”
Sims has seized his opportunity with the Browns. He has recorded an interception in both preseason games and returned one of them for a 38-yard touchdown Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers. On Monday, he entered the media spotlight after intercepting passes from quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Seneca Wallace in a seven-on-seven drill.
“I think he’s flashed for the coaches as well,” Shurmur said. “He’s challenging, he’s physical and he’s really made a huge amount of progress in the time that we’ve been together. I’m hopeful that it will continue here in the next two preseason games, because that’s the kind of thing you want to see for a guy to make the team. He’s got to flash and he’s got to make plays. To his credit, he’s done that.”
The 5-foot-9, 204-pound Sims is listed behind strong safeties T.J. Ward and Usama Young on the depth chart. Young has reportedly been dealing with a hamstring problem and hasn’t practiced since Aug. 1.
“Unfortunately, yeah, Usama got hurt, banged up, but the opportunity is there for me,” Sims said. “So I’m gonna [make] the best of what I have.”
Five safeties — Ward, Young, Eric Hagg, Ray Ventrone and Mike Adams — made the team last year. Adams is the only one no longer with the Browns. If the Browns keep five this year, Sims should be safe. If four make it, Shurmur and Co. would probably choose between Sims and Young.
Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon has often stopped short of finishing plays and lacked overall hustle during camp, but Shurmur believes Gordon has given more effort 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 Weeden despite suffocating coverage from cornerback James Dockery.
Gordon, however, still has room to improve. Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who is an analyst during WKYC’s telecasts, 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.”
If Shurmur chooses to keep fourth-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis on the active roster, there wouldn’t be enough room for both Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Shurmur plans to wait until the end of the preseason to pick either McCoy or Wallace as the Browns’ No. 2 quarterback.
“As we’ve seen because of what’s going on with our quarterback situation, [Lewis] hasn’t gotten many reps,” Shurmur said. “And then he went out in the [preseason] 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.”
Lewis is still eligible for the practice squad. But if Shurmur insists on keeping him, the team probably wouldn’t risk losing him on waivers to move him to the practice squad.
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, one of 12 players who sat out Monday.
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.
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.
Defensive end Emmanuel Stephens walked into the locker room with a trainer during the team’s afternoon walk-through session.
Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (right leg) returned to practice. It was the first time he had participated since Aug. 13.
In the rotation
Although Josh Cribbs will be used primarily on special teams, Shurmur reiterated he’ll get playing time as a wide receiver, too.
“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.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.