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Four Downs: Cameron Erving's work behind the scenes impresses Mitchell Schwartz


1. Cameron Erving's work behind the scenes impresses Mitchell Schwartz

The majority of Cleveland's offensive linemen can't directly relate to what Cameron Erving has experienced throughout his rookie season.

Because of depth circumstances on the respective rosters they joined, Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz were thrown to the fire right from the start. Neither Thomas nor Schwartz have missed a snap since they were drafted. Bitonio and Mack, when healthy, have been mainstays.

Erving, of course, joined a Browns roster that returned all of its offensive line starters from the previous season. And that group has remained intact with Erving, the 19th overall pick out of Florida State, serving as a sixth man of sorts who picks up snaps on plays that feature six down linemen.

"It's a tough lineup to crack," Browns coach Mike Pettine said last month.

On Thursday, because of an ankle injury Bitonio suffered during the second quarter against Cincinnati, Erving saw his most snaps this season as a traditional offensive lineman. He logged nine in Cleveland's 31-10 loss to the Bengals.

Bitonio's status heading into next week's game at Pittsburgh is uncertain at the moment. If Erving is needed to fill the void for Bitonio or any other member of the group this year, he'll enter with the respect and confidence of the linemen who surround him because of the way he's handled himself inside the Browns training facility.

"I know in my rookie year it is so hard to be consistent against this caliber of guys you're going against. Every week, you go through a college year and you face maybe one or two guys who are NFL starters. Then you come to the NFL and all these guys are so good," Schwartz said. "Cam shows a lot of really good stuff.

"Throughout the year, for him to be able to step back and see how guys do things differently – John (Greco) blocks differently than Joel; Alex blocks differently than those guys – he can kind of get a feel for how different guys block on the inside. He can get his own feet under him."

Wednesdays are, perhaps, the most important day of the week for Erving. That's when Thomas traditionally receives a day off from practice and Erving gets extensive work with the first-team offense.

Schwartz has liked, in particular, what Erving has shown deciphering and defending an opponent's pass rush.

"He has really good quickness and strength getting off the ball," Schwartz said. "I think down the road when it is his turn to go, he will be really good."

That's along the lines of what Pettine has said since the midway point of the preseason, when it became apparent Erving wouldn't take the same path most of his fellow linemen did in their rookie seasons.

"He's going to be a big part of what we're doing here," Pettine said.

2. Pocket talk

A number of Johnny Manziel's best plays Thursday came when he was on the run. That's not a surprise for those who watched him dazzle at Texas A&M, and it's an ability the Browns love about their second-year quarterback.

The goal, though, is to make those plays a part of Manziel's repertoire, not the extent of it. That's what Pettine tried to convey during a halftime interview Thursday, when he said Manziel needed to "settle down."

The Bengals seemed to adjust to Manziel's outside-the-pocket playmaking and limited him to 4-of-15 passing in the second half. The Browns didn't get a first down in the second half until they trailed by 21 with 3:18 to play in the fourth quarter.

"I thought he did some good things getting out of the pocket in the first half, but there were a couple plays where the read was there early," Pettine said. "Those are the plays we want him to make when they are there.

"When there are plays to be made early with the first read, let's make them. Then if it breaks down and we need you to get out then go ahead and get out. It is no different from anything I have been saying with him all along."

3. Notable snap counts vs. Bengals

Scanning the snap count totals from Thursday's game…

-- The Browns adjusted their philosophy at running back Thursday, going with a two-man team instead of the three-man rotation they'd used in the previous three games. Isaiah Crowell logged 32 snaps, Duke Johnson Jr. had 25 and Robert Turbin, who was pegged to be used on situational downs, did not play.

-- Because of the shortage of wide receivers, Travis Benjamin played 51 of 53 offensive snaps and Taylor Gabriel played 48.

-- With Joe Haden sidelined because of a concussion, Pierre Desir played 41 of 67 defensive snaps. Justin Gilbert had a season-high 23 and Johnson Bademosi played two.

-- Running down the defensive rookie snaps: Danny Shelton (38), Nate Orchard (38), Xavier Cooper (28), Ibraheim Campbell (55) and De'Ante Saunders (9).

4. Stat to note

The perfection competition among NFL kickers keeps losing members with each passing week. Travis Coons remained a part of it Thursday when he connected on his only attempt, moving him to 15-of-15 on the year. He's one of just four who have attempted at least 10 kicks to sport a 100 percent success rate. The others: Josh Brown (Giants, 15-of-15), Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots, 17-of-17) and Dan Bailey (Cowboys, 14-of-14). Gostkowski and Bailey are the only two to be perfect on both field goals and extra points.

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