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Browns' E.J. Bibbs carrying same edge, mentality as he did as tryout player

One year later, E.J. Bibbs' mentality hasn't changed.

At this time last June, Bibbs, a 6-foot-2, 258-pound tight end, was putting the wraps on a commendable performance in the Browns' offseason program and looking ahead to an uncertain future. Undrafted out of Iowa State and unsigned during the period when most undrafted free agents are scooped up, Bibbs landed with the Browns as a tryout player and emerged as one of the team's pleasant surprises. He followed it up with a strong showing at training camp and ultimately defied the odds, landing a spot on the 53-man roster.

Bibbs didn't see the field all that much as rookie, as he was active for just seven games and finished with one catch for 7 yards, but the experience was valuable. He carries more experience than most of his competition within the walls of a young Browns tight ends room and received valuable first-team repetitions throughout OTAs and minicamp as Pro Bowler Gary Barnidge was sidelined after sports hernia surgery.

Still, Bibbs won't let himself feel comfortable. The tryout player mindset hasn't gone anywhere because he knows every day, every snap will count toward the kind of role he hopes to hold in 2016.

"Last year I was fighting for a job and trying to stay on a team, trying to keep the nerves out," Bibbs said. "The nerves are still there. I'm just trying to compete with these guys. We have a lot of guys in right now but it's still the same focus. Just trying to stay prepared and waiting for the opportunity."

Outside of Barnidge, who led the Browns in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015, Bibbs is the only Cleveland tight end who has played in an NFL game. Connor Hamlett and Randall Telfer both spent the past season on an NFL roster but were never active. Seth DeValve, Cleveland's fourth-round selection, and J.P. Holtz are rookies.

All five are vying for an important spot in Cleveland's offense, the second tight end role that was filled by veteran Jim Dray last season. Barnidge expressed optimism about the group while coach Hue Jackson was reluctant to single any of them out after months of practicing without pads.

"Until we line up across a guy and you need to defeat somebody with your hat and hands and do it when the other guy is trying to get around you and really go through you will you really know," Jackson said earlier this month. "There are a lot of guys that look good in shorts. I don't want to heap praise on somebody and then everybody will say, 'What happened to this guy?' I think that's unfair."

The rookies visit the second week of the Browns' Youth Football Camp at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The praise came early and often last year for Bibbs, who impressed coaches early and rode that momentum through a productive preseason. He was one of four tight ends to make the initial 53-man roster and one of three to remain on it through the entire season. Bibbs was the only undrafted rookie to remain with the team through the entire season.

Patience, though, was one of the biggest things he learned. He was inactive for the team's first eight games and played limited snaps in the games at which he was active.

"I figured out I wasn't getting a lot of reps in season. I was behind Gary and Jim Dray," Bibbs said. "I would just study behind them and have my script out and make sure I know what to do, small details of what coaches say in the meetings, writing it down and just being a student of the game."

That's another aspect Bibbs has carried over to his second season. And in Jackson's offense, Bibbs knows he has to be ready for everything and ready to line up at any point along the line of scrimmage.

"Being a second tight end, you've really got to understand you're going to be everywhere," Bibbs said. "You're going to be split out, you're going to be tight in so you've really got to understand what you've got to do to be successful."

And Bibbs understands nothing short of the effort he put into defying the odds last season will cut it in 2016.

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