BEREA: Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson has transformed in the past year from an undrafted rookie learning a new position to Ray Horton’s pick for the team’s Most Valuable Player on defense, and Gipson believes his dramatic improvement is entirely cerebral.
Gipson conceded opposing quarterbacks manipulated and confused him last season, but he is convinced he has turned the tables this year. He hopes to keep it up Sunday when the Browns (4-5) visit quarterback Andy Dalton and the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) for a crucial game with playoff implications.
“When you’re a deep, middle-of-the-field safety, there’s a lot of ground you’re responsible for,” Gipson, who played cornerback at the University of Wyoming, said Friday after practice. “I specifically remember one game against [Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe] Flacco. It’s like he was kind of controlling me, navigating me where he wanted me to go and throwing the ball opposite.
“Being a collegiate cornerback, I really never had to do that. It was just man-to-man, see the ball thrown, make a play on the ball. I think that was the biggest adjustment. I think I’m just being a pro this year, kind of understanding the quarterback’s tendencies, film study, watching what they like to do, if they like looking you off and throwing it the opposite way. I think I’ve been able to take advantage of that and get some good jumps on balls.”
Gipson is expecting to receive some opportunities against Dalton. After being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Dalton has thrown three interceptions in each of the past two games, overtime losses on the road to the Miami Dolphins and Ravens.
“It’s all about defensive backs making plays,” Gipson said. “I remember one play in the Miami game, it was a 50-50 ball, and the defense for Miami made the play, the wide receiver from the Bengals didn’t. So is it fair to say every throw is on him? I don’t think it’s fair to put that on any quarterback in the NFL. But at the end of the day, there were some throws that he threw that were pretty questionable and defensive backs were able to come down with them, and that’s what we want to do.
“That’s been the difference between these losses that they’ve suffered. These teams have been able to capitalize on the mistakes that he’s thrown. Miami had three [interceptions]. He threw three [interceptions against the Ravens], and one of them was a safety’s dream. You’re sitting in the Cover-2 hash, and he threw it right to you. But I still think he’s capable of getting it going and capable of making every throw, so you can’t count a guy like that out, especially with the weapons he’s got on offense.”
Gipson can’t be underestimated, either. Horton, the Browns’ defensive coordinator, made sure everyone knew that Thursday when he labeled Gipson his choice for MVP.
“I’m definitely grateful and gracious for his beliefs, and I can just continue to go out there and grind and try to become a better pro and have a better second half of the season than I did in the first half,” Gipson said. “At the end of the day, it’s just about grinding, just getting better as a player. I still haven’t reached none of my goals I’ve set.
“I’m not where I want to be. I think that everybody’s their hardest critic. I personally feel like I left a lot of plays out there that I want back. But I haven’t reached the top. Any guy in this league wants to be at the top. I’m still humble in this process and just want to continue to be the best that I can be.”
Gipson ranks fourth on the team with 62 tackles to go along with two interceptions and 11 passes broken up.
“He’s a guy that’s improved a lot,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s come out of nowhere and stepped up and has been a solid starter for us. He calls a lot of things on our defense, and he’s making plays. [We] really like the direction he’s going in.”
Hall of famer dies
Browns hall of fame offensive lineman Mike McCormack died Friday in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 83.
McCormack played, coached and held several executive positions in the NFL. He was the first president of the Carolina Panthers.
Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said he spoke with McCormack’s wife, Ann, and was informed of McCormack’s death of natural causes.
The Browns released a statement on McCormack’s passing.
“The Cleveland Browns were saddened to learn of the passing of Mike McCormack,” the statement said. “His contributions to our history are profound, not only on an individual level, but also with regard to the tremendous success we enjoyed as a team during his career. Both the Browns and the NFL are most fortunate to have shared part of his amazing life. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Ann, and his family.”
McCormack spent 12 seasons with the Browns, helping the franchise win NFL championships in 1954 and 1955. He played with Otto Graham and blocked for running back Jim Brown.
He later coached the Philadelphia Eagles (1973-75), Baltimore Colts (1980-81) and Seattle Seahawks (1982). He served as president and general manager of the Seahawks.
— Associated Press
Browns reclaim trophy
The Browns recently gained possession of one of two trophies made to commemorate the All-America Football Conference championship they won in 1946, said Tony Dick, the organization’s manager of alumni relations.
The Browns will work with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton to have the trophy cleaned and restored. They’ll eventually display it at a location to be determined, Dick said.
After the Browns defeated the New York Yankees 14-9 to win their first of four AAFC titles, the players pitched in money to have two trophies made, one for majority owner Mickey McBride and another for minority owner Daniel Sherby.
Dick said the trophy given to McBride is in an office of a Cleveland cab company owned by McBride’s family. The trophy presented to Sherby was in his grandson Gary Cole’s garage in Raleigh, N.C., Dick said. The DIY Network show Garage Gold filmed the removal of the trophy from the garage, and the episode is scheduled to air in late January or early February.
Dick drove to Raleigh on Tuesday and returned the trophy to the team’s headquarters in Berea on Wednesday. It features scores from the Browns’ games in 1946 and the names of the 38 players on the team, all of whom are deceased. Six of those players were inducted into the hall of fame along with legendary coach Paul Brown.
Wide receiver and standout punt returner Travis Benjamin underwent surgery Friday on the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee Oct. 27 during a 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Team doctors Lutul Farrow and Mark Schickendantz performed the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, a team spokesman said. “Everything went well in that regard, and we’re expecting a full recovery with Travis,” Chudzinski said. A definitive timetable for Benjamin’s return has yet to be established, Chudzinski said. “We plan on him [being back] hopefully for training camp [in late July] and anything before that whether it’s OTAs [in May] or whatever would be a bonus,” Chudzinski said. … The Browns ruled out undrafted rookie backup tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) for Sunday and listed backup guard Jason Pinkston (ankle) as questionable. … The Bengals ruled out starting right guard Kevin Zeitler (foot) and backup defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow). Nickel back and backup safety Chris Crocker (hamstring) and starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) are listed as doubtful. Starting strongside linebacker James Harrison (calf) is questionable.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.