The pace gets must faster when veterans join Johnny Manziel and fellow rookies for OTAs
Here are five thoughts as the Cleveland Browns get ready to transition from the weekend's rookie minicamp to organized team activity (OTA) workouts, which will be held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday:
On Saturday and Sunday, the rookies had the field and the spotlight to themselves. They were able to operate pretty much at their own learning pace, because they all were introduced to the playbook and their respective assignments at the same time. They also were able to make more than a few mistakes that didn't carry heavy consequences because they weren't facing experienced opponents. That will all change on Tuesday, when veterans, who can call on experience and previous exposure to the playbook, join the sessions on the field and in the meeting room. There will be a noticeable increase in the tempo of the drills and the quality of play than the rookies generally saw over the weekend. Now, the coaches and player-personnel evaluators are going to see just how well the kids can keep up with the vets.
It has been well documented that Johnny Manziel is beginning the offseason as a backup quarterback. What will be interesting to see is how practice snaps are divided between him and the starter at this point, Brian Hoyer. Will they receive equal repetitions in practice so that they have the same amount of exposure to an offense that is new to both of them? Regardless of their current designations, Hoyer and Manziel will be competing to show who should occupy the No. 1 spot on Sept. 7, when the Browns open the season at Pittsburgh. And there is every indication that the Browns will make the competition as fair as possible.
General Manager Ray Farmer asked for patience regarding the team's need to address wide receiver, and he has proven that it was warranted by coming through with what, on paper, appears to be a clear upgrade at the position. Miles Austin was a nice acquisition, providing reasonable hope that the Browns have a little bit of a game-breaking presence even if it isn't at the level of Josh Gordon. But how many receivers fall into that category? There will be plenty of focus on Austin during OTA drills just to gauge how well, as he enters his ninth NFL season, he can move and separate from a secondary that includes a lot of young players. We'll also get to see how much Earl Bennett is able to bring to the table as he enters his seventh season. He doesn't have Austin's game-breaking skills, but he has plenty of smarts and savvy. I'm not positive the Browns would have been dramatically better off at receiver had they elected to draft one in the second round. It's fair to argue that one of the five receivers selected in the first round might have brought more dramatic improvement to the position, especially if that player was Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans. But I'm good with the non-receivers the Browns chose in Round One and particularly, from a value standpoint, where they selected them.
This week is when the "Play Like a Brown" mantra from coach Mike Pettine and Farmer truly begins to take hold. Now, you have veterans and rookies working together. And the players who figure to do the most to reinforce that message of striving for excellence in everything the team does – linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Donte Whitner, and cornerback Joe Haden, to name a few – will be able to communicate with words and actions to their younger teammates, who are expected to form a substantial chunk of the roster. Rookie cornerback Pierre Desir already received words of wisdom from Haden, whom he met for the first time on Monday.
I like that Gordon will be practicing with the team and going about his business in normal fashion. Regardless of what his status might be for the season, he needs to show his new coaches, as well as his teammates, that he is fully aboard with everything that needs to be done to get ready for the season. Preparation matters, particularly when new schemes are being introduced, and Gordon can help others as well as himself with what he does on the practice field. You think rookie cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Desir aren't looking forward to the opportunity to cover one of the greatest receivers in the game?
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