As the Cleveland Browns practice in public for the final time of the year Friday, it's time to review some of the highlights of their most talked-about training camp in many years:
One-hundred-percent registered out. The Browns don't charge for admission to camp practices, but for the first time in franchise history, they required fans to register on ClevelandBrowns.com to secure the right to attend a workout. And the response, due to the anticipated increase in attendance largely driven by the presence of a certain rookie quarterback, was overwhelming with every practice registered to capacity.
National media attention. Thanks to the fascination over Duke Johnson Jr., NFL Network and ESPN established virtual Berea bureaus. Multiple writers from those and other national outlets covered camp practices, some staying for several days at a time. As they chronicled Manziel's first NFL training camp, they also had a chance to get a close-up view of other aspects of the Browns, including their impressive defense.
Defensive dominance. There hasn't been a day of practice when the defense has been anything short of exceptional. Although quarterbacks aren't allowed to be hit and there is little, if any, tackling to the ground, there have been countless instances where defenders have been in position to end offensive plays before they can even begin. Of course, the offensive struggles – especially when it comes to scoring touchdowns – are a concern. Some of the Browns' pass-rushing prowess has resulted in the inability of receivers to gain separation. Other play-making opportunities have been thwarted by drops and poorly thrown passes.
That said … the offense has had its encouraging moments. The running game looks vastly improved, with solid work from Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West demonstrating the skills that could allow him to be a top-level talent. Rookie Joel Bitonio has immediately proven that starting at guard in the NFL is a natural transition for him, something the Browns' decision-makers fully expected when they made him a second-round draft choice.
Mike Pettine is large and in charge. The Browns' first-year head coach has established an urgent, no-nonsense tone to practice. The vast majority of workouts have been efficient and crisp, moving along at a fairly rapid pace. Pettine has made good on his vow to create a competitive atmosphere by issuing challenges to the offense and defense to win a particular situational battle for the right to wear orange jerseys, which are far more stylish than the basic practice brown and white jerseys worn by the offense and defense, respectively. Almost all have been won by the defense. Pettine doesn't scream or yell, nor is there a whole lot of screaming or yelling from his assistant coaches. Yet, there is never a doubt as to who is in command.
Donte Whitner's jersey giveaways. You can't help but admire the veteran safety's constant efforts to stay as connected as possible with his home area now that he has back in Northeast Ohio after spending previous seasons in Buffalo and San Francisco. One way to show his appreciation for the fans' support is – with the help of Nathan Zegura, my "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" radio-show partner – to pick out a young person in each practice to give one of his authentic game-tailored jerseys.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE NFL …
BLAKE BORTLES, WHOM THE JACKSONVILLE JAGUARSmade the third overall pick of the draft, is making it difficult on Jags coach Gus Bradley to follow through with his stated intention of keeping him on the bench this season. Bortles was highly impressive in Thursday night's preseason game at Chicago, completing 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards. Through two preseason games, he has hit 18 of 28 passes for 277 yards and has yet to have a turnover. "It's a confidence booster," Bortles told reporters after the game. "It's one of our big points of emphasis, so having no turnovers is huge for us."
ARIZONA CARDINALS COACH BRUCE ARIANSis not a fan of players fighting in practice. He tried to send a message earlier in the week when he had Darnell Dockett and Bradley Sowell run laps after they got into an altercation earlier in the week. But the Cardinals' official team website reported that when another scuffle, involving a large number of players, occurred later in the week, Arians stopped practice and made the entire team run six sprints from sideline to sideline before resuming the workout … without their head coach, who stormed off the field. "(Coach) made his point, and we already knew where he stood with that," cornerback Justin Bethel told the website. "Some guys, they lose their tempers, and it happens, but we've just got to keep on moving forward." >>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.