Fresh Takes from Training Camp

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Fresh Takes: Observations from Day 14 of Browns training camp

After 13 days of ideal weather, we met a familiar foe Monday: Rain.

It was just a sprinkle and it came at the end of practice, but it arrived nonetheless. Perhaps the offense earned it after they spent much of the team periods sprinting to the end zone.

"Is the defense going to cover today or are we just going to run down field all day?" Joel Bitonio wondered aloud at one point in the practice.

Here are our observations from Day 14 of #BrownsCamp, the last practice before we head to Indianapolis.

1. Offense cooking with gas

No matter the period of practice, two-plus weeks worth of work was starting to show in the offense Monday. This unit is a caterpillar that is just beginning to break free from its cocoon.

Baker Mayfield was again accurate throughout, connecting with Rashard Higgins for a touchdown pass well over 50 yards on the very first play of a "move the ball" period. But it wasn't just Mayfield and the first-teamers making plays; Drew Stanton was at his best of the entire camp on Monday, firing darts all over the field to a variety of targets. Touchdowns seemed to happen on every play during a red-zone period.

Dontrell Hilliard also ripped off a touchdown run on the first play of his group's run in a later period.

In fact, the defense's best play came in a highly physical goal line portion at the end of practice in which it twice stood firm against power run attempts. Big back Trayone Gray eventually broke through, but the sound of pads cracking and truly physical, his-will-versus-your-will play was refreshing, even in a physical camp.

“It is like fitting two people in a phone booth and seeing who comes out," head coach Freddie Kitchens said of the goal-line situation. "Sometimes, you can’t even open the door. If you and me were in there, you would not be able to open the door (laughter). It is tough. The space gets diminished. Throwing the ball is harder because you only have to cover 11 yards instead of whatever else distance you have. It is definitely hard."

The offense's consistent improvement is exciting, even beyond the quickness with which it scored in Week 1. The Browns will face off with the Colts for two days of joint practices before playing a preseason game against them in Indianapolis, making for a good test at this point of camp. It's nice to hit the road knowing you should be able to move the ball against a playoff team.

Check out photos from the fourteenth day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey

2. Kickers steadily improving

In a faster-paced kicking period on a mobile, temporary goal post, Greg Joseph and Austin Seibert each had another strong day.

For the second straight practice, Joseph was perfect, hitting all six of his attempts from a variety of locations on the field. Seibert was one kick shy, finishing 5-for-6.

The two split the session by three kicks each. Joseph would attempt three first, then Seibert, then Joseph and then Seibert again. If we had to judge based on room for error, Joseph was better (more toward the middle of the posts), with Seibert tucking more of his kicks inside the goal posts.

But the two combined to make 11 of 12 field goals and did not kick in a game-like situation. It was a solid performance in a competition that is still far from being decided.

3. Tight end group has plenty of depth

David Njoku sat out of practice Monday for an undisclosed reason, opening the door for the rest of the tight ends to get some extra work.

That included new addition Rico Gathers, who very clearly was in his first practice with a team he's been on for less than 48 hours. However, the others -- the ones who have had weeks of time to understand the offense -- flourished during their additional reps.

Demetrius Harris flashed the athleticism that made him a nice addition in free agency, catching a touchdown pass while also getting his nose dirty in the running game. Pharaoh Brown caught a touchdown in a red-zone period, and even Stephen Carlson got involved, catching a wide-open touchdown from Mayfield in the most interesting personnel mix of camp (which also saw Drew Forbes at right guard and Brown at the other tight end).

Tight end is one of the position groups to watch as we wait to see how many the team keeps and who those selections are. They made the most of their Monday.

4. Receivers on the upswing

D.J. Montgomery introduced himself to Browns fans on Thursday with two contested catches on one scoring drive. He built on that momentum Monday.

Montgomery found himself in multiple one-on-one situations during practice in both team and group sessions. Each time, a well-placed pass landed in his hands and his feet in bounds, wowing the fans in attendance.

Montgomery is one of many receivers battling for just a couple of roster spots, but he is making plays when they count. Should he continue to polish the other areas of his game -- contested catches appear to be handled -- he very well could find himself in the conversation for the final receiver spot.

5. Joint practices ahead

Monday was the last practice in Berea for the week. We're off to Indianapolis tomorrow afternoon.

The Browns haven't been to the capital of Indiana since 2017, when they faced off early in the regular season and the Colts came out on top 31-28. A whole lot has changed since then.

Indianapolis earned a playoff berth via wild card last season and promptly dispatched the AFC South champion Houston Texans before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. The Colts' run was one of the great turnaround stories in recent memory, powered both by the return of quarterback Andrew Luck and the additions of impact rookies Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. It's sounding like we won't see Luck during our time there, but it'll be an excellent test for these Browns, who have tested each other a lot through two weeks of camp.

“Yeah, I think it is always good to see what else is out there," Kitchens said of joint practices. "This has been a pretty tough camp for these guys. I think it has been kind of a culture shock, but I think they have embraced it. We have a lot of guys that are willing to pay the price. We understand that now. A lot of guys have bought in to what we are trying to do.

"Now, it is just a matter of going in and seeing what you got against someone else. Wednesday and Thursday are not going to make or break our season, but it is going to give us a little barometer of where we are at from a physical standpoint."

For you history buffs, Browns-Colts also has some rich football tradition to it. Back when they were in Baltimore, the Colts were a powerhouse in the 1960s and twice met the Browns with hardware on the line. Baltimore came to Cleveland for the 1964 NFL Championship Game (pre-Super Bowl era) with most everyone expecting the Colts to roll the Browns. Gary Collins caught three touchdown passes and Cleveland stunned the football world that afternoon, shutting out Johnny Unitas and the Colts 27-0 for the franchise's last championship to date.

(The Colts got their revenge four years later in the 1968 NFL Championship Game, shutting out the Browns 34-0 in Cleveland en route to Super Bowl III, but we're focusing on the positives here.)

With both teams carrying legitimate expectations into 2019, these practices are worth monitoring. We'll be there bringing you all of the action each day.

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