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5 observations from Browns OTAs

In addition to signing Dylan Sutcliffe, the Browns held an OTA practice on Tuesday. Here's what we saw.

1)     *DB Justin Gilbert is making plays*

Gilbert's recovery speed and pure athleticism were on full display Tuesday. In an 11-on-11 drill that had the Browns offense in the red zone, the cornerback broke up consecutive passes on quarterback Johnny Manziel, diving and batting the ball away at the last moment. After the second knockdown, his defensive teammates broke out in a chorus of cheers, loudly approving of his Tuesday practice session.

"He's comfortable," cornerback Joe Haden said. "He's making plays."

The changes from Gilbert have been all about paying attention to minor details – knowing where to be in zone coverage, taking more detailed notes in meetings and, plainly, more seasoning. It is worth noting that Gilbert had a shaky junior season at Oklahoma State before picking off six passes his senior year and proving to be one of college football's preeminent cornerbacks. 

"I definitely see changes, but I think you said it – probably too early," coach Mike Pettine said.
"It's just all about consistency. Just coming in here, perfecting his craft every day, and right now it's so far so good."

As of now, Gilbert and fellow second-year defensive back Pierre Desir have been locked in with the second unit as the outside cornerbacks. Gilbert's repetitions with the first unit could see a bump if days like Tuesday keep happening.

2)     *RB Duke Johnson and WR Vince Mayle enter the fray *

After tending to a family matter last week, Johnson was back in a big way Tuesday. Defensive linemen aren't allowed to have contact with running backs, but it's likely they would not have even had the chance to on some of Johnson's runs. His explosiveness is apparent and all signs are pointing toward the rookie from Miami crafting a unique, but siginicant role by September.

"There was one of the runs in the team period that unless we were playing flag football, that would have been a 40- or 50-yard chunk," Pettine said. "He's got a lot to learn, but he's probably a typical rookie where he is right now."

Mayle sported a red non-contact jersey because of his recent thumb surgery but still saw extensive action. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound rookie lined up as the outside receiver in several 11-on-11 sets. Even though quarterbacks were instructed not to throw Mayle's way, it was solid experience for the rookie to integrate himself as a route runner in Cleveland's offense. The Browns expect Mayle to be full-go by training camp and are hopeful he'll push for early playing time, too.

3)     *Offensive formations have been interesting *

Tight end Rob Housler was lined up as the outside receiver on more than one occasion. All 6-foot-5 of wide receiver Rodney Smith stood in the slot and hauled in a 20-yard pass a on seam pattern in the middle of the field. A passing drill had Terrance West at receiver. Another formation had Mayle in the backfield as a running back before he split in motion out wide.

"Flip' (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) has some unique things that he's putting in that, just looking at them from a defensive perspective, are very challenging," Pettine said.

4)     *Mental repetitions big for young quarterbacks*

While Josh McCown ropes in the first-team repetitions, Manziel and Connor Shaw mimic his every movement off to the side – even on running plays. Last year, it was suggested the pair of young quarterbacks use practice for the mental repetitions. This year, it appears to be required and seems to be helping.

"I thought (Manziel's) done an outstanding job so far grasping what we're doing," Pettine said. "I thought he made some real nice throws today. He's had his days where he struggled, but that's natural – No.  1, learning a new offense and No. 2, going against a defense that is significantly ahead just due to chemistry and cohesion and knowledge of the book. I think we all feel good about where he is."

5) Other nuggets

  • Rodney Smith made a number of plays Tuesday. He gallops across the field and is consistently getting open. Remember, the Browns claimed the wide receiver from the Vikings last October. The 25-year-old from Florida State was only active for three games in 2014 and has yet to catch an NFL pass, but as Pettine reminded reporters recently, it's extremely hard for a young player to jump in midseason and earn playing time. It's only June, but there is intrigue in Smith's size and newfound comfort in DeFilippo's offense.
  • When K'Waun Williams broke up a pass on Andrew Hawkins – at least his third breakup of the day – defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil literally busted out an Irish dance jig and screamed, "Not in his house Hawk! Not in K'Waun's house." The Browns also used Williams in a variety of blitz packages throughout the OTA. Pettine said perhaps nobody's leap in 2015 has been as noticeable as the second-year cornerback. 
  • "A lot of it's just a credit to him that he took that time from January to April," Pettine said. "You could see he looks different physically. He's bigger, but he's leaner. He's moving better. It's great to see him go against Hawk in the slot. Those are some of the battles I look forward to the most watching during practice."
  • Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe nicked up his knee on a touchdown he scored against cornerback Tramon Williams. Pettine said he may sit out Thursday's OTA, but it is nothing serious.
  • Linebacker Karlos Dansby and fullback Malcolm Johnson were not in attendance Tuesday, but had notified the team of the previous scheduling conflicts.
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