BEREA: Jordan Cameron wants to have a breakout season with the Browns as their No. 1 tight end, so a couple of weeks before training camp opened, he met with future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez and absorbed all the advice he could.
“He’s been doing it forever,” Cameron told the Beacon Journal on Saturday. “He’s like a legend for the tight ends. Everything he was saying, I was just keeping in my mind and focusing on those things.”
Browns tight ends coach Jon Embree encouraged Cameron to reach out to Gonzalez, a member of the Atlanta Falcons and 13-time Pro Bowler who’s on the verge of entering his 17th NFL season. Embree coached Gonzalez during their days together with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cameron, a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft, lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., during the offseason, so he arranged to meet Gonzalez during the second week of July in nearby Huntington Beach. Cameron said they spent a couple of hours talking and running routes at Huntington Beach High School, Gonzalez’s alma mater. He tried to soak in all the tips Gonzalez offered.
“There were little things with seam reads and a lot of basic things that people don’t really do, and he does a great job of that,” Cameron said. “He does the details on the routes that really get him open, really separates him from the defenders. A lot of young guys rely on athleticism and they think they can get open doing whatever ’cause they’re athletes, so they can run here, run there.
“But he works on the little things, the separation from the defender, coming back to the ball instead of rounding out your routes. So there’s a lot of little things, and when he was telling me to do something, I would remember specifically seeing exactly how he would do it on tape. So it was funny to see. Whatever he was preaching, he definitely does it on the field.”
Cameron, 24, said Gonzalez, 37, also told him about his approach off the field, a key to his success and longevity.
“He kind of gave me some pointers on how to stay healthy, [develop the right] mindset and just the little things that really make the biggest difference,” Cameron said. “There’s a routine he does every single day, and he sticks to it no matter what. And that’s the biggest thing for me, keeping that mindset of no matter how hard it gets and how physically and emotionally tired you are, you’ve just got to stick to the routine and things will work out. It’s stretching, eating right, taking care of your body, working out, doing everything to stay out of the training room.”
The Browns released their first depth chart of the year Sunday. As expected, Cameron is listed as their starting tight end, followed in order by Gary Barnidge, Kellen Davis, Dan Gronkowski and Travis Tannahill.
“We’re going to give Jordan an opportunity to be that guy,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said July 23. “Now let’s put it in his hands. Is he capable of being that guy? That’s why you go to camp. That’s why you go play the games.”
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Cameron is eager to prove himself. He’ll get his first real shot of the year when the Browns host the St. Louis Rams Thursday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
“You come into the league and you want to have a starting role,” said Cameron, who started eight of the 22 NFL games in which he has appeared, compiling 26 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown. “It’s a great opportunity, and I don’t really think too far ahead about it. I just try to focus on day-by-day things. I don’t want to get my head all big and filled with all these ideas of what I can be. Right now, it’s all potential. So I’ve really got to maximize my abilities and really take to this coaching and just take it day by day.”
A former college basketball player at Brigham Young University and the University of Southern California who converted to football, Cameron has the talent to excel in the tight-end friendly offense installed by Turner and Browns coach Rob Chudzinski. The key for Cameron, though, will be durability. He missed part of organized team activities in May and mandatory minicamp in June with groin and hamstring injuries. He also sat out the final two games of the 2012 season with a concussion.
“The big thing is taking care of your body,” said Cameron, who now uses resistance bands to stretch and strengthen his hips before every practice. “Last year, I wasn’t getting as many reps, and this year they bumped them up a lot, so it’s just learning the little things that really keep you going. I’ve never had really major injuries. It’s always been little, minor strains here and there.
“So I’m focusing on doing all the [preventative treatment] and really taking care of my hips and stretching and using the cold tub and all that stuff to stay out of the training room with the injuries. But it’s important to really maintain. It comes along with routine ’cause some days you’re tired and you don’t want to do the hip strengthening and all the stuff that makes you not get injured. So you’ve really got to stick to the routine and just keep going.”
Cameron has been studying, too, as he adapts to the vertical, downfield passing game of Turner and Chudzinski. He’s been watching film of Gonzalez and San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, whom Turner coached. He’s also been meeting with quarterback Brandon Weeden to discuss the intricacies of routes in the new offense.
Now he’s hoping it all pays off.
The following players are listed as starters for the offense: quarterback Weeden, tight end Cameron, wide receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little, left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, running back Trent Richardson and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya. The Browns did not definitively identify starting guards. John Greco and Jason Pinkston share the top spot at left guard, and Shawn Lauvao and Pinkston are listed together at right guard.
The following players are listed as starters for the defense: right end Desmond Bryant, nose tackle Phil Taylor, left end Ahtyba Rubin, outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger, inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson, left cornerback Joe Haden, free safety Tashaun Gipson and strong safety T.J. Ward. The Browns did not definitively identify a starting right cornerback. Buster Skrine and Chris Owens share the top spot at the position.
On special teams, T.J. Conley and Spencer Lanning are listed together at punter. The same applies to Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay at kicker and Bademosi and running back Dion Lewis at kickoff returner. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin is listed as the No. 1 punt returner and Christian Yount as the top long snapper.
Turner and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton will call plays from the coaches’ booth during games, according to a release the Browns distributed to the media. … The Browns did not practice Sunday. Practice is set to run from 4-6:30 p.m. today and is open to the public, weather permitting. For updates, call 877-627-6967.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.