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5 observations from Browns OTAs

For the first time in 2015, the Cleveland Browns lined up against each other in an 11-on-11 setting – also known as an OTA.

Here's what we took away.

1)     *Browns players recovering from major injuries participate *

The big news here is that coach Mike Pettine said Alex Mack is "ready to go" but the team remained careful with the Pro Bowl center and held him out of 11-on-11 drills. However, Phil Taylor (knee surgery) saw some repetitions with the first-team defense and hybrid linebacker Armonty Bryant (knee) has progressed enough to do some individual drills on the field with the team.

Running back Duke Johnson and linebacker Craig Robertson both ran into travel issues and did not attend today's OTA session. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee), center Nick McDonald (shoulder), tight end Randall Telfer (foot), wide receiver Vince Mayle (thumb) and offensive lineman Karim Barton (shoulder). First-round defensive lineman Danny Shelton won't be at any of the OTAs because he is finishing up his coursework at Washington.  


2)     *Both Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel throw the ball well*

Because of the non-contact nature of OTA practices, the biggest takeaway centers on the quarterbacks, and Tuesday was no different. It would be wrong to label the 35-year-old McCown as a statue in the pocket. The lengthy quarterback showed he can still zip the ball on the run by connecting on a 25-yard slant route down the field to wide receiver Brian Hartline. McCown said these OTAs will be paramount for which plays the Browns use this season. 

"Until the live bullets start flying, you don't know how guys are going to react," McCown said. "That's why it's good to get out here in OTAs and get another step closer to real football."

Manziel was dialed in from the start, much like he's been since he arrived back in Berea. On a one-on-one drill that pitted wide receiver Rodney Smith against cornerback K'Waun Williams, the 22-year-old launched a 45-yard strike into Smith's outstretched arms. By no means was Manziel perfect – Williams would later intercept him – but the velocity on his throws and footwork in the pocket looked improved.

3)     *Glimpses of the Browns offense showed… *

Motion, motion, motion. An educated estimate showed about 70 percent of plays called by offensive coordinator John DeFilippo had either a tight end or wide receiver moving around, and some plays had up to four players shifting around.

"We are going to install a lot," Pettine said. "We are going to throw a lot at our guys and see what we can retain. And then we'll see back as coaches and look at here's what we do well and go." 

There were multiple swing passes to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins out of the backfield, a heavy dose of tight end Rob Housler in the middle of the field, a bunch of sets that had Hartline and Dwayne Bowe lined up right on top of each other and, no surprise, a ton of running the ball. Terrance West, Glenn Winston and newcomer Luke Lundy all ripped off significant gains.

4)     *Several defensive players see larger roles*

Safety Jordan Poyer and linebackers Chris Kirksey and Scott Solomon were all starters for Day 1 of OTAs – all for different reasons, but important nonetheless.

Poyer's increase in playing time has to do with Tashaun Gipson's absence from the offseason workout program. Kirksey filled in for Robertson (travel issues) but that's nothing new – he started eight games in his rookie season.

Solomon, a former practice squad player whom general manager Ray Farmer claimed in October from the Buccaneers, occupied the spot typically filled by Barkevious Mingo (shoulder). Think back to the final two games of the season on the road against Carolina and Baltimore – and name someone who played harder than Solomon. His eight tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery impressed the coaching staff, which believes the 26-year-old from Rice could develop into a legitimate pass rusher.

"Scott showed us toward the end of the year what he's capable of," Pettine said. "Now that he'll have been here through a full offseason – that's tough when you come to a team mid-stream. The reps that he was getting were off of a scout card. That's when we really took notice of him. We're looking for some big things from Scott."

5)     *Standout moments of Day 1*

Taylor Gabriel - The second-year wide receiver beat Joe Haden on a route near the sidelines and looks like he's added a bunch of upper-body strength.

Ibraheim Campbell - The instinctive fourth-round pick flashed some ability at safety – batting a ball down at the line and showing strong coverage skills on a few deep throws.

Rob Housler - DeFilippo made it clear on Cleveland Browns Daily his offense will need a vertical tight end. It's still early, but right now that guy looks like Housler, who lined up and ran routes all over the field.

Randy Starks - Going up against the dominant duo of Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio, the former Miami Dolphin was often splitting the double-team and launching himself into the backfield. 

Johnson Bademosi - The backup safety picked off a Connor Shaw pass late in practice, showing the coaching staff he can be more than just an ace special teamer. 

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