For the first time since last Tuesday in Rochester against the Bills, the Browns strapped on the pads for a physical, late August practice.
Here's what we saw.
1) *Browns using Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell together? *
Johnson's return in pads brought life to the Browns offense, and the team was not shying away from throwing him right into the fire with exotic formations. On more than one occasion, Johnson lined up in the backfield together with Isaiah Crowell.
"It's tough on a defense when you have both tailbacks out there," coach Mike Pettine said. "You can use Duke as a wideout. It just gives you a little more flexibility from a formation standpoint, which then lends itself to a possible mismatch when you use Duke as a wideout. You can react to what a defense puts out there and call your play accordingly. That is something I am sure we will use."
Cleveland had a pitch count on Johnson after he missed most of training camp with a lingering hamstring injury. But despite the altered workload, it's already looking like he could see a heavy dosage of playing time Saturday in Tampa Bay.
"His legs look fresh," Pettine said. "He looks explosive."
2) *Browns using Danny Shelton and Phil Taylor together?*
In a 9-on-9 running drill, Shelton and Randy Starks lined up as the defensive ends while Phil Taylor plugged the middle at nose tackle. It was arguably Taylor's most productive practice of the summer.
The 27-year-old was even giving Alex Mack trouble in one-on-one situations, consistently pushing back the Pro Bowl center. The Browns are hopeful to see Taylor tough it out and suit up against the Buccaneers for some real game repetitions. His last game action came in a decisive win at Cincinnati, where he was a force up front.
Pettine said using Shelton and Taylor together will be more for goal-line situations. Combined, the two weigh 674 pounds.
"We will get them out to make it difficult to run inside and force the ball to the edges," Pettine said.
3) *Offense wins 2-minute drill to end practice*
With less than a minute marked on the scoreboard and the ball close to midfield, Pettine pitted his offense against his defense in the camouflage jersey competition.
Quarterback Josh McCown shook off Thursday night's two interceptions by guiding the offense into the end zone. After a big completion down the field to Gary Barnidge, McCown and the offense rushed down the field to spike the ball. With two seconds remaining on the clock, the veteran quarterback hurled a pass to a diving Andrew Hawkins.
"It was a good lesson on both sides," Pettine said. "Not giving up on offense and executing. The spike at the end to get the extra play. Defensively, that is the NFL. You could play well for the vast majority of the game, but you have to finish.
"That will swing the season one way or another – how we perform in those crunch time situations. We will over practice them and simulate as many as we can out here."
4) *Xavier Cooper says Donte Whitner has been giving him confidence *
It may only be the preseason, but Cooper is tied for the NFL's lead with three sacks. The sacks have come against the second-team offensive lines of Washington and Buffalo, but the quarterback takedowns could propel Cooper higher up in the defensive line rotation by the time the regular season begins.
"I am just trying to build my resume day-by-day," the third-round pick from Washington State said.
Where has Cooper been getting all of this confidence to go out there and make plays? The locker room, actually.
Safety Donte Whitner has approached Cooper and told the rookie he's doing everything right on the practice field. Now, just go out and do it in the games.
"Whitner can stay to himself, but he's a leader – when he speaks up, guys listen," Cooper said. "He's been in the game a long time. He's been in a Super Bowl. And that's what we're trying to build."
So far, so good, X-Man.
5) *Other news and notes *
- Travis Benjamin continues to be one of the most consistent performers on the entire roster during practice. On Sunday, he had two more deep catches. We wrote earlier in the summer Benjamin was thriving with a fully healthy knee and more competition. He hasn't tapered off as a receiver at all.
- Rookie wide receiver Vince Mayle caught an acrobatic touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. Mayle has three catches for 35 yards in two preseason games.
- Wide receiver Darius Jennings, the recipient of Johnny Manziel's 37-yard pass on Thursday, said that play was not improvised from the quarterback. Jennings just happened to be the last read.
- "It was a naked play," Jennings said. "I was on the backside, just had the deep post. It was a great throw by him, he was running toward his left and he was throwing with his right arm. Just for him to even get it out there, I just tried to make a play for him and tried to track it down and we got the conversion."
- Joe Haden (hamstring), Terrelle Pryor (hamstring), Tashaun Gipson (calf) and Justin Gilbert (hip) were the notable Browns missing from practice.