David Njoku sprinted to the end zone, leaped above the defender and placed two hands on a deep ball from Baker Mayfield before falling to the ground and into the end zone. The defender was Jabrill Peppers, Njoku's former Browns teammate, and Njoku had won.
A few reps later, Njoku made another tricky catch. This one was completed after he ran a post route and leaped over another defender before falling to the ground with the football squeezed to his chest.
The Browns were in the middle of one-on-one drills against Giants safeties on their first day of joint practices, and Njoku, a fifth-year tight end, was putting on a show. He looked fast, confident and big — very big.
The two plays in one-on-ones highlighted one of Njoku's best practices so far in training camp, where he's arrived with more confidence and comfortability as he looks to help push the Browns back to the playoffs in 2021.
"I'm working toward the end goal of just winning every day," Njoku said. "I'm in a lot more of a positive mindset this year, just playing for myself, playing for my teammates and playing for my team. It's a lot easier to work hard that way."
Check out photos from the second day of joint practices with the Giants at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
Njoku, a first-round pick in 2017, recorded 19 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns last season in addition to being a vital asset as a blocker. His best performance of the season came in the Browns' AFC Divisional game in Kansas City, where he recorded four receptions for 59 yards and helped the Browns get in rhythm with the Chiefs by making a few difficult catches early in the game.
Njoku has been eager to pick up where he left off from that game ever since the final whistle blew and the Browns playoff run ended in a crushing 22-17 defeat. Njoku was one of several players who crouched in disbelief on the sidelines after the game and couldn't help but look ahead to when the Browns were back on the field.
He'll have a shot to improve from that performance in the same exact setting in Week 1. The Browns are heading back to Kansas City, and Njoku can't wait.
"(I felt) excitement," he said when asked for his reaction after seeing the schedule. "It's great to play a team that took you out first. I'm excited."
Njoku has put in plenty of work throughout the offseason in training camp in hopes of building off last season. The work showed in big ways Thursday, but the Browns have been seeing the work pay off throughout all of camp already.
One of the teammates who has seen it most is Mayfield, who has given Njoku plenty of lob balls throughout camp — and has felt the gratification when Njoku comes down with the catch. At 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds, Njoku has the ideal body size for such passes, which are risky if underthrown and could be easily snatched by a defensive back.
Mayfield, however, is confident that Njoku will get his hands on the ball. He's seen him make the play several times across their four years together in Cleveland.
"It makes me feel very comfortable," he said. "With those kind of balls, it's either their's or nobody's catching it. It's a very easy mindset when they're able to make plays like that."
Njoku showed Thursday just how powerful of a runner he can be when asked to gun it toward the end zone or sidelines. His separation against Peppers, an athletic, speedy and versatile safety, was enough for him to gain an edge before he leaped to make the touchdown catch.
Mayfield said the Browns are focusing more on his vertical abilities this season. If the plays Njoku has made in training camp translate to the regular season, the Browns will like what they see.
"The thing we've told David is if he sprints and runs, people are going to be scared of the vertical routes he can bring to the table," Mayfield said. "We're working with him on that, and he just has the natural ability to high-point the ball."
The Browns believe that work will lead to the kind of plays Njoku made in practice Thursday. He's made a few of them already across his NFL career, but Njoku knows he hasn't hit his peak potential yet.
A new year is ahead, and Njoku is fully concentrated on trying to make it his best.
"I'm never satisfied," he said. "There is always room to improve."