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5 Browns observations from Wednesday's practice

Mike Pettine couldn't have worded it more perfectly Wednesday afternoon.

"Been looking forward to this week for a long time," Cleveland's head coach said at his afternoon press conference.

Let the countdown begin.

1)     *QB Josh McCown, Browns offense not fearful of the Jets secondary *


The Browns often call their secondary "Lockdown on the Lake." The Jets also boast a terrific nickname: No Flight Zone. In terms of the most improved units in the NFL, New York's secondary might be at the top of the list.

McCown said, point blank, Darrelle Revis might go down as one of the best cornerbacks to ever play football. Antonio Cromartie is a playmaker who's made some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL pay for challenging him down the field. And former Brown Buster Skrine is one of the most tenacious nickel backs Cleveland will see in 2015.

All three are new faces for the Jets defense, a unit that ranked 30th last season in stopping the pass.

Besides leaning on the wealth of knowledge Pettine has from coaching the trio of cornerbacks, how will the Browns game-plan to exploit a defense focused on taking away the passing game?

"You know where they are at on the field, and you adjust accordingly," McCown said. "We know that we still have to be able to throw the football. We respect their abilities. Whether we're running or passing, we'll know what side they're on and how they want to attack us."

The Jets aren't taking the 36-year-old McCown lightly, either. Because Cleveland built its offense around minimizing the impact of the quarterback position, New York coach Todd Bowles said McCown has the ability to pick apart teams with his brain.

"He's been in the league awhile so he's seen every defense," Bowles said. "He understands what it takes, but he manages the game. At the same time, he can make some throws to win the game."

2)     *Nate Orchard returns to practice, could play a role Sunday *


The ballyhoo Wednesday was about running back [Duke Johnson Jr.internal-link-placeholder-0] returning from his concussion. But another Browns rookie could play a role Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Orchard, Cleveland's second-round pick, practiced Wednesday on a limited basis after sitting out nearly two weeks with back tightness. The 23-year-old never missed a game in college and felt anxious watching two preseason games from the sidelines.

Asked about his role Sunday, Orchard wasn't quite sure because the team had been cross-training him as a coverage linebacker back in August.

"The main focus is to just get back on the field – whatever it may be," Orchard said. "Just trying to earn that trust back from coaches and players and go forward from there."

The Browns picked Orchard high in the draft partly based on upside, but also partly based on his ability to make a splash early in his career. Utah unleashed the pass rusher in 2014, and he delivered a school record 18.5 sacks. Expect Cleveland to spoon-feed Orchard repetitions to begin the season. If he makes the most of those, the rookie could become a fixture on third downs.

3)     *Isaiah Crowell's shown improvement in two areas*


The laser focus from the media, and likely the Jets defense, has been narrowed on Crowell. The team's de facto starter after the Terrance West trade, Crowell has earned the trust from teammates and coaches as he embarks on a role that could dictate how many games the Browns win.

The Browns have been sold on Crowell's running style and budding potential but needed more time to evaluate the running back this summer before deeming him ready to carry the load. The results? Cleveland saw the 22-year-old excel as both a sneaky target out of the backfield and a reliable pass blocker.  

"We are confident that he can be a lead back but also know it is very difficult and there are very few backs that are 'that guy' that is going to touch it 20-plus times in a game," Pettine said. "We feel good about where Crow is."

4)     *Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sneaky in the pocket*


There's a great debate in New York whether Geno Smith will snatch his job back when he returns from a fractured jaw; Fitzpatrick has been that impressive running the offense in training camp and the preseason.

The 32-year-old Fitzpatrick may be on his fourth team in the last four years, but something about the Green and White seems to be clicking with the Harvard alum. Maybe it's Chan Gailey's offensive system? Maybe it's two reliable receivers in Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall? The Jets don't care about the reason; they just want the chains to keep moving.

Similar to McCown, Fitzpatrick is able to limit mental mistakes. But the seventh-round pick from 2005 hasn't stayed in the league this long solely for his smarts. In the preseason, the Jets took advantage of his sneaky athleticism, creating plays to highlight his legs. Even with sporadic playing time the last three seasons, Fitzpatrick has 606 rushing yards over that stretch.

"He can move – they do put him on the move a lot," Pettine said. "There's a lot of move action type passes – spread out, boot. He's never been one who's been reluctant to pull the ball down and scramble, especially if he caught you in a coverage where you weren't accounting for the quarterback."

Expect the Browns to focus on this area, especially after Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor rushed for 41 yards in the preseason.

5)     *Other news and notes*

  • Mike Pettine's message for this season opener is much different. Read why.
  • Joe Thomas received his customary day of rest Wednesday while DB Pierre Desir returned to the practice field for the first time after passing concussion protocol. Eleven other players saw their reps limited in the jog-through practice.

-Check out the brand new “Brownscast” with Thomas and host Max Linsky.

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