When Browns head coach Mike Pettine first opened up practice sessions in the spring to the media, we all noticed something peculiar right away.
In scrimmage settings, every time the offense threw an incomplete pass, a defensive back would immediately pick up the football and start sprinting up-field – as if he were returning the incomplete pass for a touchdown. A few of the players called it "scooping-and-scoring."
At first, it looked a little odd. A player like safety Tashaun Gipson would be nearly out of breath after dashing 45 yards. Why exude so much energy in an April OTA?
Some players forgot to *scoop-and-score *on the first few days of voluntary workouts, which gave an incentive for assistant coaches to blow their whistles. Right from Pettine's first practice, the Cleveland Browns were going to establish an aggressive defensive scheme. Well in Pettine's mind, defenses can play offense, too – when given the chance.
The drills to rehearse scoring on defense went even further in what the team calls their "Turnover Circuit" portion of practice. For 10 to 15 minutes at a time, a defensive back snags an interception somewhere down the field, and once he does, the other defensive linemen and linebackers get into blocking mode. This makes it easier for the Cleveland defense to work as a cohesive blocking unit, setting up a wall for a return.
Paying attention to small details like this helped the Browns beat the Saints.
"As a player, that's your job," said Gipson of how the Browns players took notice of these small details from Pettine in practice. "When you have a coach who's the general, you've got to truly respect and buy into what he's saying, or else nobody will be able to achieve success. We all just honed in and said, 'if he's going to lead us, we're going to buy into it,' and I think we all bought into it very well.
"The sky is the limit for this team. The way coach Pettine has this organization going, it's going in the right direction…we are clicking."
When Gipson closed in for double coverage on Jimmy Graham and ended up picking off a Drew Brees pass midway through the second quarter, the free safety knew where his next location would be: running through the end zone and jumping into the Dawg Pound.
The second Gipson started turning up the field, Donte Whitner was his body guard the left and Chris Kirksey was his shield on the right. Gipson navigated by two tremendous blocks from Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant. A wall of Cleveland defenders protected Gipson from even being touched and the Browns took a 16-3 lead after the 62-yard interception return.
The Browns had perfectly translated a practice drill on the real field, turning the play into a game-changing moment.
"When we get our hands on the ball defensively, we want to get in the end zone and that was a great example of it," said Pettine.
As for Gipson, has there been a better Browns player in the secondary? To ProFootballFocus.com, there's not many in the league close. The analytics website ranks the 24-year-old as the NFL's third best cover safety. Opposing quarterbacks have a 31.9 quarterback rating when attacking Gipson in coverage, and they've only done so three times in his 140 snaps.
"He's been very quietly, an extremely consistent pro," said Pettine. "I think that he's a good compliment to [Donte Whitner]. He's got good man-cover skills, so there were situations yesterday where we had him in man coverage on Jimmy Graham and on some of their wide outs and he performed at a high-level."
Around the NFL, Tashaun Gipson's name is not one that garners much attention. Originally an undrafted rookie from Wyoming, the third-year pro constantly makes big plays and can be counted on to take away his side of the field in deep coverage.
That could very well change if the Browns start winning more football games. Donte Whitner said it was his goal to get Gipson to Pro Bowl. Two games in, that goal seems like an attainable one.
First and 10 honors a Browns fan Mike Bonell
First and 10, the franchise's successful vehicle promoting community service, recognized their first Browns fan of the season for all of his hard work.
Mike Bonnell learned about First and 10 this summer at Browns training camp. While giving blood at a Red Cross tent, Bonnell spotted a sign and became interested about the program. He swapped email addresses with a Browns community employee and started pondering how he could better his community.
Bonnell saw that a local community center's yard near his Canton home was in desperate need of a makeover. Once a week for six hours, Bonnell brings his weed whacker up to the center, trimming the grass and edging the sidewalks. It made the property look brand new.
First and 10 is challenging Browns fans all across the globe to donate 10 hours of their time to the community this season. It can be doing anything community related. The idea is to show the rest of the league that not only are Browns fans the most loyal, but that they're also the most dedicated in bettering society.
Bonnell says once you give 10 hours, you won't stop.
"It was a great idea and I'm happy to support First and 10," said Bonnell.
A Browns fan since the early 1980s, Bonnell calls his first ever Browns game (against the Steelers on Monday Night Football) his favorite memory of the team and his favorite players on the team are Joe Haden and Joe Thomas. Bonnell attends most home games and paints his face for each one.
If you want to be the next person recognized for serving the community through First and 10, please check out our website, or tweet us @BrownsGiveBack.